Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

June 30, 2012
Reverse mortgages: Risky business or good for seniors?

Reverse mortgages - where homeowners 62 and older tap into their home equity - are appealing to many cash-strapped seniors.

Instead of paying a monthly mortgage payment, these seniors "reverse" their home loan and pull out their equity, either as a lump sum or in installments. When they move, sell or die, the mortgage balance and accumulated interest must be repaid.

But a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says reverse mortgages are becoming more risky.

Among its key findings: Reverse mortgages are more complex and harder to understand than in the past; more seniors are taking lump sum payments, making them vulnerable to investment losses and financial scams; mandatory counseling needs to be beefed up, including for spouses.

Have you done a reverse mortgage? We'd like to hear your thoughts on how it's helped or hurt your finances. Contact me at (916) 321-1968 or

June 29, 2012
How much should I expect to pay for a living trust?

Q. Approximately how much would I pay for a living trust if my only asset is my duplex? - Sharon; Carmichael, CA

June 29, 2012
How do we ensure all siblings receive their inheritance?

Q. My 80-year-old mother had a living will done many years ago specifying that all assets, including her house, be divided equally among her five children. My sister and a deceased brother got my mother to take out several loans of more than $100,000 for their children's college and to buy a house. My sister has power of attorney and moved her adult son and his family into my mother's house. (Mom still lives there.) My brother's widow lives in the home my mother loaned them money to buy. My other two siblings and I have been ostracized from my mother and sister for raising ethical questions and reporting possible fiduciary abuse to authorities.

My mother is in extremely poor health. When she dies, what will happen to the house that was supposed to be sold and divided equally, if my mother still owes money for loans she made using the house as collateral? Mother is on Social Security and has no other assets of value. What can be done to ensure we all receive our inheritance?

June 29, 2012
How to ensure access to safe-deposit box after a death

Q. My wife and I have a safe-deposit box. After we are gone, will our kids have any problem getting into the box? I've heard that banks refuse to give children access until certain requirements are met.

June 27, 2012
Should I use my IRA to pay off my mortgage?

Q. My husband and I have retired. We have IRAs totalling $425,000, monthly income of $4000, balance of $250,000 mortgage. Should we pay off our mortgage, which is 5.75%, with our IRA or take a monthly withdrawal of $2100 each month for mortgage payment? Thank you.
Lee - Sacramento

June 26, 2012
Weighing the options: Retire early or wait out a layoff?

Q: I have a huge decision this week. My company offered me an early retirement package. While I am the primary provider in my family, it gives me an opportunity to look for another job and explore other interests.

I have strong marketing/program management background and in my early 50s. I want to take time off (3 months), then start a job search in a new industry or company. My family supports me (but concerned about the expenses). I can cover them for 2 years but I get mixed feedback on the job market. I know my pay will be lower -- but is two years enough to cover a potentially slow market? If I don't take this package, I am placed in the pool for future layoffs. I have managed to survive the last 10 major rounds.

June 26, 2012
Is bus driver a good career choice?

Q: I am thinking about going into the bus driving field. How are the employment opportunities and what kind of jobs are there? Do companies hire individuals straight out of bus driving school or do you need to do an apprenticeship?

June 26, 2012
Mary Kay sales? It can be an option if you want flexible schedule

Q: Referring to your "Ask the Experts" article in today's Bee, could you please tell me what you know about the Mary Kay Cosmetics home-based business? The company does an outstanding job training their consultants in starting their own business in the field of cosmetics and climbing the ladder of success.

June 26, 2012
Wanted: Job tips for 59-year-old with no college degree

Q: Do you have any job searching suggestions for a 59-year-old with no degree? I have been unemployed since September 2011. I have been seeking administrative/clerical work and general labor. I have applied for countless positions and I've had two interviews in eight months. Maybe there are resources I'm overlooking. I would appreciate any ideas. Thanks for your assistance.

June 26, 2012
What's the best way to pay for a child's college education?

Q. I'm just about to start paying for my daughter's college education. The tuition per year is approximately $30,000. I have certain buckets of money that I will be tapping into. I have about $60,000 in stocks, bonds, etc that can be used. My wife also has $70,000 in cash and I have $25,000 in cash. Since the market is so crazy at the moment should I just use the liquid cash to start? I will be paying in 2 installments. One is due at the end of July for $13,500. So I need to decide quick.

Also, for later payments, we have life insurance policies with a total cash value of approx. $14,000. Can I just take this cash out to use? Is this a good idea? I don't see in the fine print where this will change my policy payout at the time of death. My wife and I are both in our late 50s. We have other retirement savings in 401(k) accounts that we don't plan to touch. I also have 2 pensions (a total of 30 years) coming to me at some point.

I have the money to pay for college just not sure where to draw from first. I do have a financial planner who has been of little help, unfortunately. Your advice is appreciated.

Steve - Sacramento

June 26, 2012
Summer travel tips? We want to hear your vacation $$-savers

Heading out on a road trip this summer? Flying the friendly skies to your destination? This week, we're gathering tips from readers on ways to save money while travelling. It can be your favorite travel tips on just about anything: Cellphones, snacks/food, packing ideas, you name it.

No matter where you're going or how you're getting there, we'd like to hear from you. Please contact personal finance writer Claudia Buck at (916) 321-1968 or

June 25, 2012
What's love gotta do with it? When it comes to money, plenty

Two hearts, one checking account. When it comes to money, it's not always easy being compatible. Couples often have different attitudes, different spending styles, different ideas about how to save and spend.

As the summer wedding season warms up, two women certified financial planners - one in LA, one in NYC - are hosting a "Love & Money" webinar today at 5 p.m. It's aimed at ensuring that women know how to talk about money with a romantic partner in a healthy way.

Check in to ask questions and see why Los Angeles-based CFP Brittney Castro says talking finances together can be just as fun as "sharing a bottle of wine together."

June 25, 2012
Conditions are right, but don't rush into buying a new home

Q. I am starting a new job in several weeks, where I will be earning double what I make now. I intend to buy a house as soon as possible, but I have a probation period with my new job that could last upwards of 2 years. I want to take advantage of the market and get a nice house for about 160k. My fear is if I take advantage of the market and then lose my job, I'll be stuck, unable to sell and unable to make payments.

Would it be more wise to buy soon, within 6 months, with a small down payment, or risk prices going up by the end of 2 years, but have a larger down payment and hopefully pass the probationary period? I foresee no problems with my probationary period, but I know that there is always a chance of something happening.

Thank you.
Fair Oaks

June 25, 2012
Want a job? Get an accounting degree: Sac State has online program

My Sunday Personal Finance column focused on a new, first-ever UC master's degree in accounting that's starting up this fall at UC Davis and UC Riverside.

And it's perfectly timed since accounting graduates are among the most sought after by U.S. employers. According to a recent survey of 600 companies, the most hard-to-fill jobs include: software developers, sales representatives, registered nurses and - yes - financial analysts and accountants.

The new UC degrees fit with a recent California state law requiring an extra year of accounting studies - essentially a master's degree - to qualify for a CPA license, starting in 2014.

June 22, 2012
Credit card complaint? Here's where to log financial gripes

If you're lucky, you have no complaints about your credit cards. You pay your bills on time; you don't get dinged with extra fees or unexpected charges.

But if you're one of the thousands of U.S. consumers who are unhappy with their credit card issuer, you've got a place to gripe. And see what others are complaining about, too.

On June 19, the federal government's new consumer watchdog agency - officially called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - allowed a peek inside its big database of credit card complaints. Since the agency opened last July, it's logged about 45,600 consumer complaints on credit cards, as well as mortgages, student loans and other financial products.

June 19, 2012
Need advice on managing your money? Ask the Experts

Got a question about taxes? Need some advice on retirement planning? Want to know the best approach to your 401(k)? Trying to sort out Mom and Dad's trust?

If you've got questions, our "Ask the Experts" trio has the answers. This week, we're introducing a new group: Kay Brooks, an estate planning attorney with Weintraub Genshlea Chediak Tobin & Tobin in Sacramento; Walt Romatowski, certified financial planner with Castellan Financial Advisors in Roseville; and John D. Winters, wealth advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC in Sacramento.

They join our roster of standing experts: IRS spokesman Jesse Weller on federal taxes; State Franchise Tax Board spokesman Daniel Tahara on state taxes; and Terri Carpenter, careers expert with the Sacramento Employment & Training Agency (SETA) on job hunting.

They're all part of our "Ask the Experts" online feature, where readers can post questions - and get free advice - on a medley of financial topics: taxes, investing, personal finances, wills/trusts. To post your question, look under "Ask A Question" in the right rail on this blog or go to

June 18, 2012
How much is Mom/Dad worth around the house?

My Father's Day column on Sunday highlighted a survey - admittedly unscientific - that tallied up what the typical Dad contributes to the family household. The total: about $20,250 a year.

That's not counting Dad's paycheck, but adding up his around-the-house jobs like mowing the lawn, fixing the leaky sink, handling car repairs. The survey, compiled by, a consumer insurance site, is based on jobs/wages data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It pegs Dad's contribution at barely a third of what Mom contributes - more than $60,000 - as family chauffeur, birthday party planner, meal preparer, homework adviser, etc.

Read Mom's tally here.

June 16, 2012
Beware of financial scams targeting seniors

Elder financial abuse. It's not new, but it's getting renewed attention.

Last week, the state Department of Corporations urged Californians to be aware of investment fraud and other financial scams targeting seniors. It's also got a great resource, "Seniors Against Investment Fraud" (SAIF), which outlines scams and financial fraud targeting those over 50. Download it here.

Also jumping into the elder abuse arena is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created by Congress in 2010 following the country's mortgage meltdown. According to the CFPB, Americans age 60 and over lost at least $2.9 billion to "financial exploitation" in 2010, often by family members.

June 15, 2012
Welcome to The Bee's Personal Finance blog

Greetings and welcome to The Sacramento Bee's first-ever Personal Finance blog. Why this, why now? Because money matters. And coming out of the so-called "Great Recession" (what's "great" about it, I haven't figured out yet), it's clear there's a real desire by all of us to be better informed about our personal finances.

So this blog intends to offer up news, tips, tools and resources that can help you figure out the often-baffling world of personal finances.

It's also the new home to our longstanding "Ask the Experts" panel, which is a rotating group of local experts on taxes (both IRS and California), investing, personal finances, wills/trusts and job hunting.

Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

Personal Finance columns

October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31