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U.S. Deficit Streak Continues in 2017
The last time the federal government spent less than it collected in taxes was during fiscal years 1998 to 2001. Accompanying infographic shows the FY federal deficit as a percentage of GDP since 1997.
Empty-Nesters May Still Need Life Insurance
Regardless of age, a couple might have debts such as a mortgage, car payment, or student loan, which could be paid off with a life insurance benefit. This article discusses options for maintaining life insurance coverage to benefit a surviving spouse.
Don’t Let Rising Rates Catch You by Surprise
Forms of consumer credit that charge variable interest rates are especially vulnerable to looming rate hikes. However, borrowers still have time to act before higher interest rates significantly affect their finances.
Budget Battles: Terms That Shape the Spending Debate
U.S. taxpayers may want to know more about the often-contentious budget process and the rules surrounding government spending and borrowing. This article includes an infographic that breaks down federal outlays by category.
Asked to Fax? No Need to Relive the '80s
In light of privacy, security, and legal concerns, some businesses still insist that confidential information or forms with legally binding signatures be sent by fax. Web-based fax services allow consumers to upload scanned documents to send from a website or mobile app, or by email.
Young Workers More Likely to Sacrifice Vacations
More than half of American workers failed to use all of their allotted vacation days in 2016, and about one in four young workers didn’t take a single day off. Accompanying infographic compares the share of workers, by age group, who did not plan to use any paid vacation days in 2016.
Two Numbers That Reflect Your Financial Picture
When it comes to financial matters, it’s important to know the numbers that really count. This article discusses two figures that provide a snapshot of where someone stands financially: debt-to-income ratio and net worth.
Medicare for Newbies
Now more than ever, older Americans should make the most of their Medicare benefits and factor rising health-care costs into their retirement planning. This article focuses on Medicare basics such as coverage options and enrollment timeframes.
Ransomware on the Rise
Ransomware is a menacing virus that locks consumers or businesses out of their computer files and demands a ransom payment in exchange for the return of the computer’s system or critical data. Here are tips for preventing a ransomware infection.
It’s Official: Funny Cat Videos Lift Our Spirits
A survey found that 76% of adult Internet users watch short videos online at least weekly; many were partial to clips involving animal antics.
Why sunseekers should slather on sunscreen.
Once Again, Americans Are Borrowing Big-Time
Balances on all types of non-housing debt grew in the fourth quarter of 2016, but student debt and auto debt have been rising much faster than credit-card debt. Accompanying chart compares total balances for student loans, auto loans, and credit-card debt.
Money Mistakes People Make
People typically encounter different financial challenges during each stage of their lives. This article discusses common financial missteps for different decades of life.
Four Things to Do in the Four Years Before College
With costs rising every year and the prospect of too much student debt weighing on many families, it’s more important than ever to be an informed and proactive college consumer.
Introducing the Nanny Tax
Finding and paying for reliable child care is often a major challenge, and many young families may not even know about the nanny tax.
Would You Swap Homes to Vacation for Free?
Today, services with thousands of online listings make it possible for more people in more places to coordinate swaps.
Sticker shock for new vehicle loans.
The Price Parents Pay for Better Schools
Homes located in neighborhoods with a good elementary school cost significantly more and appreciate faster. Accompanying infographic compares the average home value and return on investment in ZIP codes with good schools to those without good schools.
Are Smarter Robots Sneaking Up on Workers?
Research on the U.S. labor market found that about 45% of 2,000 distinct work activities could be automated with current technologies. As artificial intelligence is combined with robots, sensors, and other advanced technologies, modern society is becoming automated in ways that were once unimaginable.
Why Inflation Is a Personal Subject
“Headline inflation” ran at a moderate 2.1% annual rate in 2016. This article focuses on why the reported inflation rate may seem way off-base for some consumers. Accompanying graphic shows Consumer Price Index changes for various categories such as airfares, groceries, housing, and gasoline.
Millennials Are Sticking Around...Maybe Too Long
Statistics show that millennials are moving less often than previous generations did at the same age. Accompanying infographic compares generational mobility rates for 25- to 35-year-olds over different time periods.
Sizing Up Your Credit Score
A person's credit score can influence loan approvals and terms for a variety of financial transactions. This article discusses how FICO scores are calculated and includes tips to help readers maintain a high credit score.
Tips for recovering a lost or stolen smartphone.
More Americans See Good Reasons to Save
Public opinion on saving and spending used to be more evenly divided, but the appeal of saving has grown steadily since the Great Recession. Accompanying graphic compares the share of respondents who prefer saving vs. spending.
Calculating the True Cost of a Career Break
Couples who can easily afford to live on one income may prefer that one parent stay home to raise their young children, but many families depend on two incomes. This article discusses the short- and long-term costs to consider when deciding whether to leave the workforce temporarily.
Rent-to-Own Offers the Worst of Both Worlds
If you want to buy a home but aren’t in a position to qualify for a traditional mortgage, a rent-to-own deal might seem like an ideal opportunity. Unfortunately, these arrangements are fraught with risk and are sometimes scams.
The Problem with Unpaid Internships
About half of college seniors have completed an internship (paid or unpaid) to gauge their interest in particular career fields or start building their business networks. However, research shows that college graduates with paid internship experience are much more likely than unpaid interns to receive job offers and earn higher starting salaries.
Teaching Kids to Code
A recent analysis of online job postings found that nearly half of the highest-paying jobs were for occupations that require computer coding knowledge or skill. Thus it’s not surprising that a number of new toys and games are available to help children in grades K-12 develop problem-solving skills and spark an interest in computer programming.
The cost to raise a child to age 17.
Consumers Regaining Confidence
A closely watched gauge of consumer confidence surged at the end of 2016. Accompanying graph shows changes in the Index of Consumer Sentiment from 2007 to 2016.
Can You Count on Social Security?
Many retirees depend heavily on Social Security income, but the program faces a projected funding shortfall by 2034. This article discusses financial and demographic challenges to Social Security as well as some proposed reforms.
What’s Up with Rising Rates?
In December 2016, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the federal funds rate by 0.25%. This article discusses the implications of rising rates for consumers and the U.S. economy.
Housing Markets Are Flooded with Fixer-Uppers
There has been a surge in fixer-upper homes for sale in recent years, especially in more competitive markets. Here are some tips for home buyers who are trying to decide whether a fixer-upper is worth the hassle.
Adding Up Prom Costs
Formal prom events for high school students have grown more extravagant in recent years. This article includes ideas to help keep prom spending in check.
The fight to save citrus groves from a disease known as citrus greening spread by the Asian citrus psyllid.
Millionaires in the Making
There were more than 8 million U.S. millionaires in 2015, and it’s estimated that another 3.1 million will be created by 2020. Accompanying table compares the number of U.S. households, at various levels of financial wealth, in 2015 to 2020 estimates.
Old Ben Franklin Counted on Compound Interest
When he died, Benjamin Franklin left 1,000 pounds sterling each to Philadelphia and Boston. He expected the funds would grow to a much larger amount over 200 years, based on the concept of compound interest. The accompanying chart shows potential growth of an investment over time to illustrate the importance of saving for long-term financial goals as early as possible.
How to Make the Most of an Inheritance
About $30 trillion is expected to pass from well-heeled baby boomers to younger generations over the next several decades. This article includes tips for individuals who happen to receive such a windfall.
Two Key Types of Fixed Annuities
Purchasing a fixed annuity can help create a pension-like income stream for retirement, starting now or at some point in the future. This article discusses some of the differences between immediate and deferred annuities.
Does Your Pet Eat Healthier Than You?
Pet food spending in 2015 reached about $23 billion, and nearly half of this was for premium products with higher protein content or ingredients touted as natural, organic, raw, or gluten-free. Accompanying chart shows factors that impact pet food buying decisions.
How school gardens produce an edible education.
Modern Marriage About 6 in 10 married couples with children under age 18 are juggling two careers. Accompanying infographic compares the employment status of husbands and wives in married households.
When Married Couples May Benefit from Separate Tax Returns
Most married couples pay more total income tax when they file separately than when they file jointly. This article explores three situations when it may be advantageous to file separately.
Heartless Fraudsters Fake Love to Steal Money
Sweetheart scams are perpetuated by criminals who create phony profiles on dating websites. Anyone could be targeted, but older people are often more vulnerable.
Engaging in the Gig Economy
About 68 million U.S. workers earn income outside of the traditional employee role. The accompanying infographic shows the proportion of independent workers who prefer the autonomy and flexibility compared with those who do it out of economic necessity.
Putting a Ring on It? Consider Insurance
An engagement ring may be one of the most expensive possessions a young couple owns, but standard homeowners or renters insurance may not provide enough protection to replace a piece of fine jewelry that is lost or stolen.
The health dangers of herbal supplements, which land about 23,000 people in hospital emergency rooms every year.
There’s an App for Everything As of July 2016, smartphone apps have overtaken all other digital media platforms combined to account for more than 50% of the time that U.S. consumers spend online. Accompanying infographic compares total time spent online using apps or web browsers on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.
New Employee Perk Caters to Millennials
Average student debt for the class of 2016 exceeded $37,000. Student loan payments are often the most immediate financial concern of new grads earning entry-level salaries. Some employers are now offering to help workers repay their loans, and this perk is expected to catch on as more employers seek to attract and retain qualified young workers.
Are Smartphone Hackers After Your Money?
As more Americans log in to their bank accounts and payment apps from mobile phones, the FBI is warning that cyber thieves could hack into devices and steal customers’ banking information. This article includes tips to help avoid malware attacks and safeguard financial accounts.
Historic Plunge in Food Prices
U.S. food prices dropped for nine straight months through August 2016, a rare event for an economy that is not in recession. This article focuses on the economic forces that helped to hold down food prices, and shows year-over-year changes in various food prices.
How Social Media Could Mess Up Your Financial Life
Competitiveness and a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” often leads to overspending and taking on too much debt. Social media can make matters worse because it's possible to view the lifestyle choices and purchases of many more “friends.” Younger consumers may be more vulnerable to this kind of peer pressure.
Antibacterial hand and body washes containing certain chemicals may cause more harm than good.
Ringing in Holiday Spending A total of $12.7 billion was spent on retail purchases using smartphones and tablets during November and December 2015. Mobile spending accounted for 18% of total digital spending in 2015, up from 13% in 2014. Accompanying chart breaks down holiday season digital spending in 2014 and 2015 by desktop and mobile.
Making Sense of Beneficiary Designations
Because the beneficiaries designated in retirement accounts and insurance policies supercede instructions in a will, it’s important to keep the forms up-to-date. This article explains how two common Latin terms in a will or beneficiary designation form — per stirpes and per capita — could affect the division of assets to children and grandchildren if a child predeceases the parent.
401(k) Loans: Is It Wise to Lend Money to Yourself?
About 87% of 401(k) participants are in plans that offer loans. Borrowing money from a 401(k) has some advantages and disadvantages. This article explains the IRS rules for loans and the risks involved, including the potential for a retirement income shortfall.
“A Chapter a Day” May Foster Longevity
A recent Yale University study on the reading habits, health, and longevity of 3,600 participants concluded that book readers lived almost two years longer than those who didn’t read books. Reading books also resulted in a longevity advantage over reading magazines and newspapers.
Child-Care Costs May Account for Baby Lull
Working parents often spend a significant portion of their earnings on child care, and the high cost might be one reason why families have had fewer children in recent years. Child-care expenses have risen almost twice as fast as overall inflation since the recession ended in mid-2009. This article explains how a dependent-care FSA could be a valuable workplace benefit to help cover child-care expenses for qualifying children.
How bottled water has become the consumer’s beverage of choice.
Financial Worries Have Worsened
Americans grew more concerned about some pressing financial issues in 2016. Accompanying chart compares 2015 and 2016 results for Americans who were worried about not having enough money to pay monthly bills or medical expenses, not being able to maintain their standard of living, and not having enough money for retirement.
Giving with Your Grandchildren
Family members of all ages may share a desire to make the world a better place. This article explores how grandparents and their grandchildren (who may or may not live in the same place) can give back or volunteer together.
The Trouble with Climbing Deductibles
Health insurance deductibles rose almost three times as fast as premiums and about seven times as fast as wages and inflation between 2010 and 2015. Chart compares these increases with general inflation and wages over the same period.
Does Your Estate Plan Address Digital Assets?
Settling an estate can be a difficult and time-consuming job that could take several months to more than a year to complete. This article describes the duties of an executor and why some people may also need to appoint a "digital executor."
The IRS Rarely Comes Knocking
High-income taxpayers are more likely to have their annual returns audited. Even so, receiving a notice from the IRS is not always as bad as it seems. This article focuses on the three basic types of audits and how the IRS selects returns for examination.
Bacteria found in flour has been linked to cases of E. coli.
Counting on Medicare
As more baby boomers turn 65, expenditures for the government-run health insurance program are expected to rise, straining the federal budget. Accompanying chart shows projected Medicare enrollment in 2016, 2020, and 2030.
Identity Fraud: What’s Happening Now?
Data obtained by hackers is often sold to criminals, who may be after more than your existing financial accounts. This article focuses on emerging trends and includes tips to help thwart identity thieves.
Throw Away Junk Instead of Money
Research shows that renters of storage units may intend to keep the unit for less than three months, but often end up paying for more than two years. One reason is to avoid the arduous and emotional task of sorting through the contents.
Workplace Wellness Trends
Large employers that provide health benefits often use monetary incentives to encourage worker participation in company wellness programs. This article covers the types of incentives typically offered by employers and some of the reasons why many employees decline to participate.
Nutrition Facts: Changes Put Sugar in the Spotlight
In May 2016, the FDA announced the final version of upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts label displayed on roughly 800,000 packaged food products. One change will be to show how much sugar is added to products by the manufacturer; another is to display a more realistic serving size.
How social media could make or break your career.