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5 Ways Your Obamacare Coverage Could Change This Year

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5 Ways Your Obamacare Coverage Could Change This Year

Humana’s announcement last week that it is dropping out of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) exchange and President Donald Trump’s tweet Friday that the Obamacare repeal is “moving fast” capped a frenzied week for the embattled law.

The proposed rule the Trump administration issued last week could mean major changes and increased costs for those who have Obamacare as well as other coverage. Congress would have to act to change Obamacare.

Amid the uncertainty about what will happen to Obamacare, here are five potential ways you and your health care spending could be impacted if the changes succeed.

The main changes would include:

  • Giving insurers the ability to offer more products that also cost more.
  • Removing the federal government’s oversight of insurers’ hospital and doctor networks.
  • Cutting in half the open enrollment period.
  • Requiring paperwork in advance that proves eligibility for enrolling outside of the open period.

1. You might need to find a new health plan

Humana last week announced it will drop out of the exchange, saying it would no longer provide individual plans in 2018.

“That’s been a pretty consistent phenomenon for the last two years, where you might have a particular insurance provider and then they pull out of the exchange, and so now you’ve got to go find another one,” says Chris Rylands, a partner in the Atlanta, Ga., office of Bryan Cave LLP, an international law firm. His practice focuses on employee benefits.

Humana analyzed the customers who had signed up through the exchange and found too much risk

2. Your costs for women’s health benefits could rise

With the Trump administration’s vow to overhaul Obamacare, some American women are feeling insecure about their birth control options.

In one example, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in January that Planned Parenthood’s patient requests for IUDs has jumped by 900%.

Sneha Bhakta, 22, is among the women who plan to look into requesting an IUD.

She and her parents pay about $500 each month for the three of them to have insurance through Obamacare.

“I follow the news extremely closely. Yes, my parents are concerned about the changing policies. Mostly because it’s all up in the air,” Bhakta says.

Bhakta, who lives in Atlanta, Ga., attended the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Woman in January, which was among hundreds of events the same weekend as the Women’s March on Washington. She says she’s scared about the possibility of losing coverage, especially the reproductive health care benefits, such as free birth control and pap exams.

3. Your deductible could go up

Proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act will create more leniency in how plans are classified. The greater leniency will allow for more diverse choices in the health care market, but could increase co-payments and deductibles for consumers.

All participating insurance plans have to cover 60% of out-of-pocket costs to qualify as a bronze-level plan, 70% for a silver plan, and 80% for gold. While the insurance plan pays for 70% of out-of-pocket costs for a silver plan, consumers would pay the remaining 30% through a combination of deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance. Under the Obama administration, a two-point disparity was permitted, meaning that a plan could cover 68% of the costs and still qualify as a silver plan.

With Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act, the disparity has been increased from 2% to 4%. Plans with only 66% coverage would still qualify as a silver plan.

It gives insurers a little more room to vary their plan terms,” Rylands says.

He adds that although there’s the potential for higher deductibles or out-of-pocket costs, the fact that the proposal extends it by only 2 percentage points means those increases will not be significant.

Already, Americans are showing they’re willing to pay for a plan with high deductibles in order to save money on premiums.

Over the last two years, enrollment in high-deductible health plans with a savings option by workers with employee-sponsored health insurance has increased 8 percentage points, to 29%, according to the 2016 Employee Health Benefits Survey by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

The survey found average premiums for those plans were “considerably lower” than the average for all plan types, at $5,762 for single coverage and $16,737 for family coverage.

4. You may have to be a bit more on the ball to enroll

The Trump administration’s proposal would cut the open enrollment period, typically three months, in half.

Under the new guidelines, those who need to enroll in health care for 2018 would have from between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, 2017. Insurance coverage will end on Dec. 31, 2017, for all participants, no matter their enrollment date.

Not only would the open enrollment period be shorter, but the president has already slashed the advertising budget for Obamacare. Upon taking office, Trump cut $5 million in advertising days before the Jan. 31, 2017, enrollment deadline.

Enroll America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves as the nation’s leading health care enrollment coalition, criticized the decision and its timing during the critical final days of the enrollment period for 2017. In a January statement, Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, said, “their decision to halt outreach will have real impact on real people’s lives.”

Also last week, the Trump administration announced plans to place more stringent guidelines for the special enrollment period, in an effort to reduce the number of consumers registering outside the open enrollment period. For 2017, the enrollment period ran from Nov. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017.

The special enrollment period was originally meant for people who experience unexpected changes, such as unemployment, a new baby, or moving states. The Affordable Care Act allows consumers to enroll and submit proof later that they qualify for the special enrollment.

Insurance agencies have found that people signing up under the special enrollment period have higher health care costs, leading agencies to believe that Americans are signing up when already sick.

Under the proposed revisions, consumers will be required to provide proof before signing up for special enrollment.

Your providers could change

Proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act will also remove federal review of insurance networks. The networks were created by the Obama administration in response to complaints that there were too few providers accepting insurance policies purchased in the exchange.

The requirement for a minimum number of providers within a set distance from enrollees could be removed.

While this could reduce consumers’ access to health care within a reasonable distance, Rylands is hopeful it could allow more health insurance companies to continue providing services on the exchange.

“We’ll just have to wait and see if that happens though,” Rylands says.

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News

9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs

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9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs

For many entrepreneurs, there is no topic more fraught than taxes. In fact, a 2015 survey of small business owners found that 40% say dealing with bookkeeping and taxes is the worst part of owning a small business and that they spend 80+ hours a year dealing with taxes and working with their accountants. Taxes can be time-consuming, confusing, and a drain on your finances if you don’t prepare well. So whether you choose to do your taxes on your own or hire a professional, this guide can provide some sound advice and hopefully make tax time a little less taxing.

 

#1 Select the Right Entity for Your Business

 

One of the first decisions you’ll make when setting up your business is whether to function as a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, or corporation. In her recent blog post, Wendy Connick, an IRS enrolled agent and owner of Connick Financial Solutions, says “the type of business entity you choose will have a huge effect both on how you pay taxes and how much tax you pay. It’s wise to consider the pros and cons of each business structure before making a final decision.”

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to form a business, as it is not a legal entity. The business owner just needs to register the business name with the state and secure the proper local business licenses. The downside is that the sole proprietor is personally liable for the business’s debts.

Partnership

A partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship, but two or more people share ownership. Both partners contribute their money, labor, or skill to the business and share in its profits and losses.

Limited liability company (LLC)

An LLC provides more protection from liability than a sole proprietor or partnership but with the efficiency and flexibility of a partnership.

Corporation

A corporation is more complicated and usually recommended for larger companies with multiple employees. It is a legal entity owned by shareholders, so the corporation itself, not its shareholders, is legally liable for business debts.

Unlike other business entities, corporations pay income tax on their profits, so they are subject to “double taxation,” first on company profits and again on shareholder dividends.

To avoid double taxation, corporations can file an election with the IRS to be treated as an S Corporation. S Corporation income and losses “pass through” to the shareholder’s personal income tax return instead of being taxed at the corporate level.

Some small businesses and freelancers may save on self-employment taxes by registering as an S Corporation and paying themselves a salary. Sole proprietors, partners, and LLC members pay self-employment tax on their entire business net income, but S Corp shareholders only pay self-employment taxes on their wages. They can receive additional income from the corporation as a distribution, which is taxed at a lower rate.

Connick says “many small business owners start out as sole proprietors and adopt a different structure once the business gets big enough to make it worthwhile (which would typically be when the business is making over $50,000 a year).”

 

#2 Get an Employer Identification Number

 

All businesses, even sole proprietors should get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Technically, sole proprietors can use their Social Security number (SSN) as the business’s identification number, but that means providing an SSN to any clients or vendors who need to issue a 1099, a move that can leave you more exposed to identity theft.

Applying for an EIN from the IRS is free and can usually be done in a matter of minutes using the IRS’s online form.

#3 Make Sure Your Business Isn’t Just a Hobby

 

You know you’re in business to make money, but would the IRS agree? If your company is operating at a loss, the IRS could reclassify your business as a hobby, resulting in some serious tax consequences.

A business is allowed to offset taxable income with business expenses, but hobby expenses cannot be netted against hobby income. Instead, they are deducted as miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A and limited to the amount of hobby income reported on Schedule C. This means a hobby business can never result in a net loss, and you may be prevented from deducting hobby expenses entirely if you don’t itemize deductions.

If you’ve been making money in your business for a while and just have one bad year, you don’t have to worry about the IRS reclassifying your business as a hobby. If you’ve been losing money for a while and especially if your business involves some element of personal pleasure or recreation (such as horse racing, filmmaking, or restoring old cars), you’ll want to make sure you’re treating your business like a business in case the IRS challenges your losses.

The IRS takes several factors into consideration:

  • Does the amount of time you put into the business suggest an intention of making a profit? Side projects are more likely to face scrutiny because you’re spending the majority of your time at another full-time job.
  • Do you depend on the income you receive from the business?
  • Were any losses beyond your control or occur in the startup phase? Losses due to poor management and overspending are less likely to hold up under examination.
  • Have you changed operation methods to improve profitability? Many business experience setbacks. If you learn from mistakes and try to correct your course, the IRS is more likely to agree that you have the intention of running a profitable business.
  • Do you have the knowledge and experience necessary to be successful in your field?

If you are concerned about an IRS challenge of your losses, there are a few steps you can take to treat your activity as a business:

  • Keep thorough business books and records.
  • Maintain separate business checking and credit accounts.
  • Obtain the proper business licenses, insurance, and certifications.
  • Develop and maintain a written business plan.
  • Document the hours spent working on your business, especially if it is a side project.

 

#4 Track Income and Expenses Carefully

 

Maintaining separate business checking and credit card accounts is not only a good way to demonstrate that your business is not a hobby, but it’s also an excellent way to simplify tracking business income and expenses.

Benjamin Sullivan, an IRS enrolled agent and a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC in its Austin, Texas, office, says “small business owners can get a tax benefit from almost anything that is an ordinary and necessary business expense. Travel, meals, advertising, and insurance costs are just some of the popular deductions.”

Use small business bookkeeping software

Small business accounting software like FreshBooks, Xero, or QuickBooks Online can help you easily and quickly track your business revenues and expenses. They can usually be set up to import transactions from your business checking account automatically and let you snap pictures of receipts with your phone.

Whether you choose to use a software program or just a spreadsheet, establish a system for organizing records and receipts right from the beginning. “Little expenses can add up quite a bit over the course of a year,” Connick says, “but you can’t deduct them if you don’t know what they are.”

Special rules for travel, meals, and entertainment

It is especially crucial to maintain good records for business travel, meals, and entertainment expenses. The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct 100% of their business-related travel and 50% of the cost of business meals and entertainment expenses, whether you are taking a client out for a meal or traveling out of town. Because these categories are prone to abuse, the IRS requires documentation to substantiate that these expenses have a legitimate business purpose.

For meals and entertainment, in addition to a receipt that shows the amount, time, and place, taxpayers should also make a note of the individuals being entertained and the business purpose. Meeting this requirement can be as simple as jotting down a note on your receipt or in your calendar regarding who you dined with and the business matters discussed.

For travel expenses, hotel receipts must include a breakdown of the charges for lodging, meals, telephone, and other incidentals. Your hotel should be able to provide an itemized receipt at checkout.

Save cash instead of taxes

One trap that small business owners often fall into is spending money to save on taxes. At year end, many entrepreneurs look at business profits and think they need to spend their cash to avoid a big tax bill. Don’t spend a dollar to save forty cents in tax. If you truly need a new computer, extra supplies, or a new vehicle, buy it. Don’t spend money just to avoid a tax bill. Remember, taxes are a cost of doing business. If you’re paying taxes, you’re making money.

#5 Set Aside Money for Taxes

 

When you set up a separate business checking account, it’s also a good idea to set up a separate savings account to help you organize funds and set aside money for taxes.

Our tax system is a “pay as you go” system. When you receive a paycheck from an employer, money is regularly withheld on your behalf. When you are self-employed, making estimated tax payments is your responsibility. If you don’t pay in enough during the year to cover your income tax and self-employment tax, you may have to pay an underpayment penalty.

Estimated tax payments are due on the 15th day of April, June, September, and the following January. You have a few options for calculating what you owe each quarter:

Use Form 1040ES

This form includes a worksheet to help you estimate how much you owe for the current year. (Corporations use Form 1120-W to calculate estimated taxes.)

Look at last year’s return

If you’ve been in business for a while and there are no significant changes this year, you can aim to pay 100% of last year’s tax as a safe-harbor estimate (110% if your adjusted gross income for the prior year was more than $150,000).

Make a quarterly estimate

If your income fluctuates, you may prefer to make a quarterly calculation. Calculating estimated payments is complex. It depends on your tax bracket, deductions, credits, etc. In this case, it’s best to work with a tax professional who can consider all of the factors and recent changes in the tax law.

Sullivan says, “Tax planning isn’t a one-time exercise that should be done at the end of the year or at tax time. Instead, tax planning is an ongoing process of structuring your affairs in a tax-efficient manner.”

#6 Don’t Forget to Track Your Mileage

 

When you drive your personal vehicle for business, you have two options for deducting business automobile expenses: the standard mileage rate or actual expenses.

The IRS releases the standard mileage rate annually. The rate is $0.54 per mile for 2016. It goes down to $0.535 cents per mile for 2017. You simply multiply the standard mileage rate by the number of miles you drove for business during the year.

To use the actual expense method, total up all of the costs of operating your vehicle for the year, including insurance, repairs, oil, and gas, and multiply them by the percentage of business use. For example, if you drove 10,000 miles during the year and 5,000 of those miles were for business, your percentage of business use would be 50%. If it cost $7,000 to own and operate your vehicle, your deduction using the actual expense method would be $3,500 ($7,000 x 50%).

You can use whichever method gives you the largest deduction. However, if you want to use the standard mileage rate, you must choose it in the first year the car is used for business. In subsequent years, you can choose either method.

Whichever method you choose, you must track your business miles. You can do that with a paper log kept in your glove compartment or with an app such as MileIQ or TrackMyDrive. “Note that ‘business purpose’ is a pretty broad category,” Connick says. “If you drive to the supermarket and pick up some pens for your home office while buying groceries, the trip counts as business mileage.”

 

#7 Consider the Home Office Deduction

 

Some business owners avoid claiming the home office deduction, believing it to be an audit trigger. That may have been true in the past, but today’s technology has made home offices much more common. Connick suggests entrepreneurs shouldn’t fear the home office deduction if they meet the requirements. “It’s no longer audit bait,” she says, “especially if you use the safe harbor method to calculate your deduction.”

To take advantage of the home office deduction, you must use the area exclusively and regularly, either as your principal place of business or as a setting to meet with clients. The home office deduction is based on the percentage of your home used for the business. You can choose either the traditional method or the simplified method for deducting expenses.

Under the traditional method, you’ll calculate the percentage of your home that is used for business by dividing the square footage of your office by the square footage of your entire home. For example, if your home is 1,500 square feet and your office occupies 150 square feet, the business percentage is 10%. Then, you can deduct 10% of all of the expenses of owning and maintaining your home, including mortgage interest, real estate taxes, utilities, association dues, insurance, repairs, etc.

Under the simplified method, you’ll take a deduction of $5 per square foot, with a maximum of 300 square feet. So if your home office measures 150 square feet, the home office deduction would be $750 (150 x $5).

 

#8 Save for Retirement

 

For most self-employed people, the simplest option for retirement saving is an individual retirement account (IRA). Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, but with an annual contribution limit of just $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older), you may want a retirement savings option that allows you to save more.

Connick says her number one tip for entrepreneurs is to open a SEP-IRA. “These retirement accounts are cheap to open and maintain,” she says. They also “have a high contribution limit, and contributions are fully tax deductible.” SEP-IRAs allow entrepreneurs to contribute up to 25% of their net earnings from self-employment, up to a maximum of $53,000 for 2016.

The deadline to contribute to a SEP-IRA is the due date of your return, including extensions. So 2016 contributions can be made until April 18, 2017, or October 15, 2017, if an extension is filed.

 

#9 Get Help from a Professional

 

Connick recommends that entrepreneurs hire a professional to do their taxes. “If you pick someone who knows their stuff,” she says, “you will likely save more than enough off your tax bill to pay for their fees. For that matter, tax preparation fees are deductible!”

When choosing a tax professional, look for someone with experience working with self-employed taxpayers. The IRS maintains an online directory of return preparers who have additional credentials, such as EAs, attorneys, and CPAs. Search the directory to find a professional near you with the credentials or qualifications you prefer.

If there is one thing all entrepreneurs can agree on, it’s that everybody dreads tax season. Having a basic understanding of tax law, maintaining organized records throughout the year, and working with a professional can help you make the most of this least wonderful time of the year.

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Should My Spouse and I Have the Same Investments?

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Should My Spouse and I Have the Same Investments?

One of the golden rules of investing is not to have all of your eggs in one basket. This is pretty easy to do when you’re planning by yourself. It can get complicated when you are married. Should you both have the same investments or is it better to do something different?

Unlike combining checking accounts or getting a joint credit card, combining your investment goals and objectives with your spouse is a bit more complex. Legally, it is not possible to combine retirement accounts like a 401(k) or IRA. However, it is possible to align your retirement saving strategy. Typically these are the biggest investment accounts, and how you choose your investments will determine your level of financial freedom during retirement. Before you sit down with your spouse (possibly with help from a professional financial adviser) to determine how you can both approach your savings in order to maximize your joint benefit, it’s important to consider these things first.

Before you align your investments, start by aligning your investment goals

Before deciding on what investments you may need, you and your spouse should figure out your investment goals. If you’re around the same age, do you both plan on retiring at the same time? If there is a significant gap in age, there is a chance that one of you could be working much longer than the other, and your investments should reflect that.

A common example could be shown with target-date funds (TDFs). Currently, TDFs are offered by 70% of 401(k) plans, and they give investors the ability to invest according to the year they plan on retiring. Someone planning to retire in 2040 would choose the 2040 target-date fund. If you and your spouse are the same age, it would be OK to invest in the same TDF. But if one of you is choosing to retire in 2040 and the other in 2030, it may be in your best interest to choose funds that correspond to your individual goals instead.

Even if you don’t choose TDFs, your investment choices should be based primarily on your tolerance for risk and the amount of time you estimate working before you retire (also known as time horizon). If you and your spouse have different risk levels, then you should definitely have different investments.

If the younger spouse earns significantly less income, this presents a special challenge best left to a financial planner. A discrepancy in income would directly affect the amount you’re able to save and how it is allocated. In some cases you may have to adjust your allocation to compensate. Again, because there are several individual factors which could affect your investment decisions in this specific situation, you will want the guidance of a financial planner.

Understand diversification and asset allocation

The concepts of diversification and asset allocation are the cornerstones of sound investing. By diversifying your assets, you are spreading out your risk over several different types of assets, rather than simply owning one or two. This is why mutual funds have become extremely popular. Because mutual funds consist of a broad range of investments across the stock and bond market, they provide instant diversification. But it may not be necessary or helpful for you and your spouse to own different mutual funds in hopes of diversifying yourselves even more.

Sometimes it is best to keep things simple. You and your spouse could own the same investments but in different proportions.

For example, the two of you may decide to own Mutual Fund A, which is made up of stocks, and Mutual Fund B, which is made up of bonds. Because you’re older and more conservative, you may choose to invest in a portfolio that is split down the middle: 50% in Mutual Fund A and 50% in Mutual Fund B. Your spouse, especially if they are much younger, may choose a more risky asset mix, investing in a mix of 75% Fund A and 25% Fund B. Both of you would still own the same investments but own different amounts due to your preference for risk.

Additionally, if you invest consistently in funds from the same investment firm, such as Franklin Templeton Investments, MFS, or American Funds, you could qualify for discounts after investing a certain amount called breakpoints. Most companies will charge you a percentage to invest in the fund. For example, if you invest $10,000 consistently every year, you could be charged 2.25% or $225. When you hit a breakpoint, however, the fee goes down. After 10 years, you’ve invested $100,000 and anything you put in after this point will be 1.75%. Instead of paying $225 on every $10,000 you invest each year, you would now pay $175 until you hit the next breakpoint. Every company has their own breakpoint levels and fees they charge, which can vary wildly depending on the type of fund and philosophy of the company.

Most experts agree that it is better to choose a few mutual funds with one fund manager and take advantage of the breakpoints rather than choose one fund from several different managers. Using more than one manager can also make it more difficult to track your investment performance.

The Bottom Line

If you and your spouse are the same age and plan to retire around the same time, you should be OK holding the same investments, assuming they are solid investment choices. But if your age difference is more than three years, this should be reflected in your separate portfolios.

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6 Questions to Ask Before You Use Jewelry Store Financing

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6 Questions to Ask Before You Use Jewelry Store Financing

This Valentine’s Day, U.S. consumers were projected to spend a collective $182 billion on fancy dinners, cards, flowers, and other gifts for their loved ones, according to the National Retail Federation. Jewelry retailers can expect to receive a sizable chunk of that spending. One in five Americans said they’d give jewelry as a gift to their significant other this Valentine’s Day, totaling an expected $4.3 billion spent nationwide.

If you can’t afford to pay for a large jewelry purchase out of pocket, most jewelry retailers are more than happy to let you finance it with a store credit card. But beware: Diamonds might be “a girl’s best friend,” but a jewelry store retailer isn’t always looking out for your best interest. As you would with financing any large purchase, you should thoroughly evaluate your decision before you sign on.

Here are 6 questions to ask before you finance through a jewelry store.

What happens if I can’t pay off my balance before the promotional period ends?

Low-interest or 0% financing promotions for jewelers typically last from 6 to 18 months. You may be tempted to wait to make payments until some time goes by. But if you don’t start making payments right away, you may find yourself with a balance even after the promotional period ends. And that can spell trouble for your finances. Some financing offers include “deferred interest” clauses, which means if you even owe $1 after the 0% period ends, they will charge you interest from the beginning.

Take online fine jewelry seller Blue Nile, for example. Right now, the company has a promotion for 0% financing for 6 or 12 months, depending on how much you spend. Deep in the company’s terms, a deferred interest clause is buried, warning shoppers that “interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the purchase balance is not paid in full” by the end of the period or if you make a late payment.

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Other jewelers may offer a low promotional rate for a certain period but will raise the annual percentage rate (APR) if you aren’t able to pay the balance in full by then. For example, the Zales credit card starts off with a low 9.99% APR if you make a minimum purchase of $1,500 and pay it off within 36 months. But if you can’t pay it off by then, they will triple your rate, making it 29.40%.

Can I afford my monthly payments?

Do the math to find out what your monthly payments will be and how long you’ll need to pay back the loan. If it looks like it’s going to be a struggle to pay the loan back before your promotional period ends, you’re probably borrowing more than you can really afford and you’re asking for trouble — especially if there’s a deferred interest clause.

If you really want to do it to finance the purchase, make sure it’s something that you can pay off within the promotional period. To save money, try comparing prices at several different retailers, opting for a more modest precious gem instead of a diamond or using a grandparent’s ring instead.

What’s in the fine print?

Some jewelers may require a down payment in order to qualify for a 0% financing offer. For example, Kay Jewelers charges a 20% minimum down payment for their 12-month 0% interest financing plan. Zales offers 6 months of financing interest free if you open up a credit card for a minimum purchase of $150, but that period extends to 18 months for purchases of $3,000 or more.

You don’t want to be surprised by any fees either. Some retailers will charge a transaction fee simply for processing your payment. Zales doesn’t charge a transaction fee for people taking advantage of 6-month or 36-month financing, but it tacks on a $9.95 transaction fee for their 12-month and 18-month interest-free tiers.

Look closely for any maintenance fees like annual fees charged for each year you have the card open, or penalty fees for late or returned payments.

Are there any warranties or insurance policies?

You’re making a large purchase that you can’t afford out of pocket, so you’ll want to protect yourself in case the jewelry is lost or damaged. Many retailers, like Jared or Kay Jewelers, offer lifetime diamond and gem warranties that cover cleaning and repair, although you may have to meet certain requirements to maintain a warranty.

To maintain a Zales Lifetime Diamond Commitment or Jared’s Lifetime Diamond & Color Gemstone Guarantee, for example, you need to take the piece to a store for cleaning and inspection every six months. You’ll need to bring your inspection history with you when you go, and the warranty doesn’t cover making any repairs. You could void your warranty if you don’t keep up or if you don’t make the suggested repairs.

Some plans offer additional protection plans to cover theft. Zales offers a lifetime jewelry protection plan with theft replacement for the first two years. To use it, you’ll need to bring in a police report and proof of purchase, but the warranty is void if a family member steals your jewelry.

You could forgo the jeweler’s insurance for your own, however, and tack the piece onto your home or renter’s insurance plan as a ‘jewelry rider’ for a few dollars more each month.

What’s the return policy?

Not to be a killjoy, but what if you break up with your significant other before you get a chance to give them the gift? What if they don’t like it or — even crazier — the salesperson was just really good and after the purchase you decide you don’t like the jewelry you picked out? You’ll need to make a return, and you’ll want to make sure you get your money back.

Ask about the company’s return policy related to in-store financing. You’ll want to know what the period is to make a return or exchange, as they may differ, and when you’ll see the charge removed from your account. Keep in mind, many jewelers won’t let you return specially made or engraved jewelry; however, some, like Blue Nile, make an exception for rings.

If you’re returning an online purchase, ask about any extra fees you may need to pay, such as shipping or insurance for the jewelry.

Do I get any perks?

If you frequent a particular jeweler, you may be interested in what perks you’ll get from opening a store credit card. For example, Zales cardholders benefit from exclusive coupons, reminders for jewelry inspection and cleaning, and an automatic $50 off birthday purchases $200 and higher.

Sometimes, these perks may not be worth the hassle of signing up for a high-interest credit card or financing deal. Compare the dollar value of the perks to the amount you’ll pay in interest and fees down the road.

Alternatives to Jewelry Store Financing

Friends and family

Reach out to your network of close friends and family to see if you can get a more flexible, interest-free loan. To demonstrate responsibility, you may want to create a contract with payment terms and set a date for when you’ll pay the loan back in full. Warning: Only do this if you’re certain you can pay off the loan quickly to avoid harming your relationship with the lender.

Credit cards

Jewelry store cards generally charge high interest rates, so you might find a more competitive offer with a traditional bank or major credit card issuer.

If you can qualify for a credit card with a longer promotional 0% interest offer, or one with a lower interest rate after the promotional period ends, you may be better off putting the jewelry purchase on it. Depending on the card you choose, you might even be able to earn points or cash back rewards for your purchase.

A bonus tip: If you decide to open a store card but aren’t 100% sure you’ll be able to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you could make payments until the period is over, then transfer the remaining balance over to a balance transfer card to avoid paying interest.

Personal loan

If you don’t want to open up a credit card, a personal loan can be an alternative way to finance the purchase, although you won’t benefit from an interest-free promotional period.

Rates on personal loans range from as low as 4% with good credit to as high as 36%. On the other hand, with personal loans you’ll have a fixed interest rate and a fixed repayment term, so you’ll know exactly how much you’ll pay each month and when you’ll pay off the purchase.

You can apply for a personal loan through your bank, or leverage technology and try peer-to-peer lending through sites like Upstart, Lending Club, or SoFi.

The Final Word

Financing a large jewelry purchase may be convenient, but it may not be your most cost-efficient option, especially if you’re not sure you’ll be able to pay off the card before the 0% interest promotional period runs out.

If you’re planning to pop the question soon, remember: the engagement ring and all of the traditions surrounding it are a relatively new construct of modern-day romance. You don’t have to prove your love and commitment to your spouse with a huge, expensive ring.

 

 

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Now You Can Pay for Uber and Lyft Rides With Your Commuter Benefits

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Now You Can Pay for Uber and Lyft Rides With Your Commuter Benefits

Ride-share users, your employee commuter benefits package just got a little better. Earlier this year, Lyft became the latest ride-sharing app to give riders the chance to pay using employee commuter benefits.

That means riders can now use pre-tax dollars to pay for Lyft rides the same way commuter benefits can be used to cover transit costs or parking expenses. Lyft isn’t the first ride-sharing app to add commuter benefits — Uber beat them to it back in August — but Lyft’s addition of commuter benefits signals a trend that could save big-city commuters time and money on the way to work each day.

Right now, it’s not possible for workers to use commuter benefits to pay for regular cabs — including regular Uber or Lyft rides. But Uber and Lyft found a clever way around this. Benefits can be used when riders select Lyft Line or uberPOOL, the apps’ carpooling options.

If you’re curious about this benefit and whether or not it’s worth linking your Uber or Lyft account to your commuter benefit account, we’ve got you covered.

What are commuter benefits?

Commuter benefits are an employer-provided benefits program that lets you set aside pre-tax dollars in an account to be used for your commute costs. Employees can use these benefits to pay for public transportation — trains, subways, buses, even parking passes — used on their daily commute with pre-tax dollars. The amount of money you set aside to pay for your commute doesn’t count as income, so you’re not taxed on it.

Which benefits programs are included?

Each ride-hailing service has partnered with select benefits programs, although there is some overlap. For example, if your company’s benefits package is with Zenefits or TransitChek, you can use them with Lyft, but not with Uber. On the other hand, if you are with EdenRed or Ameriflex, you can only pay with your benefits on the Uber app. The lucky commuters with benefits under WageWorks, Benefit Resource and Navia can use their benefits on either rideshare app.

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How do I sign up for commuter benefits?

Workers have to sign up for commuter benefits in order to receive them. You will be asked to select how much money you want to set aside from your paycheck each month to cover your transportation costs.

Once you’re enrolled, you may receive a benefits card (it can be used like a regular debit or credit card) to make transportation purchases. Otherwise, you can purchase transportation expenses using your regular credit or debit card and then submit a claim to be reimbursed through your benefit provider.

Reach out to your employer’s human resources department to find out how to take advantage of your commuter benefits program.

How much can I really save?

Depending on your current tax bracket, you could have up to 40% more to spend on your commute. For example, if you’re in the 35% tax bracket and contribute $200 each month to your commuter benefits account, you’re getting an extra $70 to spend on your commute each month. That’s an extra $840 per year.

But here’s the catch: Commuter benefits contributions are capped at $255 per month. So if you are already relying on your benefits to finance your monthly subway pass or parking garage expenses, you may not have much left over to use on Lyft or Uber rides.

What are Lyft Line and uberPOOL?

To use commuter benefits to pay for Lyft or Uber rides, you have to select the apps’ carpooling options — either Lyft Line or uberPOOL. Carpool vehicles seat six or more passengers. Both Uber and Lyft use algorithms to place riders going toward the same area together. Because you’re carpooling, however, you may or may not have a shorter commute, depending on traffic in your city and how many other riders get picked up or dropped off during your trip.

How to use commuter benefits on Lyft

First, you need to add your commuter benefits card to your profile.

  1. When you open the Lyft app, tap “Payment” in the left-hand side menu to see your payment options.

  2. Select “Add credit card,” enter your commuter benefits card information, and save. The card will have a “Commuter” distinction.

  3. Next, set the card as your default payment method. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Select the card as your default payment method for your personal profile under the “payment defaults” section in the “Payment” menu.

    2. When you open the app, set your location and destination. You’ll then see the last four digits of the card is being used to pay for the trip. Tap the numbers to change your payment method to your commuter benefits card. You should see a rectangular icon with a diamond in its center when using your benefits card.

    3. Select “Lyft Line & Ride.”
      You can only use your benefits to pay for carpools under Lyft Line. Select the pooling option to be matched with a car with six or more seats, and you’ll be all set.

How to use commuter benefits on Uber

Add your commuter benefits card to your profile by going to the left-hand menu and adding your commuter benefits card under “Payment.” You can also add the card after setting your location and destination under uberPOOL, shown below.

Tap on your card information to set or add your commuter card as a payment option.

Your benefits can only be used to pay for carpools under uberPOOL. Select the pooling option to be matched with a car with six or more seats, and you’ll be good to go.

Pros

Using pre-tax dollars saves you up to 40%

The most obvious perk of using your commuter benefit is that you’re using pre-tax dollars, so your dollar goes up to 40% further. If you’re already paying out of pocket for your commute, this could be a huge benefit.

Cut back on driving

If you drive to work, a 2014 Trulia analysis found you likely spend about 30 minutes in the car each way. If it’s more affordable for you to use a ride-sharing app, you can use that time to read or catch up on work or a nap while you ride.

Reduce your carbon footprint

Legally, commuter benefits can only be used with efforts to reduce your commuter footprint, so ride-sharing counts only when you’re placed in a car that seats six or more passengers. If you drive to work, this cuts down your footprint and takes the hassle out of organizing a carpool.

Cons

Lyft Line or uberPOOL only

You may want to put your pre-tax dollars elsewhere if you’re not into making new friends each morning. You’ll be placed in a vehicle that seats six or more people when you use your benefits card, and other riders may have various personality types.

Limit on contribution

Your contribution is limited to $255 a month, which may or may not be a month’s worth of commuting, depending on how much your commute costs. For example, a LendingTree analysis found the average monthly cost of commuting with Uber’s non-pool service UberX in New York City is more than $700. Still, $255 pre-tax will help cut down on your monthly spending for the trip to work.

Only available in select major cities

The apps’ commuter benefits options are only available in select major cities so far. Here’s a breakdown of where you can use yours.

Lyft: New York City, Boston, Seattle, and Miami

Uber: New York City, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and New Jersey (state).

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Featured, Health, News

Facing a Medical Debt Lawsuit? Take These 10 Steps First

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Facing a Medical Debt Lawsuit? Take These 10 Steps First

If you’ve ever been sued by a debt collector or service provider over medical debt, you know how stressful it can be. If you couldn’t afford to pay the original debt, you likely still can’t afford it. And if you want to defend yourself, you’ll have to face the additional time and cost of going to court, too.

You should know that you’re not alone. According to staff attorney Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center, when you look at debt collection items on credit reports in America, “half of those items are from medical debt. Not credit cards. Not auto loans. Medical debt.”

You may be tempted to ignore the suit since you know you can’t pay, but Wu advises against inaction.

“Always show up,” she says. “Never ignore a lawsuit. If you ignore it, the debt collector or service provider on the other side automatically wins by default.”

What happens when you show up, though? Here are four steps to take if you’re facing a medical debt lawsuit.

1. Find Out Where the Debt Comes From

You cannot properly address your lawsuit if you don’t understand where the debt comes from. If you look back at your past bills, you should be able to find a date of service and itemized list of services rendered with associated costs.

You may be in debt because you’re uninsured, but even insured patients end up in this boat thanks in part to a rise in high-deductible health plans. Mistakes can happen as well. If a patient visits an in-network hospital, but is unknowingly seen by an out-of-network doctor, they can be charged out-of-network fees. Doctors are independent contractors, so while the hospital may be affiliated with your insurance company, that doesn’t mean your service provider is inherently in-network.

2. Don’t ignore the lawsuit

In most consumer debt cases, consumers don’t have an attorney at all. But hiring an attorney to advise you can be a wise move. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune either, Wu says.

Most lawyers will provide a free consult before taking you on as a client. In this consult, they may be able to help you find your bearings so you can represent yourself.

Wu recommends seeking help from the Legal Services Corporation, a government-supervised nonprofit that provides legal representation at a low cost to low-income households. You can also seek help from nonprofit legal assistance firms in your area.

If you’re uninsured, one way to keep the case from going to court is to contact the doctor or debt collector immediately to negotiate your bill down to Medicaid/Medicare prices — which are often 2-3 times less than that of the gross price you were billed. When a provider refuses to negotiate down to these lower rates, it is called “discriminatory pricing,” and your legal counsel may recommend using it as a defense in court.

3. Prepare for Court

The first thing you must do is prepare an answer to the lawsuit, including any defenses or countersuits that you want to raise. This will involve filing paperwork at the court, mailing paperwork, and showing up on your initial court date. Again, it’s advisable to get a lawyer to help you through this, or at least get a consult. The National Association of Consumer Advocates has a helpful video explainer on preparing to defend a medical debt lawsuit.

It’s important to make this initial court date. It is very unlikely the judge will grant you a continuance that would move the court date further out.

There are some exceptions to this. If you are being sued in a state in which you no longer reside, it’s easier to mount a defense if you can’t appear in court. In fact, appearing in court could work against you, demonstrating to the court that you have no problem traveling to and from court out of state.

If you’ve been served in a state outside of your own, it is very important to get legal representation.

This is because you must answer the suit, but you must also do so in a way that does not imply that you are submitting to that court’s jurisdiction over you. The process is one that is best handled by someone trained in law.

After you answer the suit, the court will set a date for the discovery part of the trial. You will have to file more paperwork with the court before this date so that you are able to present evidence that you are not liable for the debt.

4. Understand Wage Garnishment

If you are found liable for the debt, or you fail to answer the lawsuit and the judge rules against you, the court may issue an order giving the lender or collection agency the ability to garnish your wages. By federal law, they cannot leave you with less than 75% of your income or $217.50 per week — whichever is greater. State law may protect you even further.

Medical debt collectors are able to garnish your wages, but they cannot garnish Social Security benefits, disability insurance payments, unemployment insurance payments, VA benefits, pension distributions, child support payments, or public assistance benefits. If you have any of these forms of income, it’s wise to set up a different bank account where those funds are deposited and keep all garnishable wages in another separate account.

You should do this because a court order can go after your bank account balances, too. While that doesn’t make it legal to take money that came from any of these protected sources, separate bank accounts will make the incidence of errors smaller — saving you headaches and potential victimization.

5. Know Your Rights

When it comes to medical billing and debts, you do have rights as a patient. Make sure you understand them so you can lower or eliminate your bill before or after you’ve been sued.

Were You Served Properly?

Sometimes wages are garnished before the plaintiff is even aware that there’s a lawsuit against them. This happens most commonly when you’re improperly served. Examples of using “improperly served” as a legal defense include papers being only mailed to you and not delivered in person, papers being left at an incorrect residence, or papers being mailed to an old address. Being “improperly served” does not mean that the papers were left with a family member or friend at your residence and they forgot to tell you about it. If that happened, you’re still on the hook.

If you have been improperly served, or if you find out that the court mistakenly started garnishing wages because you have the same name as an actual plaintiff, you should contact a lawyer immediately to figure out what possible recourses there may be for your specific situation.

6. Get Low-Cost or Free Help from Financial Assistance Programs

In 2016, about 58% of community hospitals in the U.S. were not-for-profit, according to the American Hospital Association. This gives them tax-exempt status, but also obligates them to give back to their communities. Under the Affordable Care Act, these hospitals must provide some type of financial assistance program to low-income patients. Even if you aren’t from a low-income household, you should apply, as some hospitals extend their programs far beyond the poverty line. Many hospitals also extend this program to insured patients.

These hospitals have an obligation to let you know about their financial assistance programs within four months of when your bill has been issued.

You have until eight months after the initial bill was issued to apply for financial assistance. You have the right to do this even if the debt has been sold to a third-party collector, and even if that collector is the one suing you in court.

7. Be Aware of Discriminatory Pricing

We’ve already touched on the fact that you can try to negotiate your medical bills down to Medicaid/Medicare prices. If you are being sued in court and are uninsured, discriminatory pricing can serve as a defense. If you qualify for the hospital’s financial assistance program, they legally must reduce your bill to the amount generally billed to insured patients.

8. Look Out for Balance Billing

Balance billing happens when your hospital or medical provider bills you instead of or in addition to Medicaid or Medicare. It’s a forbidden practice, and you are not responsible for any amounts due when this happens.

You may be able to identity balance billing if you receive an “Explanation of Benefits” from your insurer that states the amount they covered and the amount you still owe. If this does not match the bill your medical provider sent you, there is a cause for concern. Additionally, if the bill you receive does not show any payment from your insurance when you are, in fact, on Medicaid or Medicare, it may be a sign that you are a victim of balance billing.

9. Stop Lawsuits Before They Begin

If something about your bill doesn’t look quite right, there are ways to reduce it to its fair amount.

First of all, make sure the hospital didn’t make an error that resulted in a larger bill. One way this could happen is if something they did caused you to have to stay in the hospital an extra night, inflating your costs beyond what they should have been originally.

Another good avenue to pursue is to have your bill examined by a medical bill advocate. They’re familiar with coding and laws that you’re not, making them the perfect people to review your charges. You may find one in your community by asking around, or you can start your search with the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants.

Debt collectors, hospitals, and other medical providers don’t want to take you to court. It costs them money, and the odds of them actually getting a full payment at that point are very low. They are almost always willing to work with you before issuing a lawsuit. Negotiate. Apply for financial assistance. Set up zero-interest payment plans directly with your health care provider.

Keep the lines of communication open so that no one ends up with the additional costs of litigation.

10. Weigh Bankruptcy

At any point in this process, you can choose to file for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy may alleviate the medical debt. Just be cautious. Bankruptcy is not a decision that should be made lightly, as it will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years and make it difficult to qualify for new credit.

There are two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 requires you to sell off all of your assets to settle what you can of your debt obligations. If you don’t have any or many assets, that aspect of it doesn’t matter much. What will matter is that the debt will essentially disappear after you file.

If you file for Chapter 13, you do not have to sell off any assets, but the debt won’t disappear either. Instead, you’ll be put on a 3-5 year payment plan in order to settle.

This may make sense if the court has already issued an order against your wages, but at any other point in your case, it would make more sense to try to set up a payment plan with the medical service provider or debt collection agency directly. Their last resort is wage garnishment. Don’t let it get that far. Know your rights so you can negotiate with them effectively rather than damaging your credit report through Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

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What Could Happen if Trump Rolls Back The Dodd-Frank Act

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What Could Happen if Trump Rolls Back The Dodd-Frank Act

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has been seen by many as legislation that helped dig the American economy out of the Great Recession by putting strict limitations on banks. Banks had to rein in their high-risk mortgage practices and meet stricter lending requirements.

President Donald Trump has begun the process to roll back parts of the legislation, which could eliminate the restrictions that banks had faced under Dodd-Frank. As recently as Feb. 3, Trump told business executives at the White House, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that have nice businesses that can’t borrow money, they just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

The executive order that Trump signed on Feb. 3 asks for a review of Dodd-Frank. Many of Dodd-Frank’s key provisions can’t be undone without legislation, and Democrats have vowed to do all they can to protect the law; however, with a Republican-controlled Congress, there is a possibility of dismantling the legislation.

Consumers and small business owners could feel the impact of Dodd-Frank’s potential rollback in three key ways.

Relaxed lending standards.

The subprime mortgage lending phenomenon caused a surge in defaults when the housing market crashed about a decade ago. Nearly 9.3 million homeowners experienced a foreclosure, short sold, or received a deed in lieu of foreclosure between 2006 and 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Some legal experts worry that a rollback of Dodd-Frank could expose homeowners to the same lending risks they faced prior to the financial crisis.

“If Dodd-Frank is repealed, homeowners should expect to see a return to the ‘anything goes’ days of the 1990s and early 2000s,” says David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn (N.Y.) Law School. “There will likely to be a loosening of credit, but also a return to some predatory practices in some parts of the mortgage market,” he says.

When signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the Dodd-Frank law created several government agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB, which was tasked with protecting consumers by regulating complaints, conducting investigations, and filing suits against companies that break the law, created the Ability to Repay and the Qualified Mortgage rules. The rules were meant to ensure that banks and mortgage lenders were only issuing loans to homebuyers who could reasonably afford to repay them.

“These are really rules that require lenders to pay attention to who their borrower is, to make sure their borrower can pay back a loan,” Reiss explains. “It sounds kind of silly to have a rule to tell lenders to make sure borrowers can pay back their loan, but before the financial crisis, it was pretty common.”

One of the popular ways to entice subprime mortgage borrowers before the recession was to offer teaser rates. Teaser rates, Reiss explains, made a mortgage appear affordable in its first six months or 12 months, with low rates and low monthly payments. Once the promotional period was up, the rates and payments would skyrocket.

The subprime mortgages and other loans with higher risk for consumers, which can be profitable to banks, had much higher rates of default, Reiss says.

Dodd-Frank legislators originally reduced and prohibited these exotic terms in order to suppress the turbulent market at the time. Repealing Dodd-Frank and its restrictions will not only bring back lenders’ old habits but return the market to a more volatile state, says Reiss.

While the potential abolishment of Dodd-Frank may be a shame in terms of the loss of consumer protections, there is a bright side, says Paul Hynes, a certified financial planner and CEO of HearthStone, a wealth management firm based in San Diego, Calif. Many lenders have complained that heightened regulations have only increased their costs and made it tougher for consumers to get access to much-needed financing. Since the recession, the homeownership rate in the U.S. has declined by 4.7%, from 68.4% in 2007 to 63.75% in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The increased cost of compliance with Dodd-Frank may also go away,” Hynes says, “reducing the drag on the economy caused by these costs, and perhaps stimulating economic growth, higher wages, and overall increase in the standard of living for all Americans.”

Possible benefits for small banks and businesses.

The rollback of Dodd-Frank should have a positive impact on small banks that have felt the effect of the regulations much more heavily than their larger Wall Street and corporate counterparts, says John Gugle, a certified financial planner with Alpha Financial Advisors in Charlotte, N.C.

The costs of complying with Dodd-Frank for banks totaled more than $10.4 billion and 73 million hours in paperwork in 2016, according to the American Action Forum, a conservative nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

Small banks, which used to be an engine for loan growth in their communities, have struggled with the costs to comply with Dodd-Frank, says Gugle, a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) policy committee.

“If you’re a small lender, and having to meet these increasingly rigorous regulations, you don’t have enough money or resources to throw at it,” Reiss says. “So I think the regulatory burden is felt more by the smaller institutions who are just trying to manage to keep the doors open.”

The Dodd-Frank rollback could make it easier for small business owners to qualify for small business loans. Since the recession, lending to small business owners has declined by 17%, according to U.S. Small Business Administration research. While larger banks have focused traditionally on investment and corporate banking, smaller banks have been a primary source of loans to local communities and businesses, and they were hardest hit by the recession.

“For smaller community banks, the increased compliance and regulatory costs have impeded their ability to lend,” Gugle says. “By lowering the regulatory burden, it would make it more cost effective for banks to make loans, but I am careful to point out that small businesses will still need to meet the stringent borrower requirements that banks will impose.”

Another recession? Not likely.

While many financiers and officials have advocated for the repeal of Dodd-Frank, the public is hesitant to remove the restraints on American banks.

In a survey of more than 1,000 people, California-based Personal Capital Advisors Corp. found that 84% were supportive of efforts to protect consumers’ financial rights and concerned about the lack of protections without Dodd-Frank.

Experts agree that a repeal will likely lead to risk-taking by banks, but contend that a recession is not immediately imminent.

If Dodd-Frank is repealed, Hynes, a NAPFA member, says he thinks the U.S. initially will see a “more robust economy, more jobs, and higher economic growth rates.”

“The U.S. economy experienced solid growth, punctuated by occasional, more ‘normal’ recessions, from the end of the Great Depression, about 1940, until 2007 — without massive legislative imposition such as Dodd-Frank,” Hynes says.

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Featured, News

21% of Divorcées Cite Money as the Cause of Their Divorce, MagnifyMoney Survey Shows

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Magnifymoney - Divorce and Debt Survey

In MagnifyMoney’s 2017 Divorce and Debt Survey, we polled a national sample of 500 divorced U.S. adults to understand how money played into the end of their relationship.

Here are our key findings:

AMONG ALL SURVEY RESPONDENTS

More money = more problems

Among all respondents, 21% cited money as the cause of their divorce.

In fact, the more money a respondent earned, they more likely they were to cite money as the cause of their divorce.

Among people who earned $100,000 or more, 33% cited money as the cause of their divorce.

By contrast, only 25% of people who earned $50,000 to $99,999 cited money as the cause of their divorce. And the lowest income-earners, those earning $50,000 and under, were the least likely to say money was the cause of their divorce at just 18%.

Money might cause more stress for younger couples

While rates of divorce rose along with the amount of a couple’s’ earnings, the opposite seemed to be true when it came to age. Younger couples reported that financial issues drove them to divorce, while the rate went down for older couples.

  • Among 25-44 year olds: 24% cited money as the cause of their divorce
  • Among 45-64 year olds: 20% cited money as the cause of their divorce
  • Among those 65 and over: 18% cited money as the cause of their divorce

AMONG SURVEY RESPONDENTS WHO CITED MONEY AS THE REASON FOR THEIR DIVORCE…

Divorce often led to debt 

AMONG SURVEY RESPONDENTS WHO CITED MONEY AS THE REASON FOR THEIR DIVORCE

Between legal fees, paying for your own expenses instead of sharing the burden with a partner, and other costs that come up when you choose to end a marriage, divorce gets expensive. For couples who already faced financial problems, the added expense often meant getting into even more debt.

Well over half (59%) of respondents who cited money as the cause of their divorce also said they went into debt because of their divorce. And a whopping 60% said their credit score fell after the divorce. By comparison, just 36% of the total survey group said they went into debt because their divorce, and only 37% said their credit score suffered.

Among those who cited money as the cause of their divorce…

  • 2% of respondents said they got away with $500 or less in debt.
  • 13% said they racked up debts of $500 to $4,999.
  • 14% said they took on between $10,000 and $19,999 worth of debt
  • 23% said they owed $20,000 or more

Among all survey respondents…

  • 2% were less than $500 in debt
  • 8% were $500 to $4,999 in debt
  • 6% were $5,000 to $9,999 in debt
  • 8% were $10,000 to $19,999 in debt
  • 12% were $20,000 or more in debt

Overspending was the biggest source of tension

Overspending was the biggest source of tension

Nearly one-third (30%) of those who said that money was the reason for their divorce also said overspending was the most common problem they faced. Overspending can easily add up to carrying credit balances when the cash runs out — and in fact, credit card debt was the second most common money problem these respondents cited.

Bad credit was also a problem, along with other types of debt like medical and student loan debt. Most financial issues seemed to stem from bad cash flow habits, however. Only 3% said bad investments caused trouble within their relationships.

Financial infidelity was rampant

Financial infidelity was rampant

When overspending and debt become issues within a marriage, partners may feel compelled to hide mistakes and bad money habits from each other. In fact, 56% of survey respondents who said money was the reason for their divorce also admitted that they or their spouse lied about money or hid information from the other person. By comparison, just 33% of all divorcees surveyed said they lied or were lied to about money during their marriage.

Among the survey respondents who cited money as the cause of divorce…

  • 37% said their spouse lied to them about money
  • 8% said they lied to their spouse about money
  • 10% reported that they both lied to each other.

Among all survey respondents…

  • 24% said they their spouse lied about money
  • 3% said they lied to their spouse about money
  • 5% said they both lied about money

Most would rather keep separate bank accounts

Separation of finances

With financial stress causing trouble in relationships, it’s not too surprising that 57% of people who cited money as the cause of their divorce said married couples should maintain separate bank accounts. Forty-three percent maintained that within a marriage, couples should keep joint accounts — even though their marriages ended in divorce.

Most failed to keep a budget

Budgeting and divorce

A whopping 70% of respondents who said their marriages ended due to money said they didn’t stick to a budget during their marriage. A budget is such a simple tool, but one that’s essential to tracking cash flow and understanding where money comes from — and goes.

Most don’t believe prenups are necessary

Prenups and divorce
Dealing with divorce is never easy, especially when financial problems caused the separation and continue to plague couples after the paperwork is signed thanks to new debts.

Still, 58% of survey respondents whose marriage ended in divorce due to money said they didn’t think couples should get a prenuptial agreement before tying the knot.

How to deal with your finances after divorce

Here are a few tips to help you get back on your feet, financially speaking, once your divorce is finalized:

Recognize your bad money habits. Money issues can negatively impact a relationship, and even cause it to end. But they can hurt you as an individual, too.

Create a budget. Remember, most people whose marriage ended due to financial stresses didn’t keep a budget during their relationship. Doing so now will help you stay on top of your money and know exactly where it goes. That will allow you to make better spending decisions and help prevent taking on even more debt.

Don’t make major money decisions right away. If you just finalized your divorce, you may feel like you need to make major changes or choices right away. But take a moment to slow down and give yourself time to heal. You shouldn’t make emotional decisions with your money — and going through a divorce is an emotional time. Wait until you can think more clearly and rationally before doing anything with your assets, cash, or career.

Money should not be your therapy. Because divorce can do a number on you, mentally and emotionally, you may need help with the healing process. But that does not mean retail therapy! It’s tempting to spend on material things in an effort to make yourself feel better, but any happiness you feel from shopping sprees is temporary and fleeting. It can also leave you into even more debt. Put away your credit cards, stick to cash, and use your budget to guide you.

Work to rebuild your credit. 60% of people reported their divorce hurt their credit. If your credit suffered too, take steps to rebuild it. Pay down debts, make all payments on time and in full, and don’t continue to carry balances on credit cards. Try to avoid taking out too many new loans or lines of credit all at once.

You should also work through this checklist of important actions to take after your divorce:

  • Update your beneficiary information on your accounts and insurance policies.
  • Update your will and estate plan.
  • Make sure all of your assets are in your name only and no longer jointly held.
  • Cancel accounts or services you held jointly, like utilities or cable. Open new accounts for you in your name.
  • Allocate a line item for savings in your budget. You want to start rebuilding your own cash reserves. Set an automatic monthly transfer from your checking to your savings so you don’t forget.
  • Close joint credit cards and get a new line of credit in your name.
  • If you have children, keep careful records of expenses for them that you plan to split with your ex, in case of disagreements. Ideally, make sure your divorce agreement includes an explanation of how child care will be split and who is responsible for what, financially.
  • Think about whether you need to hire new financial professionals to help you. You may want to find a new financial planner and certified public accountant. You’ll want to update your financial plan to reflect the fact that you’re no longer married.

Survey methodology: 500 U.S. adults who reported they were in a marriage that ended in divorce via Google Surveys from Feb. 2 to 4, 2017.

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4 Ways to Get Out of a Loan if You Are a Cosigner

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

4 Ways to Get Out of a Loan if You Are a Cosigner

Being a co-signer has risks. If the primary borrower does not pay, you may be on the hook for debt and your credit score could be negatively affected. You may have signed on for a child’s student loans to help them through college or helped your brother get a new car or credit card. After some time has passed, you want to remove yourself as the co-signer.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 75% of cosigners end up paying some portion of the loan because the primary borrower was not making payments on time.

Here are 4 ways to remove yourself as a co-signer:

1. Refinance the Loan

One of the best ways to get your name removed as a co-signer is to have the loan refinanced in the primary borrower’s name, which will essentially replace one loan with another, usually with a lower interest payment or better terms. For mortgages, car loans, and student loans the process for refinancing is pretty straightforward.

To get started, the primary borrower would need to go through a process very similar to the one used to obtain the original loan. He or she would need to provide their credit history and income information to the lender, which could be a bank, a credit union, or an online lending company. If the loan is approved, it can replace the old debt, which would release you from the liability and establish new payments and terms for the borrower.

Note: The borrower will need to have a good credit score in order to refinance his or her loan. If their credit is poor, unfortunately, this may not be an option and you may be stuck as their cosigner. They will need to improve their credit score and try again later.

2. Ask to Be Removed

Depending on the credit history of the primary borrower, some lenders may give the co-signer the option to be removed after a certain period of time, though this situation is rare, as it does not benefit the lender. Check the loan documents to see if your loan allows this. You may also call the lender to inquire. In some situations, the primary borrower may be able to have you removed as the co-signer.

3. Transfer the Balance

Sometimes you may have to be more creative to be removed as a co-signer. One way to do it is by using a 0% balance transfer credit card. If the primary borrower can get approved, it could allow them to pay down the balance without paying any interest while also letting you off the hook. You can use a balance transfer from several different types of debts, including student loans, home equity loans, credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans.

In terms of the borrower, transferring certain types of debts makes more sense than others. For example, most balance transfer credit cards give you 12-18 months before they start charging interest. If you cannot pay the debt in full by that time, the interest rate could be a lot higher than it originally was. Large amounts like student loans and auto loans may not be the best move unless the borrower can pay them off within the 0% interest time frame.

4. Sell the Asset/Pay Off the Balance

Depending on your relationship with the person you cosigned for and the type of debt, you could just pay off the debt or ask them to sell the asset and take whatever financial loss you might face. It may not be the most financially savvy method, but it works. As a co-signer, you agreed to be the backup in the event the primary borrower does not make payments. Though you might have their best interests at heart, you’ll want to make sure that you’re in the position to make any payments to protect your own credit.

Additional Questions to Answer:

What are the pros and cons of removing yourself as a co-signer?

Financially speaking, there aren’t many cons to removing yourself as a co-signer. Without the co-signer tag, you’re back in full control of what happens to your credit score. The one potential con could be what happens to your relationship with the borrower.

If you’re attempting to end a co-signer relationship due to a missed payment or financial irresponsibility of the borrower, you could sour a close relationship. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. If you set the right expectations going into it, removing yourself as the co-signer could be a welcomed event instead of a painful breakup. If the borrower’s credit has improved, being removed could be seen more like a financial graduation.

What if the other co-signer won’t cooperate? 

If the borrower does not cooperate, unfortunately your options are limited.

“There is very little you can do. The only path is to seek legal advice,” says Neal Frankle, certified financial planner at Credit Pilgrim. You may have to get a lawyer to write a letter on your behalf to the lender seeking to be removed from the loan. But if you signed a legitimate contract, chances are low that they’ll release you. Says Frankle: “The issue is getting the lender to agree.”

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Am I On Track For Retirement?

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Am I On Track For Retirement?

Inquiring about your path to retirement is one of the most important financial questions out there. Every year thousands of Americans are polled, and the overwhelming majority are worried about being on track for retirement or running out of money in retirement. According to Prudential’s 2016 Retirement Preparedness Survey, for 59% of current retirees, “not running out of money” in retirement is on the top of their priority list. Among those who are still approaching retirement, about one in four Americans are worried about not having enough money, with millennials leading the pack at at 29%.

There also seems to be a huge disconnect between our fears around money and the confidence in our ability to remedy those issues. Seventy-one percent of people consider themselves capable of making wise financial decisions, but only 2 in 5 don’t know what their money is invested in. Couple that with the fact that 25% of Americans have less than $1,000 in retirement savings, it is clear to see that we’re overconfident and underprepared.

While there isn’t a wealth of information as to why we’re so confident with our money, a part of the problem is not knowing where to start, not feeling like there is enough money to invest for retirement and paying down debt.

Some estimates say you’ll need as much as $2.5 million to retire comfortably, while the average 401(k) account balance is just $96,000, according to Vanguard. The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all figure. The number you need to retire comfortably depends heavily on when you plan to retire, your cost of living, your health, and how long you live in retirement. Additionally, those living in rural areas usually don’t need as much as those in metro area.

Here are a few ways to figure out how much you need and to check if you’re on track.

1. Do the math

Retirement planning calculators can get pretty complex, but to simply find out if what you have saved already is on par for what you will need in the future, there are some very easy calculations that you can use. One popular way to see if you’re on track is by using retirement benchmarks.

Using the chart below from JPMorgan is pretty straight forward. If you’re 35 years old with a household income of $75,000, you should have a total of $120,000 invested today. These charts, however, aren’t perfect because the underlying assumptions can vary wildly.

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This chart from Charles Farrell, author of Your Money Ratios, suggests at 35-year-old making $75,000 per year should have $67,500 saved. This is $52,500 less than the JPMorgan chart shown earlier. This is because different models use different assumptions about how much your investments may grow, how much you continue to save, and at what age you plan to retire.

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The JPMorgan chart assumes you will only save 5% per year versus 12% in Farrell’s model. Also when comparing both charts JPMorgan would have you on pace for saving just 8.4 times your salary versus 12 times your salary; a difference of $270,000. No benchmark is perfect. These estimates are meant to provide a quick assessment to let you know if you’re on the right track in terms of how much you have invested. They do not suggest which investments you should be holding.

2. Use a retirement calculator

In addition to doing the math yourself, there are some free tools to check your progress to retirement. Fidelity has a calculator that works very similar to the Charles Farrell mode, which gives you a factor that you need to have saved. Using the same example of a 35-year-old making $75,000, Fidelity’s calculator suggests having 2 times their salary, or about $150,000.

Get your retirement savings factor

It is worth noting that Fidelity’s assumptions of how they reached this figure were not on the site, but by age 65 they suggest having a factor of 12 times your salary saved.

The Vanguard Retirement Nest Egg Calculator takes a different approach. Instead of taking your age and spitting out the amount you should have saved, this calculator asks you your current savings and investment allocation and gives you a prediction of whether your money will last or not. This is done by using what is called a Monte Carlo simulation. Vanguard tests the factors 5,000 times by changing different variable such as investment performance and cost of living.

Keeping all factors the same, someone who has saved $900,000 (which is 12 times their annual income of $75,000) would have a 50% chance that their money would not run out in 30 years.

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Again, it is always important to consider the assumptions. In this calculator Vanguard is assuming you’re investing 20% of your money in stocks, 50% in bonds, and 30% in cash (indicated in the pie chart). This highlights the importance of asset allocation and its effect on your investment success. When we change the allocation, the success rate changes as well.

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In this example, by reducing the cash from 30% to 10% the chances of success increased to 68%. Vanguard also assumes you’re withdrawing 5% of the portfolio per year, meaning that from the $900,000 you saved, you should be spending $45,000 of it each year.

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If you were to increase or decrease this number, the chances of your money surviving would change as well.

By changing the withdrawal rate by just 1% to $36,000 per year, the probability shoots up to 92%. Most experts agree that a 4%-5% withdrawal rate is standard; what you decide to withdraw depends on what amount of money you think you can live off of at that point in time.

Finally, SmartAsset’s retirement calculator takes somewhat of a combined approach from the previous two we covered. Their calculator runs a Monte Carlo simulation like Vanguard and also takes into account what you’re currently making and when you want to retire, like Fidelity and JPMorgan. What makes SmartAsset’s calculator stand out, however, is that it takes into account your current location, monthly savings, and marital status. If you are falling short of your goal, the calculator tells you how much you need to save to catch up.

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retirement savings ove time graph

 

Meet with a financial planner

Finally, you can seek professional advice. Financial planners will take your investments, savings rate, and several other factors and show you if you’re on track. Additionally, a financial planner may also suggest better investments to get you closer to your goals.

Many banks and brokerage firms will run a comprehensive financial plan with no cost if you’re a customer. Independent financial planners may charge from $1,000 to $2,500 for a plan. Many people believe independent financial planners go more into depth with their analysis versus those who work in a bank. But it really comes down to a matter of preference, how well the person listens to you, and if they have your best interest as their top priority.

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