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Source: Quintex Capital Pty Your best crypto investment and trading platform

 

Amazon Adding 125,000 Workers in U.S., Opening Dozens of Facilities

Census Figures Show Americans’ Incomes Fell in 2020

Americans last year saw their first significant decline in household income in nearly a decade, government data showed, with economic pain from the Covid-19 pandemic prompting government aid that helped keep millions from falling into poverty.

An annual assessment of the nation’s financial well-being, released Tuesday by the Census Bureau, offered insight into how households fared during the pandemic’s first year. It arrives as Washington debates how much more to spend to bolster the economy during the worst public-health crisis in a century.

Median household income was about $67,500 in 2020, down 2.9% from the prior year, when it hit an inflation-adjusted historical high. It came as the U.S. last year saw millions lose their jobs and national unemployment soar from a 50-year low to a high of 14.8%.

The last time median household income fell significantly was 2011, in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession.

The Census Bureau’s top-line income figure includes unemployment benefits but doesn’t account for income and payroll taxes nor stimulus checks or other noncash benefits like federal food programs. If those had been counted, the median household income would have risen 4% to $62,773.

As was the case with the income measure, the report offered conflicting takes on poverty trends because of differing definitions and approaches to the topic.

The bureau said the traditional poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, an increase of 1 percentage point from 2019 and the first increase after five consecutive years of declines. That translated to 37.2 million people in poverty, an increase of 3.3 million from 2019. For a four-person household, the threshold for meeting the definition of poverty was about $26,000 in 2020.

The official poverty measure doesn’t reflect how much a household pays in taxes, and it also omits noncash government aid like tax credits, housing subsidies and free school lunches. A broader poverty measure that accounts for such expenses and income actually fell last year to 9.1%, down 2.6 percentage points from 2019.

The decrease, coinciding with an increase in the official poverty rate, highlighted the role of the government safety net, which was expanded during the pandemic. The two poverty yardsticks have tracked closely for a decade, but last year was the first time that the supplemental measure dropped below the official measure.

Without the first two rounds of stimulus checks issued last year, the broader poverty measure would have risen by almost a percentage point instead of dropping, the bureau said.

Specifically, stimulus checks moved 11.7 million people above the poverty threshold if their effect was calculated alone. In the same manner, expanded unemployment programs did so for 5.5 million people. Refundable tax credits, such as the earned-income tax credit, did so for 5.3 million people. The Social Security program, however, remained the largest safety net program, lifting 26.5 million people above the poverty line.

“The increase in poverty would have been even larger if it were not for the ample fiscal support provided over the past year,” said Shannon Seery, an economist at Wells Fargo & Co.

After continued direct federal payments made to households in 2021 and enhanced unemployment benefits that expired in early September, Ms. Seery said, an improving unemployment picture should help households.

“With a robust demand for labor, exhibited by the record 10.9 million job openings in July, and average hourly earnings rising across industries, the current environment should help lure workers back to the job site,” she said.

The bureau also said Tuesday the proportion of Americans without health insurance for all of 2020 was 8.6%, essentially unchanged from 2018. About 28 million Americans lacked health insurance, according to the survey.

Median earnings in 2020 of those who worked full time, year-round increased 6.9% from 2019. The 2020 female-to-male earnings ratio was 83%, essentially unchanged from the previous year.

The distribution of incomes changed little. The top fifth of households—with incomes above $141,100—collected 52.2% of household income, while the top 5% alone—with incomes above $273,700—collected 23%. The bureau reported that the income shares collected by the lowest groups dropped slightly. The lowest fifth of households—making less than $27,000—collected 3%, down from 3.1% in 2019. The second fifth—with incomes from $27,000 to $52,000—collected 8.1%, down from 8.3% in 2019.

In 2020, median household incomes decreased 3.2% in the Midwest and 2.3% in the South and West, the bureau said. The change in the Northeast between 2019 and 2020 wasn’t statistically significant.

Median incomes were highest in the Northeast ($75,211) and the West ($74,951), followed by the Midwest ($66,968) and the South ($61,243). Households with the lowest levels of educational attainment logged the greatest declines in their incomes. For those headed by someone without a high school diploma, incomes dropped 5.7%, while those headed by someone with some college education or a bachelor’s degree or higher recorded a 2.8% decline.

The road ahead for the U.S. economy looks more uncertain than earlier in 2021. In recent weeks, growing evidence has built of lost momentum as Covid-19 cases rose again. Supply-chain challenges and a lack of workers for lower-paying jobs also are weighing on economic growth.

Rocky Smith Jr., a 41-year-old union worker who cuts metal parts down to size after they exit a furnace, said things are looking up for his family of four in Muskegon, Mich. After being laid off in April 2020, he said, he wasn’t hired back until July 2021.

Mr. Smith said he is now making more than $20 an hour at his full-time job. His wife, he said, resumed working during his unemployment and the family skipped meals out and other luxuries.

“We rolled with the punches,” said Mr. Smith, a former boxer. “Life hit us, but we made it work.”

By: John McCormick and Paul Overberg

Source: Census Figures Show Americans’ Incomes Fell in 2020 – WSJ

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The Hottest Perk of the Pandemic? Financial Wellness Tools

In the midst of the Great Resignation, with employers scrambling for ways to hang on to experienced staff, financial wellness programs might be an attractive addition to the benefits bag.

That was a key finding from PwC’s annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey, which was conducted in January 2021 and released in April. Among those polled, 72 percent of workers who reported facing increased financial setbacks during the pandemic said they would be more attracted to another company that cared more about financial well-being than their current employer. About 57 percent of workers who hadn’t yet faced increased financial stress said the same thing.

Financial stress doesn’t just affect worker retention; it also has an impact on productivity. PwC’s survey showed that 45 percent of workers experiencing financial setbacks have been distracted at work by their money problems. The menu of financial wellness tools employers might elect include educational tools for personal finances, one-on-one financial coaching, and even access to rainy day funds.

It’s a growing business sector, too. HoneyBee, a B2B financial wellness startup, recently closed a round of funding with $5.7 million in equity, TechCrunch reported. The financial technology company grew 225 percent during the pandemic and saw a 175 percent increase in usage for its on-demand financial therapy tools. Origin also recently announced that it raised $56 million in its Series B funding round, which it will use for customer expansion, as it saw increased demand for financial planning services during the pandemic, Business Wire notes.

Although one in five workers waits until they experience a financial setback to seek guidance, when they are offered continual support, employees are more likely to be proactive with their finances. According to the PwC survey, 88 percent of workers who are provided financial wellness services by their employers take advantage of them.

By Rebecca Deczynski, Staff reporter, Inc.@rebecca_decz

Source: The Hottest Perk of the Pandemic? Financial Wellness Tools | Inc.com

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Critics:

Making money is definitely the cornerstone of financial wellness and increasing your income can help you obtain your goals. You do not need to be a millionaire, but it’s important to obtain some level of income stability. Being financially well starts with having a reliable income and knowing at a consistent time, you will expect to be paid a certain amount. Steady and reliable income is one of the cornerstones of financial wellness.

Even if you don’t like budgeting or planning, it’s good to set goals for yourself. You are more likely to stick with it when you have goals to reach and can see progress. By creating a plan, you are visualizing the what, why, and how you will get there. If you don’t already have a household budget, grab your most recent bank statement and look at the total amount of money you have coming into your household each month. Then, factor in fixed, required expenses – things like rent or mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, and more.

f you do not have an emergency fund, now is the time to start building it. The goal of an emergency fund is to have available funds for when you are dealing with unemployment or you have an unforeseen cost. You won’t stress about the money because you have a nice cash reserve that you can access quickly. Finance experts often say that you should have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund. If you have nothing in savings, putting away just $25, $50, or $100 a month is an amazing start. Ultimately, it’s what you feel comfortable with. You can also consider putting it in a high savings investment such as CIT Bank’s Savings Builder, which helps put your savings to work with very little risk.

Once you get a handle on your finances, you can start to map out life events and large purchases, so you can begin saving! Planning ahead is always helpful, and once you get a handle on your current financial plan, set some goals for what comes next. By building a plan, you have a road map to help guide you through the rest of your story. Putting even a small amount into savings on a consistent basis is one of the best ways to get your savings to grow so you can meet your goals, small or large. Set your own personal savings rule to live by and make a plan on how to achieve it. Prepare for life events and large purchases by planning ahead.

Your credit score is another critical part of your financial health. Things like late payments, too much debt or high balances negatively affect your credit score. Keep watch over your credit report and credit score with a free credit report from places like Credit Karma. A higher credit score tells banks and lenders that you’re a reliable and less risky borrower. 

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What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

Whew! The pandemic had a smaller impact on the Social Security trust funds — that is, Social Security’s solvency — than many feared during the depths of the pandemic downturn.

According to the new 2021 annual report from the Social Security Trustees, the depletion date for the combined trust funds —retirement and disability — is 2033 without any changes to program benefits. That would be when today’s 54-year-olds reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age. Still, that’s one year earlier than last year’s 2034 estimate.

Depletion date or insolvency doesn’t mean bankruptcy — far from it. Funding from payroll tax receipts will be enough to pay 78% of promised benefits after the combined Social Security trust funds depletion date is reached.

“The trust fund report should be seen as a strength,” says Eric Kingson, professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University and co-author with Nancy Altman of “Social Security Works for Everyone: Protecting and Expanding the Insurance Americans Love and Count On.”

What the Social Security Trustees Said

The report, Kingson said, “provides information for Congress and the public on what needs to be done to maintain benefits.”

And Altman, president of Social Security Works, chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition and a rumored possible Biden appointee to run the Social Security Administration, said this when the Trustees report came out on Wednesday: “Today’s report shows that Social Security remains strong and continues to work well, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic. That this year’s projections are so similar to last year’s proves once again that our Social Security system is built to withstand times of crisis, providing a source of certainty in uncertain times.”

But the Social Security Trustees are strikingly cautious about their estimates involving the impact of the pandemic on the Social Security trust fund and its sister trust fund for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Despite the dry language of actuaries, the uncertainty is apparent.

Employment, earnings, interest rates and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped substantially in the second quarter of 2020, the worst economic period of the pandemic. As a result, the decline in payroll-tax receipts which pay for Social Security benefits eroded the trust funds, though the drop in payroll taxes was offset somewhat by higher mortality rates.

“Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long range ultimate assumptions,” they write.

The Pandemic and Social Security Solvency

But, they add, “At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any.”

The Trustees say they “will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.”

Translation: the status quo remains and the forecast for the pandemic’s effect on Social Security’s solvency is cloudy.

Odds are the coming Social Security financing shortfall won’t get sustained attention from either the Biden administration or Congress despite the need to take action before 2034.

The Trustees aren’t too happy about that.

Their report says: “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits… With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.”

The Political Outlook for Social Security Reforms

But the Biden administration and its Congressional allies are instead focused on threading the political needle for an ambitious $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package, while also dealing with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Leading Republican legislators have called for so-called entitlement reform (think Social Security benefit cuts), but that’s a tough sell in the current Democratically controlled Congress.

“Does the report mean the timetable argues for real concrete action on [addressing solvency issues of] Social Security? Probably not. Will it revive the rhetoric that the sky is falling? Sure,” says Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition advocacy group, president of Matz Blancato and Associates and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

The issue over how best to restore financial solvency to Social Security isn’t going away. That’s because the program is fundamental to the economic security of retired Americans. Social Security currently pays benefits to 49 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers (as well as survivor benefits to six million younger people and 10 million disabled people).

However, the tenor of the longer-term solvency discussion has significantly changed in recent years.

To be sure, a number of leading Republicans still want to cut Social Security retirement benefits to reduce the impending shortfall. Their latest maneuver is what’s known as The TRUST Act, sponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

It calls for closed-door meetings of congressionally appointed bipartisan committees to come up with legislation to restore solvency by June 1 of the following year. The TRUST act would also limit Congress to voting yes or no on the proposals. No amendments allowed.

What’s Different About Future Social Security Changes

AARP, responding to the Trustees report news, came out vehemently against The TRUST Act’s closed-door reform plan. “All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said.

“The concern seems to be they would look to cuts first, versus a more comprehensive approach,” says Blancato. A more comprehensive approach could include tax increases for the wealthy and technical changes to the Social Security system.

Something else that’s different is that liberals are no longer trying to simply stave off benefit cuts and preserve the program exactly as it is — the main tactic since Republican Newt Gingrich was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s. That have bigger and bolder ideas.

Most Democratic members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security or voted in support of incremental increases in benefits, such as providing more for the oldest old and a new minimum Social Security benefit equal to at least 125% of the poverty level (that translates to $16,100 for a household of one).

Addressing Social Security’s shortfall and paying for the new benefits, with the Democrats’ plans, would come from tax hikes, ranging from gradually raising the 6.2% payroll tax rate to hiking or eliminating the $142,800 limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to some combination of these.

But Social Security benefit cuts are off the negotiating table for the Democrats.

“Biden has made a commitment not to cut and to make modest improvements in benefits,” says Kingson. “He won’t back off that.”

The President has pushed for raising the Social Security payroll tax cap so people earning incomes over $400,000 would owe taxes on that money, too. He has also backed raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the poverty level.

The Good News for Social Security Beneficiaries

One more piece of Social Security news to keep in mind: Social Security recipients are likely to get a sizable cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits in 2022. The exact amount will be announced in October and estimates vary widely, from 3% to as high as 6%. A 6% increase would be the highest in 40 years.

But there’s a catch: Medicare Part B premiums for physician and outpatient services — a significant portion of Medicare’s funding —will also go up due to inflation. And those premium payments usually come right out of monthly Social Security checks.

The Trustees report says the estimated standard monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2022 will be $158.50, up about 7% from $148.50 in 2021 and a 9.6% total increase since 2020. (Monthly premiums are based on income, though, and can exceed $500 for high earners.)

The Trustees report says Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HITF) has enough funds to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, unchanged from last year. Medicare’s finances stayed stable during the pandemic, with people over 65 largely avoiding elective care. The pandemic “is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the [Medicare] trust funds after 2024,” the Trustees report noted.

Like Social Security, the trust fund behind Medicare Part A (which pays for hospitals, nursing facilities, home health and hospice care) is primarily funded by payroll taxes. There will be enough tax income coming in to cover an estimated 91% of total scheduled benefits once the trust fund is insolvent.

Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is mostly funded by federal income taxes, premiums and state payments.

But the political story about Medicare is less about its projected 2026 shortfall and more about momentum toward expanding the program. The Biden administration has proposed adding hearing, visual and dental care to Medicare benefits, something also being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) At this time, it’s unclear how those new benefits would be paid for, though they wouldn’t affect the trust fund.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and perspectives on issues that matter most as we age.

Source: What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

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Some Vaccinated Travelers Are Already Getting Covid-19 Booster Shots But Experts Say That May Be Counterproductive

Since January, all travelers must test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of entering the U.S. There are many reports in recent months of both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers testing positive within the last three days of their trip.

This can completely upend re-entry plans because a positive test result means delaying a return to the U.S.. Travelers must get retested until they receive a negative test result and, in the meantime, they must remain in their destination at their own expense, often under quarantine or isolation orders.

To give themselves an extra insurance policy against becoming a breakthrough case, some fully vaccinated American travelers are finagling a third shot of the vaccine a few weeks before leaving on their trip — even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to give booster shots an official green light. In some cases, they are simply presenting themselves as unvaccinated at pharmacies or other vaccine providers in order to get another dose. Others are getting a booster with the blessing of their doctors.

“People are acting in their own self-interest, and that doesn’t shock me,” said Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician in Washington, D.C., who served as an advisor on health policy in the Obama administration.

“It’s unfortunate, because there remains no evidence that if you’re under 65 years old and otherwise healthy, that you need a third shot right now,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonary critical-care physician and an affiliate assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “There needs to be guardrails here. We need to understand what three doses mean. Are we protected for five years or just another eight months? There are lots of open questions.”

The Biden administration has urged the FDA to release a booster rollout plan as soon as possible, given that some Americans, including first responders and immunocompromised people, received their initial doses in 2020 and officials want the most vulnerable people to be at the front of the line for boosters.

The FDA is currently evaluating when a wider swath of vaccinated Americans should begin receiving Covid-19 booster shots, which is likely to be either six or eight months after completing their initial doses. “The administration recently announced a plan to prepare for additional Covid-19 vaccine doses, or ‘boosters,’ this fall, and a key part of that plan is FDA completing an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of these additional vaccine doses,” said the agency in a statement.

Pending FDA approval, booster doses might begin rolling out to eligible Americans as early as this month, said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on a call yesterday that was hosted by the U.S. Health and Human Services Covid-19 Community Corps.

It’s important for individuals to adhere to the FDA’s recommended timing of a third shot, said Dr. Patel. Just as with any other three-shot vaccine series, the intervals between shots will be gauged to give people robust immunity for a longer period of time.

“That’s actually consistent with what we do with other vaccines. Think of the timing of any pediatric vaccine or the human papillomavirus vaccine,” said Dr. Patel. “What I tell patients is that there’s actually a downside from getting a booster too early. They could be potentially harming themselves six to 12 months down the line. I mean, Covid is not going away.”

While Dr. Patel thinks “it’s inevitable” that everyone will eventually need another shot, “there’s unfortunately a perception that in order to go on a trip and avoid getting sick or avoid potential additional costs, people think that a booster is going to be what they need to do to stay protected. I think a lot of people are just thinking, ‘Well, if two is better than one and three is better than two, at some point, I’ll get four.’ And that’s a very dangerous assumption.”

In other words, instead of rushing to get a third shot before a planned trip, it makes more sense to stick to the optimal timing for a booster shot, then plan future trips accordingly.

Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out my website. Send me a secure tip.

I watch trends in travel. Prior to working at Forbes, I was a longtime freelancer who contributed hundreds of articles to Conde Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure, Afar, Reader’s Digest, TripSavvy, Parade, NBCNews.com and scores of other outlets. Follow me on Instagram (@suzannekelleher) and Flipboard (@SRKelleher).

Source: Some Vaccinated Travelers Are Already Getting Covid-19 Booster Shots—But Experts Say That May Be Counterproductive

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How to Budget After Closing Costs When Buying a Home

Anyone who’s buying their first home has probably gotten used to stalking their bank accounts leading up to their closing making sure they’re beefing up their savings for a down payment and closing costs. According to Zillow, the median price of a home sold in America [as of December 2020] is $262,604. Putting 20 percent down on that home will cost you $52,520.

Factor in about two to five percent of the home price for closing costs, ($13,130 for five percent) and you’re easily down about $65,650 before you’ve stepped foot into your bare home. Sure, you’re trying to get to the 20 percent mark in order to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), but if you don’t factor in other costs you’ll accrue in the coming weeks and years, you might be biting off more than you can chew.

Read on to assess whether you’ll still have money left over for the things important to you after closing, or if perhaps you should be looking for a lower-priced home in order to make sure you can still maintain your lifestyle and have a beautiful space of your own.

1. Factor in Your New Bills

“A lot of people don’t bother to ask themselves what it will actually cost to live there,” says Jean Chatzky, CEO of HerMoney.com, financial editor at NBC’s “Today Show” for 23 years. Talk to someone who has a place similar to yours, whether it’s a house or a condo, that’s around the same size, in your neighborhood or building, and ask them to share their costs for heat, electricity, cable, and water. “Learning about the other associated expenses with buying this home can be eye-opening,” says Chatzky.

2. Consider Decorating Expenses

It’s important to add personal elements that will turn your house or condo into a home. “Making the home yours costs money whether you’re talking about paint or a trip… to buy all new furniture,” says Chatzky. “While purchasing a home is a big investment, it’s important to budget for the items that you’ll need to fill your home,” says Tina Rich, NYC-based interior designer. “Filling your space with furniture and accessories you’ve selected and love is what makes a house a home, so it’s important that you don’t clean out your bank account before you close.”

3. Decide Which Furniture You’ll Need First

“The best investment you can make is a quality bedroom set,” says Michael Robinson, furniture designer at American Modern Collection. “Granted, I have a biased opinion since I design bedroom collections.” He says that when people buy a high-quality bedroom set, they can have it for 25 years. “We’re a society that’s used to getting rid of stuff often and I think many often lose perspective of what quality actually is and why people used to buy quality products,” he said. Can you get a discount bedroom set under $1,000? Sure.

But it won’t likely be made from solid wood and built to last. Robinson says the Amish-made, wooden bedroom sets he designs for his company start around $5,000. This is where you should think about what you can make do with and are willing to replace in a few years, or whether you want furniture that lasts a few decades.

If you like to entertain, you might decide that a sofa is where you want to spend your money, or perhaps a dining room set. Research these prices and decide which items you want to splurge on as a quality investment right now, and which pieces you don’t mind getting second hand or cheap in order to fill your home.

4. Factor in Paint Costs

Whether you’re moving into a slightly larger condo or tripled your living size with a single family home, you’ll probably be painting it at some point. According to HomeAdvisor.com, hiring a professional to paint an average sized room (10 feet by 12 feet) costs between $380 to $790. Should you choose to paint a room yourself, paint will cost anywhere between $30 and $60 per gallon for a high-end brand that comes in three different finishes: flat, semi-gloss or high-gloss, according to the experts at HomeAdvisor.com.

Most rooms will require about two (gallon) paint cans. You’ll also need about two cans or primer ($7-15) for each wall so you’re looking at about $140 per room before you buy supplies. “I’m a fan of HGTV Home by Sherwin Williams because of its quality and it has a nice color range,” says Rich. “While there are always areas to save during a home renovation, paint isn’t one of them. Using a high quality paint—rather than an inexpensive brand—is crucial so your walls look professional and polished.”

5. Set Aside Money for Window Treatments

You’re excited to have rooms with beautiful natural light, but there are probably quite a few rooms in your new home that you’ll need to cover for privacy and protection from the sun. Not only do people often forget to set aside money for window treatments—whether that’s blinds, shades shutters, and curtains—they forget to factor in things like pets’ claws and children’s safety when purchasing these items, Robinson says. He recommends Hunter Douglas as a brand he sells through Unique Interiors in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

They’ll come out and measure each window properly to ensure you get proper-fitting blinds that are best for your home and tastes. Faux wood blinds are the most popular window treatments he sells for Hunter Douglas these days. An average price point to cover a 36-inch by 60-inch window with faux wooden blinds from that company will set you back about $200. For comparison, the cheapest faux wood blinds we found at Home Depot are about $13 and cheap shades are around $7. Granted, those cheap versions won’t likely last long.

This just goes to show, even if you don’t plan on spending a lot of money on window coverings right now, you’ll still need to set aside money for the very basics in your new home.

6. Plan for Outdoor Home Costs

If you’re moving to your first house from an apartment, condo, or townhome, you might need to invest in a snow blower for your first winter there. (Consider looking for a certified refurbished one to save money.) You may need a new lawn mower, weed wacker, or a sprinkler system for your lawn. Have a front patio or back deck that needs furniture and an umbrella? That’ll be a few hundred dollars.

“Are you comfortable allowing things to look wild and beautiful, or do you want everything manicured beautifully every single month?” asks Chatzky. She suggests talking to a new neighbor about pricing. You could say: “Your landscaping is beautiful. Do you mind recommending the person who does it? Oh, and by the way, how much does it cost?” she suggests.

7. Account for Moving and Assembly Costs

Make a list of what you’re taking with you, what gaps you have, and do some shopping ahead of time so you can figure out what these items are going to cost, suggest Chatzky. If you’re shopping at IKEA or a store where the furniture needs to be put together and you are not capable of doing that yourself, you’re going to hire somebody to do it, so how much is that going to cost?

How much are the shipping fees? How much is it going to cost to have it moved? Whether you’re renting a moving truck and doing the move yourself and with friends, or hiring professional movers, you’ll be spending anywhere from about $200 to over $1,000. (Based on large truck rentals at uhaul.com, factoring in gas and mileage and taxes.)

8. Prepare for Home Maintenance Costs

“Your home inspection is a good road map to the expenses you’re going to have in the near future and you should pay close attention to that,” warns Chatzky. Harvard research shows you should plan on spending one to two percent of the value of your home every year on maintenance, says Chatzky. “Even if you don’t spend it in year one or year two, you’re likely looking at triple the expenses in year three.”

Now that you have an idea of the types of costs coming down the pipeline once you scrape out your savings account, budget for them in advance. “Think about how you’re going to use the place, how you’re going to live in the place, and what it’s going to cost you to get it into that particular kind of shape you want it in,” says Chatzky.

By: Diana Kelly

Diana Kelly is a freelance writer, consultant, and freelance writing coach. She loves taking fitness classes, squeezing in mini-workouts between articles deadlines, hanging out with her adopted puppy, Jackson, and hiding messes in closets and drawers.

Source: How to Budget After Closing Costs When Buying a Home

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How Sweden Became The Silicon Valley of Europe

STOCKHOLM, Aug 11 (Reuters) – As Klarna’s billionaire founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski prepares to stage one of the biggest-ever European fintech company listings, a feast of capitalism, he credits an unlikely backer for his runaway success: the Swedish welfare state.

In particular, the 39-year-old pinpoints a late-1990s government policy to put a computer in every home.

“Computers were inaccessible for low-income families such as mine, but when the reform came into play, my mother bought us a computer the very next day,” he told Reuters.

Siemiatkowski began coding on that computer when he was 16. Fast-forward more than two decades, and his payments firm Klarna is valued at $46 billion and plans to go public. It hasn’t given details, though many bankers predict it will list in New York early next year.

Sweden’s home computer drive, and concurrent early investment in internet connectivity, help explain why its capital Stockholm has become such rich soil for startups, birthing and incubating the likes of Spotify, Skype and Klarna, even though it has some of the highest tax rates in the world.

That’s the view of Siemiatkowski and several tech CEOs and venture capitalists interviewed by Reuters.

In the three years the scheme ran, 1998-2001, 850,000 home computers were purchased through it, reaching almost a quarter of the country’s then-four million households, who didn’t have to pay for the machines and thus included many people who were otherwise unable to afford them.

In 2005, when Klarna was founded, there were 28 broadband subscriptions per 100 people in Sweden, compared with 17 in the United States – where dial-up was still far more common – and a global average of 3.7, according to data from the World Bank.

Spotify allowed users to stream music when Apple’s (AAPL.O) iTunes was still download-based, which gave the Swedish company the upper-hand when streaming became the norm around the world.

“That could only happen in a country where broadband was the standard much earlier, while in other markets the connection was too slow,” Siemiatkowski said.

“That allowed our society to be a couple of years ahead.”

Some executives and campaigners say the Scandinavian nation demonstrates that a deep social safety net, often viewed as counter to entrepreneurial spirit, can foster innovation. It’s an outcome that might not have been envisaged by the architects of Sweden’s welfare state in the 1950s.

Childcare is, for the most part, free. A range of income insurance funds can protect you if your business fails or you lose your job, guaranteeing up to 80% of your previous salary for the first 300 days of unemployment.

“The social safety net we have in Sweden allows us to be less vulnerable to taking risks,” said Gohar Avagyan, the 31-year-old co-founder of Vaam, a video messaging service used for sales pitches and customer communication.

STARTUP RATE VS SILICON VALLEY

Although overall investments are larger in the bigger European economies of Britain and France and their longstanding finance hubs, Sweden punches above its weight in some regards.

It has the third highest startup rate in the world, behind Turkey and Spain, with 20 startups per 1000 employees and the highest three year survival rate for startups anywhere, at 74%, according to a 2018 study by OECD economists.

Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of unicorns – startups valued at above $1 billion – per capita, at around 0.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Sarah Guemouri at venture capital firm Atomico.

Silicon Valley – San Francisco and the Bay Area – boasts 1.4 unicorns per 100,000, said Guemouri, co-author of a 2020 report on European tech companies.

No one can say for sure if the boom will last, though, in a country where capital gains are taxed at 30 percent and income tax can be as high as 60 percent.

In 2016, Spotify said it was considering moving its headquarters out of the country, arguing high taxes made it difficult to attract overseas talent, though it hasn’t done so.

Yusuf Ozdalga, partner at venture capital firm QED Investors, said access to funding and administrative or legal tasks connected with founding a company could also prove tough to navigate for non-Swedish speakers.

He contrasted that to Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, where the government adopted English as an official language in April to make life easier for international companies.

‘INTERESTING DILEMMA’ FOR VC

Jeppe Zink, partner at London-based venture capital firm Northzone, said a third of all the exit value from fintech companies in Europe – the amount received by investors when they cash out – came from Sweden alone.

Government policy had contributed to this trend, he added.

“Its an interesting dilemma for us venture capitalists as we’re not used to regulation creating markets, in fact we are inherently nervous about regulation.”

Sweden’s digital minister Anders Ygeman said that social regulation could make it “possible to fail” and then “be up and running again” for innovators.

Peter Carlsson, CEO of startup Northvolt, which makes Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and is valued at $11.75 billion, said that ultimately success bred success.

“You’re really creating ripple effects when you’re seeing the success of somebody else and I think that’s perhaps the most important thing in order to create local ecosystems.”

By and

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Colm Fulton in Stockholm; Editing by Pravin Char

Source: How Sweden became the Silicon Valley of Europe | Reuters

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Can You Beat Inflation With A Monthly Annuity?

A century ago, money from Andrew Carnegie created Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association to pay pensions to schoolteachers, professors and other people who work at nonprofit organizations. In the early days, these pensions were backed by bond portfolios and paid fixed monthly sums. Then, in 1952, TIAA invented the variable annuity.

Payouts from this novel product were tied to the return on a collection of stocks called the College Retirement Equities Fund. Don’t put all your money in this risky thing, a retiring prof would be told, but put in some in order to keep up with the rising cost of living. Your payouts from Cref will be unpredictable but still very likely, over time, to greatly outpace payouts from a fixed annuity. That’s because stocks, over time, outpace bonds.

With the variable annuity, TIAA married the high returns on equities with the classic annuity benefit of longevity pooling. Longevity pooling means that people who die young collect less over their lifetimes than their colleagues who live long. Pooling is a bet worth making because it allows you do live well off a pot of savings without taking a risk that you will exhaust those savings. Pooling is how all monthly pensions work. It’s how Social Security works.

Cref was a hit. It now has $279 billion under management.

Is it a good buy? It looks that way to me. The graph displays the monthly payouts for a 67-year-old female who invested $100,000 25 years ago in the main stock account, which is akin to a global index fund with a 30% foreign allocation. She rode a roller-coaster, with payments cut in half during the crash of 2007-2009, but if she’s still breathing at 92 she’s now getting $2,146 a month, better than triple her $610 starting pension.

For the index fund, the combined fee (for salesmen, annuity administrators and portfolio managers) comes to 0.24% a year. In the world of annuities that counts as a bargain. Variable annuities sold by stockbrokers can cost eight times as much.

It helps that TIAA is a nonprofit and its annuity pools are run on a mutual basis—meaning, pensioners share in the gains and losses that arise from unexpected mortality. Thus, if too few emeritus professors take up skydiving, there will be more than the expected number of mouths to feed and the growth in payouts will be less than hoped for. Conversely, a pandemic boosts payouts.

Now, a mutual form of organization is no guarantee of either efficiency or wisdom, but in this context it means that the insurance company does not have to pad its prices in order to cover the risk that retirees will live too long.

Nor does the nonprofit status mean an advisor won’t be tempted to steer a pensioner into products considerably more costly than an index fund (read this New York Times story). But if you stick to the cheap portfolio options you’ve got a good deal. Proviso: You should be in excellent health if you’re buying any kind of annuity.

Alas, not everyone can get in the door at Cref. You can acquire a TIAA annuity only if you or a fairly close relative works or worked in the nonprofit world—such as for a government agency, hospital, school or college.

What variable annuity is there for retirees in the corporate sector? Nothing that I would recommend. The insurance industry has responded to TIAA’s invention with a slew of convoluted and costly products that make price comparisons next to impossible.

You will probably see some kind of “mortality” charge in the prospectus (that padding I was talking about); you will probably not be able to discern what kind of worse damage is built into the formula that connects your payout to the return on the stock market; your salesman will probably be buying a new sports car right after you sign.

If you are not eligible for TIAA, and if an advisor mentions variable annuities, flee. Find a better solution at Do-It-Yourself Income For Life.

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Can Health Insurance Companies Charge the Unvaccinated Higher Premiums? What About Life Insurers? 5 Questions Answered

Given the average cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization in 2020 ran about US$42,200 per patient, will the unvaccinated be asked to bear more of the cost of treatment, in terms of insurance, as well?

We asked economists Kosali Simon and Sharon Tennyson to explain the rules governing how health and life insurers can discriminate among customers based on vaccination status and other health-related reasons.

1. Can insurers charge the unvaccinated more?

This is a really interesting question and depends on the type of insurance.

Life insurance companies have the freedom to charge different premiums based on risk factors that predict mortality. Purchasing a life insurance policy often entails a health status check or medical exam, and asking for vaccination status is not banned.

Health insurers are a different story. A slew of state and federal regulations in the last three decades have heavily restricted their ability to use health factors in issuing or pricing polices. In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act began prohibiting the use of health status in any group health insurance policy. And the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2014, prevents insurers from pricing plans according to health – with one exception: smoking status.

2. Are premiums or coverage being affected yet?

Fortune recently reported that while several of the biggest U.S. life insurance companies aren’t yet asking customers for their vaccination status, a few insurers told the magazine they are doing so for people at high risk. It wasn’t clear from the article whether this is affecting premiums.

A recent study comparing life insurance policies from 2014 through February 2021 found that premiums and coverage didn’t change a lot during the pandemic. The study did find some evidence that policy terms for the oldest individuals and those with high-risk health conditions did worsen.

The authors of the study suggested that the rapid development of vaccines may be why life insurance markets haven’t yet shown a dramatic response to COVID-19, but their work does not distinguish the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.

It’s important to note that no matter what, premiums and coverage on existing life insurance plans won’t change, so a death due to COVID-19 will definitely be covered. In general, denial of life insurance claims is rare and occurs only for specific documented reasons.

3. So smokers may pay higher premiums?

In life insurance, smokers definitely pay higher premiums, as do people who are obese.

ValuePenguin, a unit of LendingTree that provides research and analysis, found that smokers typically pay over three times more for life insurance than non-smokers.

The site also found that obesity increases premiums by about 150% – or more if the person also has medical conditions associated with being overweight.

As for health insurance pricing, the Affordable Care Act allows insurers to increase premiums by up to 50% for smokers. The difference between what smokers and non-smokers pay may actually be higher because the former can’t use a key government subsidy to pay for the smoker surcharge.

The ACA makes no similar exception for obesity.

4. How about discounts for the vaccinated?

There is a tool health insurers – including self-insured employers – have to lower premiums to those who are vaccinated: wellness incentives.

Just as insurers and companies offer discounts for things like trying to lose weight or stop smoking, they are also permitted to reduce the health insurance premiums that vaccinated employees pay.

In 2019, the average maximum incentive offered by employers for workers to participate in wellness activities was $783 per year.

Some employers are already incentivizing COVID-19 vaccinations this way. For example, Missouri State University offers a $20-a-month discount on health insurance premiums for employees who got a COVID-19 jab. Others are considering similar discounts.

And so, even though insurers can’t charge the unvaccinated higher premiums, people who refuse to get a shot can end up paying more than their vaccinated colleagues.

5. Do insurers consider other vaccine or flu shots in rates?

To the best of our knowledge, insurers haven’t specifically used vaccination status or getting a flu shot in setting premiums.

As part of having access to your medical records, life insurers might get to know whether you received vaccinations, but there are no systems in place to verify each year whether you got your flu shot. Health insurers can’t ask about vaccine status for the reasons listed above.

Employers can offer incentives to get a flu shot through their wellness programs.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Kosali Simon, Professor of Health Economics, Indiana University and Sharon Tennyson, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Cornell University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

By:

Source: Can Health Insurance Companies Charge the Unvaccinated Higher Premiums? What About Life Insurers? 5 Questions Answered – HealthyWomen

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