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Back to personal finance basics

Personal finance.

When is the best time to sell a home? How much should you take out of a portfolio for living expenses? What's more pressing--saving for college or funding a retirement account?

CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger answered those questions during our listener letter segment. 

Sara from New London, New Hampshire asked about that old rule of thumb for retirement saving to put away enough to replace 80 percent of your yearly income: is that before taxes or after?

Schlesinger said a different rule would be a better guide for knowing how much to save: "If you know how much money you're spending right now," she said, "You can say, 'Hey we'll probably spend about that much money when we retire.'"

Sara also mentioned that she has two kids getting ready to head to college, and wanted to know whether it was a good idea to dip into retirement savings to help pay for that. She said there is about enough in her and her husband's savings to retire on already, and that the money they put away now would pay for a state college if needed.

"There's two different approaches to this," Schlesinger said, "One might be to say, 'Hey I'll just keep putting money in and if I need money for college I'll just borrow against my retirement plan.' Another is to say, 'You know what, I've done a really good job, I'll pull my contributions back a little bit and use the rest of that money to pay out of pocket as you go along."

Schlesinger said that she would be reluctant to stop retirement contributions altogether, and recommends maintaining at least a small contribution, especially since the extra income could bump someone up into a higher tax bracket.

Also calling in was Kayla from Berywn, Pennsylvania who said about half of her expenses come out of a portfolio she built up earlier in her career before she became a small business owner.   What’s the math behind taking money out of a portfolio?

Arthur from West Tisbury, Massachusetts wants to sell a home he inherited.  How do you know when to put a home back on the market?  What are some pitfalls to avoid?

Mary from Michigan wants to move to Chicago to be closer to her daughter, but the neighborhood she is looking at is more expensive than her current one, which isn't ready to sell yet. She's always heard that you shouldn't buy a home until you sell a home,  but she's concerned that if she waits, she won't be able to find a home at a good price.

To listen to all the questions and Schlesinger's advice, click play on the audio player above.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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