Dear Liz: Is it possible for me to buy a home without having my wife on the mortgage? She lost her business because of the recession. I do not want to deal with her creditors.
Answer: You can apply for a mortgage based solely on your own income, credit scores and debt-to-income ratio, if those are sufficient to buy the house you want. Your wife's income and credit does not have to be considered.
If you can't swing the purchase without her income, though, you'll both need to spend some time improving her credit scores. That might include adding her as an authorized user to your credit cards. Another option is to negotiate settlements with her creditors in return for their deleting the collection accounts from her credit reports. You'd want to be cautious in these negotiations, especially if the statute of limitations on the debts hasn't expired and your wife could be sued. Consider visiting DebtCollectionAnswers.com for help in negotiating with creditors.
Taking benefits early may not pay off
Dear Liz: I was born in 1960 and plan to retire with reduced Social Security benefits at 62. I've read in many places that taking reduced benefits isn't a good idea because you are locked into a lower amount for life. While this is true on a monthly basis, what about on a cumulative basis? I have figured out that on a cumulative basis I can collect to about the age of 78 and be even with collecting full benefits at 67, and this doesn't include cost-of-living increases that would add a few more years before full benefits exceed reduced benefits on a cumulative basis.
This means I would be collecting my benefits while I am younger and healthier so I can enjoy it as opposed to delaying it on the presumption I will live well into my 80s when who knows what the future holds. Social Security will not be my main source of income as I will have a sizable amount saved by then. Would taking reduced benefits make sense for me, or am I missing something?
Answer: You're right that the break-even period — the point where waiting for full benefits gets you more than taking benefits early — is typically in your late 70s. A male at age 62 is expected to live 19 more years on average, while a woman the same age is expected to live 22 more years. If you're in poor health and don't expect to live long after you retire, however, that can tip the scales toward taking benefits early.
Wanting to claim your benefit early, while you're "young enough to enjoy it," is certainly understandable. But you might also want to look at Social Security as a kind of longevity insurance. If you live into your 80s and beyond, you may well exhaust your savings and wind up relying more than you think on your Social Security check. In that case, you might appreciate the larger benefit you'd get from waiting until your full retirement age.
Here's a perspective from someone who started early and now wishes he hadn't:
Dear Liz: Hi. I learned the hard way about taking early Social Security benefits. I kept working and wound up losing $1 of Social Security benefits for every $2 I earned over a certain low threshold. Do I get this money back at some point or is it a penalty?
Answer: It's a penalty. This so-called "earnings test" is another way the Social Security system tries to discourage people from taking benefits early. The threshold for exempt earnings in 2012 is $14,640. After that point, your Social Security checks will be reduced $1 for every $2 you earn until you reach full retirement age.
Debt collectors don't sue all the time
Dear Liz: You recently answered a question from a business owner who defaulted on some credit card accounts and wanted to know how to pay these old debts. How is it that this person has not been subjected to numerous judgments on the cards in question? In fact, how could he or she have proceeded in business without being subjected to garnishment of accounts?
Answer: To get a judgment and a garnishment, the credit card company or a subsequent collector typically must sue the borrower in court. Different collectors have different policies about when to file such lawsuits. Sometimes they decide it's not worth the hassle given the slim chances of collecting.
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