Ask Stacy: The Most-Asked Questions of 2013

It’s been an interesting year, and from the reader email I’ve received, it’s also been a confusing one.

Today I’m going to depart from my normal practice of a long answer to one question and instead provide short answers to questions in some of the most popular question categories of 2013.

Questions about Obamacare

Most of the email I got relating to Obamacare this year was from people who hated it, and hated me for daring to write anything positive about it. I also got several questions from readers wondering if they were about to be shafted. Here’s an example:

Hi. I recently received a letter stating that as of next year Tricare will be sending copies of any medical billing attributed through me to them to the IRS. As you’ve stated, there are many myths and facts posed by Obamacare, so my question: The rumor is that in the future any medical costs paid by my primary insurance and Tricare, which is a secondary medical benefit, will be reported as additional income to the IRS at the end of the year on which I will be taxed. Is there any validity to this? – Ray

Answer: Because of the emotions and politics surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the Web and cable TV are saturated with lunacy from both sides. Obamacare – a term I try not to use anymore – is primarily about insuring the uninsured. It’s not about changing the fundamentals of how insurance works or how your benefits are treated for tax purposes.

Ray, in no way, shape or form will insurance company benefits you receive to pay your medical bills be taxed by the IRS as income.

Questions about investing

This is another very popular topic, and for good reason. When you’re earning next to nothing in interest at the bank, you’re naturally drawn to anything that might pay more. And stocks certainly fit that bill in 2013, rising close to 30 percent. The problem with stocks? What goes up can often come down. I’ve gotten a few recent questions like this:

I’m worried about a stock market crash. Should I move all of my funds into cash? I’m 52 and invested in a 401(k) at about 70 percent stocks and 30 percent bonds. – Steve

Answer: Steve, I’m not smart enough to time the market, so I’m never completely on the sidelines. I’m 58, have a similar mix in my investments, and thus far haven’t sold a thing. (You can see my online portfolio here.)

What I think will happen: Since the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve has been keeping interest rates low through a massive bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, or QE. Now that the economy is starting to noticeably recover, the Fed recently announced plans to start ending or “tapering” that program. This will start in 2014, and could result in more trying times for the stock market.

I don’t believe, however, that the market is on the verge of a major crash like the one we saw in 2008-2009. Because while the market is overpriced by some measures, it’s not in bubble territory. And as I just mentioned, the economy is getting healthier.

Steve, my advice is to check out mainstream sites like The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, CNBC and CNNMoney. See what the experts have to say, keeping in mind that nobody knows what will happen with any certainty. After reading as many informed opinions as possible, if you’re still worried about the money in your 401(k), follow your instincts.

A clever person once said something like this: “I am more concerned with the return of my money than the return on my money.” In other words, if you’re worried you have too much exposure to stocks, you probably do.

Questions about working from home

I’ve been getting these types of questions for years. There’s so much misinformation out there, it’s easy to get confused, and even easier to get swindled. Here’s a typical question:

I am looking for a work-at-home job that is not a scam. Can you help me? Thanks. – Cynthia

The most important things to remember about work-at-home jobs:

  • Never, ever pay money upfront for “opportunities.”
  • The more hyped something is, the more suspicious you should be.

Read “Ask Stacy: Is There Legitimate Work From Home?” for more information. Here’s a list of resources from that post:

Questions about credit

Building or rebuilding credit has always been one of our most popular topics. Here’s an example:

I filed for bankruptcy about three years ago. I am trying to rebuild my credit and I pay all my bills on time. I checked my credit score and it is still low. What can I do to improve my credit rating? – Anna

Anna, you definitely need to go to our credit and debt section and check out articles like “Ask Stacy: How Can I Rebuild My Credit?” and “5 Steps to Build a Credit Score From Scratch.” But the solution to your problem is to follow these three steps:

  • Pay your bills on time.
  • Open new lines of credit. If you have trouble qualifying for credit, first try a credit union. If that doesn’t work, try a secured credit card.
  • Check your credit history at AnnualCreditReport.com and make sure there are no mistakes on it.
  • Be patient. If you do all of the above, your credit score will improve. You can take that to the bank.  

Questions about advertisers

These types of questions are particularly painful to me, because they show that some readers lump our integrity into that of our advertisers. Important: We’re not related. Here’s an example:

I just looked at one of your ads regarding how to choose a Medicare supplemental plan. I had to enter my personal info including phone number before being able to get quotes. Now my cellphone is constantly ringing. Thanks a lot!! Why can’t I get quotes online only?!!! – Kathleen

Unfortunately, Kathleen, we have no control – zero – over the advertisers on our site or their business practices. Our ads come from Google, and will differ based on what Google knows about you, as well as other ads you’ve looked at elsewhere online. In other words, when you look at MoneyTalksNews.com, you’re very likely seeing completely different ads than someone who could be sitting at a computer right next to you.

That doesn’t mean all advertisers you see here are problematic. The vast majority, we certainly hope, aren’t. More important, if you never click an ad here, we’ll be out of business. So please, click on ads that appeal to you. But you should always exercise care in dealing with anyone online.

And please: Don’t ever assume that because an advertiser appears here, they have our endorsement. I’ve worked for 25 years to build and maintain my reputation. Please don’t let some stranger I’ve never met negatively impact it.

Questions about Canada

While most of our readers are in the U.S., we have readers all over the world. I’ve gotten comments like this one many times:

Just to let you know I thoroughly enjoy Money Talks News. However, I am disappointed that there is not more off it that applies to Canada. Seems that most of these programs like getting money from government groups/programs they are for USA and not Canada. – Ivy

I’m sorry, Ivy. I’ve been to Canada many times, love the parts I’ve visited and have friends there. Unfortunately, however, I’m U.S.-based, as are the vast majority of our readers. So while I’d love to offer insight into offers, deals, programs, etc., that apply in Canada, I simply don’t have the staff and resources available to make it happen. At least, not yet!

Got a money-related question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer. Got any words of wisdom you can offer for this week’s questions? Share your knowledge and experiences below or on our Facebook page.

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  • Mark

    Hi Stacy. Over the years I’ve accumulated credit card accounts for varying reasons (for instance; to receive 50K airline miles once). I’ve heard I shouldn’t close an old account because that causes the average age of my cards to shrink (which apparently is a bad thing when talking about credit scores), so right now I have six active accounts. I only use two of the accounts though…one because I get miles on a specific airline (has an annual fee but I’ve gotten it waived the last few years) and the other only for gas since I get 5% cashback on gas (and no annual fee). The other cards (none have annual fees) are in my wallet “just in case” but it’s been a long time since I used any of them. I always pay the balance in full every month on the two cards I do use. So, my total credit limit is a bit over $50K which puts my debt-to-credit ratio around 1%-2%. Anyway….I recently got some mail from one of the banks noting I hadn’t used their card in a while and urging me to use it. It made me wonder a few things… Is there any reason to occasionally use the cards I haven’t been using? Or to cancel one or two of them? Is there a point where debt-to-credit ratio is too low? My credit score really hasn’t been something I’ve worried about but I will likely be in the market to buy a home (first time) in the next few years so I want to make sure I do whatever I can to keep it strong. Do you have any advice for my situation?

    Thanks, Mark

    • http://www.moneytalksnews.com/ Stacy Johnson

      Hi Mark,
      If the cards don’t charge an annual fee, it’s fine to keep them open. Just use them once or twice, pay them off in full, and you’ll keep everyone – including your credit score and utilization ratio – happy.