April 29, 2017

Who is Middle Class in the US?

Although we read and hear many references to the "middle class," there is no official definition of who qualifies as middle class. Many people assume it means a certain level of income, homeownership, and a steady income. A recent study by the Pew Research Center defined middle class in relation to the median U.S. income of $55,000. Pew considered the middle class as households with 2/3 to 2 times the national median income ($55,000), which in 2010 amounted to $35,294 to $105,881 after taxes. Check out pew's middle class calculator for European countries and the U.S.: http://www.pewglobal.org/interactives/european-middle-class-calculator/

As reported in the NYT “Middle class contracted in US over two decades, study finds” by Nelson D. Schwartz, April 24, 2017.

April 27, 2017

A plan for your digital legacy

"When thinking about your digital legacy consider:
  • social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn
  • blogs and licensed domain names
  • your presence in online communities or listserves
  • music, photos, or other files that you store online
  • seller’s accounts on Amazon, eBay, or Itsy, and
  • access to financial accounts or utilities."  As part of your estate plan you should arrange for the  management/termination of your accounts. For advice read Nolo's recommendation at: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/a-plan-your-digital-legacy.html

April 26, 2017

Do you have enough money to retire?

A common question for pre-retirees is whether they have enough money to retire. Of course, the most accurate answer is: "It depends." How long are you likely to live? What lifestyle do you desire? What "guaranteed" sources of income do you have and how secure are those sources? What health expenses will you face? Will you need long term care? Here is an article from US News and World Report to help individuals answer this question. Keep in mind that spending is likely to vary widely with many retirees spending much more in the first "go-go" years of retirement than they did while employed because now they have time to travel, golf, recreate, and might want to buy an RV trailer or second home. Check out Brian O'Connell's article: http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2017-04-25/how-to-know-if-youre-underfunded-in-your-retirement-account

April 23, 2017

Got credit card complaints? Call your card issuer!

"The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received more than 26,000 complaints regarding credit cards last year, with billing the most common reason. But intense competition in the industry means credit card companies can be responsive if cardholders call." Read :

Here’s proof that disputing your credit-card bill could be worth it

The CFPB is the consumer's best friend in the financial services marketplace yet it is under attack by the Trump administration.  How soon politicians have forgotten the horrors and agony of the 2008 global financial meltdown caused by banks and mortgage lenders. Check out the CFPB's website and learn how the agency, created in the aftermath of the financial disaster, can help you and your family: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/. The CFPB is a "U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly"

13 Questions to help plan your retirement

"Many pre-retirees spend more time planning vacations than they do preparing for retirement, resulting in a lack of financial readiness. But planning is essential to avoid the worst, and Life Income Management founder Melody Juge reviews 13 questions to ponder to move toward sound retirement."
"What is your target retirement date?
• What are your monthly living expenses? Exactly.
• Do you have special interests and hobbies? If so, are there costs involved?
• What amount of money will you need to set aside to build your cash emergency fund?
• What is the amount of Social Security benefit you will be receiving? When will it start?
• What is the total amount of all your retirement savings?
• Where do you plan on living; are you staying in your home? Will you be downsizing?
• Do you currently have special health issues that need consideration?
• Do you plan on earning income during your early retirement years doing consulting or pursuing an income generating hobby?
• Do you know what required minimum distributions are?
• Do you have a will?
• Do you know the importance of having a Power of Attorney for medical and financial matters?
• Do you realize that your investment risk profile needs to be re-evaluated as a retiree?"
 For any of the questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no," change the question to explain HOW you plan on earning extra money and what you have done to determine if your plan is realistic?
Instead of answering Y or N to whether you have a will... If yes, When is the last time you reviewed your will and estate plan? What changes do you need to make in your plan?
Instead of answering Y or N to required minimum distributions, write down what they are, when they will affect you (what age), and how you expect to be affected. If you don't know about RMDs, look up the term on the internet.
Read the full article at: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/when-it-comes-to-retirement-a-dream-isnt-a-plan-2017-04-14

April 20, 2017

Almost everything you need to know to plan for retirement

Almost everything you need to know to plan for retirement is available on the blog post by Joseph Hogue, author of the PeerFinance101 blog: 7 Retirement X-Factors for Your Nest Egg. It's never as simple as accumulating X times your salary or other "rules of thumb." Check out: http://peerfinance101.com/retirement-x-factors-how-much-need/

A visual representation of investment diversification

Check out the Squared Away blog for an effective visualization of investment diversification. I used the Callan Table in teaching diversification to my university students. It's a great way to understand why no one can predict future investment returns. http://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/squared-away/the-picture-of-investment-diversity/
Callan table excerpt

What mom REALLY needs for Mother's Day

My New York City sister sent me an email about a Mother's Day Brunch for "only" $105 per adult and $45 per child! Obviously that's what the 1% (or 10%) does to celebrate Mother's Day.
What mom really needs is not an expensive restaurant meal, flowers, or another kitchen gadget. What most mothers need, especially those who are NOT in the paid workforce is... an IRA! Yes, an individual retirement account! Women who are working full time (unpaid) in the home need to build retirement security and, unfortunately, most will depend on their husbands, who are subject to the 4 Ds: Divorce, Disability, premature Death, and Desertion.
Time to enter the 21st century and fund a Roth IRA for mom. Check out the ultra low cost, low entry, very diversified options from mutual fund companies Charles Schwab and Vanguard.
You only need $100 to open a Schwab target retirement index fund IRA. http://www.schwab.com/public/schwab/investing/accounts_products/investment/mutual_funds/mutual_fund_portfolio/target_funds
If Mom is worth $1,000, then check out Vanguard Target Date Retirement Funds:
Both mutual fund company websites explain mutual funds, target date funds and IRAs.

April 10, 2017

Avoiding Surprise Medical Bills

"Surprise medical bills can happen from nearly any encounter with the health-care system" according to Emma Court for MarketWatch. "Awareness of so-called “surprise medical bills,” which occur when an insured patient receives an unexpected bill for out-of-network care, has grown in recent years. Emergency room horror stories, in which one or some of the medical providers involved aren’t in network, unbeknown to the patient, have been particularly prominent."

"Surprise medical bills can also result from nonemergency care, such as an in-network doctor’s visit or elective procedure, and many individuals don’t realize they have options — including some state-level protections — besides gritting their teeth and paying."

Here’s what to do to protect against — or deal with — a surprise medical bill:

1. Ask questions before hand... where possible.

2. When faced with such a bill: call, ask questions, and negotiate.

3. Contact your state's insurance department to seek help and file a complaint.  

Get the details: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-expensive-risk-lurking-in-nearly-every-medical-experience-you-have-2017-03-31 

April 6, 2017

Why not Medicare for all? HR bill 676

With all the debate and animosity about overhauling the Affordable Care Act (which, BTW IS the same as "Obamacare" although 30% of Americans do NOT know this simple fact), why not Medicare for all Americans?  Most people, both consumers and members of Congress, don't seem to realize that under our current system of health insurance, the insurance companies are behind the cost increases. The reason why we pay the highest health care costs of any nation on earth and are far behind the leaders in the health outcomes, is because of the profit-making insurance companies that skim off a portion of every premium.

HR bill 676 was introduced by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and has 90 co-sponsors. 
"This bill establishes the Medicare for All Program to provide all individuals residing in the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services, and vision care." Learn more about this proposed legislation https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/676 and ask your member of the House of Representatives to support this legislation.

Are you financially ready to retire?

Find out if you are financially ready to retire with the help of Walter Updegrave, writer for CNN Money. The article contains links to useful calculators to help answer the question. Set up and start living on a retirement spending plan, estimate your longevity (how long will retirement last?), and find out how likely it is that your money will last as long as you. http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/05/retirement/ready-to-retire/index.html
For plenty of excellent resources on retirement planning check out Real Deal Retirement: http://realdealretirement.com/

April 3, 2017

Wondering Why your New Car Insurance is So Expensive?

"New cars loaded with high-tech crash-prevention gear are having a perverse effect on car-insurance costs: They are soaring."
"Safety features such as autonomous braking and systems to prevent drivers from drifting out of their lanes are increasingly available on vehicles rolling off assembly lines. Auto companies and third-party researchers say these features help prevent crashes and are building blocks to self-driving cars. But progress comes with a price."
"Enabling the safety tech are cameras, sensors, microprocessors and other hardware whose repair costs can be more than five times that of conventional parts. And the equipment is often located in bumpers, fenders and external mirrors—the very spots that tend to get hit in a crash."
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