Home equity

7 Critical Money Mistakes People Make in Their 40s

The younger you are, the more time you have to bounce back from a financial mistake. As you inch closer to those retirement years, however, and as financial obligations expand, it’s increasingly important to safeguard the assets you have — and to prepare for costly expenses that inevitably crop up as youth glides into middle age.

The experts agree: Even 40-somethings who feel confident about their finances are likely to make a few money mistakes. Which are the most common? Here, the financial pros tell all.

1. An expensive home remodel

The average cost to remodel a few rooms is upward of $37,000, according to data compiled by Home Advisor. It could cost even more — as much as $125,000 — depending on the size and location of the home.

Michael Frick, president of Promenade Advisors LLC, thinks that money could be much better spent by paying down an existing mortgage. “Forty-somethings need to realize that retirement is only 20 to 30 years away in most cases,” he said. “Do they still want to have that large mortgage payment while they are retired on a fixed income? Will they even have enough retirement income to continue making those payments?”

Even worse, he added, is that many homeowners finance those pricey home renovations by borrowing from their existing home equity or — even worse — by raiding their 401(k) funds. The added monthly payments from a 401(k) loan can crimp the amount of money available to boost retirement savings during critical, high income-earning years.

2. Prioritizing kids’ college over retirement savings

Most kids today expect their folks to pony up for the full cost of college, no matter which institution they choose. So says a 2016 Parents, Kids & Money survey released by investment firm T. Rowe Price. Most parents want to comply.

Still, midlife is “a period in which you should assess whether you’re on track to fund the subsequent stages of your own adulthood,” said Anthony M. Montenegro of Blackmont Advisors. As children age, “it’s not uncommon for parents to continue putting kids ahead of themselves — even at the expense of their own needs.”

“One way to look at this trade-off is to ask yourself, ‘Am I willing to delay retirement and keep working another five to 10 years to fund my children’s college?'” said Alex Whitehouse, president and CEO of Whitehouse Wealth Management. Plus, he added, a student who works to help pay for school will have “skin in the game,” which can create a greater appreciation for the value of the education.

If there’s an additional need for tuition funds, “money can be borrowed through student loans,” Whitehouse added. “You can’t borrow money for retirement.” (See also: Why Saving Too Much Money for a College Fund Is a Bad Idea)

3. Skipping the estate plan

“The term ‘estate planning’ sounds like something old, rich people need to transfer their mansion and paintings,” said Whitehouse. Still, anyone with basic assets they want to share with a loved one (or even with a…

8 Valuable Rights You Might Lose When You Refinance Student Loans

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest buyer and guarantor of mortgage loans, made news recently when it announced it would sweeten the deal for folks who want to refinance their mortgage to pay off student loan debt. Fannie Mae works with 1,800 lenders nationwide, so their rule change affects many homeowners. At the same time, newer financial companies that target millennials have been pushing student loan refinances as a way to save money and simplify life.

Fannie Mae’s change will make it more affordable for graduates — or parents — to use home equity to pay off student loans by waiving the usual extra charge for taking out cash when you refinance a home. With mortgage interest rates still at historic lows, this could indeed be an opportunity for young adults with high-rate student loans to reduce their monthly payments. But proceed with caution.

If you have a private student loan, you probably have nothing to lose by converting it into a mortgage, personal loan, or other consolidation loan. But if you have a federal loan, you should be more cautious about making changes. You may not realize you’d be losing these protections and options when you give up your federal student loan.

1. Deferment

If you lose your job or are unable to find a job after graduation, you may qualify for a deferment, which halts your loan payments until you’re in a better position to pay. With certain federal loans, the government will even pay the interest during deferment.

Half of Americans Are Wrong About Their Retirement Savings

Some financial mistakes are easier to recover from than others. Failing to properly plan for retirement falls into the not-so-easy camp. And yet, the latest in a long series of retirement preparedness studies indicates that many working age households in the U.S. are making this very mistake.

This new study, prepared by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, analyzed two key findings. First, it compared people’s objectively measured, actual retirement preparedness with their perceived preparedness. And second, instead of just highlighting how many people are less prepared than they think (a common finding among retirement studies), it also found that some people are actually more prepared than they realize, causing needless worry.

Let’s break it down.

Over half are not well prepared

According to the CRR study, over half (52 percent) of working age households are at risk of not being able to maintain their current standard of living in retirement. That’s even if these households work until age 65, annuitize all of their financial assets, and turn their home equity into an income stream via a reverse mortgage.

In 1989, just 30 percent of households were deemed to be at risk. The study’s authors attribute the growth in this number to three main factors:

  • The increased time people are spending in retirement — the result of a fairly static average retirement age (around 63) combined with lengthening life spans.
  • Increases in Medicare premiums.
  • The sweeping change from defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans. In managing their own retirement accounts, the authors said, “individuals make mistakes at every step along the way,” which has resulted in a woefully inadequate median retirement account balance of just $111,000 for households nearing retirement.

Over half of the unprepared don’t realize it

Of the 52 percent of households that are at risk of…