Category: Personal Finance
Do You Realize How “Precious” a Child Is?
September 15, 2022
The cost of raising a child through high school has risen to $310,605 because of inflation that is running close to a four-decade high, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.
In 2017—years before the pandemic and during an extended period of very low inflation—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the average total expenditures spent on a child from birth through age 17 would be $284,594. This estimate assumed an average inflation rate of 2.2 percent and did not include the expenses associated with sending a child to college or supporting them during their transition to adulthood. Since 2020, the inflation rate has skyrocketed— 8.5 percent as of July 2022—partly due to supply-chain issues and stimulus spending packages that put more cash into Americans’ pockets. The Federal Reserve has now raised interest rates substantially to control inflation.
The multiyear total is up $26,011, or more than 9 percent, from a calculation based on the inflation rate two years ago, before rapid price increases hit the economy, reports the Brookings Institution.
The new estimate crunches numbers for middle-income, married parents, and doesn’t include projections for single-parent households, or consider how race factors into cost challenges.
The estimate covers a range of expenses, including housing, education, food, clothing, healthcare, and childcare, and accounts for childhood milestones and activities—baby essentials, haircuts, sports equipment, extracurricular activities, and car insurance starting in the teen years, among other costs.
In 2019, the typical expenses to raise a child were estimated by the USDA as follows:
- Housing: 29%
- Food: 18%
- Childcare and Education: 16%
- Transportation: 15%
- Healthcare: 9%
- Miscellaneous (included Personal Care and Entertainment): 7%
- Clothing: 6%
Housing at 29 percent is the most significant expense associated with raising a child. The cost and type of housing vary widely by location. Other variables include mortgage or rent payments, property tax, home repairs and maintenance, insurance, utilities, and other miscellaneous housing costs.
The cost of food is the second-largest expense, at 18 percent of the overall cost of raising a child. Over time, food prices have trended up, with food-at-home pricing increasing 12.1 percent and food-away-from-home pricing increasing by 7.7 percent from June 2021 to July 2022. The USDA expects rising costs for 2022, with increases as high as 10 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
Childcare and Education
Childcare and education expenses in 2019 accounted for 16 percent of the cost of raising a child, and it continues to increase.
The widespread acceptance by employers of remote work and letting employees work from home part or full-time has eased the burden of childcare costs for many families, cutting the cost by as much as 30 percent for some workers.
Education is a major expense when it comes to raising children. When it comes to kindergarten through high school, parents can choose between public and private schools. For private schools, the Education Data Initiative estimated that tuition costs an average of $12,350 per year. Associated costs, like technology, textbooks, and back-to-school supplies, could bring that up to $16,050. For a child to be in private school from kindergarten through eighth grade, the estimated cost could be about $208,650. Additional expenses for extracurricular activities such as sports, the arts—music, theater, and yearbook—and other clubs also add up and are accompanied by fees for participation, equipment, and travel, which have also increased due to inflation.
The total cost of a health plan is set according to the number of people covered by it, as well as each person’s age and possibly their tobacco use. For example, a family of three, with two adults and a child, would pay a much higher monthly health insurance premium than an individual.
Raising children is rewarding and fulfilling to many people. But it’s also become very expensive. By preparing mentally and implementing financial planning strategies, you can be well-equipped to raise your child to adulthood comfortably, even on a budget.
If you are a parent, you are responsible for raising your child and providing food, clothing, shelter, and security. Consider getting insurance coverage—including life, short- and long-term disability, and health insurance to avoid putting your family at risk financially in the event of unexpected hardship. To cope with the rising costs of raising children, live within your means, save money wherever possible, and shop around for home and auto insurance each year for the best deals. At insureyouknow.org, you can track your expenses to raise a child and file insurance policies that cover your family’s financial and healthcare needs.
Ask or Be Asked: Executor of an Estate
March 2, 2022
An executor of an estate is someone called upon to settle a deceased individual’s financial affairs. In your will, you may name a close relative, friend, accountant, attorney, or financial institution to act as executor of your estate. You also may designate co-executors—more than one person to handle your affairs. If you are asked to be an executor, consider it a great honor. But at the same time, keep in mind that it is also a great responsibility.
You should select an executor with integrity and good judgment. The law requires an executor to act in the estate’s best interest—known as “fiduciary duty”—even if they are also an heir, which is often the case. You’ll need to make sure they understand and are prepared for the job.
The Duties of an Executor of an Estate
An executor’s responsibilities can vary depending on the complexity of your estate, and the decisions you designate in your will. Following are some of the duties an executor of an estate performs.
- Locate the last will and file it in probate court
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate
- Notify the state department of health of the death if a funeral home, crematorium, hospital, or nursing facility has not
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries
- Pay creditors
- Issue notices of death to banks, government agencies, and insurance companies
- File final tax returns
- Maintain property until the estate is settled
- Arrange care for any pets
- Make court appearances on behalf of the estate
- Notify current employer, if applicable
- Notify the deceased’s beneficiaries of the probate hearing
- Keep accurate records
- File the final accounting with the court and close the estate
As an executor, you may discover you need to hire a professional such as an accountant or attorney to help value and distribute certain assets, including:
- Assets with disputed ownership
- Business interests
- Out-of-state assets
- Complex investments
Ambiguities in a will and substantial bequests to a minor also may require a professional’s expertise, which your estate will pay customarily.
The Decision to Serve as an Executor
If you are asked to serve as an estate’s executor, realize that it is a great honor and a great responsibility. Consider your decision carefully before you agree. Think about the time commitment as well as the skillset and temperament required to perform the duties. Find out why the person asked you to serve as an executor and discuss his expectations for you to fill this role.
With this disclosure, you should be able to decide if you are qualified for the job and your fulfillment of an executor’s duties will be appreciated.
Many executors perform their duties without compensation, especially if they are one of your estate’s beneficiaries. But executors can get paid for their work, and this arrangement is more common if the executor is a person outside your family or if settling your estate requires significant expenses such as travel, filing court documents, or overseeing the sale of your real estate.
Another option for you is to limit in your will the fees to a specific dollar amount. Or you may specify the payment of reasonable fees based upon state law.
Typically, executors can expect to get paid once the estate is settled. If they incur out-of-pocket expenses, such as utilities, property taxes, insurance, and storage fees before the estate is settled, they can usually reimburse themselves during their estate administration. But again, compensation is a subject that should be spelled out before you accept an executorship. Spending down any estate monies can be an area of great sensitivity, especially if heirs believe their inheritance was reduced because of your executorship.
When you select an executor of your estate who accepts the responsibility to carry out your wishes regarding your estate upon your death, ask yourself the following five essential questions. Let the executor know if the answers can be found on your InsureYouKnow.org portal.
- Where is your original will? If you keep your will in your house, be specific about where to find it. If you filed it with your attorney, provide contact information. Don’t store it in a safe deposit box, where it may be difficult to access after your death. You should share your InsureYourKnow.org access credentials with the executor of your estate to be able to find a copy of your will online.
- Who should be notified? Compose a list of people and organizations with contact information for your executor to contact. If you keep this list at InsureYouKnow.org, you can update it regularly.
- What are your passwords and access codes? Let your executor know how to retrieve your passwords and access codes for email, social media, other media accounts, cellphones, and computers. Store and keep this data current at InsureYouKnow.org.
- Who will receive your possessions? If you have nonfinancial items such as family recipes, photos, heirlooms, and memorabilia, keep details with designated recipients at InsureYouKnow.org.
- Do you have any secret items? Let the executor or another person you trust know if you possess personal items that need to be dealt with on a confidential basis. Such items may include correspondence, photos, or documents personal in nature. You can keep a secure list of these items at InsureYouKnow.org.
Selecting a trusted executor to carry out your will is an important part of estate planning. Experts recommend updating your will every few years to make sure it still reflects your chosen executor and decisions to be carried out after your death. If you need to create or update your will, you can file copies at InsureYouKnow.org.
Whether you are the person asking or are the person being asked to be an executor of an estate, carefully consider and execute the responsibilities and duties required.
The Great Resignation Continues in 2022
January 29, 2022
“The Great Resignation” is a term coined in May 2021 by Anthony Klotz, Ph.D., an associate professor of management at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University who predicted the mass exodus of employees abandoning jobs during the pandemic.
In April, a month before Dr. Klotz made this prediction, a record 4 million people quit their jobs, many of them in low-paying, inflexible industries such as retail trade sectors and food services. He explained that during the pandemic, employees have been able to reflect about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means which led workers to consider alternatives to their current positions.
Because the latest data suggests this trend, also called the “Big Quit,” will continue through 2022, employees, as well as employers, must prepare for changes in the workforce.
Before you submit your resignation, consider the following suggestions to guide your decision:
- Reassess your duties: Expanding your responsibilities within the company may offer the growth that you’re looking for without leaving your workplace. Promotion within your company may lead to a higher salary and additional benefits. On the other hand, you may feel overworked or are experiencing burnout, resulting in work-related stress, and seeking a less demanding opportunity may be a solution during this difficult time.
- Meet with your employer: If you prefer to work remotely, meet with your employer and plead your case to work all or part of your workweek away from the corporate office, especially if you have health and safety concerns, childcare issues, or COVID-related care responsibilities. Explain how important work/life flexibility is to you and ask if your employer is willing to consider your needs for your home life situation. Take this opportunity to ask if your salary, benefits, and health insurance could be improved to entice you to stay.
- Be flexible with your transition: If possible, notify your supervisor in person when you decide to resign and be flexible about the ending date in your position. Be professional in your exit interview, request a letter of recommendation for your files, find out when you’ll receive your last paycheck, and ask about the continuation of your benefits.
- Assess your financial situation: If you determine that you need to continue receiving a steady paycheck and insurance benefits, secure another position or outline a solid self-employment opportunity before you resign. If you are close to retirement age, figure out if you can delay collecting Social Security and retirement benefits so you can collect higher monthly payments in the future.
Employers who want to reduce staff turnover and retain experienced employers may benefit from the following tips adapted from the article, “How Employers Can Overcome The Great Resignation” from the Worth Media website.
- Be creative in putting together benefits packages that can support a diverse workforce with broad, varying needs.
- Remain flexible when employees choose their work locations.
- Keep an open line of communication with your employees.
- Emphasize the importance of employees’ mental and physical well-being.
- Prioritize pay equity and adopt a spirit of transparency.
- Remind your employees about your company’s mission, values, and vision.
- Treat employees who do leave with respect, a sense of professionalism, and kindness.
Employers’ main goal during this tumultuous time should be to remain calm, listen to employee feedback, and use it to make any necessary changes to their business model, benefits package, and salaries.
Are you planning to join “The Great Resignation” in 2022? If so, consider not only how you can improve your present work situation but also what the future may hold for your career choices, continuing education, home life, insurance coverage, and financial goals. As you put each of these options in place, keep records regarding your decisions at insureyouknow.org.
The Most Wonderful/Stressful Time of the Year
December 1, 2021
Welcome to what is referred to as both the “most wonderful” and the “most stressful time of the year.” During the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be experiencing stress and depression—unwanted emotions that can ruin your holidays and impact your physical and mental health.
Although you can’t control inflation, high gas prices, food and toy shortages, and shipping delays, you can be realistic, plan ahead, and seek support to overcome holiday stress and depression. You may even end up embracing the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Tips to Deal with Seasonal Pressures
Be realistic. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in some areas and even if you’ve been vaccinated, you may decide not to gather with friends and relatives in person. You can opt for a virtual celebration or increase efforts to share photos, texts, emails, phone calls, or videos with loved ones.
Avoid overspending, especially if you’re already feeling financial stress. Consider alternatives to expensive gifts by donating to charities in giftees’ names or by making and giving homemade presents.
Strive to decorate your home, create meals and desserts, and select gifts that will be appreciated not because they are “perfect” but because they are heartfelt and sincere.
Plan ahead. Compile lists of recipients and specific gift ideas; don’t go to browse in busy stores, hoping for inspiration. Save time and frustration caused by traffic and parking congestion by shopping online for items on your gift list. Schedule specific times to shop, bake, and attend social events. Plan menus and then create a detailed grocery list to prevent forgetting needed ingredients.
Acknowledge your feelings. Stress about gatherings with family and friends, or feeling grief about missing loved ones, may result in sadness and grief. Take time to acknowledge and express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. If you celebrate in person or in other ways as described above, set aside differences and controversial topics and concentrate on positive conversations.
Practice mindfulness by bringing your attention to the present moment and avoid getting stressed about past or future events.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events, or communities. Many helpful organizations have websites, online support groups, social media sites, or virtual events that can offer support and companionship.
Volunteering your time and doing something to help others also are good ways to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend’s home or to a community center that serves less fortunate individuals during the holidays.
Learn to say no. Set priorities based on preserving your well-being and don’t overextend yourself or you may wind up feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Learn to feel guilt-free when you decline invitations and recognize that you sometimes need to allow yourself to say no to demands on your time.
Maintain healthy habits. Get ample sleep, eat well—even at holiday events—and stay physically active in your daily routine. Maintaining healthy habits during the holiday season will be one of your best defenses against stress. When you feel a bout of stress coming on, have a healthy snack before a holiday party to curb your desire for high-calorie food and drink. Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.
Take a breather. Make time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy like taking a walk, listening to calming music, or reading (or listening to) a book. Disconnect temporarily from social media and electronic devices.
Seek professional help if you need it. Even after following all the tips listed above, you may find yourself feeling continuously sad or anxious, beset by physical complaints and lack of sleep, and unable to face daily chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. If you rely on medications to maintain your physical and mental health, make sure your prescriptions are up-to-date and that you have an adequate supply when your doctor’s office or pharmacy may be closed or have reduced hours during the holidays.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can keep a handy record of your prescriptions, refill expiration dates, and contact information for healthcare providers who prescribe and pharmacies that fill your medications.
Saving with a 529 College Plan
August 30, 2021
As college students return to campuses this fall, they (and in many cases, their parents) face costs that have tripled in 20 years, with an annual growth rate of 6.8 percent.
Melanie Hanson at educationdata.org reports that the average cost of college (considered to be any postsecondary educational institution that offers an undergraduate degree program) in the United States is $35,720 per student per year. Current college cost data also reveal:
- The average in-state student attending a public 4-year institution spends $25,615 for one academic year.
- The average cost of in-state tuition alone is $9,580; out-of-state tuition averages $27,437.
- The average traditional private university student spends a total of $53,949 per academic year, $37,200 of it on tuition and fees.
- Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree may exceed $400,000.
In the academic world, the cost of college is generally referred to as the cost of attendance (COA). Each college has its own COA consisting of five items:
- Tuition and fees
- Books and supplies
- Room and board
- Personal expenses
Twice per year, the federal government recalculates the COA for each college and then adjusts the figures for inflation to determine students’ financial needs when they apply for financial aid.
Planning in Advance
Advance planning for education costs is advisable to keep ahead of college inflation.
Regular investments add up over time. By investing even a small amount of money on a regular basis in a college fund, you have the potential to accumulate a significant amount if you start when your child (or grandchild) is young.
Once you have a sense of your college savings needs, make sure you are investing the money appropriately. Among several available college savings options described by Fidelity, a great place to start is to open and contribute to a 529 college savings plan account. It’s popular with parents and grandparents because there are few restrictions and the benefits are plentiful. You can potentially reduce your taxes and retain control over how and when you spend the money.
Education savings plans were first created in 1986, when the Michigan Education Trust established a prepaid tuition plan. More than a decade later, Section 529 was added to the Internal Revenue Code, authorizing tax-free status for qualified 529 tuition programs. Today there are more than 100 different 529 plans available to suit a variety of education savings needs.
To make sure you are on track with your savings goals, and to ensure you have an appropriate investment mix, revisit your plan at least annually. Over time, you will likely need to update the costs of schools you are considering, your financial aid situation, your child’s school preferences, school location, and your investment performance. When you’re ready to start paying for school, withdrawals are federal income tax-free when used for qualified education expenses.
Setting Up and Using a 529 Savings Account
- The requirements to open a 529 savings account are simple. You must be a U.S. resident, at least 18-years old, and have a Social Security or tax ID number.
- 529 plan savings can cover a range of educational expenses, in addition to college tuition. You can use up to $10,000 from a 529 account each year per beneficiary on elementary, middle, or high school tuition. At the post-secondary level, money saved in a 529 plan account can be used for a variety of higher-education-related expenses: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and computers and related equipment.
- Money saved in a 529 plan may have only a small impact on financial aid eligibility.
- You don’t have to be related to the beneficiary on the account to open a 529 account for them. Friends or family members can open a 529 college savings account regardless of their income or relationship to the student—and can even name themselves as the student beneficiary on the account. Anyone can contribute and you can encourage donations to a college savings account as a birthday or holiday gift.
Reaping Tax Benefits
A 529 savings plan works much like a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA by investing your after-tax contributions in mutual funds, ETFs (exchange-traded funds), and other similar investments. Your investment grows on a tax-deferred basis and can be withdrawn tax-free if the money is used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. Contributions are not deductible from federal income taxes.
You may also qualify for a state tax benefit, depending on where you live. More than 30 states offer state income tax deductions and state tax credits for 529 plan contributions.
Choosing a 529 Plan
Nearly every state has at least one 529 plan available, but you’re not limited to using your home state’s plan. Each 529 plan offers investment portfolios tailored to the account owner’s risk tolerance and time horizon. Your account may go up or down in value based on the performance of the investment option you select. It’s important to consider your investment objectives and compare your options before you invest.
Withdrawing from a 529 Plan
You can use your education savings to pay for college costs at any eligible institution, including more than 6,000 U.S. colleges and universities and more than 400 international schools.
Once you’re ready to start taking withdrawals from a 529 plan, most plans allow you to distribute the payments directly to the account holder, the beneficiary, or the school. Read “How to Pay Your Tuition Bill With a 529 Plan” to learn more.
Remember, you will need to check with your own plan to learn more about how to take distributions. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to report contributions to or withdrawals from your 529 plan on your annual tax returns.
Dealing with Leftover Funds
If your child doesn’t go to college or gets a scholarship, you won’t lose the college fund you have accumulated. Generally, you will pay income tax and a penalty on the earnings portion of a non-qualified withdrawal, but there are some exceptions. The penalty is waived if:
- The beneficiary receives a tax-free scholarship
- The beneficiary attends a U.S. Military Academy
- The beneficiary dies or becomes disabled
The earnings portion of the withdrawal will be subject to federal income tax, and sometimes state income tax.
If you have leftover money in your 529 plan and you want to avoid paying taxes and a penalty on your earnings, you have a few options, including:
- Change the beneficiary to another qualifying family member
- Hold the funds in the account in case the beneficiary wants to attend school later
- Make yourself the beneficiary and further your own education
- Roll over the funds to a 529 ABLE account, a savings account specifically for people living with disabilities
- Since January 1, 2018, parents also have the option to take up to $10,000 in tax-free 529 withdrawals for K-12 tuition
- Since January 1, 2019, qualified distributions from a 529 plan can repay up to $10,000 in student loans per borrower for both the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s siblings
You can withdraw leftover money in a 529 plan for any reason. However, the earnings portion of a non-qualified withdrawal will be subject to taxes and a penalty, unless you qualify for one of the exceptions listed above. If you are contemplating a non-qualified distribution, be aware of the rules and possible tactics for reducing taxes owed.
If you’re interested in setting up a 529 college savings plan, do your homework on the benefits, qualified uses for account balances, and the low impact on financial aid. File your findings and, once you start receiving account statements, keep track of your college saving account as it prospers.
Retirees Face the Rising Cost of Living
August 14, 2021
Have you noticed this year that your grocery bill has been rising and the price of gas is higher each time you fill up at the pump? You also may have been shocked by sticker prices on new and used cars and trucks resulting from inflation in recent months.
Consumer Price Index
On July 11, 2021, the Labor Department reported its consumer price index (CPI) rose 5.4 percent in July from a year earlier, in line with June’s figure and matching the largest jump since August 2008. White House officials are cautiously optimistic that the current increase in prices will be transitory, citing a continued drop in forward prices for lumber and other goods that experienced sharp increases because of supply chain bottlenecks. Steel capacity also had risen substantially over the past few months, they said.
The Federal Reserve has been keeping a close eye on inflation reports since it’s the central bank’s job to maximize employment and keep prices stable. Chairman Jerome Powell and other officials acknowledge the recent acceleration in prices but believe that the inflation is “transitory” and that prices won’t continue to increase at their current pace for too long.
As one of the most-cited inflation gauges, the CPI measures changes in how much American consumers pay for everyday goods and services including groceries, gasoline, clothes, restaurant meals, haircuts, concerts, and automobiles.
The CPI and other price measures have been on the rise in 2021 in large part because of a comeback in consumer spending and U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) as COVID restrictions eased.
Economic activity as measured by GDP rose at an annualized rate of 6.5 percent in the second quarter as Americans frequented restaurants, took summer vacations, and resumed other activities that COVID-19 had hindered.
Consumer spending, bolstered by the nationwide rollout of vaccines, jumped 11.8 percent during the three months ending June 30, the second-fastest rate since 1952.
At the same time, the pent-up demand for travel, retail, and restaurants has left many businesses scrambling to keep up and led to several setbacks on the supply side of the U.S. economy.
Employers who have struggled to find workers have hiked pay or offered signing bonuses to help fill the record 10.1 million job openings across the economy at the end of June. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, bars, and hotels, has one of the highest levels of job openings at more than 1.6 million.
But instead of absorbing higher labor and material costs, some businesses have begun to pass on the impact of higher wages to their consumers.
Inflation and Retirees
Higher prices take a significant toll on retirees. Social Security benefits rise only once a year. “Those with modest Social Security benefits are the ones who really have trouble,” reports Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League, a non-partisan advocacy group. “Other retirees have had to tap more of their savings than they had planned because the Social Security benefit didn’t keep up with 2021’s hot inflation,” she says.
Inflation could prompt largest Social Security cost-of-living adjustment in decades. Retirees could see a 6.1 percent bump to their Social Security benefits in 2022. That would be the biggest increase since 1983, according to The Senior Citizens League, which calculated the figure.
The Social Security Administration typically announces the amount of the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA), if any, in October. The increase in benefits typically goes into effect in January.
You might not see all the increase in your benefit payment. If your Medicare Part B premiums are deducted from your Social Security (as is the case with 70 percent of Part B enrollees), a Medicare rate increase could offset all or part of the COLA.
The Social Security COLA for 2021 was 1.3 percent. For many retirees, that meant just $20 more per month. Over the years, the increases have led to a loss of buying power for seniors, according to research from The Senior Citizens League.
The amount your Social Security check will increase will be based on a combination of your underlying benefit and the Social Security COLA. Assuming the Social Security COLA is at the 6.1 percent level for 2022, and you are receiving the maximum Social Security benefit of $3,895, you would get an additional $237.60 per month. This would mean an increase of $2,851.14 per year.
The jump in benefits will be a bit more modest for those receiving the average Social Security benefit in 2021. Social Security benefits averaged just $1,543 per month in 2021. Again, assuming a 6.1 percent Social Security COLA, you could see your retirement benefits increase by $94.12 per month. When living on a fixed income, an additional $1,129.48 can go a long way.
If you are still working, make sure you have other retirement income to help maintain your standard of living. Even at the maximum Social Security benefit, you will have a tough time keeping your standard of living on Social Security alone. Work with a trusted financial planner to help determine the optimal time to claim your Social Security benefits and to set up a monthly payment schedule.
Currently, 69 million Americans are collecting Social Security benefits. So, a significant increase in the COLA to Social Security will be significant for the budgets of many retirees. Before the announcement is made in October, the Today show offers hints to help you save money at the grocery store, including keeping track of your grocery spending, taking inventory of what you already have and using it, and meal planning to reduce food waste and save on your food bill.
Smart shoppers will also watch for sales, comparison shop, and consider buying useful, non-perishable items in bulk and even making use of an extra freezer whenever possible. When it comes to saving money, cheap and healthy can go hand in hand.
If you currently collect Social Security benefits or plan to in 2022, you can track at insureyouknow.org your monthly spending patterns, file copies of your Social Security and Medicare statements, as well as savings accounts you may have set up for vacations, rainy days, or emergency contingency plans.
The Call to Return to the Office
June 28, 2021
Has your employer notified you that the time has come for you to return to your office? Are you ready, hesitant, or determined to seek an alternative option to keep you at home, or at least closer to home if you also would face the return of a long daily commute?
With the coronavirus pandemic receding for everyone who has received the vaccine, some employers are pushing employees to get back to work in office buildings. But some people have moved during the pandemic; others have concerns about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues; and working parents would have to quickly find childcare options for youngsters out of school for the summer.
According to Bloomberg News, a May survey by Morning Consult of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39 percent would consider quitting if their employers aren’t flexible about remote work. Some workers are leaving for new jobs, with better pay or remote-friendly working conditions. Others have decided to start their own businesses rather than collect a steady paycheck. Still others are quitting with no firm plans, confident they can get a better deal elsewhere as the economy rebounds from the pandemic recession. Some people are seeking happiness and are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued, and how they spend and balance their time at work and home.
Increase in Resignations
All these factors are prompting a dramatic increase in resignations—a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 740,000 people who quit in April worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, theme parks, and other entertainment venues. Many workers in these fields are burnt out after enduring conditions during the pandemic that may have put their personal health at risk.
At the same time, white-collar workers are feeling empowered too; resignations also are up in professional services. In March, about a quarter of all workers told Morning Consult they were considering switching employers.
Faced with mass resignations, employers are scrambling to keep their talented workforce on board. Some employers have announced plans to raise pay, be flexible, and make employees’ well-being and safety top priorities when they return to their companies’ offices. A compromise of allowing employees to choose to work remotely part of their workweek is being considered by concerned employers. With work teams composed of both in-office and remote employees, businesses will need to offer collaboration tools and innovative techniques so employees can continue to work together effectively, regardless of location. No one solution will work for every company, but a reintroduction to office life without a well-thought-out plan can be risky and dangerous.
Post-COVID-19 Working Conditions
Although some companies have decided to remain fully remote and have gone as far as selling their office buildings or not renewing lease agreements, other businesses want their entire staff to return to the office. Most organizations will be somewhere between a fully remote and a fully in-place workforce. Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm that specializes in remote work trends, predicts that 25–30 percent of U.S. employees will work from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021, up from 3.6 percent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hybrid Work Model
A hybrid work model is made up of both remote and in-office workers and gives employees the ability to choose how, where, and when they perform their job duties. This often includes office spaces designed with flexible work arrangements where employees come and go from the office based on preference and as project work dictates.
Several large enterprise companies have formally announced new policies designed to embrace a hybrid work model that gives employees the option to voluntarily return to the office or continue to work remotely for an indefinite period.
Returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic will look different for every organization and will require a solution that works best for the safety and welfare of a specific group of employees.
Lifesize.com offers 10 Tips for Companies Returning to Work after COVID-19 under the following bullet points.
· Embrace a hybrid work model
· Implement a rotational work schedule
· Take a phased approach
· Restructure your offices
· Create a sanitary workplace
· Encourage good hygiene and self-isolation
· Have a contingency plan
· Get employee feedback
· Review your communication tools
· Maintain team-building efforts
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, employees and employers will face monumental work-related decisions that will affect the future of a productive workforce returning to physical offices, choosing a hybrid model of in-place and remote work, or abandoning the traditional workplace to seek alternative career options not bound to pre-pandemic conditions.
If you are armed with a new contract from your employer that lists enhanced perks, including health and dental insurance benefits, an amended retirement package, remote work options, or a guaranteed raise, keep these records on file at InsureYouKnow.org. Also keep online your up-to-date resume if you are actively looking for a new work arrangement that meets your definition of a satisfying career choice.
Save with a Health Savings Account
April 27, 2021
A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a type of savings account that lets you set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses. By using untaxed dollars in an HSA to pay for deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and some other expenses, you may be able to lower your overall health care costs.
An HSA may receive contributions from an eligible individual or any other person, including an employer or a family member, on behalf of an eligible individual. Contributions, other than employer contributions, are deductible on the eligible individual’s tax return whether or not the individual itemizes deductions. Employer contributions aren’t included in taxable income and distributions from an HSA that are used to pay qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed.
High Deductible Health Plan
One way to manage your health care expenses is by enrolling in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) in combination with opening an HSA. While you can use the funds in an HSA at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, you may contribute to an HSA only if you have an HDHP—generally a health plan that only covers preventive services before the deductible. For plan year 2021, the minimum deductible is $1,400 for an individual and $2,800 for a family. (The term “minimum deductible” refers to the amount you pay for health care items and services before your plan starts to pay.) Maximum out-of-pocket costs (the most you’d have to pay if you need more health care items and services) are $7,000 for an individual and $14,000 for a family.
Contribution Limits in 2021
For calendar year 2021, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP is $3,600. The annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $7,200. The IRS announces annually the HSA contribution limit that applies each calendar year. You can review IRS Publication 969 each year to determine the current limit.
HSA funds roll over year to year if you don’t spend them. An HSA may earn interest or other earnings, which are not taxable.
Some health insurance companies offer HSAs for their HDHPs. Check with your company to see if you are eligible. You also can open an HSA through some banks and other financial institutions. If you are interested in enrolling for healthcare coverage through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Insurance Marketplace®, you can check to see if specific plans are “HSA-eligible.”
It’s also important to note that there is an aggregate limit that applies to both your own contributions as well as any money your employer puts into your account. This is different from 401(k) rules, where an employer’s matching funds do not affect your ability to contribute to your account. If your employer puts $2,000 into your HSA and you have self-only coverage, you would be allowed to contribute only $1,600 before reaching the 2021 contribution limit.
HSA account holders who are 55 and older are entitled to make an additional catch-up contribution valued at $1,000 on top of contribution caps. Because of the HSA catch-up contribution rules, in 2021 the self-only coverage limit is $4,600 and the family coverage limit is $8,200
Catch-up contributions are intended to help older Americans who may incur outsized medical expenses, or who may not have saved enough for a secure retirement and want to boost their contributions to tax-advantaged accounts as they near the end of their careers.
Older Americans may want to make catch-up contributions because healthcare costs tend to rise with age and because an HSA can be a valuable type of retirement savings account. HSAs work as a retirement savings plan because money can be withdrawn penalty-free for any purpose, not just medical expenses, after age 65. Once an HSA account holder turns 65, distributions not used for medical costs are taxed at their ordinary income tax rate, the same as distributions from a 401(k) or traditional IRA.
HSA Funds and Taxes
Because HSA contributions can be made with pre-tax funds, you can deduct the amount you’ve contributed from your taxable income in the year you make the contribution.
The fact that HSA contributions are tax deductible means any money you contribute reduces the income you’re taxed on, which saves you money on the taxes you pay to the IRS. It also means your take-home pay declines by a smaller amount than what you actually contributed.
For example, if you have $50,000 in taxable income and make a $3,600 deductible contribution to an HSA, you will be taxed on only $46,400 in income due to your contribution.
The specific amount you save due to your HSA contribution will depend both on how large your contribution is and on your tax rate. Those who are taxed at a higher rate and those who make larger contributions will realize more savings.
Contributions are tax-deductible up to HSA annual limits, and money can be withdrawn tax-free to cover qualifying medical expenses.
Money in an HSA can be invested and can be withdrawn for any purpose after age 65 without penalty, although you’ll be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate for distributions not used for covered medical costs.
The IRS provides a comprehensive list of medical and dental expenses that qualify in Publication 502 and include the following categories:
- Prescription medications
- Nursing services
- Long-term care services
- Dental care
- Eye care, including eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses
- Psychiatric care
- Surgical expenses
- Fertility treatments
- Chiropractic care
- Medical equipment
- Hearing aids
Under the CARES Act, which passed in March 2020, you can now use your HSA funds to pay for a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) items without a prescription. The rules are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020, so if you purchased these items with non-HSA funds, you can still submit your receipts for reimbursement.
Telemedicine or remote healthcare can be covered by HSA plans at no charge, even if you haven’t met your deductible, through the end of 2021.
The following items also have been made HSA-eligible by the 2020 CARES Act:
- Acid reducers
- Acne treatment
- Allergy and sinus medications
- Anti-allergy medications
- Breathing strips
- Cough, cold, and flu medications
- Eye drops
- Feminine hygiene products
- Heartburn medications
- Insect repellant and anti-itch creams
- Lip treatments for cold and canker sores
- Medicated shampoos and soaps
- Nasal sprays
- Pain relievers
- Skin creams and ointments
- Sleep aids
- Sunscreen and OTC remedies to treat the effects of sun exposure
The Bottom Line on HSAs
HSAs give you the opportunity to set aside money so you can pay for medical care with pre-tax dollars. But because you can invest and grow these funds as well as hold them in cash, HSAs offer much more than just a way to save on medical care. If used as a long-term investment vehicle, your HSA account could help you save on healthcare costs in retirement while reducing your tax bill in the meantime.
During each calendar year, you can keep track of all your HSA contributions, expenses, and tax-accounting details at insureyouknow.org.
When Phishing Isn’t Fun
March 30, 2021
Do you ever receive email, text messages, or phone calls that look like they’re from a reputable company requesting personal information? You may be the target of scammers who use tricky methods in attempting to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks every day—and they’re often successful. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lost $57 million to phishing schemes in one year.
Recognize Phishing Messages
The following signs from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will help you recognize a phishing email, text message, or phone call:
- Phishing emails, text messages, or phone calls may look like they’re from a company you know or trust. They may look like they’re from a bank, a credit card company, a social networking site, an online payment website or app, or an online store.
- Phishing emails, text messages or phone calls often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link, opening an attachment, or providing personal information. They may say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts, claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information, say you must confirm some personal information, include a fake invoice, want you to click on a link to make a payment, say you’re eligible to register for a government refund, or offer a coupon for free merchandise.
Know the Most Common Forms of Phishing
- Emails, text messages, or phone calls claiming to be from a legitimate retailer, shipper, bank, organization or government agency.
- Requests for charitable donations. (The FTC has a helpful Charity Checklist to review before you submit online donations.)
- IRS and tax-related emails, text messages, or phone calls.
- Requests to verify health insurance identification numbers and account sign-in information.
Protect Yourself from Phishing Attacks
Your email spam filters may keep many phishing emails out of your inbox. But scammers are always trying to outsmart spam filters, so it’s a good idea to add extra layers of protection. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from phishing attacks.
- Protect your computer by using security software.
- Protect your mobile phone by setting software to update automatically.
- Protect your accounts by using multi-factor authentication.
- Protect your data by backing it up.
- Check the email address of the sender. Make sure the address displayed when you roll your cursor over the email address matches the address displayed. Most legitimate businesses have a simple, standardized email domain, so an email from a bank might come from email@example.com, whereas a scammer’s address is less likely to follow this standard.
- Check for forged links. Even if a link contains a name you recognize, it doesn’t mean it links to the real organization. Roll your cursor over the link and see if it matches what appears in the email. If it doesn’t, do not click on the link.
- Don’t trust logos and corporate colors. Just because an email contains company logos and corporate colors doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate email.
- Beware of attachments. Don’t click on an email attachment unless you know the sender.
- Don’t proceed if you don’t see “https.” Secure websites for personal information begin with “https”—the “s” stands for secure.
- Requests for your personal information are warning signs.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Act if You Suspect a Phishing Attack
If you get an email, a text message, or a phone call that asks you to click on a link, open an attachment, or answer personal questions, ask yourself: “Do I have an account with the company or know the person who contacted me?” If the answer is “No,” it could be a phishing scam and you should report the message to the FTC and then delete it. If the answer is “Yes,” contact the company using a phone number or website you know is real, not the information in the email. Opening attachments and links can install harmful malware.
Forward phishing emails to the FTC at. firstname.lastname@example.org– or to Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com. This nonprofit organization includes internet service providers, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies. Your report is most effective when you include the full email header, but most email programs hide this information. You also can report the phishing attack online to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. You should also forward phishing emails you receive to the organization impersonated in the email.
Recover if You Respond to a Phishing Request
If you think a scammer has your information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, go to IdentityTheft.gov on the FTC website. There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost.
If you think you clicked on a link or opened an attachment that downloaded harmful software, update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan.
Don’t rely on caller ID or the incoming phone number listed to authenticate a caller’s identity. Scammers can use “spoofing,” where a caller causes a fake phone number to appear. This allows scammers to make it look like they’re calling from a legitimate business in an effort to steal your personal, financial, or health information.
Telephone scams are often carried out by individuals claiming to be from a trusted source, such as your insurance company or a government agency.
Email and internet scams are increasingly common and may target your personal or financial information or seek to compromise your devices.
Be suspicious of all emails, text messages, and phone calls you receive from unknown (and even some supposedly known) sources. Although you may want to delete and forget about any phishing activity that compromises your personal and financial information, you can keep a record of any security software purchases, lists of your passwords and corresponding online sites, and any reports about phishing activities you submit to authorities at insureyouknow.org.
CARES Acts in Action
January 14, 2021
In response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill, was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act made it easier for millions of U.S. workers to withdraw or borrow money from their retirement plans through December 30, 2020. People under the age of 59.5 affected by the coronavirus were allowed to take a distribution of up to $100,000 from an IRA, 401(k), or similar account without penalty. It also permitted loans of up to $100,000.
Usually, withdrawing funds from a tax-deferred account before age 59.5 would result in a 10 percent penalty on top of any income taxes incurred. But under the temporary rules part of the CARES Act, people with pandemic-related financial troubles could withdraw without penalty up to $100,000 from any combination of their tax-deferred plans, including 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) and traditional individual retirement accounts. The rules applied to plans only if the employee’s employer opted in.
Some plans already permitted hardship withdrawals under certain conditions, and the rules for those were loosened in 2019. But the CARES Act rules were even more lenient by allowing virus-related hardship withdrawals to be treated as taxable income, but the liability was automatically split over three years unless the account holder chose otherwise. The tax can be avoided if the money is put back into a tax-deferred account within three years.
Almost 60 percent of Americans withdrew or borrowed money from their IRA or 401(k) during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey from Kiplinger and digital wealth management company Personal Capital. Most U.S. retirement accounts were already underfunded and the pandemic caused a significant number of Americans to withdraw money, potentially setting them back even further. They will now have to work longer or delay retirement in order to rebuild their savings.
“The past year rocked the confidence of most Americans saving for retirement,” Mark Solheim, editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance, said in a release. “With many people dipping into their retirement savings or planning to work longer, 2020 will have a lasting impact for years to come.”
When it comes to drawing down savings, younger workers have been more willing to withdraw from retirement accounts during the pandemic. A Transamerica survey found that 43 percent of millennials have either taken out a loan or withdrawal from a retirement account or plan to do so in the near future, compared to 27 percent of Generation Xers and 11 percent of baby boomers.
Boomers were much more likely to completely rule out withdrawing from their retirement accounts, with nearly 3 in 4 (73 percent) saying such a move was out of the question. In contrast, 36 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Gen Xers say they won’t take money from their retirement accounts to deal with financial shortfalls attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retirement Savings Sacrifices
Many workers are sacrificing their retirement savings in order to keep afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the original CARES Act has expired, taking an early withdrawal from a retirement account can have far-reaching implications. You may not only have to pay a 10 percent penalty, but you’ll also lose out on having your money earn interest for a longer period of time.
As a result, you may likely have to work longer in order to have enough money for retirement if you withdraw funds from your account now. Nearly a third of Americans say the pandemic has already led to a change in their expected retirement age. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the economy has risen to the top of survey respondents’ list of obstacles with 49 percent saying it is the top barrier to achieving a financially secure retirement. The economy was followed by 33 percent claiming a lack of savings and 32 percent blaming health care costs as reasons to delay retirement.
Emergency Savings Accounts
Effects of the pandemic on emergency savings accounts have brought to light how few households have set aside money inside a retirement plan or for education expenses and it has prompted more employers to start their own programs. For now, about 10 percent of large employers offer some type of support to encourage emergency savings accounts.
But the scope of the damage caused by the pandemic means that even the traditional emergency savings advice of putting aside roughly three to six months of basic living expenses hasn’t been enough to provide a secure provision for an emergency. During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have lost incomes and work. An employee who lost a job early in the pandemic could have easily used up all his savings while being unemployed.
But withdrawing funds from a 401(k) has consequences, such as increased tax bills and possibly sacrificing future retirement income. According to survey data of 1,902 U.S. workers by Edelman Financial Engines, one in five Americans is considering taking an early withdrawal. But the survey also found that many Americans who have done so regret it.
For most borrowers, doing so was for an essential reason—35 percent spent their funds on housing, and 7 percent took a loan due to a loss of income. Some did so for less pressing reasons, for example, about 20 percent borrowed to pay off credit card debt and 8 percent funded a car purchase.
Borrowers admit they didn’t understand the consequences or alternatives or not doing enough research on other options available. Many people say they regret their decision for this reason—about 41 percent of people who took hardship withdrawals and 42 percent who took a loan regret it because of a lack of understanding.
Others say they wish they’d understood the other options available. During the pandemic, many lenders have helped to ease the burden on Americans facing financial hardship. As part of the CARES Act, all federally-backed mortgages had the option of forbearance. Banks across the country offered help programs for loans ranging from mortgages to personal loans.
According to Edelman, some wish they’d turned to those programs before making a long-term commitment in reducing their retirement savings. Of people who took hardship withdrawals, 52 percent said they wish they’d explored other options first, while 44 percent of those who took a loan said the same.
Overall, most wish they’d consulted a professional before taking funds from their 401(k). Four out of five borrowers who regret the withdrawal or loan say that consulting a financial advisor would have helped their decision making.
CARES Act II
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed H.R. 133, another stimulus bill that Congress passed on December 21. This legislation extends unemployment assistance not only for employees but also for independent contractors and other self-employed individuals for 11 weeks. The bill includes the “Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020,” which provides for an extension from December 31, 2020 until March 14, 2021 of the CARES Act’s unemployment provisions, including a new form of benefits for all self-employed individuals: pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).
The original CARES Act provided PUA benefits for up to $600 a week for as many as 39 weeks, retroactive to January 27, 2020. The new stimulus bill, CARES Act II, halves that amount and limits PUA to $300/week. Those eligible for PUA also will receive an additional $300/week through the end of the extension period, whereas CARES Act I had added $600/week in federal stimulus payments. Finally, the new stimulus bill provides independent contractors with paid sick and paid family leave benefits through March 14, 2021.
CARES Act II contains a new provision: unemployed or underemployed independent contractors who have an income mix from self-employment and wages paid by an employer are still eligible for PUA. Under CARES Act I, any such worker was typically eligible only for a state-issued benefit based on their wages. Under CARES Act II, the individual now is eligible for an additional weekly benefit of $100 if he earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income. The $100 weekly payment which would be added to the $300 weekly benefit, also will expire on March 14.
If the original CARES Act or CARES Act II applies to your personal financial situation, you may want to consult a financial advisor about decisions you made in 2020 or plan to make in 2021. Then, keep a record of all your financial decisions at InsureYouKnow.org so you’ll be prepared for additional financial challenges or government stimulus opportunities in the new year.