Q: I’ve just inherited some money from my father’s estate. I paid off all of my credit cards, set up a $10,000 emergency fund, put aside $10,000 as a house emergency fund, and increased my 401(k) contribution to 10 percent.
I now need advice for my kids’ college fund, adding to my retirement, and paying off my mortgage. Is there a service I can pay for to monitor all of my credit cards so they don’t get fraudulently used, or do you recommend I close the accounts?
A: My condolences on the loss of your beloved father. But it sounds as though you have honored your father’s memory by doing something smart with your inheritance.
Setting up an emergency fund of $10,000 is a great start, as is paying off all of your credit card bills and increasing your 401(k) contribution. I would suggest that since it’s unlikely you’ll need all of your emergency fund at once, you might want to get a bit more interest for the money by putting it in a short-term certificate of deposit (CD), perhaps one that rolls over every couple of months.
Going forward, you might want to open up a 529 college savings plan for each of your children. While that money will be counted in the financial aid formulas colleges use to determine your parental contribution, the cash will grow tax free. To find a good 529 plan, check out Joe Hurley’s website, www.savingforcollege.com.
Another option is to use part of your inheritance to open up or fully fund a Roth IRA account. You can put another $4,000 away in after-tax cash. Your wife may also be able to put away another $4,000. This cash will grow tax-free for your retirement, and like other retirement accounts, is not counted for financial aid formulas.
As for whether you should pay off your mortgage, the answer to that question depends on what interest rate you’re paying.
If you were smart enough to lock in a 15 or 30-year loan for less than 5.5 percent, I wouldn’t necessarily rush to pay that off. There are CDs and bond funds paying 6 percent or better now, and going forward, having a low interest loan could allow you to plow your cash into something that pays a better rate of return.
If, however, you have a mortgage or home equity loan with a higher rate of interest, you’d be better off paying it off sooner.
Finally, since you were already in the habit of paying the interest and minimum payment on your credit cards, I’d love for you to continue making that regular payment each month — but this time into those 529 college savings plans for your kids or into your Roth IRA.
Don’t cancel all of your old credit card accounts. You’ll need them especially those that are the oldest to keep your credit score as high as possible. If any of the cards charge an annual fee, see if you can get the company to waive the fee or transfer the account to one that doesn’t charge an annual fee.
You have an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to both honor your father and cement your financial future. It sounds like you’re making some smart moves.
As far as paying somebody to monitor your credit cards, you can do that yourself by using the online services that the credit card companies provide. Log on to your credit card companies’ websites from time to time to make sure nobody is charging on your cards.
You can also monitor your credit by going to www.annualcreditreport.com and getting a free copy of your credit history from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year. Look at your credit history to make sure that each of the cards you have has the balance you expect. Unless you suspect that you may be a victim of a credit scam or fraud, you may want to save the monthly fees that some of the companies charge for that service.
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