Are My Retirement Funds Safe From Creditors?

Q. I understand that in certain circumstances IRA and 401(k) money may be protected from a lawsuit. However, if a person is retired and has rolled over their ERISA plan to an account with a financial institution, are those funds still protected?

A. Generally speaking, yes.

The laws can vary by state.

“Under federal law, pension plans such as a 401(k) fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and are protected from creditors,” says Anthony J. Vignier, a certified financial planner and attorney with Vignier Investment Group in Kearny, N.J. “This includes protection if filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection,” he said. (In New Jersey, the funds are protected from most creditors.)

Vignier said federal law exempts $1 million in an IRA for Chapter 7 filers.

A few exceptions from creditor protection are domestic relations orders for spousal or child support, and an IRS tax garnishment or lien.

He said New Jersey provides retirement accounts with 100% protection from creditors under N.J.S.A. § 25:2-1(b).

“This protection applies not only to IRAs, but also Roth IRAs, SEP-IRAs and other similar qualified retirement vehicles,” he said. “In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, New Jersey exempts all of your IRA. You can choose the federal or New Jersey exemption when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.”

You do not want to co-mingle IRA and 401(k) funds unless you are well below that $1 million level, said Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton, N.J.

“If you are rolling money out of a 401(k) plan, you need to put that money in a separate ‘Rollover IRA’ and not mix funds from a traditional IRA,” Lynch said. “As long as you do that, your funds are protected.”

Vignier said some of the best protection you can have against potential creditors is to have adequate insurance coverage. You should do a yearly checkup of your policy coverages for home, auto and medical to verify that you have sufficient coverage.

If you’re a professional such as a doctor, lawyer, etc., you should also make sure to have adequate professional malpractice insurance.

“Another often overlooked insurance protection strategy is getting an umbrella liability policy,” Vignier said. “It’s cheap and can offer great protection when other insurance falls short.”

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This article by Karin Price Mueller was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Issues for Alzheimer’s Families

What financial issues do Alzheimer’s families face? According to the National Institute on Aging, "as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease." Alzheimer’s is a chronic disease that requires care for the patient.

We wanted to know what financial issues families that included an Alzheimer’s patient needed to address. To help us answer them, we contacted Roger Wohlner. Roger is an experienced financial adviser based in Arlington Heights, IL. In addition, Roger contributes to his own popular finance blog, The Chicago Financial Planner.

Q: What should a family do financially while the patient is still capable of making decisions?

Mr. Wohlner: If you haven’t done this, I suggest a family meeting between the patient and adult children (or other relatives) to gain an understanding of their wishes in terms of the care they will receive, their financial resources available for that care, and other related issues. This is a good time to make arrangements such as appointing someone to be legally responsible for their financial affairs once they are not able to manage them on their own. Estate planning and other related issues should be updated and any changes made at this time. Meeting with an attorney well-versed in elder care and related issues is a good move as well.

Q: If the patient is already incapable of making decisions, what can the family do to handle financial affairs?

Mr. Wohlner: If things have gotten to this point, it is best to consult with an attorney versed in this area. The rules can get complex and vary by state.

Q: Is there a way to estimate the lifetime cost of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient?

Mr. Wohlner: This is tough and will depend upon a number of factors including where you live. A study that I saw quoted on the AARP site a few years ago indicated that the average annual cost to care for an Alzheimer’s patient was about $56,000 per year. This can run much higher if the patient is in a care facility and will vary based upon the type of facility. The study also indicated that a substantial portion of the cost of care is often born by the caregivers.

Q. What’s the most important thing financially for a family with an Alzheimer’s patient?

Mr. Wohlner: If time and circumstances permit, planning for the cost in the early stages of the disease is important.

Q: What about retirement accounts and pensions owned by the patient? What happens to them?

Mr. Wohlner: They can generally be tapped to care for the patient. If this is Early Onset Alzheimer’s, the penalties for early withdrawal may be waived. A spouse or family member will generally need to have a power of attorney or similar designation to make these decisions. Again it is wise to consult an attorney who specializes in this area.

Q: Is it permissible to move assets from the patient to make them eligible for aid?

Mr. Wohlner: I’m not an attorney, but it is my understanding there are look-back rules that preclude the movement of assets from the patient’s account in order to make them financially eligible for aid. As I understand them, these rules are strict and the penalties can be pretty severe. If this is an issue that you are considering, you would be well-advised to consult with an elder-law attorney in your area (or the patients if they are different) to gain an understanding of this complex area. I also have very mixed feelings in this issue. If the patient has substantial assets, is it right to move those assets to relatives and relegate the patient to care that can be paid for via Medicaid that might be inferior to what their assets could support?

Q: Where can a family go to find help in paying those costs?

Mr. Wohlner: There are a number of sources that include Medicare, retirement benefits, employee benefits and health insurance (generally for younger patients) and government assistance are all potential resources as well as other personal financial resources of the patient. Check out Alzheimer’s Organization site

The Dollar is dedicated to “living better…for less” and includes a variety of time and money-saving articles on all aspects of life.

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How to Take the Misery Out of Saving for Retirement

While we have all been told how important saving for retirement is, it can be hard to cut back on personal spending to watch your hard-earned money sit in an account you won’t have access to for years or even decades. Retirement can sound far away and even boring when you are in the prime of life with plenty of costly desires, but changing your attitude can help you save more and reach a better retirement, faster. Don’t think of saving as hindering your current quality of life; build enthusiasm for what is yet to come. First, calculate how much you need to save for retirement, then check out the following reasons to get excited about it.


If you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck or are just starting out on your own, your personal finances can be intimidating. Having and regularly contributing to a retirement account can help you become and feel financially secure. Saving over so many years will help ensure you will have enough money in your old age. Giving that to yourself can be empowering.

Financial Freedom

A change of perspective may be just what you need to get excited about retirement. Try thinking about the concept of “financial freedom.” Consider it the stage where you can choose when and if you work and how to use your money.

Your Rules

Does your boss get to you? Are there days you just want to throw the alarm clock and your employment responsibilities out the window? By saving now, you will help give yourself the opportunity to make your own rules in retirement. You will have control over your time and can walk away from your desk forever.

Specific Goals

A great way to get pumped up about retirement is to make specific plans, even if they will change in the future. Visualizing where you want to be in retirement can help get you through the day and put a smile on your face while you make contributions to your retirement fund. Whether it is playing sports and lounging in the sun, traveling the world or just getting more time with your friends and family, picture what your hard work now will help you enjoy in retirement. You can even use a savings tracker to help you feel better about where you are now and know exactly how much time and money you need to reach your goals.

Your Money Makes Money

When all else fails, focus on the numbers. Do not think of your retirement funds as IRAs or 401(k)s, but as compounding wealth. By saving even a small amount each year, you will watch your money accrue interest and then that interest will accrue more interest. And don’t forget about those tax-deferred benefits.

No matter what it takes to get you motivated to save for retirement, it’s important to make sure you are socking away for post-work life and preparing for your future.

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This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

The 5 Most Common Refinancing Questions, Answered

Lower mortgage payments? Shorter loan term? Lower interest rates? You may have thought you were done thinking and talking about home loans when you first bought your house, but as with most big financial decisions, it may be a good idea to revisit and re-evaluate. Refinancing offers some great potential benefits, but it’s important to consider your personal circumstances to see if it is truly the right decision for you. It’s also a good idea to be sure you understand what getting a new mortgage loan with new terms really involves. Check out some of the top refinance questions (and their answers) below to help you be sure you are acting in your best interest.

Should I Refinance?

The biggest question is, of course, whether this option applies to you. A refinance may be a good option for you if you cannot afford your monthly payments, if you can obtain a big drop in your interest rate, if you want to change the terms of your mortgage from adjustable rate to fixed rate, or if your financial situation or credit score has improved drastically since you got your mortgage (you can get your credit scores for free on to see where you stand now).

How Much Will Refinancing Cost Me?

If it seems like a refinance is the right move for you, you are probably wondering how much you will save and what exactly it will cost. Though you may save money in the long run, refinancing requires some cash upfront. Your interest rate difference, lender, credit score, title and home value will all affect your refinancing closing costs. If you don’t have the money upfront you may lose out on some of the benefits by spreading out the cost over the length of the loan.

How Do I Take Cash Out?

Besides changing the terms of your loan, you may want to refinance to take equity out of your house (if you have enough). By increasing your mortgage balance and paying more monthly, you can take cash out to use elsewhere. This is not always advisable, as it takes away from the equity you have built up.

What Are Points?

Points are a form of prepaid interest. In exchange for increasing your upfront payment, a lender will reduce your loan’s interest rate and thus, the monthly payment you make for the term of the loan.

Why Do I Have to Pay Mortgage Taxes?

Mortgage tax is charged on all new mortgages by local or state governments. Since a refinance is basically obtaining a new mortgage, you will likely have to pay the tax just as you did when you first acquired your home loan. If you are using the original lender, you may be able to avoid paying the tax if they treat your refinance as a modification of your existing mortgage — but that could mean you will have to pay a modification fee.

Refinancing can be confusing, but by getting educated and crunching some numbers, you could clear up all your concerns and save some serious cash along the way.

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This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

So Then This Happened

big family

What started out as an idea, led to this.

The Personal Finance Syndication Network seemed to me to be a logical way personal finance bloggers could work cooperatively to share content and help each other out.

The idea behind the Personal Finance Syndication Network is cooperative simplicity. The process to automagically or manually include the content you select in your site is simple. And the ability to submit your articles is stupid easy as well.

And best of all, it’s simply free.

We’ve all had those dry days where we don’t feel like writing yet another blog post. Yet someone else out there has written the most brilliant article that our readers would love to read. So why not share it?

Sharing a relevant article with your readers helps your site because it gives your loyal readers fresh content they are interested in. It also helps the author or site who put the article up for distribution by getting in front of other like minded readers.

Face it, none of us active bloggers are ever going to write that one post that will change the world. So let’s respect the loyal readers and followers of our sites and given them content you know they want to read to keep them coming back to your site on a regular basis.

9 Plead Guilty to $20M Scheme to Defraud Soldiers

Eight Alabama residents and one Georgia resident pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme in which they stole thousands of identities to file more than 7,000 false tax returns, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Alabama. Over the course of nearly three years, the group defrauded the government of approximately $20 million. A 10th accused conspirator is scheduled to appear in court April 6.

The group collected identifying information from a variety of sources, including a military hospital. Defendant Tracy Mitchell of Phenix City, Ala., worked at a military hospital in Fort Benning, Ga., where she had access to service members’ identifying data, including information about soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, according to a news release about the case. Court documents cited in the release say Mitchell used the information she accessed at the hospital to file fraudulent tax returns.

Other defendants took data from the Alabama Department of Corrections, a call center in Georgia where two of the defendants worked and two unnamed Alabama state agencies. This went on between January 2011 and December 2013.

Identity thieves favor the tax-return tactic as a way to cash in on sensitive data, which they can get by breaking into databases containing the information (aka a data breach) or following people’s paper or electronic footprints.

The success of a tax-related identity theft scheme depends upon thieves filing fake tax returns early in the season before victims do. This leads to a delay in refunds for those who are entitled to them, not to mention the hassle of straightening out identity theft and dealing with the consequences of someone using your personal information. Losing control of your Social Security number may mean years of identity theft problems, which can take time to fix.

Additionally, identity theft can lead to damaging information on your credit report, potentially hurting your credit standing and everything it’s used for, like getting loans or applying for an apartment. To look for potential signs of fraud, you can get your free annual credit reports from, and you can get a free credit report summary, updated monthly, on

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

What to Do With Old Savings Bonds

If you have recently located old savings bonds while working on spring cleaning or sorting through desk drawers, you are in luck. These common, though at times underappreciated, gifts can feel like free money years or decades later. They are securities issued by the U.S. Treasury Department that pay and retain serious interest in exchange for helping fund the government. The government has been issuing them since 1935 in increments starting at $25. Once you discover what type of bond you have and how much it is worth, check out some ways to use savings bonds below.

Cash In When Fully Mature

Savings bonds accumulate more interest the longer you wait, so if you don’t need the money now, it’s a good idea to keep them in a safe place until they fully mature. If yours have already reached their height in value, hit the bank! Once the bonds have reached maturity, they won’t gain in value anymore. So waiting to cash them in only means you are missing out on putting the money to use for you.

Convert to Electronic Bonds

Paper bonds are no longer available for purchase, but if you have some old ones, you can convert them to electronic bonds with the help of the Treasury website. This will make it easier to track the value of your bonds and manage them online.

Put It to Use

As long as you don’t have any debt to repay, you can put this (maybe forgotten about or unexpected) money toward financial goals like buying a home, going back to school or saving for retirement.

And if you do have debt to repay, you can make a big dent into it and help your credit too (especially if your credit cards are maxed out). You can see how your debt is impacting your credit scores for free on

Convert to TIPS

The U.S. Treasury now offers Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) that keep pace with inflation. Unlike traditional savings bonds, their value will adjust so it is not negatively affected over time. If you are looking to purchase a new savings bond for yourself or as a gift, it is a good idea to look into this option.

If you are interested in finding out the face value of your bonds or want to find out if you were ever the beneficiary of a bond you don’t know about, you can check the Treasury website’s tools. Visit the websites of or call any banks you use to see if they can process bonds. No matter which way you choose to tap their value, savings bonds can help you reach your financial goals.

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This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.