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Former President Barack Obama signed an order into law back in March 2010, which later became known as Obamacare. He did so with the hope that it would revolutionize the way Americans handled their healthcare.  However, if Obamacare was to ever survive, it required a large number of healthy individuals to sign-up for healthcare.

To “persuade” healthy individuals to sign up for plans, Obamacare included a mandate. This required everyone in the United States who didn’t have other healthcare to sign up for healthcare on either the state or government exchanges… or else.

trumpcare

This meant that if you had healthcare from your employer, you were covered. If you signed yourself and/or your family up on the exchanges, you were covered. But if you currently had no health insurance, and did not have an employer that offered it to you, then you either had to sign up for healthcare on the exchanges or face a financial penalty. In 2016, the penalty for not having health insurance was $695 per adult, $347.50 per child, OR 2.5% of your adjusted gross income (whichever number was higher), with a maximum amount per family of $2,085.

Now, on its face, that amount might make you think, “Geesh, I better get health insurance.” The sad reality of the mandate, though, was that it wasn’t punishing enough.  Let’s take a healthy individual, who hypothetically needs to pay $500 a month in health insurance premiums. Many of them would rather just pay the $695 one-time penalty than fork over $6,000 for health insurance premiums in a given year.

Related: Another Insurance Giant Pulls Out of Obamacare

The end result was tens of millions of Americans still declining to sign up for Obamacare, which meant the amount of money in the health insurance pool was far lower than what was predicted.  To compensate, health care providers increased the costs for existing exchange owners, sometimes as much as 115% year over year.  Hanging by a thread, the law needed Hillary Clinton to be elected president in order to survive. Instead, it was given Donald Trump.

Obamacare Mandate

Goodbye Obamacare Mandate

It may feel like Donald Trump has been president for four months and not four weeks. However, if you can think all the way back to President Trump’s first executive order, it was one to remove the enforcement of the Obamacare mandate. To put it simply, President Trump ordered the U.S. government to defer to the individual, rather than the government, should a dispute arise regarding the enforcement of the mandate. This didn’t really mean much the day he signed it because its implementation was unclear. However, last week the IRS put out a statement that said, “If you don’t answer the healthcare question on your tax return, we will still accept your return.”

Wait… what?

So, Line 61 of your 1040 tax return will ask if you had healthcare coverage for more than 9 months in the 2016 tax year.  Before this change in policy, you had three options to answer the question:

  • You can check YES, and show proof of coverage
  • You can check NO, and expect the penalty amount above to be included in your return
  • You can check EXEMPT, and show proof of exemption

Now, there’s a fourth option for every US taxpayer:

  • Naa Na Naa Na Naa Naa, I’ll never tell you

To be clear here, there is no guarantee that if you leave the question unanswered, the IRS will simply look the other way.  The IRS has not explicitly said they will be avoiding all Obamacare penalties for the 2016 tax year. However, considering they’ve decided to allow taxpayers to leave this question blank, it’s highly unlikely that they plan to create more work for themselves and audit individuals who choose to avoid the question.

Thus, in one stroke of the pen, the mandate is done. This all-but-means that Obamacare has been effectively killed, and the need for a replacement healthcare plan is of great urgency.

What Will a Trumpcare Mandate Look Like?

Knowing that the end is near for Obamacare (you might say it’s already here), the next logical question is: Will there be a Trumpcare mandate and, if so, what will it look like?

Well, I’m here to tell you that a gentleman by the name of Tom Price proposed a conservative healthcare plan back in 2015…and wouldn’t you know it, he’s just been confirmed as the new Health and Human Services Secretary. Without getting into specific detail about the entirety of the plan, I’d like to focus squarely on his idea for how to make a mandate work in the future.

The crux of Obamacare, and the part that Republicans have always hated, was that it forced people to buy health insurance, even if they didn’t want it. But you see from the text above that the only way a national healthcare plan would work is if everyone contributed, healthy or otherwise. So, how can a Republican plan provide enough money so that those with Obamacare do not lose coverage AND people that don’t want health insurance don’t have to buy it?

Tom Price proposed two main ideas:

  • This should not be national health care. It should be private and sold across state lines, which is expected to increase competition and lower prices.
  • Pre-existing conditions should be included, so long as the consumer has had 18 consecutive months of healthcare coverage.  If someone without healthcare suddenly gets sick and tries to buy coverage, they can be charged appropriate rates based on a previous medical condition. Also, their current healthcare costs can potentially be increased by 50% annually, for up to three years.

The best analogy I can think of is comparing this idea to your auto insurance policy. If you’ve just signed up for auto insurance and get into a big accident, your insurance provider is likely to increase your rates substantially. However, if you’ve been with your auto insurance carrier for years, you likely have small (or large) accident forgiveness, so your rates are not increased. Similarly, if you’re healthy and have avoided buying health insurance for years and then get sick, don’t expect to walk through the door with a low-cost health insurance policy.

Resource: 15 Auto Insurance Discounts You May Be Missing

Now, this is not to say that the healthcare proposal Congressional Republicans put forward will include a mandate specifically like the one above. It is simply an idea on how to go about getting people to pay for health insurance, without forcing them to pay for health insurance. You can bet any plan that we see proposed in the next few weeks will receive extreme scrutiny from tens of millions of Americans, so the benefits and drawbacks will be widely known.

Make sure that when the dust settles, you’ve done your research on whatever 2018 health insurance looks like, and do the best for you and your family. Something tells me you won’t be short of options.

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So, you’re thinking about adding some plastic to your wallet. You want to take advantage of as many bonuses and offers as possible, and you definitely want to earn cash back where you can. You may even be thinking about travel hacking, where you open a number of new accounts in order to reel in a number of introductory point, mile, and cash back offers. Where do you look first?

524 rule

Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards with different perks, including low-fee balance transfers, travel rewards, rotating cash back categories, and even 5% back at Amazon. They are one of the more prominent card issuers, and frequently issue large sign-up bonuses to encourage new customers. Chase, however, has an interesting rule that makes them stand out when it comes to travel hacking.

The 5/24 Rule

You may have heard about their 5/24 Rule, especially if you’ve spent any time researching card hacking.

Simply put, if you’ve opened up 5 new accounts in the last 24 months, you’ll be denied for most Chase credit cards. This rule is all but inflexible, even with calls to customer service to beg them to reconsider. This is unfortunate, as it could lead to you missing out on some of the largest sign-up bonuses seen on credit cards to-date.

One important note: there are numerous reports that being pre-approved in a Chase branch for these cards leads to approval for the card. Anecdotally, I traveled to New York City last November and was approved in-branch for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 12/24 accounts. So, this work-around could be a possibility if you live near a Chase branch.

Check Out Its Brother Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re considering taking on the travel hacking game (beware: it requires strong organization skills and a lot of attention to detail!), Chase should be high up on the list of issuers to pursue. You’ll be applying for credit cards regularly, so you’ll quickly exceed the limitations for the 5/24 rule. For example, in the last 24 months, I’ve applied and been approved for 15 cards. In the world of travel hackers, that’s not even on the high side of new accounts.

Cards Not Under 5/24

The following cards are reportedly not under Chase’s 5/24 rule:

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (I was approved last month at 13/24)
  • British Airways
  • Fairmont
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Disney (both Rewards and Premier)
  • AARP
  • Marriott Business (note: there are conflicting reports on this but I was approved last October at 11/24)

Note that these credit cards will still result in a hard pull and the opening of a new account. So, if you’re interested in them, you should prioritize them after you’ve put yourself past the 5/24 threshold.

Which Card First?

First of all, a disclaimer: if you’re getting into travel hacking, here’s the criteria you need to meet:

  • Have an excellent credit score (I would put this at 720+, if not 740+)
  • Pay off your credit card statement balances in full each month
  • Be disciplined and organized with your money
  • Be able to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card without being financially irresponsible
  • Be unafraid of spending time doing research — there are no shortcuts here!

I would prioritize Chase cards as follows:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  3. Chase Ink Preferred
  4. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
  5. Chase Marriott Rewards
  6. Chase Freedom
  7. Chase Freedom Unlimited
  8. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

Note that there are more than 5 on this list, so you’ll have to do some research as to which card is right for you. The Chase Sapphire and Ink lines earn Ultimate Rewards points. These offer flexible and valuable redemptions across a number of airlines and other travel partners. The Chase Freedom line offers cash back perks as statement credits. The other branded cards like United and Marriott offer brand-specific points and miles.

I’ve prioritized the United and Marriott cards ahead of the Freedom cards for a few reasons. First, it’s possible to change your credit card to the no-fee Freedom cards after some time. So, if you’re a Sapphire Preferred cardholder and you’d like to discontinue paying the fee, it’s possible to change that card over to a Freedom.

Second, the bonuses for those two branded cards are relatively valuable at the moment. The United offer at 50,000 miles is higher than it was in 2016. The Marriott points are now eligible to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express at a good rate (3:1).

If I were just getting into travel hacking, I would be going straight down this list. You may be put off by the Ink Preferred being a business card, but applying for a business card isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Many people run small self-owned business through eBay selling or Etsy shops, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a business line of credit for those expenses. The process is nearly exactly the same as a personal application; you’ll just need to provide some information about the type of business you operate.

To 5/24-ers and Beyond

My advice to the unfortunate folks who are past 5/24: don’t worry about it. While some of these bonuses are stellar (the previous Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus at 100,000 points was great while it lasted), the sheer number of other card issuers and bonuses means that there’s no shortage of great perks to be had.

Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on airlines like Delta and American, as well as Membership Rewards points through American Express. New cards are constantly being rotated in and out. So, it’s more important to be able to jump on the higher bonuses when available, than to worry about getting back under 5/24.

Best of luck out there, and happy travels!

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Starwood Preferred Guest American ExpressThe Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is continually one of the best-reviewed cards from this issuer. Card owners are also the most likely to rate high on customer satisfaction surveys. This is probably due to the fact that the card offers excellent incentives and a low interest rate.

NEW LIMITED TIME OFFER (Ends 4/5) – New cardmembers of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express have the opportunity to receive a limited time bonus offer. This includes 25,000 Starpoints® after spending $3,000 in purchases during the first three months, and 10,000 Starpoints® after spending an additional $2,000 in the first six months. Points can be redeemed at more than 1,300 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries, and over 150 airlines with SPG Flights.

This welcome bonus offer is not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.

The normal rewards program for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is fairly straightforward. It offers points on the following:

  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels
  • Earn 1 Starpoint® for all other purchases

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the rewards program associated with the Starwood network of hotel brands. The participating hotels include Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, Four Points by Sheraton, Element, Meridien, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, and St Regis, for a collection at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries. The points members earn can be redeemed for hotel stays, upgrades, and flights from over 350 airlines with SPG Flights without blackout dates. At many of the hotels, you can redeem Starpoints for the hotel’s amenities and luxuries designed for guests, often unique to each location. Note that some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers a decent variable purchase APR, currently 15.74% – 19.74%. There is an annual fee of $95 associated with this card, like most American Express cards. However, there is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then the annual fee of $95 commences for year two.

With an excellent rewards program and big perks from American Express, many customers choose this card as their number one credit card. For more information or to fill out an application, visit the secure Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express application page. Terms and Restrictions apply.

  • Find out how you can apply for this card here.

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Important Note! The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that offers change frequently. Therefore, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit or charge card prior to applying.

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Whether or not you should pay more for quality is a decision that comes up often when shopping. The answer varies depending on the product.For some purchases, paying more is a giant waste of money which would be better spent elsewhere. For other items, it’s well worth the additional investment up front to ensure a quality product that lasts. So, how do you decide?

buyright

This question could be asked of virtually any purchase, so we can’t cover them all. However, here are seven examples of popular purchases and our verdict on whether it makes sense to pay more for quality:

Cars: Pay More for Quality

When it comes to buying a car, especially a used car, going with the cheapest option could be a big mistake. There are plenty of stories of people who bought used cars thinking they were getting a deal, only to discover the car needed costly repairs. Although state “lemon laws” exist to protect consumers in situations like those, you may not discover the car’s problems right away. Ultimately, you could be left with a vehicle that costs you more than expected.

It’s worth it to pay more for a quality car that has a clean history and is up-to-date in its maintenance. Buying cheap will likely cost you more in the long run. A completely new car might be out-of-budget for many people (and isn’t the best idea from a personal finance standpoint, anyway!). Buying a late model used car can be just as good as new, though, and you’ll likely be able to extend the warranty on it.

Homes: Pay More for Quality

Things like location and square footage are important factors to consider when purchasing a home. These shouldn’t be overlooked solely for the sake of price.

Unlike an ugly kitchen that can be remodeled, the big concerns will be difficult (or impossible) to change later on. Buying a home that’s in a bad neighborhood or is too small for your family can make you incredibly dissatisfied after a while. Turning around and selling the home too soon after buying is not only a headache, but can also make you lose money.

Learn as much as you can about the homes you’re considering for purchase. If you don’t find the ideal place right away, that’s absolutely fine. House hunting can take months before you find the right property for you and your family.

Smartphones: Don’t Pay More for Quality

You’re probably familiar with absurdly high-priced smartphones like the Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S series. With these phones costing $500 and up, many consumers opt for payment plans. They have a monthly installment added to their cell phone bills in order to even afford the device.

However, if you want a high-functioning smartphone, a $500+ device isn’t your only option. There are competitors who make comparable smartphones that come with top of the line specs as well. For example, the ZTE Axon 7 will cost you about $400 and comes with a sharp camera, generous storage, and an attractive design. Another example is the Moto G4 Plus, which costs $299. It comes with an HD display and a long battery life.

Part of the reason high-priced smartphones are so popular is because they’re seen as a status symbol. If you’re just looking for a reliable smartphone, you can definitely forego the brand name and still get good quality.

Mattresses: Pay More for Quality

You go to sleep on a bed every night. Why not pay a little more to ensure your mattress is comfortable?

Getting a mattress that’s made from durable and high-quality materials can make a big difference in how well you sleep and how pleasant your body feels. Whether you choose a bouncy innerspring mattress or a firm memory foam mattress, you usually get what you pay for in terms of quality. A good mattress can last up to 10 years. But a poor quality one could have broken springs or stagnant memory foam after just a couple of years.

Mattresses can cost thousands of dollars. But you don’t have to pay that price. Department stores like Macy’s have sales throughout the year that can save you a considerable amount of money on such a large purchase. Be sure to also shop around at local mom & pop stores near holiday weekends (like Labor Day), as many of them will be willing to negotiate the price with you.

Walking/Running Shoes: Pay More for Quality

Foot health is important, but often overlooked. Many see foot pain as unavoidable and as something you just have to deal with when you’ve been on your feet for long periods of time. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. High quality walking/running shoes can not only prevent foot pain, but can also support your soles and offer breathability.

Although high quality walking/running shoes offer better support, they do experience wear and tear just as any other pair of shoes would. If you use them daily, it’s recommended to replace them about every six months. This may come as a large expense to you if you’re not used to buying top of the line shoes or replacing them that often. But it’s worth it if it means preventing pain and promoting good foot health.

Batteries: Pay More for Quality

If you have small children with lots of electronic toys or otherwise use electronics often, you know how important it is to have long-lasting batteries. Dollar store batteries just don’t hold up to the trusted brands, Duracell and Energizer. In fact, some electronics specifically call for high-quality batteries in order to function properly. I’ve experienced this with my digital camera.

If you look at some dollar store battery packages, you’ll even see recommended purposes for the batteries. The recommendations are usually for low-drain devices like alarm clocks or television remotes. When it comes to high-drain devices, like a video game remote control or a digital camera, you’ll want to pay more for high-quality batteries.

Sunglasses: Don’t Pay More for Quality

Sunglasses are eyewear that protect your eyes from the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. As long as your sunglasses protect from both types of UV rays, you don’t have to worry about the price of them. Beyond that, you often pay more for style. Just look for the sticker that indicates the UVA/UVB protection. It might also say “100% UV protection”, which means the same thing.

Sunglasses, in general, are fragile. To decrease the likelihood of breaking them, try not to keep them in your pockets or hanging from your shirt. The best place for them when they’re not on your face is in a case.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of times when paying more for quality equals a better product. There are also times when, clearly, it doesn’t. When you’re considering a purchase, really take time to think about and research whether the increase in quality is substantial enough to warrant paying a lot more. This is when it’s important to do things like read online reviews, to further examine your choices.

What other purchases can you think of that warrant paying a bit more for quality… or some that don’t?

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Humana: Yet Another Player Pulling Out of Obamacare

by Abby Hayes

After pulling out of a merger deal with Aetna, major insurance company Humana announced that it will drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018. The company had already been scaling back its plans available on the exchange. For 2017, it was only selling policies in 11 states. Although Humana has been a […]

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A Sign of the Times: Amazon to Begin Accepting Food Stamps

by Stephanie Colestock

There are over 44 million Americans currently receiving SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps. This financial assistance was designed to provide nutritious food to qualifying citizens, and about 54 percent of beneficiaries are children and the elderly. However, there are a number of struggles that SNAP recipients can face as far as actually spending these […]

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Am I Required to Report My (Unconventional) Income to the IRS?

by Luke Landes

Ah, taxes. They’re unavoidable, often painful to think about, and take a nice chunk out of everything that we earn. (Thanks, Uncle Sam.) If you are a W-2 employee, your employer skims your taxes off of your paycheck, so you never even see that money — but what if your income sources are more, ahem, […]

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Trump Nixes the Fiduciary Rule Today… Is This A Good Idea?

by Stephanie Colestock

If you’ve been paying attention to financial news, you’ve probably heard mention of the fiduciary rule. This rule was approved last year under the Obama administration, with the goal of increasing transparency within the investment realm. It was designed to force advisors to suggest investment products to their clients that were more affordable, rather than […]

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The Latte Factor: Your Spending Reflects Your Priorities

by Luke Landes
latte

The concept of the Latte Factor is one of the most divisive in personal finance. Money gurus get so worked up over whether the Latte Factor is a valuable lesson in money management, that one might think the issue were as important as the national debt. Most of the time, passionate responses pertaining to the […]

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Getting Out of Debt: Make That New Year’s Resolution Work

by Luke Landes
CLIMB DEBT

Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This resolution, like all others, unfortunately tends to be forgotten within weeks. Well, if you resolved to get out of debt this year — and haven’t yet abandoned that idea now that we are at the […]

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