This month, Amazon raised prices on Prime subscriptions by $20 from $99 per year to $119. Some people aren't happy with a 20% increase which sounds like a lot but $20 isn't much in today's world -- probably the equivalent of a weekend dinner out. Because of the change, a friend of mine of Facebook asked, "Is it even worth it?" My answer is a pretty emphatic yes, especially when the Prime membership can effectively become free.
This is my 3rd article for #FinancialLiteracyMonth (Using cash over credit is costing you tens of thousands of dollars and Tips and tricks to teach your children about money) and today I'm inspired by the financial bloggers writing about why financial health is important, especially for students. Virtually all students understand physical health as they want to look good so they can get a hot date. Unfortunately, financial education is almost entirely ignored in high school or college.
This is my second post during financial literacy month and I'm going to take on cash vs credit. One popular financial radio host, Dave Ramsey, has been a vocal critic of credit cards saying to never own one because you will spend more because it is plastic (strangely he advocates for debit cards instead). I don't believe this is the case but of course I strongly advise only using a credit card under two conditions. One: you are going to use it to replace your cash spending and no more. Two: you are going to pay the balance off in full every month and on time. If you are going to just pile up debts that incur huge interest payments every month, then this post is not meant for you.
In 2004, the US Congress officially recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month as a way to improve knowledge and understanding of financial concepts such as budgeting, debt, saving and investing. These are crucial concepts to learn, however, there is very little formal financial education for our children. According to the Council for Economic Education, only a third of states require high school students to take a personal financial class in order to graduate. So it is no surprise that one in five 15-year-olds in the US lack basic financial literacy in 2017 according to the Program for International Student Assessment.
Today in the bond auction, the 1-year Treasury bill yield hit a 10-year high at 2.02 percent. This is good news for savers as they are finally starting to see some risk free returns on their money in the bank. Furthermore, new Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified on Capitol Hill and suggested that there will be 3-4 more hikes this year. That means that we may see 3 percent rates by year end. Powell said, “At the December meeting, the median [FOMC] participant called for three rate increases in 2018,” Powell said. “Now since then, what we’ve seen is incoming data that suggests a strengthening in the economy.”
Today I want to give you a tip to keep you out of trouble: never invest in something that you don't understand. That includes bitcoin, MLPs, annuities, structured products and even stocks. This may seem obvious but I have seen people make this simple mistake because they are chasing the hottest thing in the moment. Early in my career, it was internet stocks. People were buying companies with no earnings and no business plan and were simply interested because the price was going up. Years later, it was subprime loans. The worst quality mortgages were sliced and diced and then packaged as supposedly A rated bonds. When things are too good to be true and you can't understand how it is possible, trust your gut and run away as fast as possible.
As we near December 31st, many people are making their New Year's resolutions. I've never been a fan of resolutions, but last year my pants were getting tight in October and weren't helped by so many holiday treats. I made the decision to get in better shape. It was really more of a goal than a resolution but I digress. I bought a $20 Groupon to try out CKO Kickboxing for 6 classes and after my first class, I was totally hooked. I loved hitting the heavy bag and have been going twice a week ever since. In conjunction, I also focused on eating clean and enjoy having salad during most weekday lunches. I'm happy to report that after a year, my pants are no longer tight around the waist. The funny thing is that I've actually gained weight over last year but it is now muscle instead of fat. This year I'm tempted to write out more formal resolutions and goals to see what I can accomplish.
Since I write mainly about financial topics, today I will focus on 3 actionable tips to help you get financially fit in 2018. I know that many of you are worried that I'm going to go into budgets, planning, emergency funds, 401ks and other boring crap. But worry not, I won't mention any of these terms. I promise. Let's jump into the good stuff!
While most of us are busy with holiday parties, we don't want to be bogged down by more things to add to our to-do list. But today the GOP takes its next step in its rush to pass sweeping tax reform to give 'great Christmas gifts' to the middle class (The bad news for us in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), many of us are facing a potential tax increase thanks to the $10k cap on real estate or state and local tax deduction). It is therefore important for taxpayers, both personal and business, to be aware of the potential effect on their finances. Here are 3 actionable tips to take before year end to put you in a better position for the coming tax code changes.
I apologize for using the all caps EVERYONE but it is imperative for every American to take steps to protect their identities because of the Equifax data breach. It was by far the worst data breach in history because social security numbers, birthdays and addresses were exposed. This makes it essential for you to be on the offensive in protecting yourself immediately. You may have visited the Equifax website to see if you were exposed but don't trust the results because the site is virtually useless and Equifax should be ashamed of it (and the breach of course). ZDNet first reported that the checker was giving random responses! I tested it myself three times with the surname "test" and the social security numbers 123456, 234567 and 345678. Two times it said my data may have been exposed and lucky for test 234567, their data wasn't exposed?!?! Because of this, you have to just assume that your data was exposed and take action ASAP. You are better off spending 10-15 minutes of your time locking down your credit reports rather than spending many hours and huge headaches if your identity is stolen.
I recently watched the Netflix documentary "Tony Robbins: I Am Not your Guru" and it is an inspiring film that makes you want to change your life for the better. If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend it. While Robbins is known for his life coaching, he found that the American public needed to become better educated about their investments and especially their relationship to financial advisers. This year he released his latest book, "Unshakable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook" based on interviews with some of the titans in finance like Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates and Vanguard legend Jack Bogle.
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