Ask Stacy: The Most-Asked Questions of 2014

Here are some of the most popular categories of reader questions from 2014, along with answers. See if you’ve wondered about some of the same things.

Better Investing

As regular readers know, my normal Tuesday “Ask Stacy” column typically involves a detailed answer to one reader question. But for my first column of the new year, I typically instead provide short answers to multiple questions in some of the most popular categories of the preceding year.

So here we go: Here are some of the most-asked questions of 2014, along with brief answers and links to additional information.

Questions about time shares

Ever since I started answering questions in this column five years ago, the subject of time shares has been consistently one of the most popular. I received dozens of questions about time shares in 2014, many of which resembled this one:

I would like to know if there’s any way on earth to get rid of a time share? I was swindled into a time share when I was very young and have not been able to find a way to get the thing out of my life. I never use it, but of course continue to pay for it. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. — Ginger

Answer: I’ve written a lot on this topic, (see “How Can I Get Out of My Time Share Without Being Robbed?“) but the short answer to Ginger’s question is to try selling her time share at some, or all, of these locations:

Ginger should approach a sale with very low expectations. Most time shares don’t have an active aftermarket, which means buyers are scarce. If you borrowed money to buy your time share, you might have to pay off your loan to get out of it. While you might start your sale by talking to the developer you bought it from, don’t be surprised if they tell you they won’t help you.

The most important thing to know about selling a time share: Never pay a big upfront fee. What fraudulent resale services commonly do is say they already have a buyer for your unit. All you have to do is pay an upfront fee ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Don’t bite. Odds are that a buyer doesn’t exist.

And when it comes to buying a time share, the most important thing to know: Time shares are very easy to get into and very hard, if not impossible, to get out of. If you like the idea of a time share, buy it for pennies on the dollar from a private seller at one of the sites above. Never buy from a developer and never borrow the money to do it.

Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!

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 2014, rising from 9 to 14 percent, depending on the measure.

The problem with stocks? What goes up can often come down. Every year there are periods when the market falls, and that’s when I get 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 59, have a similar mix in my investments and thus far haven’t sold much. (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. As the economy continued its recovery through 2014, the Fed announced plans to start ending or “tapering” that program. This began a few months ago and will continue in 2015.

As the Fed backs away, interest rates will gradually rise. Rising rates aren’t typically good for either stocks or bonds, but the increases should be both small and gradual. If corporate profits and employment continue to improve, the positives should outweigh the negatives and stocks can continue to advance.

As I said last year at this time, while the market is pricey by some measures, it’s not in bubble territory. The economy is getting healthier, companies are making money and, for now, stocks are still a good long-term bet for at least part of your savings.

That being said, nobody, including me, knows what will happen to stocks, or anything else, with any certainty. So my advice to Steve is to read as many informed opinions as possible, but no matter how positive the outlook, never have so much money invested in stocks that you stare at the ceiling at night.

For more, read this column from a few months ago: “Why Are Stocks Tanking, and What Should I Do?

From our Solutions Center: Find a better online brokerage

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 become confused, and even easier to get swindled. Here’s a recent question:

How do I find a job to work from home? Can you help me with some websites? Thank you. — Dorothea

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

  • Never 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:

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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

    • 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.

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