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How to make it, spend it, and invest it

The Clark Howard Podcast

Clark Howard is the watchdog for consumers everywhere, and we feel Clark is a perfect fit. Protecting your wallet and keeping you apprised of the latest in consumer technology every weekday.

The Federal Reserve lowers interest rates again to reduce the severity of economic slowdown and to help prevent a recession. The Fed is acting defensively. This will lower interest rates for car buyers and on credit cards. HELOCS historically follow, but many banks put a floor in recent contracts. Re-shop to get a lower rate if need be. Saver rates decline as well. Online bank savings rates have already dropped about 1/3 of 1 point.  The smart move now is to lock in money you won’t need into a 1 year CD to earn more. Oddly, when the Reserve lowers their rates, mortgage rates often rise to compensate for inflation long term. But if the economy slows, you’ll see mortgage rates go down.

Two years ago with the new tax bill, Congress made a mistake that has dramatically affected military families. Gold Star families are entitled to survivors’ compensation. Congress made a clerical error, changing the tax on those benefits from 12 to 37%. This is punishing families who’ve already made the ultimate sacrifice of losing a loved one in service. The U.S. House passed a bill to fix this last spring 417 to 3 – basically unanimous. Now that correction is tied up in the Senate and Mitch McConnell will not allow this to be voted on. This needs to be fixed now.

Kaiser Health News has exposed the UVA Medical Center for ruining lives by confiscating homes and garnishing wages under a hospital bill shock system exploiting state codes to sue people blind. This after billing at rates way beyond what’s reasonable and customary. UVA isn’t the only perp here. Recent stories expose medical providers in TN and GA. No one in medicine is interested in telling patients what treatment will cost. One consumer was given a quote yet was billed 52 times that amount after a procedure. What does it take to be a consumer? You choose what you buy, based in part on known costs to fit your budget. Healthcare is the only thing that doesn’t follow this. 

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Saudi Arabia represents a huge percentage of world oil production. The recent drone attack took half their production offline. But it appears they will be back to full production in a matter of weeks. In addition, fall is a slow time of year for oil consumption. After Labor Day, demand declines. Factor in recession in some countries and a slowing U.S. economy bringing down demand. Meanwhile, U.S. production has increased. A decade ago, the U.S. produced little oil, and faced shortages driving up costs to $147 a barrel, compared to $60 last trade. We may see a brief minor spike in prices at the pump.

Equifax conned the states and the Feds to reduce their settlement liability to $125 per affected person and is still hitting back over the number of applicants. Now that want you to verify information again. You have 4 weeks to reverify your application.  

California has passed legislation making app-based workers employees vs independent contractors, starting in January. This includes Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and the like. There’s been a large movement by employers pushing the private contractor designation, to avoid paying benefits. We need a class of employment falling somewhere between a contractor and full-time employee. Uber and Lyft predict their labor cost will rise 20- 30% in California from this change. This current system of off or on is exploiting and harmful to workers. Ratio employment would help ease the income inequality problem in the U.S. 

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Clark recently returned a rental car. He had 5 pics of the car. Why? After returning, sometimes weeks later you may get a notice saying you owe for damage. They may have already charged your card for the damage. All contracts say your check-in slip is subject to later inspection and damage charges. Clark takes pics of the car upon return, so if this happens later – he’s got dated pictorial proof. Clark had noted a ding and windshield chip on the initial ticket. You’ve got to protect yourself. Also, for at least 20 years Clark has advised travelers to rent from an off airport rental site to save money. Many airport rentals come with massive junk fees. Because many people have been avoiding airport rentals, cities are fighting back by imposing nuisance fees and requiring affidavits. If you pick up a non-airport rental in a metro with an out-of-state license you must sign an affidavit stating you did not fly in the last 12-24 hours. Clark’s nomad brother rented a car this way for one day, then turned it in for a longer term rental having satisfied the time limit – to save big money. It’s work, but you have to know how the car rental game is played to avoid getting burned.

Previous Clark Rage: In order to maintain an Apple controlled monopoly, Apple had been refusing to supply parts to independent repair shops. This lead to legal action and resolution. Apple is now selling parts and allowing access to manuals to independent repair shops. This will give users more choice and competitive pricing, and ease the repair backlog. Instead of industries operating closed shops, the free market should rule.   

Clark has been accused of being unrealistically optimistic. He’s OK with that. The National Academy of Sciences Journal published a Boston U School of Medicine study finding tremendous benefit for inherent optimists. Men and women innate optimists have around 15% more longevity, accounting for other factors. Optimism was found to be about 25% genetic. That means 75% is in our control. Optimistic women are 50% more likely to see 85 or older. Optimistic men are 70% more likely to see 85+.  The study found that positive people recover from illness, injury or surgery sooner and are generally healthier.   

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The World Health Organization has declared excessive gaming a psychological disorder.  A MarketWatch survey reveals the number of people spending an hour or more a day playing video games increased 20% over the last year. Many believe they’ll go pro and earn a living and become reclusive and obsessive in the endeavor, gaming constantly. For parents, it’s a tug of war you want your kid to win, so game time should be strictly limited.  Who knew the pro athlete mentality would translate into gaming.  The winner of a Fortnight competition won $3M, reinforcing others to abandon all else for gaming. But, for athletes and gamers, almost no one makes the cut as a pro and those who do have a short career.   

Clark answers his critics on Clark Stinks. 

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Beware of annuity sales. Annuity sales subsided when fiduciary rules were in place – rules that have now been pushed aside, causing new sales to skyrocket. Insurance companies and banks push these because they have humongous fees and commissions. These contracts allow the insurance companies to change the terms at any time and the tax treatment is generally not favorable. When you’re getting a vague investment pitch ASK if it’s an annuity. If so, walk away.

File an insurance claim, and the next thing you know police are accusing you of a criminal act. It’s happened. When shopping insurance, make sure the company is solid. Clark routinely recommends choosing insurance  companies that get the highest ratings. Cost is secondary in this area. A Buzzfeed investigation reveals some insurers investigating big claims, will direct law enforcement against the insured. Clark had a co-worker who had just moved, suffered a fire, and was accused of torching his own house. Insurers working with police to start a criminal investigation to delay or deny a claim – this is hopefully rare but raises the stakes on how important it is to be with a company that rates high in serving customers. Don’t just go with the cheapest insurance company.  

The Cash app has now eclipsed Venmo as the top app for sending money to family and friends – special emphasis on family and friends only. These apps operate efficiently, making it easy to send money. When shopping online, particularly with sites like Craigslist, eBay etc – if the seller requests payment by one of these apps, consider that a red flag for a con. They vanish and your money is gone. ONLY use apps to pay someone you know because once you pay, the money is gone. Zelle is being pushed by banks but does not have any meaningful consumer protections compared to Cash app and Venmo. 

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Clark’s family uses the Life360 app, allowing everyone to know each other’s location. Teens use such apps, including Apple’s Find My Friends, Google Maps location share & Snapchat –  to keep up with friends. What are these apps doing with the info? What are you permitting them to do? You can choose to wipe history clean. With any of these free services, the apps can make money with the info we’re sharing. Location sharing can be very loaded and problematic in relationships and you should consider this before signing up. Also, know that teens can get around some of these location services, so you need to use it with their cooperation.

The scam calls keep coming. Major cell phone carriers are starting to validate traffic with each other, but there are still many fake calls coming in. Follow this simple rule: Only answer the phone when you recognize the person calling. If caller ID says it’s a business or government agency, only answer if you’re expecting the call. Otherwise let it go to voicemail and you can call back if it’s legit. Don’t trust Caller ID. It’s past broken

There are moves around the country to grow food in warehouse environments. Advantages: Climate control, water conservation, no pesticides for easier organic certification. The WSJ reports a company building a 60 acre greenhouse, offering exponentially more productive than farmland – 50x over the output of traditional agriculture over the same acreage. Other countries are further along in this pursuit. Controlled agriculture lowers risks from the elements and allows us to increase our domestic food supply.

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We face many challenges with how to use technology for security. There’s a race to develop screening tech to quickly assess facial images and determine threat levels. AI systems are being developed along these lines, including one called the Avatar (Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real time), a system using AI techniques to assess threat levels, funded in part by the federal government. The subject answers questions on camera during the assessment. The developers claim only 80% accuracy.     
       
A cold call lab test scam is costing people their identities and money.  Kaiser Health News reports on an ongoing scam operating around the U.S. wherein senior citizens are contacted and told they’re due for Medicare directed testing. Contacted by criminals receiving kickbacks, by phone, in person or on social media, the senior may even be driven to undergo genetic testing that Medicare is then grossly over-billed for.  Make sure your loved ones know not to agree to any test unless ordered directly by their doctor.     

Save more, Spend less- Team Clark lives this. Team member Chelsea helped her Dad, a small business owner, save over $3,000 a year by cutting 3 monthly bills one Sunday afternoon. The task took 2 hours. Chelsea knew how he could save on cable, internet and cell phone. 

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Government attempts to rein in prescription drug prices haven’t worked. We have the most expensive med prices on the planet. And the way we get and pay for meds is changing. Some doctors have dispensing machines for routine meds in their offices. GoodRx is a force for negotiating lower prices and comparison shopping. The next wave may be online sellers. Amazon has bought into the industry – not a big play yet. But there will be incentives with employer plans to fill prescriptions with online providers. The key to lowering costs is being prepared at your doctor appointments to proactively ask for cheaper Rx alternatives. Have the $4 list from walmart.com. And employ GoodRx and other discounters – while in the office, before you have to go pick up a medication. 

MarketWatch reported on a couple reaching out for financial guidance, unable to make ends meet on $500,000 a year. They could easily live AND be saving huge, but their expenses are crazy. Beware what economists call ‘the marginal propensity to consume’ – As income goes up, so go people’s expenses. Control impulses and wants or you could end up in a financial hole no matter how much you make. 

Safety deposit boxes were not safe at all. New bank terms of service have removed their liability for theft or any other circumstance. The NYT reports how banks have washed their hands of this and regulators do nothing about the disappearances. The situation is so bad, if you have items of value, have your own fire safe box in your home.  

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