Obamacare Premiums Not High Enough? Don’t Worry; the Health Insurance Tax is Coming Next Year

Forgotten about this?

Obamacare, which went into a death spiral almost as soon as it was implemented, fights to stay alive each year with higher and higher premiums.

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Well, come 2018, as things stand right now, in addition to however much premiums are due to increase simply on the basis of the failing mechanism, they will go higher still. This is thanks to the Obamacare health insurance tax (HIT) that’s always been lurking, but never (yet) actually instituted.

The health insurance tax has always been a component of the Affordable Care Act, but one that politicians have managed to keep at bay during the first years of the law.

HIT represents a direct tax on premiums, and would, as usual, be another government levy that smacks small businesses and middle-class families squarely between the eyes. As if that’s not enough, the tax will also make life tougher for those seniors on Medicare Advantage plans, as well as those Americans dependent on Medicaid.

Numbers-crunching by The Heritage Foundation estimates that insurance premiums will rise another two to three percent next year on the basis of the tax alone. According to the Congressional Budget Office, HIT will cost taxpayers $12.3 billion in 2018, and over $145 billion during the next decade.

Additionally, Grover Norquist, writing in April about the tax over at The Hill, shared the National Federation of Independent Business’s estimate that HIT may well cost as many as 286,000 new jobs, and as much as $33 billion in lost sales to small business, through 2023.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Americans Paid $15 Billion in Overdraft Fees Last Year; Were You One of Them?

Banks are making a lot of money each year from overdraft fees.

A lot of money.

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CNN Money is reporting on numbers recently released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that show American consumers paid a whopping $15 billion last year in fees related to bounced checks and account overdrafts.

Addressing the numbers in a press call last week, CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, “Consumers living on the edge can find themselves racking up numerous overdraft charges. Despite recent regulatory and industry changes, consumers with low account balances and little margin for error continue to pay significant overdraft fees.”

Revealingly, while bank customers overdraw their accounts by an average of just $24, banks typically charge about $34 each time they do it.

Some point the finger at a confusing process associated with allowing consumers to opt-in to overdraft coverage. Many customers, they claim, have signed on for overdraft coverage when they would likely be better off simply having a charge declined and then making other arrangements.

So what can you do to opt-out of overdraft coverage…and the charges that come with it?

For starters, you can simply drop the protection. If you dump it, your one-time, in-person debit card transactions will be declined if there’s not enough money in your bank account to cover them. Be careful, though: Even if you opt out of overdraft coverage, banks can still cover – and charge you for having covered – checks, recurring debits, and online payments.

If you would prefer to split the difference between having, and entirely not having, overdraft protection, a good option is to link another account you have at your bank to your checking account. This way, should you happen to find yourself overdrawn, money from the other account is transferred automatically to cover the debit balance. While there is still a fee incurred by doing this, it’s about a third the cost of a regular overdraft charge.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Want to Publicly Complain About a Product or Service? Be Careful How You Do It

An item over at CNBC.com explains just how bad things can get for dissatisfied customers of a business should they carry their criticisms of a product or service to extremes

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When Neely and Andrew Moldovan of Dallas, Texas were making wedding plans, they contracted with photographer Andrea Polito to capture the memories of their special day. However, the Moldovans and Polito eventually found themselves embroiled in a dispute over a $125 fee the photographer said was required in order to put a cover on the couple’s wedding album. The newlyweds claimed that service was supposed to be included in the package they originally purchased from Polito, while the photographer said the additional charge was clearly outlined in the contract the Moldovans signed.

The couples’ response was to aggressively criticize Polito on social media, as well as through more traditional channels. Now, a Dallas jury has decided the couple went too far and defamed the photographer, and ordered them to pay Polito $1.08 million in damages.

$1.08 million…for a dispute over $125.

According to CNBC, when the couple embarked on their public tirade, they referred to Polito as a “scammer,” and posted a wealth of negative reviews about her business. They told their story to any news organ that would listen, including NBC; a Daily Mail article on the couple opened with the sensationalistic headline “Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage after they refuse to pay extra fee that ‘wasn’t in their contract.’” Polito’s business ultimately folded under the weight of all the negative publicity.

In the end, the jury decided that whatever legitimate grievance the Moldovans might have had with their photographer paled in comparison to the highly destructive manner in which they went about addressing it.

Responding to the jury’s verdict, the Moldovans issued a statement, saying, in part, “We were unhappy with a situation, so we complained like anyone would.”

Except, by any reasonable account, that’s not true, and it provides the ‘lesson of the day’ when it comes to the matter of complaining publicly about a business, something made far easier now in this age of social media.

The newlyweds may have complained AS anyone else would, but they didn’t complain in the MANNER anyone else would. Instead, the Moldovans deliberately embarked on a campaign to humiliate and ruin the business owner, and were eager to achieve their ends by availing themselves of whatever media outlets were happy to be complicit in their effort. Not only is there no sign this couple ever once thought about being more restrained in their approach, they appear to have floored the gas pedal every chance they could.

On a separate, but related, note, referring to something as a ‘scam’ has apparently become the intellectually-lazy person’s way of expressing dissatisfaction with a product or service, and the public has become far too comfortable with throwing the word around. Scam means fraud, and when you publicly claim that you’ve been scammed by a business, you’ve defamed that business unless it turns out that you actually were defrauded. Look up the legal definition of fraud, and you’ll see that there’s a lot more to it than the fact you may have been served a bad meal because the chef was off his game that night. It’s a serious charge, and when you publicly lodge it against a business, you’re making a significant accusation, one for which you should absolutely expect to be held accountable if it’s not true.

It’s an expensive lesson learned by the Moldovans, and one from which the rest of us, by observing what happened to them, can benefit for free.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Age of Obamacare Drives New Kind of Health Coverage: Cash-Only

The era of what this space often calls “sort-of” health insurance has been with us for some time now. “Sort-of” health insurance, best exemplified in recent years by policies sold through exchanges under the banner of the Affordable Care Act, is chiefly characterized by expensive premiums and enormous deductibles.

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Said combination of costly premiums and impossibly-high deductibles has left those maintaining the policies to have health coverage merely in theory; while they technically have insurance, the functional utility of the coverage is minimal, at best.

Now, enter a new era in health coverage, one that has arrived precisely as a result of all the glorified major medical policies now being sold as “real” insurance: cash-only care.

Cash-only medical coverage isn’t insurance at all. It is, instead, a straight cash-for-services model.

You’re probably wondering, “So, are legitimate doctors really doing this?”

You bet they are.

At its core, here’s why it works: The sums so many are currently paying for largely-useless policies are so high that doctors are finding these individuals can actually get a better deal by simply paying cash for their medical services.

Think about it. Even a family of relatively modest earners can easily pay $20,000 just in monthly premiums for an exchange-purchased policy…and then, when they have an actual claim, may be required to hit a threshold of $10,000 or more each year to realize anything approaching what the average person recognizes as a genuine insurance benefit.

As outlined over at Time.com, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma is one such cash-for-care, or “direct pay,” facility. The hospital’s website lists the all-inclusive price for each procedure, like the sum for setting and putting a cast on a broken leg: $1,925.00.

The Surgery Center of Oklahoma accepts no insurance, not even Medicare or Medicaid. “We say, ‘Here’s the price. Here’s what you’re getting. Here’s your bill,’” says Keith Smith, who, along with fellow anesthesiologist Steven Lantier, founded the Surgery Center back in 1997. “It’s as simple as that.”

As a matter of fact, part of the arrangement at the Surgery Center is that if complications ensue following a procedure, the facility foots the bill for that. In other words, once the patient pays the list price for their procedure, they’re done paying.

The future of direct-pay care? As long as major medical care, masked as real health insurance, continues to be forced on Americans at ridiculous costs, then it looks to be pretty darn good.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Report: Americans Spending MORE After They Retire

Well, this is probably some news worth knowing.

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CNN Money is reporting that according to data analyzed by economists at the Investment Company Institute and the IRS, Americans are actually spending more money after they retire…at least, for the first few years.

It turns out that spending went up for over half of all taxpayers during the first three years after they claimed Social Security, with lower-income earners the most likely to spend more than they did before calling it quits.

As the researchers put it, “For many individuals, retirement appears to be a multi-year transition rather than an action taken at a discrete point in time.”

In other words, retirees apparently need some time to get the hang of living within their means.

Because the data measured does not pertain to spending, per se, but, rather, to how much income – including Social Security benefits – remained after taxes, it is unclear on what, specifically, retired folks are spending their money in greater sums.

While many expenses tend to drop once a person stops working, including taxes, costs associated with transportation, and those related to housing…others, logically, go up, like amounts spent on leisure and recreation.

The results of the research emphasize the importance of being able to generate a reasonably significant income during at least the first several years of what is supposed to be retirement. This may mean that individuals are well-served by continuing to work for years after beginning to draw Social Security; or, as younger adults, to dedicate themselves to setting aside as much as possible in tax-deferred retirement accounts so that their savings, once they do stop working, is capable of generating a significant monthly income.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Researchers: Ubiquitous Technology Probably to Blame for Americans’ Declining Sex Rate

Did you happen to see this?

Americans are having less sex nowadays, and it seems that the ready availability of technology may be the culprit.

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A study recently published in Archives of Sexual Behavior (there’s apparently a journal for everything), and reported on by Fortune, says that American adults in the 2010s are having less sex than they were in the 1990s.

Does that surprise you? If so, then perhaps you’ll be less surprised after hearing what the study’s authors believe to be the reason for the decline: entertainment on demand.
According to one of the researchers, Jean Twenge, “Entertainment is more entertaining now, it’s more on demand — you can access it anytime you want. DVRs became more common right around that time, too.”

“Think about what’s happened over the last 10 years,” Twenge added, referring to the explosion in the availability of personal devices, as well as the ability of those devices to access all kinds of entertainment.

Mind you, Twenge’s assessment is somewhere between speculation and hypothesis, and clearly additional research is needed to establish the validity of her claim, but when you think it through, it sure makes a lot of sense.

The good news? The study also learned that those more likely to have sex are in relationships. “Tinder supposedly makes it easier to have sex on tap, but it’s pretty well established that people with a steady partner tend to have sex more often,” says Twenge.

At least there’s that.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Bestselling Author Malcolm Gladwell: “There is No Way Around Hard Work”

We clearly live in an era when life…at least for those of us who live in the developed world…couldn’t be any easier. For example, technological evolution has made it such that very little physical effort is required any longer to do many jobs. While that’s pretty nifty for most of us, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell wants you to know that even if the way in which specifics tasks are done is easier and requires less physical effort, one thing will never change: the substantial amount of work ultimately required to realize genuine success.

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“There is no way around hard work,” Gladwell recently told CNBC. “There are never any shortcuts, and anyone who tells you there’s a shortcut is blowing smoke.”

Gladwell’s first life lesson on this subject came while plugging away, if you can call it that, at his first job, working for a magazine in Indiana. After just two months at work, Gladwell was fired because he couldn’t motivate himself to get out of bed on time each day.

“I was 20 years old and I couldn’t wake up before 11 o’clock in the morning,” he says.

Like many other young adults who struggle at first with responsibility, Gladwell quickly realized that if he was really going to make something of himself, he would have to change his ways.

“I have learned many things subsequently, but you know, one of them is the importance of discipline,” he says.

Gladwell writes in his book Outliers: The Story of Success that 10,000 hours of hard work must be invested in order that someone may actually perfect a skill to a level that opens the door to success. As noted in the CNBC piece, Gladwell claims Bill Gates became such a success as a software giant because he had been coding since he as a small boy, and that The Beatles’ path to superstardom was paved in no small way by the numerous eight-hour gigs they played. It is Gladwell’s contention that toiling away in this fashion at one’s chosen field of endeavor is, ultimately, the only way real success is achieved.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Improving the Work-Life Balance May Not Be as Tough as You Think

As the pace at which the world turns continues to gain speed, the battle to successfully achieve the ideal balance between work and life is becoming more difficult to win.

But is it really as tough as it appears?

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An article over at USA Today suggests “maybe not,” and outlines several ideas to putting the balance back in your favor. Of particular note is that these ideas are simple, at least in concept, but when you think through their potential, each offers significant benefits in the realm of saving time that can go a long way to allowing you to breathe much easier each day.

One excellent way to help rebalance your life, as detailed by writer Brooke Niemeyer, involves taking the necessary steps to simplifying your daily routine as much as possible.

These steps can be very basic, but, in totality, the measures go a long way to “decluttering” your day. For example, Alison Kero, CEO of Ack Organizing in New York City, is quoted in the piece as saying that even “putting a key rack near your front door so you never lose your keys” is the kind of simple thing that can be extremely helpful in this regard.

More generally, think about everything you do each day, large and small, and now think of ways to make actually doing those things easier and quicker.

“The more you can implement effective systems into your life, the easier everything will flow, and you’ll find yourself less likely to be wasting time, energy or money,” says Kero.

Another step you can take to help stay on more of an even keel involves strategically using your commute time to make peace with what goes on at work, so that you don’t do it at home.

Carrie Aulenbacher of Transportation Investment Group in Erie, Pennsylvania says, “I’d urge [those] who commute to work in their own cars to decompress on the drive home by talking out what might have been frustrating or encouraging during the day. If they commute by rail or bus, I’d suggest making a journal entry on the way home to decompress before getting home to their personal life.”

The point is, when many think about ways to achieve that elusive work-life balance, they often think in terms of more drastic measures, like changing jobs or even careers, but taking such steps may not be at all necessary. Establishing a better relationship between work and home may be as (relatively) easy as becoming better organized and more efficient in how you process your day.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

Legendary Russian Arms Maker Announces Development of Fully-Automated Combat Robots

Are we really going to be able to say that we lived in the age when autonomous, battlefield combat robots became a reality?

Apparently.

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As reported by New Atlas, legendary Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov, creator of the AK-47, has announced that it will shortly bring such machines to life, quite literally.

The director of Kalashnikov Group Communications, Sofiya Ivanova, said recently that the company “will unveil a range of products based on neural networks,” and that this will take place in the “imminent future.” According to Ivanova, “a fully automated combat module featuring this technology is planned to be demonstrated at the Army-2017 forum.”

Let there be no misunderstanding what Kalashnikov is doing. These are not simply drone-type mechanisms entirely beholden to the whims of a human controlling them from a remote location. The application of neural network technology to these robots means they will be able to learn from their battlefield experiences, a classic example of fully-enacted artificial intelligence (AI).

The weaponization of AI has been a concern of many for a long time now. As noted by New Atlas, back in 2015, an array of researchers in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence put their signatures to an open letter addressed to the United Nations, asking that body to ban the development of weaponized AI. It is believed, however, that any kind of formal ban is still many years down the road.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

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