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Family and Life

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 to sign up for healthcare on either the state or government exchanges… or else.

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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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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% 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 funds. The elderly and those without reliable transportation can have trouble getting to the grocery store. Even worse, some areas of the country are considered “food deserts,” and residents there are forced to choose from limited options at small convenience stores or sometimes travel hours just to reach a true grocery store. So, even though those in poverty are having a portion of their food costs subsidized, they can’t actually get their groceries without an inordinate amount of effort.

Enter Amazon?

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The Retailers

Last month, it was announced that web giant Amazon — along with six other online grocery retailers — will begin accepting food stamps this coming summer. This is part of a USDA pilot program, aimed at making food more accessible and more affordable for those receiving benefits.

Of the online food providers included in the program, Amazon is by and large the biggest. The retail giant offers dry and fresh goods through its Amazon Pantry, Amazon Prime Now, and Amazon Fresh options.

The other retailers include Safeway, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers, ShopRite, and Dash’s Market.  Between these, recipients from seven states will benefit from the program: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Iowa, and Oregon.

Potential Problems

Though actual food “stamps” are now obsolete and benefits are distributed onto debit-esque cards, it is the first time that SNAP benefits have ever been accepted online. Of course, this opens the door even wider to the possibility of stamp fraud, or even simply questionable use. In fact, the USDA found that over $1.3 billion was spent on junk food in 2011… these purchases include soda/sweetened drinks (these alone accounted for $600 million, in fact), desserts, candy, sugar, and salty snacks. Of course, this is not the purpose of the government-funded program, and calls into question its efficacy.

This also raises the concern of conflicts of interest, by allowing large corporations to profit from poverty and the state programs that support it. For example, J.P. Morgan provides EBT (electronic benefits transaction) services for 24 different states and their food stamp programs. Since 2004, 18 of these states have contracted the bank’s services, for a total bill of over $560 million. This provides quite an incentive for these banks and other companies to participate in such government programs.

Rolling Out Soon

The trial program will begin in July and initially run for a two-year period. SNAP recipients in the seven states mentioned above (Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Iowa, and Oregon) can take advantage of online ordering, through Amazon or the other providers. There are plans to expand the program further down the line, potentially adding retailers like Walmart to the list.

It will be interesting to see how well the program runs, and its ability to bring fresh, healthy foods to those who cannot easily access them otherwise. I am also curious to see whether or not the benefits are abused more than they are at-present. However, I am optimistic that the use of an online purchasing system will allow for increased monitoring and will prevent some of the current fraud issues. I hope to see those in food deserts, or without transportation , improve their ability to source nutritional options.

What do you think about being able to use food stamps online?

 

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This is a guest article by Mike Collins, creator of Wealthyturtle.com. He shares with us how he and his wife decided to become a single-income family, and he offers some useful advice for those struggling with the same decision.

Most new parents will at least consider the idea of living on a single income so one parent can stay home with the kids. But is this a realistic idea or just a pipe dream?

stay home

It’s a question my wife and I dealt with when we first started to build our family and it wasn’t an easy decision. In the end we decided that my wife would quit her job and we would find a way to make it work.

I’m not going to lie to you. It involved a lot of sacrifices and there have been times when we questioned whether or not we made the right decision. But ultimately I’m glad we did things the way we did.

How it happened

First, let me tell you a little about our situation and how we made our decision. Then, I’ll give you some tips about making the right choice for you and your family.

Way back in 2004, my wife and I were expecting our first child. Initially we figured both of us would continue to work. The plan was for my mother-in-law to watch the baby a few times a week and then we would find a babysitter to fill in the rest of the time. But my mother-in-law started having health issues and we realized that she wouldn’t be able to take care of a baby even for a few days a week.

We considered hiring a babysitter for the entire week, but the cost was just too much. When we ran the numbers and compared child care costs with my wife’s salary, we realized she’d only be bringing home a few hundred dollars a month. Most of the time she’d be working to pay a babysitter and that didn’t make a lot of sense to us.

Financial impact led to sacrifice

Meanwhile, I could tell my wife really wanted to stay home, and I leaned that way, too. My main concern was the financial impact of living on only one income. At the time she was earning almost as much as I was so losing her salary would effectively cut our income in half. Further complicating matters was the fact that we had just bought our first house. The monthly payment that we made comfortably on two salaries would become a heavy burden on one income.

Related: Learning to Live on One Income (By Choice)

Despite our financial concerns, we decided that my wife would quit her job. The years that followed involved a lot of sacrifices (skipping vacations, me driving a beat up old car with no air conditioning, falling into debt, constant stress about money), but we pulled through it together.

Of course, just because it worked out for us doesn’t mean that you should follow our example. If you’re thinking about becoming a single-income family to stay home with your kids, there are a few steps you need to take before deciding if it is doable.

Calculate Your Expenses

The first step in determining whether or not you can realistically afford to stay home with your kids is to add up all of your expenses to see exactly how much you’ll need to live on. Start by listing fixed expenses such as your mortgage or rent payment, utilities, car payments, student loans, and insurance.

Next, add in other monthly expenses such as food, clothing, gas, and entertainment expenses. You’ll also need to add in credit card payments and any other regular debt payments you make.

It’s a good idea to leave a decent cushion to cover miscellaneous and unexpected expenses that can and will pop up. And don’t forget that a new baby comes home with all sorts of new expenses of his own. Hospital bills can be shocking, and even the cost of diapers often surprises new parents who underestimated the cost of raising kids.

While you’re calculating your expenses, you should take a good, hard look at your spending habits. We all have money leaks that slowly drain our budget, and now is a good time to seal them up. Prioritize what matters most to you because choices are inevitable if you want to live on one income. You may have to settle for dining out less or downsizing your vacations for a few years.

Learn More: Travel Rewards Credit Cards — Get More Vacation for Your Money

Figure Out What You’ll Save By Not Working

Many people forget this side of the equation, but you might be surprised at how much money you can save by not going to work. No more gas and tolls to get back and forth from work. Less wear and tear on the car means it will last longer, too. And you won’t need to spend as much on clothes, dry cleaning, lunches, or your morning coffee for the ride to the office.

And then there are child care costs. If you have a family member who lives nearby and is willing to watch your little one, consider yourself lucky. If not, you’d have to pay a babysitter or nanny to watch your kids while you worked. Obviously rates vary from one region to another, but in my area the going rate for an experienced babysitter is $12 to $15 an hour. For a nine-hour day (don’t forget to add in commuting time) a babysitter could cost you between $500 and $700 a week.

Don’t Forget the Long-Term Costs

In addition to the affect on your family’s monthly balance sheet, the decision to become a stay-at-home parent will also have long-term consequences. You’ll have less money to throw into savings and investments. You’ll miss out on employer 401(k) contributions and your Social Security benefits may be reduced since you’ll have contributed less to your account.

When the time comes when you’re ready to re-enter the work force, you may have a hard time. Your skills will likely be a bit rusty and you may find yourself at a disadvantage. And since you’ve been out of work and obviously not receiving annual salary increases, you’ll probably end up earning less than you would if you had continued working.

Resource: 33 Great Work-From-Home Jobs (That are Legitimate)

It’s Not Just About Money

In the end, after all your calculations are complete and you’ve gone over all the numbers again and again…it’s not all about the money. While some women can’t wait to get back to the work routine after having a baby, others just can’t resist the maternal pull and feel an intense need to stay home. And knowing that your kids are being raised at home by a loving parent can give the income-provider a certain peace of mind as well.

What if you are committed to being a stay-at-home parent, but you’ve run the numbers and you don’t think you can afford to do it? It’s time to get creative and find a way to make it work!

My wife and I knew that we couldn’t afford to pay all of our bills on my salary alone, so we looked for other ways to supplement our income. My wife did some babysitting to earn extra money and also tried direct sales through Party Lite Candles. When that didn’t work out, she got her real estate agent’s license. Of course just as she got her license the real estate bubble burst, but she did have one successful deal.

Meanwhile, I got a part-time job at Babies’R’Us for a while to make extra money (and take advantage of the company discount). I also started building websites and blogs on the side.

Do It, Too: How to Start Your Own Online Business or Blog

Flash forward a few years and we’re a lot more stable than we were back then, though there were certainly some sacrifices along the way. It can be frustrating at times to watch your friends traveling and doing things that you can’t afford, but in the end I do feel we made the right decision for our family.

Have you and your spouse thought about keeping one parent at home, or even taken the plunge? How do you feel that decision impacted your family and finances?

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Whether you’re taking care of multiple children, a disabled spouse, or elderly parents, you’ve likely experienced the high cost of dependent care firsthand. With expenses from babysitters to after school programs, it can be difficult to stay ahead of all your other financial obligations while spending on dependent care.

To help make dependent care more affordable, President-elect Donald Trump has included a new provision in his child care plan: the Dependent Care Savings Account. It’s a tax-favored account that anyone with dependents can contribute to in order to save for eligible expenses. Read further to learn exactly what it is, how it works, and who will benefit from it.

What Is The New Dependent Care Savings Account?

Trump’s child care proposal includes creating a Dependent Care Savings Account (DCSA). Parents can contribute up to $2,000 per year to this tax-favored account. Contributions are tax deductible and grow tax-free. Much like a Health Savings Account (HSA), money in a DCSA doesn’t expire. Unused contributions can even be used for a child’s college education expenses once he/she reaches 18.

How Does The Dependent Care Savings Account Work?

DCSAs will be available to everyone regardless of employment status. They won’t be tied to employer accounts.

As previously stated, the maximum annual contribution for DCSAs will be $2,000. Unlike employer-sponsored Dependent Flexible Spending Accounts, unused money in a DCSA will be allowed to carry over year after year. In this way, substantial amounts of money can be accumulated for future dependent care expenses.

Examples of eligible dependent care expenses include:

  • Children
    • After school programs
    • Babysitters
  • Disabled  Spouse
    • In-home care
  • Elderly Parents
    • Adult day care
    • Assisted living

The exact details on how claims will be processed and reimbursed have not been released yet. We suspect it’ll operate similar to an HSA, but on a federal level.

Who Does The Dependent Care Savings Account Benefit?

Anyone who spends money on dependent care can take advantage of the DCSA and reap the tax benefits.

It should be noted that dependents include disabled spouses and elderly parents, not just children. This broadens the applicability of the money put into the account and makes it all the more easy to use it for eligible expenses.

Low-income parents will receive an additional benefit when using DCSAs. The government will match half of the first $1,000 contributed each year. That’s $500 in additional benefits each year.

Trump hasn’t laid out the specific details on how he plans to fund the government match for contributions made by low-income parents. That, however, would come at a large cost. Over 40% of American households have children. If every low-income parent contributed to DCSAs up to the government match, he would need to find a viable way to fund all of those accounts.

His general answer to the funding question is that it’ll be “offset by additional growth.”

Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that in order for DCSAs to have a large scale impact in reducing the cost of dependent care for American families, parents will need to take advantage of the account and contribute to it. Given that participation in FSAs and HSAs has been increasing, the outlook seems promising.

The $500 government match for low-income parents is a lofty provision but may be underutilized in reality. Low-income families may have a hard time coming up with the disposable income to contribute to a DCSA in the first place.

President-elect Trump’s child care plan, specifically the creation of the Dependent Care Savings Account, depends largely on utilization rates. We have our eyes peeled to see how this change affects finances for the U.S., especially families with children or elderly parents.

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Fidelity Study Finds Millennials are Moving Back Home in Droves

by Stephanie Colestock
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Ah, millennials. They are the first generation to grow up with iPhones, FaceTime, and GPS apps. Most of their banking is done online and, thanks to Amazon, the majority of web purchases arrive at their doorstep within 2 business days. They hit the generational jackpot when it comes to convenience and ease, it would seem. […]

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Financial Upgrades You Need After Becoming Parents

by Robert DiGiacomo

New baby? No doubt this new arrival has turned every aspect of your life upside down in the best possible way. Now is the time to make sure your financial house is in order. Here’s a 10-step account and financial checklist to lay the groundwork for your little one’s successful future. New account checklist for […]

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Life Is and Isn’t About the Money

by Luke Landes
Life and Money

Accumulating money is not a real goal for anyone’s life. Growing wealth is not the point. People don’t work hard because they want to see their bank balance grow; those of us who track our finances and chart our net worth over time aren’t trying to compete in some financial competition. I imagine there are […]

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Raise Money-Smart Kids: The Opposite of Spoiled, by Ron Lieber

by Luke Landes
ron-lieber1[1]

In Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled, the author offers suggestions for raising money-smart kids based on the stories of hundreds of parents.

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Why Socrates and Plato Are the Only Financial Gurus You Need

by Luke Landes
Socrates

Forget today’s best-selling financial gurus and authors. Socrates and Plato covered all that you need to know about wealth and life.

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Does Getting Married Increase Wealth and Income?

by Luke Landes
Marriage

The Urban Institute has issued a report stating the Millennial generation will have the lowest rates of marriage by age 40 than any previous generation. The report contemplates a variety of reasons for this shift, including a reduced role of marriage in a family household and the effects of the latest recession. But what does […]

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