Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

May 6, 2013
Protecting online reputations: More tips on how to use social media

Our recent column on "how to improve your online image" offered tips on making sure that a Google search of your name or company yields the best possible results.

Here are some more tips:

Social media savvy:

Locally, the Social Media Club Sacramento is hosting its next monthly gathering on May 16: "Guerilla PR Strategies for Tech Startups," where five Sacramento-area tech company CEOs will discuss how they "create buzz about their product or service without spending a fortune."

The free event, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., takes place at the Urban Hive, 1931 H St., in Sacramento.

The five panelists are: Elizabeth Dodson of HomeZada; Aaron Klein of Riskalyze; Alexander Lowe of iSnap; Robb Moore of ioSafe; and Brett Owens of Chrometa.

Founded in San Francisco in 2006, the Social Media Club hosts local chapters in 300 cities and countries, bringing together individuals and business to share "digital media literacy." The Sacramento chapter hosts monthly meetings and quarterly workshops to share ideas, tools and tips on using social media effectively.

Help from Yelp:

Small business owners are invited to "Wednesday Webinars" that cover how to use's free tools, including how to respond to positive/negative customer reviews.

This month's webinars are May 15 and May 22.

Small business owners can set up a free account at, which lets them access their business listing to update hours, add photos and interact with customers, both publicly and privately.

Since launching in San Francisco in 2004, Yelp says about 80 percent of its 39 million posted reviews are positive, at least three-stars or above.

"Thanking the consumer who writes those (positive comments) is always a plus," said Morgan Remmers, manager of Yelp's local business outreach.

For the negative reviews, she suggests taking "a deep breath" and waiting 24 hours before responding. That lets the comments sink in and helps avoid "any kind of defensive attitude, snarkiness or emotional tone" in your response.

Generally, brevity is your best bet: "Thank you for your comment. We appreciate customer feedback and will discuss your concerns with our staff."

Even though a nasty review feels like a personal attack, by politely responding and acknowledging their complaint, you can often defuse the anger, said Remmers. And if you're lucky, she noted, the writer might soften or even pull down his or her negative quotes.

May 6, 2013
Will simplifying our trust require us to re-do all of our title documents?

In the 1990s we established an A/B family trust and have always placed all assets in the name of the trust with us as trustees. We do not expect to exceed the $5 million estate threshold and wish to convert to a simple family trust.
How will this affect all the documents established as "James and Mary, Trustees Under 1990s Family Trust?" We have invested in several real estate trust deeds. Must these documents be quitclaimed to the simple trust or can the simple trust be stated as just a revision to the A/B trust? Thanks for your help.

James and Mary, Elk Grove

May 3, 2013
Free 'Avengers' comic books give kids financial literacy heroes

What can Spider-Man teach your kids about money? Plenty, according to the creators of a first-ever financial literacy comic book for kids: "Avengers Saving the Day."

On Saturday, free "Avengers" copies will be given away at comic book stores in Sacramento and across the country, part of the 10th annual "Free Comic Book Day." The event, sponsored by comic book publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, is expected to give away 4.5 million copies of various titles from America's favorite superheroes, from Batman to Sonic the Hedgehog. Participating stores in the Sacramento area include Big Brother Comics, Empire's Comics Vault, Metropolis Comix, and River City Comics + Games.

"Avengers: Saving the Day" is a special collaboration between Marvel and Visa Inc.'s "Practical Money Skills for Life" website. It features Spider-Man and other Avengers battling bad guys, while slipping in messages about budgeting, banking, saving and other money-minded wisdom.

May 2, 2013
Young entrepreneur's jet company wins NFIB scholarship

He may not have graduated from high school yet, but Sean Burris is already airborne with his first business venture: Classic Jet Tours.

Fueled by his passion for vintage jet airliners from the 1950s and '60s, the 18-year-old has organized two charter flights with paying passengers: on a Douglas DC-8 from McClellan Field in Sacramento and a British BAC 1-11 out of Dallas, Texas.

His company's next charter: a 50th anniversary flight in October aboard the BAC jetliner.

For his entrepreneurial efforts, the Bear River High School senior recently earned a $1,000 college scholarship from the National Federation of Independent Business. He's one of five California high school seniors to win college scholarships in the NFIB's annual competition, which awarded 100 scholarships to business-minded students across the country.

Burris, a Lincoln resident, is majoring in entrepreneurship this fall at Northeastern University in Boston.

May 2, 2013
Sibling rivalry over a parent's trust: What financial disclosures are required to beneficiaries?

My sister is the trustee of our parents' revocable trust. We will soon be selling their house and property. I feel there is a lot of unnecessary money being spent. Is she accountable for what comes and goes out of the checking account? Do I have a right to know what is financially going on? If so, does she notify me or does the attorney?

It has been almost a year since our parents died and I have no idea where we are financially. I have been involved in preparing the property and house for sale. Do I have a say in accepting an offer or not? My sister feels it is her responsibility as trustee to handle everything without including me. Thank you for your time.

Linda, Rocklin

May 2, 2013
Should I care about my credit rating?

Q: Should I care about my credit rating? I don't owe anything, I have a pension that takes care of all of my needs, and I have $300,000 in savings. I use a Costco Amex card and pay it off monthly. I have no plans to move or buy a house.

Sacramento, CA

May 1, 2013
How can I reinvest my 401(k) plan from a previous employer?

Q: I have a 401(k) from a previous employer, and I would like to transfer it to a financial vehicle where I would have some control of where the money is invested, such as precious metals, ETFs, etc. How can I do that? Do I need to deal with a brokerage company like Charles Schwab?

Elk Grove, CA

April 29, 2013
Sticker shock on high school prom: There's an app to avoid that

Got a teenager attending prom this spring? This year, the average U.S. family will spend $1,139 on high school prom night. That's everything from dinner to dancing shoes. And it's up 5 percent from last year.

Not surprisingly, most of that expense comes out of Mom and Dad's wallet. According to a recent survey of 3,000 families, most parents plan to pay for 59 percent of prom costs, while their teens will cover the remaining 41 percent. "With parents subsidizing this much of the total prom spending, there is little incentive for teens to cut costs," said Visa Inc., which sponsored the annual survey as part of its financial literacy program, Practical Money Skills for Life.

To help keep spending under wraps, Visa just unveiled a new, free, smartphone app, "Plan'it Prom", available on iTunes or Google Play. It lets you create a prom budget that includes the dress, shoes, flowers, hair and makeup, even the pedicure. You put in what you want to spend, then keep track as you shop.

April 29, 2013
Is an attorney required to change the beneficiary to our trust?

We need to change the beneficiary in our revocable living trust. Must that be handled through an attorney or can we make that change ourselves? If on our own, must the change be witnessed and notarized? Thank you!

Susana, Folsom

April 26, 2013
What are the advantages of holding title to real property as community property with right of survivorship?

Regarding the recent question in the Bee on changing title of your home to community property with right of survivorship, what is the overall benefit of making the change? We paid off our house about a year ago and wonder if changing the title is something recommended.

Barbara, Sacramento

April 25, 2013
Am I required to report a gift that is within the annual exclusion amount?

I am selling my house and wish to gift my sons from some of the proceeds. I understand they can each receive $14,000 from myself and $14,000 from my husband. This will be a one time event, so will not trigger gift tax. My question is, is there any paperwork involved and do we need to file special forms when we file our taxes? My husband and I use turbo tax and used the standard deductions last year. Thank you!

Linda, Orangevale

April 24, 2013
Should a spouse be named as beneficiary of a Health Savings Account (HSA)?

I just opened an online Health Savings Account (HSA). On the Designation of Beneficiaries Form, it asks for the name and address of the individual, or a trust that I would like the money to go to if I die. My husband and I have a trust together. Should I designate the trust, instead of my husband directly, as the beneficiary?
This leads to my second question. Our regular checking and savings account are titled under our trust. Should I have done the same for this HSA savings account? It is in my name only, not my husband's. Thank you.

Julie, Granite Bay

April 24, 2013
Are you a "squeaky wheel" on consumer complaints?

Do you know how to complain and get results? We're doing a story how to effectively complain to a company when something goes wrong with a consumer product. If you had a customer problem and got it resolved by talking/writing/emailing/blogging to a store or company, we'd like to hear your experience. Please contact personal finance writer Claudia Buck at: (916) 321-1968 or

April 24, 2013
Should I cancel or borrow from a whole life policy?

Q: I am uncertain whether to cancel or borrow from a whole life policy (with a $100,000 benefit) that is a little over 10 years old, in order to pay off credit card debt. The policy's cash value is $13,000 and the credit card debt is $10,000. I would reinvest the difference in stocks and bonds.

The bigger picture is that I want to buy a term policy for $1,000,000 because a different existing $400,000 term policy has recently run over its term and is incurring premiums that are too high.

On top of that, I found out that I am paying too much for another group policy through my employer (for $300,000). I want to get rid of that as soon as possible; unfortunately, I am unable to until the end of the year. An additional $100,000 coverage is paid for by my employer.

I have read so many different and often opposing opinions about whole life policies in the past few days that I am thoroughly confused and don't know whether I would be wiser to keep than to cancel it.

The reason for the total coverage of $1,000,000 (20-year term) I'm seeking is that my wife is disabled and cannot work. I want to know she is secure enough that, in case of my death, she can live off the interest. I am 46, my wife is 49.

Clearwater, FL

April 23, 2013
Do I have to provide a copy of my entire trust when applying for refinancing?

I have a friend trying to refinance her home under the HARP program and her home, her only asset, is in a trust. She has been told by USAA and another lender that she would have to submit her entire trust to them for evaluation before she can refinance. More recently she was told that lenders cannot refinance a property held in a trust and that it is against the law for the lender to refinance without a full copy of the trust. She is not willing to give that information to a group of strangers. Are there new federal laws that are going to make having a revocable trust obsolete?


April 21, 2013
How can my cousin and I agree on a fee for her services as trustee?

I am the single beneficiary of an irrevocable trust and my cousin is the trustee. The trust does not state how much the trustee can/must charge for services. She is hesitant to take any pay, but I would like to pay her. Is it possible to pay her out of the trust? She is the only one who can write checks for the trust but feels uncomfortable writing a check to herself, even though I approve.
What is the common practice? How can we handle this comfortably?

Anne, Sacramento

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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

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