Renting is best option for retired 66-year-old

DEAR BRUCE: I am 66, single and retired with a $2,000-a-month pension, not Social Security qualified, Medicare A&B covered as well as health insurance. I have about $300,000 invested, age/risk appropriate, and other than a little arthritis, I'm very healthy. I own my own home outright with about $2,000 in taxes. The home is valued anywhere from $150,000 to $190,000 in this small town. I have no debt of any kind and live well within my means. My car is 2009, and I owe nothing on it. I have covered my final expenses years ago and carry a very small life insurance policy fully paid up through my federal employment. I think I have my bases covered.

My home is lovely: three bedrooms, 1,250 square feet and with a fairly large yard. It's in a good neighborhood. I want a smaller single-level with a garage, preferably not a condo. A newer, smaller house would cost more than my current house even though some of the upkeep is less, and taxes and insurance would be the same. I think you can see the problem. I do not want to enter into a mortgage situation at my age and income. Is there something you can tell me that I can't see? It basically comes to quality of life. I am not ready to rent or move to the senior facility, but I see the benefit of making a move before one has to.

I really have no one to bounce this off of, so I hope you can read between the lines and give me some ideas. My three children all live up to four hours away, and there is really not even a reason to stay in this town. I do not desire to live in close proximity to my children. I thank you in advance. — C.S., via e-mail

DEAR C.S.: Looks to me that you're in pretty decent shape financially, but I wonder why you say "you are not ready to rent." Why not? Renting in today's world can have remarkable benefits. You mentioned you have somewhere between $150,000 and $190,000 in your home, which is fully paid for. Let us take the loan number of $150,000. That number, even in today's world, just taking a modest risk in good, solid corporate instruments, should throw you somewhere around $7,000 a year. That's $7,000 very likely would go a long way toward renting a smaller home, and you don't have to worry about the major problems that home ownership can deliver.

In my opinion, you would be far better off to do that. Now I do recognize that this is a lousy market to be selling your house in, and you may have to put that move off for a couple of years, but it doesn't hurt to list it. If someone wants it badly, they will take it, and if nobody takes it, no blood. I wouldn't even consider going into a new mortgage or putting the greatest portion of the asset of the home into another home. You take a look at the market. It won't last forever, but then again, neither will you or I. But in my opinion, you should seriously consider first selling, then renting.

DEAR BRUCE: Are there any reputable credit companies out there that I can contact? There are plenty of companies, but I don't know which one to trust. We are still struggling, as most people are, and this might be the only way out of this hole. — Matthew, via e-mail

DEAR MATTHEW: You are facing the same problem as so many have. You are in hock up to your eyes in credit card debt. There are tons of companies out there advertising that they can lower your payments, etc. I would be very leery to get involved with such companies, and there are side effects — damaged credit and so forth. You didn't mention how much you owe. If you are in debt so far there is no way to get out, that's another matter. I am very reluctant to mention bankruptcy and I don't know what your assets are, so it's difficult to speculate about that. I am not a fan of bankruptcy unless it's absolutely necessary. That observed, if you would like to drop me a note giving me brief specifics about how much you owe, interest rates, etc., perhaps I can shed a little more light on a direction to head in.

Send your questions to: Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, FL 34680. E-mail to: Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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