Bitcoin, the Financial Crisis, and Lessons Never Learned, By David L. Bahnsen

People can be forgiven if the new crypto/Bitcoin craze doesn’t evoke instant memories of the housing bubble.  And to be fair, the differences are vast and relevant.  For starters, there is little systemic risk spawning out of this crypto-madness that has seen the price of a Bitcoin digital coin surge from $800 to $20,000 over the last year.  The nation’s banking system is un-invested in the outcome, whereas it was “all in” during the housing hysteria that marked last decade.  And to be sure, the number of people affected by the financial crisis in 2008 was exponentially higher than those with exposure to Bitcoin, making the contagion differences categorically different.

And yet, in the most relevant category of them all, Bitcoin mania is nearly identical to that mania which created the housing crisis.

Much of the financial media coverage of the recent Bitcoin craze has understandably focused on some of the more sinister financial insanity.  Reports of people maxing out credit cards to buy the crypto air have made for good click-bait, as have stories of iced-tea companies moving into blockchain and seeing their stock fly (do you really think I could make this stuff up?).  But is the real societal story these various acts of financial stupidity, or is there a moral theme underneath all of this that feels like déjà vu?

The sociology surrounding each economic mania has different characteristics to it – different aesthetics, different cultural taboos and norms.  Bitcoin is said to be more social, more millennial more anarchistic, and more ideological.  Perhaps.  But none of those factors, all of which are more laughable than they are descriptive, actually speak to what had driven Bitcoin’s price increase, or the appetite for its ownership.  In this sense, the terminally unique sociology (coolness) is rather dramatically de-prioritized for the actual fundamental factor driving prices higher:

Rank speculation rooted in an earnest desire to make an easy buck, and be rid of the bondage of honest and productive labor.

Now does that sound familiar?

The financial crisis narrative is one of greedy Wall Street bankers leveraging up synthetic mortgage investments, which is a rather complex way of saying that Wall Street bet the wrong way on people’s ability and willingness to make a house payment.  The right’s contribution to the narrative is either that easy accommodative policy from an irresponsible Federal Reserve created a slush of easy money which brought us to crisis (more common from Fed critics and in various Libertarian circles), or that reckless government policy and Fannie/Freddie mandates led us to the brink.  All of these narratives are compelling in that they all hold substantial kernels of truth, and yet all lack the actual missing ingredient necessary for the crisis we really suffered:

Rank speculation rooted in an earnest desire to make an easy buck, and be rid of the bondage of honest and productive labor.

That the greed, envy, and covetous speculation of Wall Street had more zeroes involved in the numerical expression does not change the fact that it was greed, envy, and covetous speculation that drove both Main Street and Wall Street.  The society-wide epidemic of “Keep up with the Joneses” was met with a complete shift in social stigma about abandoning a house payment obligation.  Namely, that while it had previously been unthinkable for your community to find out you were stiffing your lender, in 2008 and thereafter it became a sort of bragging claim.  Bars were filled with tales of “strategic defaults,” a term used to replace what we used to call “walking away from an obligation.”

Bitcoin is not, as of yet, funded by “other people’s money.”  As long as those looking to speculate on something they know nothing about – with no intrinsic value, with no basis for economic advancement apart from the “greater fool theory” of someone else looking to buy it from you at a higher price – as long as they do this with their own money, Bitcoin’s demise will not prove to be an economically systemic event.

But the morally systemic implications are real.  Since the 17th century the aspiration for “free money” has been real.  Human nature is not likely to change any time soon.  A culture that prizes diligence, value-creation, hard work, and fundamental understandings of risk and reward has some degree of insultation against these hysterical bubbles.  But a culture driven by superficiality and envy is one devoid of the character necessary to stem off these hideous episodes.

In each mania or craze there has always been a justification.

“You just don’t get how the new economy will work,” said those justifying a $100 share price of Pets.com.

“There will never be new land,” said the bartender buying four Las Vegas condos with no equity.

“Crypto is the key to a brand new world,” says the bitcoin speculator jumping in with both feet.

Actually, nothing about this world feels brand new at all.

David L. Bahnsen is the author of Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It (Post Hill Press), coming February 13, 2018.  He is the founder and Managing Partner of The Bahnsen Group, a bi-coastal wealth management firm managing over $1.25 billion of client capital.

Winter Skin Care, By Dr. Debra Wattenberg

It’s that time of year again. My lips are chapped, my hands are cracking and my feet are scratching against the sheets on my bed. It’s funny that I find myself complaining like everyone else, but winter is tough on the skin. It requires diligence and personalized attention. But if you follow some simple tips everyone can achieve great looking skin in any season.

So why is the winter so brutal?

Cold winter air is less humid than warm air and harsh winds cause moisture to evaporate from the skin. Add some indoor heating and a long hot shower which dehydrates the skin and you’re likely to end up with chapped, flaky, blotchy skin which can feel itchy and dry.

So what can you do?

  1-Avoid long, super hot showers and don’t shower more than once a day (I know…this is tough)

             2-Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing to wet skin

             3-Add a humidifier to your bedroom

             4-Drink plenty of fluids…..specifically water

             5-Avoid skin care products that contain a high alcohol content or perfumes

             6-Apply lip balm regularly

             7-Don’t forget the sunscreen  

Remember, each body part needs special attention!

Skin care needs to vary according to location. And the skin on the body needs special care in the winter months. Obviously, the face and the feet can’t be treated the same way. You need to adjust your skincare routine to the season. The oil free moisturizer you purchased last summer may not be enough for your face in January. Try switching to a regular moisturizing lotion or cream and if that’s not eliminating the dryness, try adding a hyaluronic acid serum. You probably shouldn’t be using the same moisturizer in the morning and the evening.  In the morning, you still need to apply sunscreen even in the middle of the winter! Some of the worst burns occur while skiing or hiking on a sunny day because the suns rays reflect off of snow. Finally, trade in the acne wash for a hydrating cleanser!

Lips don’t have oil glands and require extra moisture. If your lips are cracked and inflamed use a soft toothbrush to exfoliate the dead skin and then apply a hydrating lip balm, aquaphor or Vaseline. Avoid ingredients like camphor, menthol and fragrance and if you want to use a natural product try some coconut oil for the lips.

Don’t forget the gloves and socks!

Gloves are your hands best friend. They need to be protected from the cold weather, hot water and cleaning products. Wear gloves! Cotton lined rubber gloves are a must for indoor housework and a pair of gloves in every coat pocket will go a long way. Exfoliate dry dead skin once a week, apply moisturizers and wrap your dry hands in plastic wrap to create your own home spa. For those dry feet, soak them in a warm tub, use a pumice stone or ped egg to remove the dry skin and apply a foot cream with urea or lactic acid. Finally keep your feet warm and dry by wearing waterproof boots and don’t forget to wear socks!

Debra J. Wattenberg, M.D., is the founder of NY Skin RX.  She specializes in cosmetic dermatology and anti-aging cosmetic procedures, as well as the prevention and early detection of skin cancer.

A member of the American Academy of Dermatology, The New York Dermatologic Society and The Independent Doctors of New York, Dr. Wattenberg received her medical degree and residency training from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine where she was elected chief resident during her final year.

Dr Wattenberg, who has served as a consultant to some of the leading cosmetic companies, currently teaches as an Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital and is the Chief Surgical Attending for the Residents.

In addition, she is a contributor for NBC’s Today Show where she appears regularly.

New Year, Old Debt, By Jean Chatzky

 

 

All that holiday spending can leave a painful financial hangover. And this year, it was a doozy. Americans racked up an average of $1,054 of debt over the holiday shopping season — about 5 percent more than last year, according to MagnifyMoney’s annual post-holiday debt survey.

Most of those shoppers say they’ll be able to dig out within months — but for some, the balances will drag on for years. If you were to just pay the minimum on that balance (on a card with a 15.9 percent rate), you’d be in debt until 2023 and pay a total of $500 in interest. Clearly, that won’t do. So, how do you ditch the debt pronto?

Plan ahead (and reward yourself) for motivation.  Think ahead to avoid spending more by doing things like laying out your work outfits the night before, packing a lunch.  Why does it work? Because it keeps you from succumbing to instant gratification. No need to power-shop the sales when you like the outfit you selected. No need to grab take-out sushi when there are delicious leftovers at your desk.  Then, build in small rewards that you can give yourself as you meet specific debt-payoff milestones. Treat yourself in proportion to what you can afford and how much you paid off. Also important to note: You don’t always have to buy the reward — consider having your friends over for dinner or binge-watching your favorite Netflix show guilt-free.

Remember every little bit counts.  You may think of debt as something that gets paid off in big lump sums, but paying off little amounts at a time goes a long way. Tip: Put any unexpected money (money you didn’t expect to receive or expect to save), whether it’s $10 or $100, towards your debts. Out to coffee with a friend and they buy your latte? Take the $5 you saved and transfer it immediately so you aren’t tempted to spend it elsewhere. There are a bunch of apps that will do this for you, by the way. Qoins rounds up your spending, then uses the money to pay down your debt. Qapital and Digit move the money to savings — then you can use it to pay down your debt. (Note: Qoins costs $1.99 a month, and Digit costs $2.99 a month after the first 100 days.)

Reframe the scenario.  Paying off debt may ultimately feel great, but sometimes it stings, right? If you start thinking about your payoff plan as a guaranteed return on your investment, than each check you write won’t hurt as much. It’s not only logical – it’s true. Money you’re saving in a bank is likely earning you 1 percent annually – if that. The return you get from paying off a credit card can be 15 times that much, maybe even more.

Keep the future in the picture.  Finally, if you need even more oomph, focus on the reason you’re working so hard on your debt by creating a vision board — or even a Pinterest board — with photos of your post-debt goals. That could be a trip to Paris, that handbag you saw in a shop window or a 10-card class to your favorite gym. Having a visual reinforcement of why you are paying off your debt that you can look at everyday will remind you why it’s so important to you to pay it off.

With Hattie Burgher

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador and host of the podcast HerMoney with Jean Chatzky. Jean is also a best-selling author. Her newest book, AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, co-authored with Dr. Michael Roizen, is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. In 2015, Jean teamed up with Time for Kids and The PwC Charitable Foundation to launch Your $, a financial literacy magazine reaching two million schoolchildren each month.

Warm Up Your Wardrobe – Tips from a Lilly Pulitzer Fanatic, By Katie Doyle

 

Confession: I have worn Lilly Pulitzer every single day for 956 days. That’s not a typo. I am thisclose to 1,000 days in a row. And I may have shopped this week’s Lilly After Party Sale … twice.

Why Lilly? The bright colors and bold prints make me feel happy. I love Palm Beach, I love summer, and I love puns. Lilly prints are known for their fun names: “Toucan Play,” “Alpaca My Bags,” “Get Nauti,” “Spike the Punch.”

One thing Lilly clothes are not known for is being low-priced, but, being a personal finance editor by day, take it from me: All of your dreams of pink and palm trees are possible, even on a budget.

Grab your pink lemonade and get ready, I’m spilling the juice on getting the best deals!

1. Mark your agenda for the big online sales: typically in January and August.  Plan your Lilly shopping around the After Party sales. These two sales are great times to stock up on essentials, and if you think beyond the season, you can get the best deals. For example, in August, I try to stock up on sweaters, and in January, Callahan shorts are my go-to as I shop the sale.

As Lilly Pulitzer herself once said, “Being happy never goes out of style,” and neither do bold prints in fun colors.

Be ready to be patient, though. The discounts are deep, but they come at a price — the virtual lines can be hours long. The sales typically start at 8 a.m., and I’ve immediately been number 26,000 in line.

To combat this, borrow as many devices as you can to start multiple totes (The Lilly version of your virtual shopping cart) at a time. If you leave something in your tote for too long, it can get erased. So, opening multiple totes and checking out frequently can ensure you get the items you want.

2. Squeeze out great deals in-store.  Each corporate Lilly store has a sales section, as do most signature stores. Scour these for last season’s looks at decent discounts.

3. Join Facebook resale groups. I’m a member of a half-dozen Lilly resale groups including Lilly Pulitzer: Dressed to Impress and Re-Lilly. These are great places to get steep discounts, but they’re also great for getting news on Lilly sales.

4. Invest in ‘Holy Grail’ and vintage items.  “Holy Grail” pieces are worth the investment because they can be re-sold later and fetch even more money than you pay for them.

Lilly “Holy Grail” items include the “Stuffed Shells,” “Dark N Stormy” and “Let Them Eat Cake” prints.

And if you’re in Palm Beach, Florida, where Lilly got her start at her juice stand, check out the consignment shops. These stores can be gold mines for Lilly Pulitzer “white label” clothes. White label and Lilly Pulitzer Originals are vintage Lilly that date back to the late 1950s, but as with Lilly’s prints, her clothes stand the test of time.

Take it from me: All your dreams of pink and palm trees are possible, even on a budget. And what better way to warm up this extra cold winter than with bold prints and cheerful colors?

Want more Lilly Pulitzer or shopping hacks? Follow me on Twitter!

Katie Doyle most recently served as executive editor of Bankrate.com, where she led the editorial team.  She first joined Bankrate as a copy editor in 2005, and quickly moved to chief copy editor.  Katie was part of the team that earned a Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award for breaking news for Federal Reserve coverage. She also helped to establish Bankrate’s presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Katie started her career at The Palm Beach Post and received her B.A. degree in communication from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

She lives in South Florida with her husband and daughter.

Top 5 Health Goals for 2018, By Dr. Kevin Campbell

Think Lifestyle; Not Diet   As expected, the most common goal is weight loss, but I would advise putting a unique spin on this goal: I suggest making a goal of eating a healthier diet and striving to work out at least 3 times/week.  Rather than set a lofty “numeric goal” for weight loss, focus on eating at least one healthy veggie with every meal, eliminating sugary snacks and walking 20 minutes/day—then build on these easy initial goals.

Form Partnerships   Partner with your primary MD and set prevention-type goals—for example stop smoking, manage blood pressure or diabetes and maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Collaborating with a professional helps ensure success.

Embrace Digital   Now, more than ever, there are digital tools that are available to help you become healthier in 2018.  From fitness trackers to Apple Watches to sophisticated wearables—the sky is the limit.  The Kardia band from AliveCor even allows you to track your heart rhythm in real time and obtain a “hospital quality” EKG—all from your wrist watch. When we, as healthcare consumers, are engaged with technology, we become more engaged and involved in our own health status—and this engagement has been shown to improve outcomes.

Live in the MOMENT   Take time to enjoy the little “moments” in life—In the U.S., we are always looking to the next thing on our to-do list.  Enjoy and celebrate successes.  This will help you stay focused and will also improve your mental health.  Time with family, friends, and other loved ones can help you stay healthy and happy.

Get more Sleep   In general, Americans do not get enough sleep.  When we are sleep-deprived, we are less productive, prone to depression, and can make more mistakes at work. Sleep deprivation also increases your risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.   The average adult needs approximately 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night.  Kids need more.

Dr. Kevin Campbell, CEO of PaceMate, is an internationally recognized Cardiologist and On Air Television Medical, Health & Wellness expert. He appears regularly on Fox News, Fox Business, CBS and many other national media outlets. A pioneer of the use of social media and digital technologies in healthcare, Dr . Campbell is also an accomplished journalist, blogger, and the author of two books.

Dr. Campbell did his Cardiovascular Fellowship training at Duke University and has practiced medicine for more than 17 years.

Save More Money in 2018, By Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

 

Are you making a financial New Year’s resolution in 2018? If not, you should – and saving more money should probably be a top financial goal.

Unfortunately most Americans do a pretty poor job of stashing away cash, whether it’s creating an emergency fund for unexpected expenses or setting money aside for a more secure retirement.

Some 57 percent of all adults in the United States have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, according to a 2017 study from GoBankingRates.com.

Furthermore, data from the Economic Policy Institute show that the typical American couple has saved just $5,000 for retirement, and nearly half of U.S. families have saved nothing at all for their Golden Years.

Despite those dire statistics, you don’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck and feel like you’re unable to save more money.

I know, because I’ve been there. Back in 2001, I had $100,000 in credit card bills alone! Needless to say, being in debt crimped my ability to save money.

Fortunately, I was able to get out of debt in 3 years and turn my financial life around. In the years since then, I’ve learned that saving one’s hard-earned dollars doesn’t have to be hard – nor does it require you to change your whole lifestyle.

Here are four easy ways to save more money in 2018 — and in years to come:

Tip #1: Dump unwanted subscriptions

You can easily save $50 a month, or $600 annually, just by dumping unwanted subscriptions and cancelling recurring charges for stuff you’re now paying for – but you no longer want, need or use.

From subscription box services, cosmetics and magazine subscriptions, to DVD rental services, clothes and dating apps (hello Tinder Plus!), those weekly and monthly fees from various subscriptions can eat into your budget – and make it harder to save money.

One or two subscriptions for $10 or $20 might not seem like much. But check your credit card statements and bank accounts. When you start adding up all these charges – for things like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, magazine subscriptions or a gym membership – you’ll see it’s actually a lot of money. Eliminate a few and save cash.

Resources: TrueBill.com or AskTrim.com

To save money on subscriptions, use an app like TrueBill or Trim. Basically, what they do is: analyze all your credit card transactions, show you all your subscriptions, and then cancel things you don’t want to keep. Best of all, these apps are free.

Tip #2: Clean up Your Credit

Remember that Missy Elliott song where she sang: “Beep, beep! Who got the keys to the Jeep?” Well, if you plan to make a big-ticket purchase – like buying a car or home this year or next year – now is the time to clean up your credit.

Good credit is your master key to getting approved and scoring a low interest rate too.

In fact, improving your credit score can save you many thousands of dollars over the life of a car loan or a mortgage.

Resource: CreditSesame.com

So here’s what to do: Pull your credit reports, check them for mistakes and dispute any errors.

Unfortunately, 70% of all credit reports do have mistakes; so beware of that!

Also, log onto a site called CreditSesame.com or use their free app. They give you your credit score 100% free every month – and they give you tips on how to improve your credit, so bad credit won’t hold you back or cost you money in 2018.

Tip #3: Plan for Household Emergencies

It’s estimated that 70% of Americans experience some kind of financial shock or emergency each year, including major household breakdowns that can ruin your budget and sap savings.

And for some groups of people, not having cash on hand can lead to other problems. For instance, African-Americans who face unexpected financial crises are twice as likely as other groups to have to tap into retirement savings to deal with emergencies.

Since your home is your fortress and your castle, you want to protect it in every way possible. One simple way to do this is to get a basic home warranty. A home warranty is a service contract that covers your home’s appliances and systems.

So let’s say your refrigerator, dishwasher or dryer breaks down – or your electrical or plumbing system goes haywire – a home warranty would repair or replace those faulty items.

And let’s face it: there may be some things around the house you can fix yourself. But for more complicated things, it’s best to let the pros handle the job.

Resource: AHS.com

You can hop online at AHS.com to get an affordable home warranty from American Home Shield. They’re the largest home warranty company in the U.S. and they offer home warranties for all budgets. Having that warranty will save you hundreds or thousands in unexpected, and inevitable, home repair costs.

Tip #4: Go Generic

If anyone in your household takes medicines, pills, injections or prescription drugs of any kind, only use generics – not brand-name drugs. By law, generics are required to have the identical chemical makeup and active ingredients as brand-name meds.

You’ll save a ton of money with this simple strategy because the average brand-name medicine costs $100, while the typical generic is only $30 – which is 70% less!

If you hit the pharmacy once a month, over a full year that’s a savings of $840.

As you can see, saving money isn’t rocket science. But it does require awareness of where your money is going, and a commitment to using the resources you do have wisely.

So for 2018, why not commit to saving more money as your #1 economic goal? It’s a financial New Year’s resolution that can pay big dividends for many years to come.

Lynnette talking money w/one of NoPo’s favorites – Harry Connick, Jr.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach®, is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and the author of 12 books, including the New York Times bestseller Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom. Lynnette is a former financial news journalist, who now teaches individuals nationwide how to better manage their finances. She has appeared on hundreds of TV programs, including Oprah, The Talk, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, The Steve Harvey Show, The Today Show and more.

An Olympian’s Advice – Go For The Gold … Or Not

 

Winter is my season, and skiing is my sport. Give me a tilted field of white fluff over a stretch of white sand any day. When I was growing up in Squaw Valley, CA, the apres ski spot was a place called the Five Circle Club. That’s where the adults hung out while the kids slid on cafeteria trays outside, raided the vending machines and “hooky-bobbed” off cars leaving the parking lot. It was a win/win scenario, one of many that went along with laissez-faire Seventies parenting. The kids roamed somewhat free while the adults cavorted in their stretchy, colorful outfits, their skin glowing from outdoor living, their laughter filling the lodge. It was good living and a great way to grow up.

The Five Circle Club wasn’t really a club, but a lounge, named to honor Squaw’s Olympic past, as host to the 1960 Games.  The resort had (and still has) a rich Olympic heritage, which rubbed off on the kids who slid around on trays and hooky-bobbed. I ended up competing in two Olympics as an Alpine skier. In many places, that would be a big deal, but it doesn’t distinguish you much at Squaw. The local cookie shop, Wildflour, awards lifetime cookie passes to all local Olympic gold medalists, a 100-punch pass to local silver medalists and a “better luck next time” to bronze medalists. If the policy were any more lenient, it could seriously affect their bottom line.

As we head in to a Winter Olympic year I get a lot of Olympic-related questions.* Now that my kids are avid ski racers, people wonder if I hope they, too, will be in the Olympics someday. It’s a complicated question.

Being an Olympian is a badge of honor, a fantasy fulfilled. It continues to fill me with gratitude and arm me with cred. But to be clear, it did nothing to shape who I am. That, I owe to the pursuit of a greatness I never fully achieved—to the habits I learned, the injuries I overcame, the limits I pushed through and most of all the friendships I made while schlepping bags around the world and sleeping on each other in vans. Becoming a World Class athlete is a mostly unglamorous process, which is the stuff you don’t see on TV. You also don’t see the aftermath of elite sports, the athletes who: peaked out as child stars; sacrificed their long term physical and mental health; compromised their education; resent their parents; and live haunted by what might have been.

Life is hard. To think that a medal, a title or any singular achievement can significantly alter that reality is naïve. Athletics are a means to a fulfilling life. And yet, the crazy escalation of youth sports has lost sight of that, turning healthy competition through activities that kids do for fun and joy, into jobs with performance markers at every level.

My kids love the sport of ski racing, even more than I did. Of course they dream of someday being in the Olympics and I support that dream, but only to a point. That point is when the process of developing as athletes is no longer aiding their development as healthy, happy, capable people.

What I want for my kids is more of what they’ve already achieved through this sport. They love the mountains, and the people like the Five Circle Club regulars—who happily endure frigid weather, interminable drives and crappy condos to feel that rush of wrangling, gravity, momentum, centrifugal force and friction. I want them to go into adulthood armed with friends who will celebrate with them, comfort them, and tease them mercilessly when needed. Someday, I want them to know the quiet satisfaction of being the middle of a three-generation sandwich, chatting on the chairlift ride up together, then feeling the wind in their face while arcing sweet turns on the way down.

It’s not that I don’t want my kids to be Olympians or to go for the gold. I wish everyone, especially my own kids, could have the experience of marching into the Opening Ceremonies to the wild applause and adulation of the world. It was cool. But it was just a moment. I don’t want their quest for greatness to take precedence over having a great life. Athletic careers are short-lived, but the friendships, the love of their sport and the way we learn to live will last a lifetime.

*No, I did not win a medal. Hear more on that in my “not even a bronze” TEDx talk.

P.S. If you ever want cred with a card-carrying Olympian (yes, they issue us cards), never, ever refer to one as a “former Olympian.” Read the fine print: Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian. Never Former Never Past.

Opening Ceremonies Albertville, with Eva Twardokens

Edie Thys Morgan competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. She is a freelance writer, part-time ski coach and full-time skier mom. She talks skiing at racerex.com and food at bringiteats.com.

Sensible and Smart Tax Moves in a Time of Uncertainty, By Bob Meighan

 

They say nothing is certain except death and taxes. Well, right now taxes are anything but certain. Wait a week or two and maybe we’ll have answers.

In spite of the fact that the tax bill changes won’t kick in until 2018, there still are smart tax moves you can make now. Because tax rules are not uniformly applied, I’ll focus here on tax strategies for middle class families. If you’re outside this big demographic, it’s still worth a read but realize you’ll need to validate your moves.

The tax bill is promoted as a tax cut and simplification. That is generally true. You’re likely to see a bigger refund because of lower tax rates and a much larger standard deduction. It’s also likely to simplify the tax prep part since about 90% of folks will no longer receive a benefit for itemizing deductions (write-offs like donations, taxes, medical expenses, mortgage interest, etc.). So, if you haven’t before used tax software like TurboTax to do your taxes, consider it.

You normally wouldn’t see the benefits of a tax cut until you file for your refund in early 2019. But no one wants to give the IRS interest-free use of those refund dollars until then–and you don’t have to. Instead, consider diverting those tax refund dollars into your regular paycheck by changing your tax withholding with your employer. To make this easy, use the free TurboTax W-4 Withholding Calculator. When you increase your withholding “allowances,” you’ll see more money in your paycheck and a smaller tax refund in 2019. That’s a trade-off that makes financial sense.

Since many deductions will likely be eliminated next year, a good money-saving move is to accelerate payment of those disappearing deductions into 2017. This increases your tax write-offs this year that you wouldn’t otherwise get in 2018. For example, prepay before the end of this year income and real estate tax bills, donations, mortgage payments, and large medical bills that normally are paid in January. You’ll get the benefits of the deduction plus they’ll offset your 2017 income that is likely taxed at a higher rate than in 2018.

On the flip side, if you have the ability to defer income into 2018, do that since the income will be taxed at lower rates in 2018. This includes deferring income like commissions, pending stock sales, and unbilled invoices.

Here are some other items you should watch when/if the tax bill passes.

• Got a divorce pending? Divorce (alimony) could cost you lots more money under the new rules.

• Planning a job relocation/move? Pending rules could eliminate the deduction for this.

• Paying student loan interest? This is also on the cutting block.

• Tuition and fees for education expenses is up in the air.

Regardless of what happens in D.C., there are tax moves that make sense in almost any environment. Here are two of the easiest ways to cut your tax bill now while building a nest egg for your future:

Contribute to Retirement Plans – Whether it’s an IRA or 401(k) type of retirement plan, socking money into these plans may lower your tax bill today and grow your retirement account tax free.

Contribute to an Educational Savings Plans (529 plans) – If you’ve planning to put your kids through college, it’s a wise move to start saving today. One great way is to put money into a 529 plan where the earnings accumulate tax free. Plus, many states allow you a state deduction for the contributions.

Need help? We’ve partnered with NonPoliticalNews and will be giving away our industry-leading TurboTax online service or software program (your choice!) to 5 lucky winners, who will be picked at random. Winners will be announced on NoPo’s Facebook page next Friday morning, 12/22! Click here to enter.

Bob talking taxes – on set at NBC Nightly News

As Intuit’s VP, Customer Advocate, Bob Meighan works closely with customers and the development teams to ensure the TurboTax products and services meet their unique needs. He is also a frequent contributor to the major national media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Fox News and Bloomberg. Prior to his time at Intuit, Bob worked with Price Waterhouse in the tax technology field. Bob holds a BS, Accounting degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Holiday Travel Planning And Etiquette, by Kendra Thornton

 

The holidays are all about peace, love and joy, right? That is until you get to the airport. Whether you’re flying to see grandma in Florida or to the beaches of Hawaii, you and some 51 million holiday travelers (a record!) are hoping no delays or cancellations throw a serious wrench in your plans.

But there are things you can control that will help make everyone’s trip a little more enjoyable. That’s where planning ahead will serve you well–and it’s especially important these days, given the rise in air rage.

Some suggestions:

Arrive Early First and foremost, the key is time. Navigating your way through the airport and onto the plane, the logistics coupled with the crowds, seem to give people the worst air travel angst. Holiday spirit goes out the window! Build extra time into your trip to dodge any unexpected uh-ohs. Better to arrive at least 2 hours prior to your departure for domestic trips and 3 hours for international. Keep in mind, with all the crowds, the airlines will be strict. If you arrive within one hour of departure, you will not be able to check your luggage and will have to forego your flight.

Cooperate With Security Given the record number of travelers projected to fly over Christmas and New Year’s, you can bet security lines will be long. While waiting in line, make that time useful by emptying your pockets of any change, taking off large jewelry, and removing your coat. You can easily do these steps while in line, a necessity even if you’re TSA Pre-Check, so that everything is organized when it’s your turn to go through screening. If we all did this, TSA security lines would be cut in half!

Avoid Fellow Passenger Conflict Once at the gate, stick to your boarding group. Line jumping will just get you nasty looks from fellow passengers. You could even get stopped by the flight attendant. If you like to board early to guarantee a spot for your roller bag, the airlines will let you pre-pay a nominal fee for a better boarding group. Another no-no is trying to sneak more luggage into the overhead bins. Put your large roller wheels first into the overhead bin and your smaller bag at your feet under the seat in front of you. Keep coats in your lap instead of taking up valuable overhead bin space. If you see a luggage issue developing, ask a flight attendant to step in to avoid passenger conflict. It all seems like common sense, but it’s amazing how many people don’t take these simple steps.

Don’t Bank on Wifi It’s always a good bet to plan ahead for when you’re on the plane, too. While many airplanes come with Wifi and mobile technology chargers at each seat, there are still many that don’t. To be safe, pack extra portable chargers and download a few new apps or a movie to keep you occupied if Wifi is not available.

Keep Breath Fresh As an added courtesy to your seatmates, grab a pack of mints at the newsstand since you will be in very close quarters with other people.

If you do encounter dreaded mishaps like a cancelled flight or lost bag, and you aren’t happy with how the airline is handling it, send complaints to the Department of Transportation, not the airline, for an expedited and official response. Complaints to the DOT are taken very seriously and make it into the air travel consumer report, which is studied to ensure airlines are compliant with federal regulations.

I’ll be shuffling my way through the airport this holiday season with the rest of you. Three things I always tell myself as I wind my way through the crowds: be patient, smile, and most importantly, be courteous to others. Remember, we share one common goal – we all have somewhere to get to.

Kendra Thornton is President and Owner of Royal Travel & Tours, a high-end leisure agency founded in 1972. A nationally recognized travel expert with weekly appearances on the Tribune Media broadcast network as well as local programing in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, Kendra is also a contributor to the Fox News network, CNN, and MSNBC.  She appears regularly on Fox and Friends, Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, CNN Headline News, and MSNBC Live.

Network News Harassment: An Insider’s Perspective

 

The Matt Lauer story is not only saddening me, but also bothering me—so much so that I have decided I can’t ignore it any longer.

Besides, everyone has been calling, texting, and emailing me since the story broke – especially since just days after Charlie Rose lost his job, I started publicly pronouncing, “Matt Lauer is next.”

I had a feeling, and I was right. Whatever. Didn’t want to talk about it, and still don’t. Namely because I happen to like Matt Lauer and have enormous respect for his work, despite his personal flaws.

But it is, after all, one of the biggest nonpoliticalnews stories of the year and I really didn’t want to run a holiday travel post today when this elephant is in the room.

So…yesterday morning, I emailed Katie Couric.

In a carefully crafted note, fully aware of the sensitivities of this, I asked if she would comment in a 500-word post. I got what I expected: no (literally within minutes of my ask).

I then emailed Geraldo Rivera because I was fascinated by one particular Tweet he made on Wednesday (at press time-1.2K likes, and 7.6K comments):

“News is a flirty business & it seems like current epidemic of #SexHarassmentAllegations may be criminalizing courtship & conflating it w predation.”

Having had a 10-year plus run on the Today Show as MSNBC’s Financial Analyst, and having additionally held on-air positions at CNBC, CBS, and Bloomberg News, I have worked with many of those currently making the news (as well as those who have thus far dodged bullets), and concur with Geraldo’s take: news is, in fact, a ‘flirty business.’

Flirting brought opportunity – especially for those we casually dubbed ‘Flavor of the Month,’ which referred to an attractive woman who caught the short-term attention (and affection) of someone in power. I say short-term because if this woman didn’t play up to this powerful person (or at the very least flirt back when he complimented you on your legs!), she was often replaced with the next ‘Flavor of the Month’ who typically looked eerily similar.

This person in power was either an influential anchor (They have the ultimate authority to put whomever they want on their shows.), an executive producer, or even the network president himself. And if you went along with the bullshit, you were on the fast track. Saying YES was the ultimate shortcut to the top in what is otherwise an incredibly competitive industry in which most wannabes fail.

The language was powerful, if not intimidating: “Do you have any idea how many people would give their right arm to be you .. to be on air?” “Any sense as to what a privilege it is to be on network TV?” “You’re not in Kansas, anymore.”

I remember the time when an executive – behind closed, locked doors – told me this: “I’m gonna make you a star! Let’s go to Jean-Georges to talk ‘strategy’”…

Another whatever…

Let’s just say that when a hot babe with minimal or no TV experience was suddenly on the air all the time, doing cut-ins, or given extraordinary responsibilities beyond booking talent, we knowingly rolled our eyes. “Who is she sleeping with!!?”

It was almost laughable then, and whatever “courtship” was going on behind closed doors between the powerful and the powerless certainly wasn’t seen as “criminal”…as it may very well be seen as today, as Geraldo’s controversial Tweet suggests.

I had hoped Geraldo would elaborate for today’s Guest NoPoST, but no dice.

Didn’t hear back from Ann Curry, either.

Last ditch attempt: I emailed a bunch of former interns who I thought might have something to say about their time at 30 Rock.

Nah Dah.

Finally, I got someone who I know has some insight, is qualified to do a Guest NoPost on this very subject, and is always available: me.

All I can really say is what I’ve just said .. going hush hush as I await at least 1, 2, 3 more network firings?

Will keep you in the NoPo…..

Thanks for insisting I do this  – Vera

Vera Gibbons is the Founder and Editor of nonpoliticalnews.com.  A former Financial Analyst with MSNBC, Vera appeared regularly on the Today Show.  She also worked as a Contributor at CBS The Early Show,  as a reporter for Bloomberg News, and as a Correspondent for CNBC’s High Net Worth.

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