Suze Orman, Personal Finance Expert, Answers Your Questions

06/02/2011 05:59 pm ET | Updated Aug 02, 2011

HuffPost blogger, host of the Suze Orman Show on CNBC and author of 10 books on personal finance, Suze Orman has spent her career helping people manage their finances. You sent in your personal finance questions for her. Now she's answered them.

For more Suze Orman, you can follow her on Twitter or watch her on the Suze Orman Show every Saturday at 9PM & 12AM ET on CNBC .

1. From @ammm_13 on Twitter: I just grad. from law school with abt 200k in student loans. Consolidate? Or ure best advice? PLZ HELP!

Suze: You need to get on top of this pronto my friend. The $200,000 is already daunting enough, but if you fall behind in your payments the fees and penalties will explode on you, making this absolutely unbearable. And even if you were to file for bankruptcy, student loan debt is not discharged. You’re pretty much stuck with it. You didn’t tell me if you have a combination of federal and private student loans. I am praying there’s a big chunk of federal loans because with federal student loans you have some good repayment options—including consolidation. You can learn more at the Department of Education’s Loan Consolidation site. The private loans must be dealt with separately. Contact the lender and ask what all your repayment options are, and if you can in fact consolidate. Private loans typically have variable interest rates, and in the coming years I expect interest rates to rise, which would increase your loan repayment. I would do everything possible to pay off your private loans as fast as possible. That means no fancy car, no expensive vacations, and no high-end rental. Get those private loans paid off ASAP.

2. From Beth Wilkonson in the Huffington Post comments: I am a widow living on Social Security and a small pension. I had an inheritanc e which I've invested in high-yield ( 5-7%) stocks and am able to supplement my income with about $600 a month in dividends. Do you think this is the best use of the inheritanc e or do you know of other safe investment s that would give me a higher yield? Thank you.

Suze: I love love love dividend investing. When used properly I believe dividend investing is indeed a very smart way to generate income. But I am concerned by your characterization of dividend stocks as a “safe investment.” I just want to make sure you are clear on the fact that you are indeed investing in stocks, and stocks—even the most conservative and solid dividend payers—will go down in value from time to time when the markets hit a rough patch. That’s not as safe as keeping money in lower-yielding bank deposits such as certificates of deposit where your principal will not go down. That said, if you’re okay with the inherent volatility that all stocks have, then dividends are a great way to earn income. Even when stock prices slide, most companies keep paying their dividends. And over time—and I mean 10 years and preferably more-stocks typically rise in value. So if you can stomach the periods when stock prices fall, you should eventually get a double pay off from dividend stocks: the steady income stream, and an increase in value of your underlying investment.

3. From @suzy_enityeye on Twitter: where is the best place to invest $10,000 for this 40yo single woman with adequate retirement accounts?

Suze: You say you have adequate retirement accounts, but I just need to ask, do you have adequate emergency savings as well? If your emergency savings couldn’t cover eight months of your living expenses, that’s the first place your $10,000 should go. I also am intrigued by your use of the word “adequate.” I’d rather you told me, you we’re completely maxed out on your annual contributions to a workplace 401(k) as well as an Individual Retirement Account. In 2011 the maximum employee contribution limit to a 401(k) is $16,500 for someone younger than age 50. And you can contribute $5,000 to an IRA. If your modified adjusted gross income is below $107,000 ($169,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return) you can invest the full amount directly in a Roth IRA. If your income is between $107,000-$122,000 ($169,000-$179,000 for married couples) you can make a reduced contribution to a Roth. Otherwise, you can always contribute to a Traditional IRA and then convert to a Roth IRA. I think Roth IRAs are the way to go. In retirement your withdrawals can be 100 percent tax free if you follow some very easy rules. Your 401(k) and Traditional IRA withdrawals will be subject to ordinary income tax.

As for where to invest, given how young you are, I would encourage you to consider investing in a diversified exchange-traded fund (ETF) that focuses on dividend paying stocks.

4. From Ilko via email: I am 50 years old, and I can contribute to 403b and 457b with $38,500 all-together, but my company doesn't match anything. Should I continue contributing the whole amount? I also contribute to my Roth IRA: $11,000.

SUZE: Because your employer does not offer a matching contribution you should absolutely make the Roth IRA your first focus. Because you are 50 you can contribute $6,000 into a Roth IRA ($1,000 more than the standard limit for everyone younger than 50 years old.) Once you have that taken care of, I would then focus on your work-place retirement savings.

One important caveat is to remember that if you decrease (or suspend) your contributions to your employer retirement plan, that money will show up as taxable income in your paycheck. Just something to plan for as it may boost you into a higher tax bracket. But that’s okay. Paying a little more tax today on that money that you can then invest in a Roth IRA that will give you tax-free income in retirement is a sound strategy. I think all our tax rates will eventually have to rise in the coming years to deal with our federal deficit. So having income that is shielded from taxes could be especially valuable.

Your ultimate goal should be to contribute to the Roth and keep investing in your company retirement plan. The more you can save over the next 15-17 years before you retire (I think 67 should be the goal for everyone who is able to keep working that long) the more you will be able to enjoy your retirement years.

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