April 30, 2018

Mother's Day Gift Ideas for May 13, 2018

What mom needs is not an expensive restaurant meal, flowers that will wilt in less than a week, or another household 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.
Husbands are building Social Security credits, and often have access to retirement accounts (in their name only) at work. What retirement security does mom have?
It's time to enter the 21st century and fund a Roth IRA for mom. Check out the ultra low cost, 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.
Search this blog for "Mother's Day" to read more about IRAs for mom.

Trump eviserates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis? Do you recall the major causes of the global financial meltdown? Egregious behavior by the banks and mortgage lenders! So Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. In addition to regulating banks and Wall Street, Dodd-Frank established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). From its inception to April 2017 the CFPB "returned almost $12 billion to 29 million consumers and imposed about $600 million in civil penalties."
Now the Trump White House is trying to destroy the CFPB (mainly because the bill was signed by President Obama) but also because, rather than cleaning up the swamp in D.C. Trump hires former wall Street big guns to run the country.
Trump appointed Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director for a second full-time job as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mulvaney sure has the consumer interest at heart. He epitomizes the swamp; he stated that when he was a member of Congress, he would only talk with lobbyists who were donating money to him. Forget lobbyists for consumer and environmental organizations: no money; no access!
Mulvaney is making massive changes to the CFPB according to The Wall Street Journal and other reliable sources. He is following Trump's direction to gut the consumer bureau... and deepen the swamp.

April 25, 2018

Advantages of Credit Unions over Banks

Wells Fargo Bank has certainly captured the headlines over the past couple years with its egregious treatment of its customers. To those customers who are still banking with Wells Fargo or other bank customers who are frustrated with poor service, low interest on savings and high interest on loans, it's time to check out your local credit union.
The three main advantages of credit unions over banks are:
1. putting their customers, not their stockholders, first.
2. higher interest rates on savings and lower rates on loans.
3. more personal and flexible customer service. 
Get more details from the Squared Away Blog: http://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/squared-away/credit-unions-a-popular-antidote-to-fraud/

April 24, 2018

Health Savings Accounts offer a triple tax advantage

If you have a high deductible medical insurance you can contribute to a triple tax free HSA.
1. no federal income tax owed on contributions.
2. balance grows tax-free
3. withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free
Fidelity offers an excellent summary of the benefits of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) at https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/personal-finance/hsa-healthy-habits
"HSAs offer a number of benefits: not only spending for the short term, but also saving for longer-term qualified medical expenses, including those in retirement." Enjoy a triple tax advantage!
Also: How your health savings account can be a powerful retirement tool:
How to get the most out of your HSA: https://www.fidelity.com/insights/personal-finance/getting-your-hsa-in-shape-infographic
Your investment choices include mutual funds, self-directed brokerage accounts, CDs, and savings accounts. Employer-sponsored HSAs may limit your investment/savings choices but individuals buying an HSA on their own can choose from a wide variety of providers. To find an HSA check: https://www.hsasearch.com/
If you have an HSA with your current employer but are leaving that job, or if you are retired, you can move your HSA funds to another provider.  

April 23, 2018

Google may be a bigger privacy risk than Facebook

Christopher Mims, writing for The Wall Street Journal (4/23/18) explains that "Alphabet's Google is a far bigger threat by many measures." Based on the amount of information gathered, Google's tracking procedures, and the amount of time people spend on its apps and sites, poses a far bigger risk to privacy than does Facebook. "Few of us realize the extent to which our data is being collected and used." It is a systemic problem that most consumers don't recognize. Google Analytics collects data from up to 50 million websites, including the largest U.S. companies; "it tracks you whether or not you are logged in." Google uses "browsing and search history, apps you installed, demographics and where you've shopped. Google collects Android users' call and text history; to a much greater degree than Facebook's access to Apple's iphone.
European Union privacy rules make it much easier for users to understand what data are being gathered and how it is being used. Google opposes the California Consumer Privacy Act, a November 2018 ballot measure.
Time to think carefully about your online activities.

April 21, 2018

Wells Fargo Bad behavior...once again

According to Ken Sweet, writing for the Associated Press,
"Wells Fargo will pay $1 billion to federal regulators to settle charges tied to misconduct at its mortgage and auto lending business, the latest punishment levied against the banking giant for widespread customer abuses."
The bank "has admitted to a number of abusive practices across multiple parts of its business that duped consumers out of millions of dollars."
If you are still a Wells Fargo customer... WHY? It's time to join your local credit union!

April 20, 2018

New data on Health Care Costs in Retirement, including long term care expenses

There have been plenty of reports detailing exceedingly high health care costs for retirees, with some estimates far exceeding the average retiree's nest egg. Specifically: a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2018 can expect to pay an estimated $280,000 in health care costs in retirement, according to Fidelity investments. (https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/04/19/heres-how-much-2018-retirees-will-pay-for-health-c/

Medicare does not cover long term care costs for nursing homes or assisted living. While some retirees choose to buy long term care insurance, the LTCI industry is in a state of considerable flux, with companies leaving the marketplace and remaining insurers raising premiums quite dramatically.
The latest report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI.org) sheds light on this vexing question. Although no one can know if they will be among those with few expenses or the unfortunate person who will spend multiple years in a costly nursing home, the summary of the report is worth reading.
A key paragraph from the Plan Advisor summary: 
"Data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) finds out-of-pocket health care expenses are typically miscalculated, as the median cumulative for long-lived elderly people (those who pass away at 95-years-old or older) rounded out at $27,000. Yet, this doesn’t signify low health care costs, either. Ten percent of this group reported spending $172,000 in health care expenses, and 5% said they paid $269,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs. Services included hospital stays, nursing home stays, outpatient surgery, doctor’s visits, prescriptions drugs, dental services, home health care and hospice care, according to EBRI. Additionally, all participants surveyed were at least 70 years of age." See: https://www.planadviser.com/determining-health-cost-needs-retirement-complex/
The Plan Advisor website provides a link to a PDF of the report. 
The range of expenses is wide with persons requiring nursing home care facing the highest costs. It is important to understand what Medicare and Medicaid cover and what they don't. This report is a helpful reality check.
In sum, some expert reports suggest astronomical health care costs for retirees while others say "wait a minute, not so fast." What to do? A lot depends on your personal situation (health, family, financial, risk tolerance); but data are available to make an educated decision on what to do.
Fill out a state-specific health care directive and talk with your family and health care advocate about your end-of-life wishes. Much of the high costs come in the last year of life and are based on the decision to prolong life at all costs vs. getting palliative care. It's your choice. be sure to make your wishes known to your family, health care providers and put your wishes in writing. 

April 17, 2018

Too many women still let husbands make important financial decisions

Fully 56% of married women still leave major investing and financial planning decisions to their husband, according  “Own Your Worth,” a report from UBS Global Wealth Management.
Why is this a concern?
The divorce rate for ages 50+ has doubled since 1990
Women live about 5 years longer than men (and often marry older men)
Women are much more likely than men to experience poverty in old age or a steep reduction in their level of living after death of spouse or divorce
You'd think the situation would be better for young er women but UBS reports that 61% of millennial women let their husbands make the couple's investment decisions!
Women who fail to take responsibility for their long term financial future by abdicating decisions to their husbands often experience a rude shock after divorce or death of their spouse.
Read: Rise of ‘Gray’ Divorce Forces Financial Reckoning After 50 by Suzanne Wooley at;

April 13, 2018

Finding a financial adviser you can trust

is a real challenge! Successful advisers (those who makes lots of money for themselves) are
charismatic and convincing. But before you start interviewing prospects, you better do your homework. Check out these resources (besides searching for "fiduciary, financial advice, financial adviser, financial advisers, and financial advisor on this blog):

A safe haven for investors http://jasonzweig.com/, the website of Jason Zweig, personal finance writer for The Wall Street Journal.
Lots to explore but start with
"The special trick to find the right financial adviser" posted 9/11/17.
"The 19 questions to ask your financial adviser" posted 8/31/17
"Why your financial adviser can't be conflict free" 4/10/17.

April 6, 2018

Facebook violates user privacy; time to delete?

"The mountain of evidence piling up this week exposes the rot at the core of Facebook Inc." (C. Mims, WSJ 3/21/18, B1). 
Each day the news gets worse. It's front page news in the Wall Street Journal (and other news outlets) on a daily basis- how FB violated your personal privacy. According to WSJ (4/5/18: "data breeches 0were far more extensive than previously  known." Data from 87 million users was shared with Cambridge Analytica, the company that messed with the 2016 presidential elections with fake news to help the Russian interfere with our election. FB admits to these abuses.
nothing new, Back in 2011 the federal Trade Commission revealed that FB "deceived customers by telling them they could keep their information private, but then allowed it to be made public" (WSJ 4.5/18, p. A4).
First: It was a BIG mistake to register with real information: your real name, real birth date, etc. How naive to trust a corporation with this information. While FB is updating its services to supposedly better protect users and give more control over how their personal information is used, it way past that point. FB has completely lost the trust of users. Your email address and phone numbers have been shared with companies you did not agree to.
It is clear that FB cannot be trusted. Yes, your personal information is "out there." You can't change that but you can take steps to protect your privacy in the future. So now FB is providing more info on how they use your data. It is revising its term of service. Great. Nice to Know. NOT! In addition to these breeches, FB also shares your information with Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.
It is clear that FB cannot be trusted... so what can you do? The WSJ has been very helpful in publishing a series of articles about how to change your information and even how to delete your account.
You can request a lost of all the info you've posted. "One of the more shocking things some users discovered in their files was a list of phone calls and text messages." (K. Bindley, WSJ 3/30/18B4). As FB explained: when you share info like a phone number or email address with a business, they can match that info to your FB profile.  Any app which you linked to - they all obtained info from your FB account.
Even when you try to "Delete my account" many users are finding they cannot proceed because the system tells them their passwords (which they just used to log on) are incorrect. (source: K. Bindley, WSJ, 4/6/18, B4.) Deleting an account is different from "deactivating" it. To delete go to FB help center. after clicking "let us know" you get ""Delete my account" which leads to another box that asks for password and a captcha puzzle. This is where the problem appears. Keep trying... maybe it will work for you. If you want to delete- first download your data: pictures, posts, messages, etc. FB will hold on to your data for 90 days (or maybe forever).
You can "deactivate" your account: choose downward arrow at top right page corner. Go to Settings, then Manage Account. Scroll down to Deactivate Your Account
FB is supposedly curbing the data it shares/sells to other companies. However, the horse is out of the barn. Zuckerberg has apologized... wow! that's easy to do. One lesson to be learned: NEVER give out your real information online: Name, birth date, email address, anything.
Time to take charge of your personal information and stop being naive. Wipe the slate as clean as possible and be a more prudent internet user. Think of all the extra time you'll have when you stop using Facebook!

Resources for mobility and accessibility devices

A new guide for saving money on mobility and accessibility devices and tech in 2018 is available: 100+ Resources, Tips, and Discounts on Mobility and Accessibility Products for Seniors and the Disabled

April 5, 2018

Don't pay for extended warranties

"Cost of a three-year extended warranty for a dishwasher: $157.97.
Average cost of a dishwasher repair: $159.
The fact that service contracts often cost about the same as a repair is just one reason extended warranties — also known as service contracts and protection plans — are hardly ever a good deal." 
"Not actually extended: Despite the name, the Federal Trade Commission says many “extended” warranties go into effect at the same time as the manufacturer’s warranty. Plus they contain language requiring you to tap the manufacturer’s warranty first." Why pay for duplicate coverage?
"Lots of exclusions: Complaints to the Better Business Bureau show that many consumers are frustrated to find that their extended warranty won’t cover their problem because of  'exclusions' in the fine print of the contract. For example, some service contracts won’t cover routine maintenance, accidental damage or preexisting conditions. Others exclude specific parts."
"Deductibles and fees":  many warranties charge deductibles or service fees on every claim.
"Must mail the product": "some extended warranties require you to ship your broken product somewhere for repairs." That’s an extra cost plus time without the product.
"No servicer selection": some contracts require that you use a specific repair facilitythat may not be convenient or reliable.
"Shop must get permission": repair shops may have to obtain preapproval from the warranty company before making repairs, further delaying the process.
"Third-party companies: Many extended warranties are sold by retailers and backed by third-party companies, rather than by the manufacturer of the product. Some consumers have complained that the salesperson never “activated” their service contract, so the warranty company refused to honor it. Other times, these third-party warranty companies have gone out of business, leaving consumers with nothing for their money."
Don't be pressured or scared by the sales clerk to buy unnecessary "protection." 
Do your research before you buy to choose reliable products from ethical companies. 

April 2, 2018

End-of-Life Financial Planning Documents

Got a will? Here are 11 more end-of-life documents you may need 
by Kelli B. Grant for CNBC.
"Anyone remember the death rate in the United States? It's... one per person. Nobody is getting out of here alive. We never know when death will happen, just that it will," Amy Florian explained to a group of financial professionals. 
Not to discourage you with a long list, but it's really time to quit delaying and do some estate planning. For those of you who have a will and think that you're done... there are a few more documents to make life easier for your survivors. 
Start with a will and then...
In addition to a will, you may also need:
1. a living will: dictates what medical treatments you do and don't want in different circumstances. The Five Wishes planner ($5)  "covers a wide range of comfort and care preferences. It's meets the legal requirements for a standalone advance directive in 42 states and Washington, D.C., and in the rest, can be used in conjunction with the state's living will forms." 
2. POLST: Physician orders for life sustaining treatment, forms are an "option for consumers to dictate their end-of-life wishes, Florian said. Most states offer them, under various names and programs (check polst.org)." 
3. Power of attorney for Healthcare/Healthcare proxy: Names a person to make health care decisions for you when you are incapacitated. 
4. Durable power of attorney: names the person to pay bills and make financial decisions on your behalf. 
5. DNR/DNI orders: do not resuscitate/do not intubate (may be included in POLST but redundancy can be good). "Resuscitation is the only medical procedure routinely done without permission, so [a DNR] has to be accessible."Post it on your refrigerator. 
6. Diminishing capacity letters: Your advisor may ask you to sign one. "It gives that professional permission to call specific trusted individuals (usually, your powers of attorney and/or a family member), if they have noticed some diminishment in your physical, cognitive, mental or psychological capacity."
7. Organ donor designation: "Checking the organ donor box on your driver's license isn't enough, Florian said — your license may not end up at the hospital with you in an emergency, and your family has the potential to override the designation." If you want to donate, register with the National Organ Donor Registry at organdonor.gov.
8. Life insurance: if loved ones are dependent on your income or services (homemaker). Ensure that "you can fulfill your financial responsibility to the people you love."
9. Personal property memorandum: "personal possessions can be a significant source of will contests and family disputes." Can be included with a "letter of last instruction" and can be updated without changing one's will.
10. Digital assets memorandum: "Specify in your will who you want to own or have access to your digital assets and accounts like social media and email." BUT, do not include usernames and passwords in your will which can become a public document. Provide a separate list and keep up to date in the cloud or backup device.
11. Relevant info collection: "Keep a list of where important documents and items are kept, and provide it to your financial advisor or another trusted individual. That includes everything from key documents like wills, powers of attorney and Social Security cards, as well as physical items like keys to the car and your safe deposit box. It also helps to have account logins and passwords, and details that could help caregivers like long-term care policies or veterans benefits eligibility."
Full details at: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/15/12-financial-planning-documents-to-handle-health-end-of-life-care.html

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