Ask Kim


The Most Frequently Asked Personal-Finance Questions of 2011

Kimberly Lankford

Kim Lankford rounds up her advice on identity theft, credit scores, and other topics that readers needed help with in 2011.



Thank you all for sending such great questions -- more than 5,000 in all -- this year. Hearing from you always helps me learn about the issues that are most timely and important to everyone.

SEE ALSO: 2011 In Review: The 8 Stories With the Most Impact on Your Wallet

In reviewing the Ask Kim columns for 2011, I found some key themes among the questions readers asked, including how to improve credit scores, avoid identity theft, retire debt and make the most of retirement plans. The following columns address some of those issues, which remain timely into 2012. I hope that the answers can help with your personal finance issues, too.

Readers were very interested in finding ways to help their kids financially while helping to lower their tax bills themselves. See 6 Tax-Smart Ways to Help Your Kids (or Grandkids), Helping a Family Member Save for College, and Teaching Kids About Investing.

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Scam artists continue to find new ways to steal your identity and your money, and readers wanted to find out about the newest ways to protect themselves. See How to Avoid ID Theft, 10 Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft When Traveling, and How to Protect Yourself From Scams. Also see How to Protect Yourself After Identity Theft for tips on what to do after you discover your personal information has been stolen in a data breach, and How a Credit Freeze Works for specific moves that can help protect you from ID theft.

Readers are always looking for strategies to help them out of debt, but especially so now that the holiday credit-card bills are arriving in their mailboxes. My column Using Balance-Transfer Cards to Pay Holiday Bills led to a follow-up column, Balance-Transfer Cards Can Save Thousands about just how much money you can save by transferring your balance to a credit card with a lower interest rate and by boosting your payments.

Credit scores are a hot topic: Many readers wanted to know the secret behind the credit-score calculations, strategies for improving their score, and who can take advantage of the new laws to get free copies of their credit scores.

At the end of the year, readers were concerned about understanding the new timeline and rules for Medicare's open-enrollment period. And even after the December 7 deadline passed for signing up for their 2012 Medicare Part D prescription-drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans, they continue to be interested in learning why some people have to pay extra for Medicare Part B and Part D, how to contest the high-income surcharge this year, and how to avoid the surcharge next year.

It seemed I couldn't answer enough questions about the rules for Roth IRAs and the strategies for making the most of this powerful retirement-saving tool. Accordingly, I put together The Basics of Roth IRAS in February, which was a roundup of frequently asked Roth IRA questions.

As Hurricane Irene charged up the East Coast in August -- just days after an earthquake shook the Mid-Atlantic States -- many readers asked about insurance coverage. My response: What Disasters Does Your Homeowners Policy Cover? A few days later, I wrote 8 Steps to Help Get your Hurricane Claim Paid Quickly, which can help people with claims-filing advice after a hurricane as well as other natural disasters. Readers continue to ask questions about preparing their homes for the changing seasons, resulting in the columns How to Prepare for an Emergency and 7 Financial Tips for Snowbirds.

And during the first few months of the year, until the tax-filing deadline on April 15, I tend to get a lot of questions about the American Opportunity Credit and other Tax Credits for Education Expenses, as well as the Best Retirement Plans for the Self-Employed. If you do end up getting a tax refund, you may end up asking How to Put Your Tax Refund to Good Use, which provides information that can help anyone with setting financial priorities throughout the year.

Please continue to send me your questions! I look forward to hearing from many of you in the upcoming year. You can always reach me at askkim@kiplinger.com.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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