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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.

Vehicles are one of the largest purchases in life. To protect your finances, drive your car till the wheels fall off. Certain vehicles stand the test of time.

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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A senior gets a call from someone pretending to be a relative in trouble asking for money. This scam preys on seniors desire to help loved ones, resulting in millions of dollars in losses to seniors every year. Should banks and other financial firms be doing more to protect seniors? Banks are required by law to put through a lawful transaction. Lazarus suggests bank tellers simply ask the person if they’re familiar with the grandparent scam as a brief intervention to hopefully prevent loss. In some states, tellers and bank officers are trained to spot scams and ask questions. This is a reasonable responsibility to expect from banks. Make sure your aging relatives are aware of this scam and verify with relatives. If the caller refuses to let them hang up to do so, that’s a scam red flag.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has published an investigative report on how criminals are targeting retirement accounts. No federal law protects our retirement accounts from hacking but many of the providers do. Still, you can’t count of administrator protections since it’s not law. Monitor your retirement account at least in tandem with quarterly statements, and set up 2 factor authentication. Virtually every 401k provider offers this additional security step. Protect your life savings.

Due to the increase in extreme weather and natural disasters, we’ll see homeowners insurance rate increases. Normally, home and auto insurers go through cycles where they’re either into market share or profit margin. But extreme weather is a third factor upending actuarial assumptions about what losses insurers will see. Insurers also depend on financial industry ratings of their strength. Thus they must maintain certain levels of financial strength, now tested by increasing claims from catastrophic weather. The greatest vulnerability is in coastal regions. Coastal residents will see a reduction in the quality of home insurance available as in less coverage and higher deductibles. Your mortgage may have limitations on the deductible you’re allowed to carry and that may force a change in who insures you. Otherwise your mortgage company will rip you off with ‘force placed insurance’ which cost from 10 to 100 times what regular insurance cost. This is a big profit center for banks. Different insurers are facing different pressures. If you’re hit with a notice of a large rate increase, take it as a signal to shop the market. Coastal dwellers may have a hard time finding robust coverage at an affordable price. Know that behind the scenes, home insurers are facing significant financial pressures. Due to the increased violence and frequency of storms the market must calculate higher risk levels. Be aware and prepared.

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Many younger adults have no expectation of privacy. For others, there’s a clear expectation of privacy. Know when you download an app there’s the risk they’re packaging, selling and reselling your information. Californians now have a clear right to control what info is collected about them and what is done with it. The good news Clark shared last week is that the rest of us can use the California law to our advantage as many sites provide the same privacy rights to all to be in compliance with California and Europe. We’ve received complaints from those who, when they’ve tried to use provisions of the new CA law to delete personal info or see their digital dossiers, have had to provide more personal info including their driver’s license or state issued ID. These sites and apps must verify the identity of someone requesting their file, so ID is necessary. If you want to restrict data out there on you, use provisions of the new law and be ready to prove you’re you.

The National Security Agency found a major flaw in Windows 10 – a very dominant OS. The NSA informed Microsoft who has provided a patch via the latest update. Those who receive auto updates got theirs last night. If you don’t have your computer set up for automatic updates, go to settings, update and security – check for updates, download and install right away. We spoke with 2 IT security experts who confirm this a key update you should be sure to get.

Clark Deals’ Charis joins Clark to discuss her teeth straightening quest. SmileDirectClub has been controversial as the more DIY choice. Invisalign aligns with orthodontists. Now SmileDiretClub will sell both ways – directly and through dental professionals. Charis had braces as a kid but her teeth shifted from not wearing the retainer. Charis consulted a traditional orthodontist and went to a SmileDirect location to price compare, and received basically the same 3D imaging at both places. Invisalign via an orthodontist typically cost $5k+. Charis’s SmileDirect cost: $1895. Charis’s research of other users finds that those with complex concerns can have problems in the absence of regular monitoring by an orthodontist. She had some bumps in the road as well. SmileDirect has spawned Facebook groups for success stories and for bad outcomes . Some are overjoyed, other suffer loose teeth and other problems. Smile Direct is a money saver, but with risks. Charis is seeing good results so far in her 10 month program. So much in medical is moving more to self-service blends with traditional care. If you have pre existing dental issues, doing a self-serve straightening is likely not a good choice. And all users need to strictly comply with their plan for a better chance of success.

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In November Clark reported on the anti-college mindset and provided stats on how much more a person makes over time with any level of post-high school education and training. The numbers were starkly in favor of further education. A counterpoint has emerged from a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The study tracked net worth and found that college for better income wasn’t a given IF there was a large student loan burden. This further makes the case that having to borrow to go to a certain dream college is NOT worth it. Top tier college snobs snipe at others who go to ‘directional college’ (Ga Southern for example). What matters is your education and training without enormous debt upon graduation. The value of a college education remains unassailable. BUT follow Clark’s rule: Graduate with less debt than you’ll earn in your first year on the job. Make the first year’s income in your chosen field the ceiling on what you borrow.

Amazon has changed its business model. They’re more about convenience than price, and starting to get nervous about comparison shoppers realizing they’re not cheap anymore. Many use browser extension Honey to comparison shop, Clark recommended along with CamelCamelCamel. Amazon is so freaked out they’re telling people that Honey is not safe to use and should be uninstalled. That is just not true. Use Honey and CamelCamelCamel to know if a purchase really is a deal or not.

There’s been great interest in peer-to-peer lenders Prospers and Lending Club over the years. Borrowers can submit their loan request and members decide what % they want to finance. Clark wanted to check both out as an investor. 3 years ago Clark put $5K each in Prosper and Lending Club. Instead of picking the individual loans, he used their automated system based on risk level. With Both p2ps, 50% of Clark’s loans were going to very low-risk borrowers – those with great credit scores. The other half went to subprime borrowers presenting varying levels of risk. 3 years later, Clark’s annualized net return is 4.76 and 4.77% – a better return than with savings or CDs but with clear risks. People who don’t pay their notes have to be written off. Many use statistical analysis to invest in higher risk loans of their choice. Clark plays it bland. For borrowers, this is a potentially cheaper option than elsewhere because they cut out the banker in the middle.

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A large percent of publicly traded companies are losing money right now, even in a decade-long strong economy. But we’re moving into a feast / famine cycle of employment and what you know can help you. The general trend now is that big companies are reducing headcount by attrition. They’re not filling open positions. Meanwhile the smaller local and regional companies not involved in international trading – are generally doing well and bidding for workers. Topeka Kansas is offering incentives of up to $15 to get people to move there for work. The WSJ reports companies are offering relocation bonuses to attract new workers – a perk common 15 years ago now returning. Focus on opportunity to find real advantage in the marketplace. We creatures of habit need to look out the window. Because of rotation in the corporate environment, this is a time of big wage disparity. Your skills may be worth more to another company than you’re getting now. Take advantage of education and training, so important to finding the best opportunities. If you feel dead ended, explore further training.

Boeing’s CEO was fired for undermining a culture of safety that ultimately caused two crashes and cost hundreds of lives. He’s getting severance between $62M and $82M for failing. Newly released memos further expose a chaotic culture of eroding safety standards. Internally, many knew the plane was unsafe and some laughed at being able to con the FAA in approving the Max. Failure is rewarded handsomely in the executive suites of big publicly traded corporate America. Hundreds died due to gross negligence by Boeing and the CEO is scoring millions. Why is no one being charged criminally – with manslaughter at least – in this circumstance?

Disputes between local network affiliates and operators about carry provisions and payment are ongoing. It’s a great idea to have an antenna for local channels. If you get a good signal, it may be all you need for NO monthly fee. If you stream content, having an antenna is great as well. AntennaWeb – Antenna Signal Prediction – Antenna Web has updated their site and revised their search tool for local channels and antenna recommendations based on address including topography. If you live in a high-rise facing broadcast towers, any antenna may due. Other residents may need heftier attic antennas, or easy TV boxes. Locast is a non-profit for streaming local channels. Verizon and the cable monsters have all pushed packages. Now, Verizon is dropping contracts. Great news for consumers!

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Since the Truth in Lending Act does not apply to small business, instant loans to small businesses is a major rip off area around the country. There’s no requirement to disclose junk fees or interest rates on these loans. As a small business owner, Clark receives about 10 offers a week. Though there are ethical lenders, there are too many bad players out there taking advantage of small business cash flow needs, charging gigantic interest rates for quick money. If you’re a small business owner, do NOT bite on these loan offers until you know the fees and rates. If you can’t get a straight answer, stay away. While Congress lies about how much they care about small business, they ONLY care about their corporate contributors. Nobody’s looking out for the small business owners, with no laws governing proper disclosure of loan terms. Also, the Supreme Court ruled that states can charge sales tax to small businesses selling across state lines online. For big retailers, that’s no big deal, but for small business, compliance is a nightmare. They need a simplified tax procedure in place governing online sales below a designated threshold. Candidates should come up with real agendas for small business. Big company lobbyists feeding in cash are the only ones heard. When can we get leaders who represent the people of the U.S. in the people’s White House?

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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There’s a heavy wave of discounts this January in addition to historical discount patterns for this time of year. Fitness equipment is a deal now. Buy used and check out Craigslist and Facebook neighborhood groups. CES is pushing the latest high tech TVs. But unsold Christmas TVs are deal right now both online and in-store. Housewares and bedding are a January deal. Toys: there’s a lot of unsold inventory right now – a good time to buy birthday gifts. Winter clothing is more heavily discounted this year. The grounding of the Boeing Max makes January sales less aggressive, but travel deals for spring and early summer are available now.

The IRS reports that only 3 out of every 100 eligible for Free File are using it. Free tax prep and filing is there for anyone who earns $70k or less annually. Many services provide free state tax filing as well. But no one knows. Don’t get sucked into paying.

Many websites and apps are afraid of California, the only state with an online privacy protection law in place. For many companies, real compliance with CA means de facto privacy protection for all 50 states. Microsoft is among this first, with many following. You’re likely seeing new privacy links from sites and apps, allowing you create privacy settings and prevent them from selling off your personal data. Most sites and apps sell off our personal info in various ways all day long. California has designed a system allowing consumers to opt-out of their data being sold. The LA Times reports on how different sites are handling this. Some come with the dire warning that IF you opt-out of the sale of your personal info, they will not be able to offer you personalized ads. OH NO! Actually that’s what you want. This should be the national standard. It’s an abject failure in Washington that this isn’t already national law. California has essentially set a standard affecting the entire country. If you’re creeped out by the microtargeting of you and selling and reselling of your personal info, pay attention to these privacy notices and set the most restrictive measures allowed to protect your privacy as much as possible. Sure seems like Congress doesn’t care about U.S. citizens, when what should be longstanding national policy has to come from one state.

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January bring a LOT of travel deals. Clark talks about how to grab them. If you get internet from cable and there’s an increase, check out what the monopoly phone company charges. Be very wary if you still get legacy cable TV. Those rates are going way up to compensate for cord cutters. While your at it, consider going to streaming to save money. The WSJ has investigated large cable companies and analyzed data filed with the FCC, and found that the cable companies are lying about internet speeds. People aren’t getting what they’re paying for.Because of the structural deficiencies created by monopolies, we pay much higher rates than other developed countries, for less internet service. That gap is about to close. Consumers will FINALLY have real choice at much lower prices. Clark guarantees it!    

For over a year Clark’s been pounding the injustices of public service employees, government workers and teachers getting ripped off in their retirement plans, usually 403bs. A WSJ investigative report reveals teacher and public employee unions are taking huge kickbacks from insurance companies for favoring their plans. The NEA teachers union takes $Millions in kickbacks from the companies providing retirement plans that cost up to 100 times in fees what a low cost Roth IRA or 401k would cost. These unions are selling out their own members. The WSJ reports while the NEA is recommending ultra-expensive 403b plans to teacher members, their own employees are in low cost Vanguard plans. Rise up at your union teachers and force them to stop cheating you on your own retirement future.

VISA has issued a warning about how exposed consumers are at gas stations, which remain inside a 5 year delay for implementing payment processing security rules. The danger is enhanced in the remaining year of non-compliance with current standard payment security measures. A more secure payment phase-in begins this year. In the meantime, criminals have a target on every gas station they can hack and skim. This ongoing problem gets bigger in 2020. If you pay at the pump, know it’s a roulette game with a high chance your card will be compromised. Big danger to debit users. Within minutes, criminals can empty a debit account. Credit cards offer more protections. If you must pay with a debit card, go inside to pay, reducing fraud risk. Another precaution, if app pay is available at the pump, choose that option for enhanced security. Otherwise use a credit card NOT a debit card.

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