Your Biggest Money Questions -- Answered!

Should you pre-pay your mortgage? Save or pay off credit cards? Open a join checking account with your spouse? iVillage personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich has the answers!

If you missed our live Twitterview with iVillage personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich, you can still benefit from her advice. Below, find out how she advised iVillage members on everything from college savings to credit card debt.

iVillage member: I had cancer this year and a lot of expenses what can we deduct/claim?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: You can deduct medical expenses (including prescriptions, etc) if exceed 7.5% of your AGI [Adjusted Gross Income] -technical! Head to IRS.gov.

iVillage member: We had sons in the NICU in 2008 and are still paying medical bills. Does this count as a medical deduction?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Keep ALL receipts for ALL expenses--if adds up to 7.5%+ of AGI (adjusted gross income), yes!

IVillage staff: I recently got married. Is it wise to open a joint account?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: You married him, hope you trust him! Make a household account for joint bills and goals only. Keep separate accounts too!

SheilaW9: What kind of account is good for saving money for my son for college?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: 529's are great. Shop around at SavingforCollege.com. Tax-free growth-be conservative but diligent saver!

JK8675309: What's a good way to save money, when there is really not much left per paycheck to [put] away?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Automate it! Shop around for online bank, earn interest, low fees, automatically have money taken out monthly!

IVillage staff: How do you know what you should have saved for retirement at any given age?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: No magic number. Ask: how much money do I have now, will home be paid off? Taking care of family later? Rare to save too much!

yaychichi: How many credit cards is too much? I have eight.

Carmen Wong Ulrich: How's your credit scores? If good, don't worry. Key: Don't OWE too much. Don't open more. You're good!

IVillage member: Trouble tracking my expenses. Neither writing down nor Quicken works for me. Suggestions?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Text alerts at least can help protect from fees.

Omikron7291:
Do I pay less in taxes if I trade stocks and options in a traditional IRA instead of a margin account?

Carmen Wong Ulrich:
No taxes on gains in an IRA until you cash-out/pull money out.

iVillage staff: What's more important: Have savings or pay down credit card?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Pre-recession, pay down cards. NOW? Savings. Chances of lay-offs too high. Savings protect you - try both!

iVillage staff: How do I know if I'm using the best bank for my money needs? Fast way to compare?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Bank-comparison sites: like Bankrate.com. Break up with your bank if you need to!

JK8675309: What's the [highest percent] interest that credit card companies can charge? I feel ours is too high.

Carmen Wong Ulrich: NO LIMITS on interest rates on cards. Some, 39%+! Call, ask to lower, threaten to transfer balance!

Doodle741: Do you recommend calling and talking to your credit card company to get a lower interest rate even if it's pretty low already?

Carmen Wong Ulrich:
If it's low, how low can it go? Average APR now is around 14%. Hope yours is lower!

iVillage member: I would like to get all three credit reports and scores. Where’s the best place to do this?


Carmen Wong Ulrich: For FREE reports-all three, once a year, always/ONLY: annualcreditreport.com. For scores, MyFico.com (must pay, for now)

swhitaker99: Should I refinance to a set rate if my adjustable rate mortgage has gone down every year?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: It won't always go down! May go WAY up. Lock in super low rate now - enjoy for years!

iVillage staff: I've always been told to pre-pay my mortgage. Is that a smart financial move?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: EEP! Nooo. Cheap money plus, putting too many eggs in one (market) basket - put money in diversified IRA instead.

cmkellie: Was told to pay an extra half mortgage payment each month to equal one extra payment per year. Is that still a good idea?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Your money is better served in diversified index fund(s)/IRA's. The housing market is flat, may dip again.

thumby001: [I have a] 401k with a company I no longer work for. What should I do with it? I cannot contribute.

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Roll it! Do you have a 401k with your current company? Can roll there or into other IRA--or keep there if performing [well].

iVillage staff: My savings account’s interest rate has gone down to 1%. Will it go back up?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Not too much and not for a while. (Booo!) But, [it's] important to pay that 'price' of keeping cash--it's a safety net!

iVillage staff: Should renters be saving to buy? Real estate best investment?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Stock indexes return better over long-term than housing market but real estate good way to build wealth too. Both!

LatinaBlogger: Which should we [do] first: Pay off card with highest interest, or make payments on multiple cards that are almost maxed?

Carmen Wong Ulrich: Highest interest first, always (to save money) Do math at Dinkytown.net. Fastest, cheapest way!

Be sure to check out Carmen's new book, The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life, and Your Money and send your questions for her to homeand.garden@nbcuni.com.

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