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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.

Clark comes from an immigrant family. All 4 of his grandparents were born overseas. From the time they became citizens, serving in the military became part of the Howard family culture. Clark’s had the privilege of speaking at 3 Veterans Day events over the last 3 days. All gratitude to the brave people who have served our nation. The all-volunteer military structure today means only a small portion of the American people serve and are called upon time and time again to redeploy. We ask so much of so few to serve so many. Most members of Congress have never served and are clueless about military service. We’ve lost an understanding of each other in the U.S. because of this schism. On this Veteran’s Day, Clark expresses his belief that it would be an enormous benefit to America if we had 2 years compulsory public service. Young adults would work for nonprofits, charities or serve in the military, to work for the common good of all. This gives us the shared purpose we need to get back. People have become tribally divisive in America. We need to return to the core principle of America – an incredible republic offering religious and democratic freedoms and economic opportunity. We have a phenomenal country. Take a moment this Veterans Day to think about the freedoms we enjoy, that our veterans have served to protect. Hating those we disagree with makes us weak, narrow-minded and diminishes our world status as a beacon of hope.

We’re approaching a year since Boeing 737 Max aircraft have been grounded after the 2 tragic crashes. A disturbing cultural problem at the root of Boeing emerges. Leaked information indicates Boeing is attempting legal maneuvers to reduce their financial risk and legal liability to the grieving families of those killed in Boeing crashes due to the company’s gross negligence. Boeing may have known as early as 2015 of design safety concerns, did nothing, covered up defective devices, and now they’re trying to shirk liability. When asked if he was aware of the liability avoidance, the Boeing CEO denied knowledge. Others dispute that. Either way, the CEO needs to go. This company seems to have no focus on safety.

We are right at 500 different series being produced in the U.S. That’s up from 80 in 2014. There’s never been a time in the history of video with so much compelling content. This has created a battle for market share. Disney is launching its new streaming service tomorrow. Apple is in early stages. Netflix remains the behemoth and Comcast is launching Peacock. AT&T is launching HBO products in addition to their traditional streaming service. See our guide, continually updated. We’ll see more change in this area in the next 2 – 3 yeas than has existed since TV began, around 1953. Fast forward to 500 series available on demand, and they’re subsidizing us, while losing money for various reasons. Amazon’s losing on Prime instant video. Google’s is losing on YouTube TV trying to become dominant. Hulu is offering both on demand and live streaming – Yes it gets confusing. Be wary of signing up for programming packages with AT&T. In financial trouble, they have a tendency to raise prices without notice.

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A new study shows that the effects of screen time on small children could be physically changing their brains. The study which was published in JAMA reports a decline in “white matter integrity” of 3-5 year olds because of time spent using screens.

Christa reads listener posts about how Clark has missed the mark in his advice this week. If you have a “Clark Stinks” to share you can leave it here.

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The FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement was a hot topic last year. People set early retirement goals and modified lifestyle dramatically to make it happen. Now we can add the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) movement, giving people the freedom to work when and where they want. Many employers can’t handle this. But if you do task oriented work with measurable results, this can be liberating. For example, radiology is performed around the clock, so practices can hire radiologists across the globe in different time zones. An Australian radiologist can be on duty there for overnight needs here. The downside: Out of sight out of mind. Off location workers can be thought of differently and are unlikely to be promoted. But depending on the job and the employer, this can be a win-win.

A follow-up on the discovery 5 years ago that AT&T was not honoring its claim of unlimited data. It took 5 full years for AT&T to be held to account for pennies on the dollar. AT&T has reached a deal with the FTC to pay restitution to the customers they lied to – a measly $60M for the 3.5 million affected. If you’re still with AT&T, you’ll get a mysterious credit on your bill one month. If you’re no longer a customer, they’ll send you a check. It’s real. It’s your money. But they shouldn’t have lied in the first place.

So many are weighed down by student loan debt. Many questions are coming in about refinancing – a confusing area. First, know what kind of loans you have, how many and what rates you’re paying on each loan. Knowing the difference between federal and private loans is key. If you refi a federal student loan into a private loan, you lose all the borrower protections built into federal loans. Rules: If you find a deal to refi private loans into a new fixed rate loan, that’s probably a food idea. With federal loans, only refi if you can reduce the interest rate by 2 points or more, and have a secure, solid income. Then it may be worth it to give up the borrower protections. See the briefing at Clark.com, which includes who is best to shop for student loan refinance.

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Roughly 20% of American adults have no credit file at all. There’s not enough data to establish credit risk. Around 25% of American adults have low credit scores. That’s 45% total. Lenders use different strategies to figure out who among them are worth taking a chance on. Data is more sophisticated today than traditional credit reporting. The Pedal Card uses proprietary criteria to issue credit cards to those with no/low credit. Last decade credit reporting and scores proved to be an inaccurate predictor of who would default or foreclose after the great recession. Many people with high scores defaulted on multiple debts at that difficult time. Experian is using a new score called “Lift” experimentally with a dozen lenders. The WSJ reports that Lift takes rent payments into account, and also – state issued professional licenses. More organizations are looking for different, non-traditional ways to decide who is credit worthy.

The college student entrepreneur who worked importing Krispy Kreme donuts from Iowa to Minnesota was the topic of yesterday’s Clark Rage because Krispy Kreme shut him down, siting liability concerns. It appears media coverage made a difference here, and young Jason has been allowed to resume as an independent operator, gifted 500 boxes by the company to help him in his new sanctioned role. Jason can continue to work his way through college, bringing donut happiness to Minnesota.

Recent reports point out how much we’re spending on subscription services. These charges hit automatically month after month, often with auto renewal. Until you get around to stopping them, the money keeps coming out of accounts. Subscriptions come in many forms. There’s even one for toothbrushes. Every 90 days with the change of season could be a marker to change your toothbrush. Clark despises subscriptions. Most of us forget what we’ve signed up for. When’s the last time you went to your gym your paying to be a member of? Video, razors, clothing all come via subscriptions now. Sit down with your statements and figure out what you’re being billed monthly for. If you’re not using the service, can it. When you call or try to cancel online, be sure to watch your next statement to make sure you’re truly canceled. 

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Clark recommends a minimum ownership cycle of 7 years for houses and 10 years for condos. There’s enormous expense involved in both buying and selling a home – 10% in and 10% out. In addition to expenses in and out, condo values are more unstable than home values. So owning for a decade is best for your wallet. Historically, 7 years has been the typical amount of time people stay in a home. But according to Redfin, the ownership cycle now averages 13 years. People are choosing to stay longer and there are less job transfers. The untold story: The longer you stay in a home, the more profitable that home becomes because you’re not paying in and out costs. If your neighborhood is in decline, that’s a good reason to move. But as people stay longer and improve their homes, neighborhoods generally become more stable.

Minnesota college student Jason Gonzales defrayed school costs by driving 2+ hours to the closest Krispy Kreme in Iowa, buying in bulk and bringing them back to Minnesota to resell. It’s not a crime to bootleg donuts. He received no bulk discount, and sold by the dozen in the original boxes. Jason made a markup importing and selling the donuts, not available in Minnesota. After a story was published about this young entrepreneur, Jason got shut down by Krispy Kreme because he was “creating a liability” for them. What about all the charities that buy in bulk and sell by the box? Better to appreciate Jason for keeping the love for Krispy Kreme alive in a place that doesn’t have them!

For the last 7 years, Clark has had the privilege of driving a Tesla. The model 3 is one of the best selling vehicles in the U.S. now. The car is like a rolling computer. Tesla is always connected to the internet through cellular and home Wi-Fi, and sends regular software updates. You simply download updates as they come. Via these updates, Clark has seen the self-driving capabilities steadily improve to now extraordinary performance levels. This has been the envy of the automobile industry. Ford is now adopting this update capability starting in 2020. The vehicle that comes off the assembly line will evolve with updates. This is a game changer all automakers will likely adopt.

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ID theft criminals are entering post offices with fake IDs and doing address changes. The USPS gets 37 million address changes each year. An unwitting pawn in ID theft, they say working to prevent false address changes, but determined criminals can get this done. If your mails suddenly stops coming, it’s 5 alarm fire drill time for your finances. Immediately freeze your credit with Equifax, Transunion and Experian. That prevents the crooks from applying from new credit as if they’re you. Meanwhile they get your existing account statements and can engage in account takeover fraud, and buy things as if they’re you. Watch account activity closely. Think through which bills you should be receiving and contact creditors. Go to the post office and make corrections. The faster you do this, the more you limit potential damage.  

The FDA had information months ago concerning an E.coli outbreak in romaine lettuce that sickened people in a dozen states in July, August and September. The FDA kept this secret to protect farmers, because when this happened prior and the info was published, it devastated the farmers. The FDA and CDC were finally able to verify the source in October but still did not disclose until now for unknown reasons. This is NOT OK. We need to have confidence in the watchdogs for our nation’s food supply. Recently there’s been another outbreak of salmonella in 6 states involving ground beef that HAS been announced. We need confidence in our food supply and know there will be quick action when issues arise.

At an Airbnb CA property last week, 5 were killed and several injured in a shooting at a Halloween party. Airbnb has been under a cloud concerning party house rentals. Individuals will troll listings, rent a house for 1 or 2 nights, and advertise a party on social media with paid entry. Party house rackets have been a problem in many cities, with Airbnb noncommittal on the subject. But now that fatalities have occurred, Airbnb says they will ban party houses. How we don’t know. Airbnb is going through an awkward adolescence, having trouble handling its growth. Vice.com discovered crooked landlords, listing places on Airbnb that are either non-existent or owned by someone else. On arrival day the hapless renter gets notified of some terrible problem and is diverted to what’s in fact the real, far inferior rental to the bogus one advertised. This is happening in cities around the country. Airbnb does not stand behind the renters getting scammed this way. Airbnb needs to protect its platform. If people cannot trust that they’ll be treated honestly, the platform will lose validity in the marketplace. Operators need to beef up their investigative force and customer service operations to deal with problems as they happen and to weed out the crooks. 5 people are dead. Airbnb offers potentially great environments, they’ve got to make it work better. If you’re a renter, be cautious and read reviews thoroughly.

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ClarkDeals has created a new poll that reveals some of the Holiday consumer shopping trends. Clark discusses the findings and how you should approach Holiday shopping in order to save the most money.

Christa reads listener posts about how Clark has missed the mark in his advice this week. If you have a “Clark Stinks” to share you can leave it here.

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Clark talks about the best places to open an HSA. Some providers do a better job for people attempting to save money in their HSA while other providers do a better job helping people invest well inside of their HSA. Two of the best overall providers are Fidelity and Lively.

A new TX law allows sky high fees inside of teacher 403b plans. This is Clarkrageous and will have a major impact on the overall amount that teachers will have saved in retirement.

Most people taking out student loans will be paying on them for close to 20 years. Clark has recommendations for paying off your student loans more quickly and how to avoid student loan regret.

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