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Retirement dilemma: Old account. Moving overseas. Should we close it?

Retirement plan can be kept open, even though it's getting no new contributions, until your retirement. Question No. 2 in the reader's mailbag.

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Q6: Job change and unfinished mortgage
I’m soon to begin the final semester of my Master’s degree program in Public Administration. With this goal nearly accomplished, I (along with my wife) am facing a difficult decision in looking for a new job. I am interested in entering the field of city management upon graduation. Initially, this change is likely to force us to move to a smaller, more rural community. We currently live in a suburb of the Twin Cities metro area. While I’m not so concerned about the culture change, I do worry about the housing situation in potentially having to continue paying the mortgage for our current property while also either renting or purchasing a home in a new area. Is there any advice you can give on making such a transition given the current housing market? Would we be wise to try to find renters for our current home or put it on the market as soon as we know where and when we may be moving? 
- Ron

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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I would put it on the market now, actually. List it for the price you would like to get, then gradually lower it as your expected moving date nears.

If you get it sold for the price you want, just move into an apartment for the remainder of your stay in the Twin Cities. It will have been worth it because of the extra money made from the sale and the fewer months spent paying interest on your mortgage.

Also, the longer it’s on the market, the more likely you are to simply find a buyer, which can be difficult in the current housing market.

Q7: Reconnecting
Is there really value in reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in a long time? I recently got an email from someone I used to work with but haven’t seen in ten years. She’s coming through town in a few weeks and wants to know if we can have lunch somewhere. I’m trying to figure out if this is even worth my time for my career. Any thoughts?
- Lindsay

If you have no interest in seeing this person beyond a questionable amount of career improvement, it’s probably not worth the time. You’d be better off spending your lunch shoring up a connection you actually value than this one.

Having said that, there is value in maintaining professional connections, even ones that don’t seem to be specifically beneficial to you at the moment.

I’d ask myself if there was something better I could genuinely do for my career during that lunch than meeting with the old contact. If there is, I’d do that. If not, I’d meet that person for lunch.

Q8: 401(k) loan for debt?
I hope you have time to answer this question. Here’s the info: I have some credit card debt. $2500 on one card with 10% interest and $2000 on another card with 8.9% interest.

I am considering taking a loan from my 401K of $2500 to pay off the one credit card. Then I would concentrate on the other one, making $500 payments per month to pay it off.

The 401K loan would be for 6 months. The interest would be $67 and the fee to take out the loan would be $100. The payments would be automatically deducted from my paycheck.

I have $1400 in a savings account and approximately $100,000 in my 401K and IRA.

Part of me thinks I should take the money out of savings, pay down the smaller amount and keep paying monthly until it’s paid off and then focus on paying the other one and NOT take the loan.
- Elizabeth

I would not take out the loan. 401(k) loans work okay if everything goes perfectly, but even in that case, you’re still borrowing money to pay off other borrowed money. You’re not really getting ahead.

If it doesn’t go perfectly, the drawbacks can be pretty bad. The interest you paid already is lost. The loan is taxed as normal income, plus there’s a 10% penalty that you have to pay to the IRS. That’s far worse than the small amount of interest you’re saving.

If I were you, I would keep at least $1,000 in savings, use the extra $400 to pay down the loans, and just focus your energy on wiping them out through small steps and good choices.

Q9: Which insurance policies?
I have recently (November 2011) transitioned from a full-time position to three part-time (online) positions in order to allow me more flexibility (while I complete my doctoral dissertation). My wife is stay-at-home mother to our (almost) six children. We expect to remain in this situation for up to 6 months. Each of the current income streams are considered part-time employment (W2; not 1099). None come with benefits.

I’m comfortable with not contributing to any retirement plan during this short-term situation (particularly since its a 40% pay-cut for the short term). My concerns and inquiry relate to insurance coverage.

We currently have health insurance in the form of a HSA account with a HDHP. That was/is separate from my employer. We lose vision/dental coverage and I’m comfortable with that for the short-term. Life insurance plan (both the base employer-provided plan and the additional rider) are gone (at least I assume they are). Disability insurance plan is gone. I do have a liability policy that was/is separate from my employer but it specifically notes that it is secondary to the policy previously provided by my employer.

During these next 6 months, what sorts of policies should I be getting?
- Robbie

If you have six children, you absolutely need life insurance coverage. You need a term policy that will take care of those six kids in the event that something happens to you. This is without question. Get this now and don’t relinquish it even after you’re employed.

The other plans are more or less connected to the actual state of your finances at the moment. I’m not clear as to whether you’re going to be struggling to keep your head above water during this period or if you’re spending far less than you earn. If you’re cutting it close, the one I’d consider most strongly would be the disability plan.

The biggest thing you need to be concerned about is making sure those kids are protected if something disastrous happens to you. Life insurance is the 800 pound gorilla here.

Q10: Best books of 2011
Over the past few years, you’ve often made a top ten list of the books you’ve read from the previous year. Did I miss it or did you make one for 2011?
- Charlie

I did make such a list for 2011, but I posted the list over at my other blog that focuses on my other writing endeavors and non-personal finance stuff.

Anyway, here’s the list. It’s the ten books I read that were actually published in 2011 that I have a desire to read again at some point. Pretty simple, huh?

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
REAMDE by Neal Stephenson
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Information by James Gleick
These Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
In the Plex by Steven Levy

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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