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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.

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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Congress just passed the SECURE Act which modifies how retirement plans work. The RMD – required minimum distribution has changed the age requirement from 70.5 to 72. Also, small employers can now ban together to offer low cost 401k plans to employees. This capacity will gradually emerge over the next year, putting small employers on a more equal footing with large companies in their ability to offer retirement plans. Also, excluding part-timers from participating in 401k plans will be outlawed. Starting next year, employers will have to make 401ks available to part-timers. And employers will have more power to automatically enroll workers. Generally, Americans allow spending to rise to income levels and beyond. Mandatory enrollment will be more prevalent, with options for workers to modify contributions. Since Social Security alone is not adequate income and many will be physically unable to work their entire old age, these new rules facilitating increased retirement planning are a benefit to society.

Technically the new decade starts Jan. 1, 2021, but we’re in the 20s – a new beginning. We commonly write 2 digits each for month, day and year. But now that it’s 2020, there are warnings to write the year in all 4 digits. On any document – contracts, leases, checks etc., if you only put down /20 – anyone can easily backdate it by adding 2 numbers. Write out all 4 digits for the year. Get in the habit to prevent hazard.

This January and February will be the biggest post-holiday clearance months we’ve seen – and 2020 the biggest clearance year yet overall. That’s unusual in a strong economy, but this year broke pattern. Retailers are in shock over the unprecedented number of returns. Many of the items coming back have no value for theretailer. As a result, clearance sales are the real deal, especially on apparel. It’s a double whammy for clothing retailers as spring items are already on the shelves and online. Now comes overwhelming winter returns. Mark downs are off the charts. This was the first Christmas season that a big percentage of clothing was bought online, creating return rates stunning to everyone in retail. The FT reports that online purchases are being returned at 3 times the rate of in-store purchases. Retailers are forced to rent trailers and warehouse space to house the returns, overwhelming staff. Hence it will take longer to get the goods back out for sale, driving down values even more. So THIS year, we’ll continue to see clearance sales into February with significant markdowns. Next holiday season will have to be different because retailers can’t deal. Wide return rights have boomeranged on retailers into a tsunami of returns. All to the point that phenomenal bargains can be had for the next several weeks.

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Edmunds.com research covering the first 9 months of last year finds that 1 in 3 who traded in a car at a dealership were upside down on the trade-in car. They owed more than the trade-in was worth, averaging $5K. They rolled that debt into a new deal, and leave even more upside down on a different car. This is a disaster. A year ago a dealership F&I man – head of financing & insurance – angrily approached Clark, accusing him of killing business. He’d run into customers who’d gotten Clark’s message not to roll negative equity into a new purchase. If you’re tired of your car, have it cleaned & detailed. Learn to love it again, pay it off, own it free and clear and drive it debt free. Don’t trap yourself by rolling old debt into new debt. This has lead to more repossessions. It doesn’t end well.

Edward Jones is knocking on doors to sell investments. A new trend is a real danger zone for our senior citizens. A Clark staffer’s 97 year-old Mom was solicited at her door by someone trying to sell investments. Commissioned sales people are hitting neighborhood streets. Morningstar writer Christine Benz reports on finding her intellectually disabled sister being solicited at their home. The elderly are targeted. This is NOT a safe way to buy investments. Make sure the seniors in your life know not to answer the door on this! 

Clark first talked about Lemonade insurance over a year ago when it was an experiment in one state. Time for an update. Lemonade is a coop for homeowners and renters insurance. That’s all they sell. When you file a claim, it’s not an adversarial process. They use automated claims processing. About 1/3rd of claims are simple enough for automated approval in under a minute! That’s different! So far we’ve had no complaints. Lemonade is now available in roughly half the nation’s states. Find out if your state is included at Lemonade.com. Pay potentially lower premiums and not to be treated like a criminal when you make a claim.

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The CDC reports a massive decline in the smoking, down to 13% of the adult population. The same week, a dramatic decline in lung cancer was reported recently. And more people are living 5 years+ after diagnosis. In addition, the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that if you run, even just once a week, you reduce the risk of early death from any cause by 27%, from heart disease by 30%, from cancer by 25%. Lifestyle changes make a big difference. Running twice or more a week doesn’t dramatically increase the benefit! So get your weekly run on to dramatically improve your health and lifespan. 

After housing, transportation is our biggest expense. So it’s important to choose the most reliable vehicle. The vehicle market is way overstocked. Carmakers are suffering sluggish sales and bloated inventory. There are deals all over. But, it’s not a deal if the car isn’t reliable. Consumer Reports does a deep dive for their annual automobile reliability survey. Again, LEXUS emerges as the most reliable vehicle, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Porsche, Hyundai’s Genesis, Hyundai, Subaru, Dodge, KIA, Mini, Nissan & Honda. There are specific models listed within these makes. Lexus, Toyota and Mazda have 3 out of 10 each, Hyundai has the last 5. Consider reliability when buying a vehicle.

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2 months ago Clark shared a Bankrate survey finding ATM charges have hit an all time high. Banks are looking for every possible way to take advantage of account holders, charging $4.75 on average for ATM use. You have alternatives. Discount broker Charles Schwab offers banking services, a pioneer in 0 fee ATMs worldwide + no foreign currency junk fees. Their checking is a straight up clean deal. The online banks offer a wide network of ATMs you can use fee free. Online bank apps can show ATMs near you to help you avoid fees. Online banks have no branch overhead, and pass the savings onto customers. 

Post holiday is prime time for side hustles to get out of Christmas debt. January brings a steady stream of emails and social media posted opportunities to pick up part-time money. Be aware of solicitations for a job as a ‘drop shipper’. Your home address is used as a delivery point. You’re paid commission to resend packages to addresses provided. That’s receiving stolen property to send overseas. Being paid makes you an accessory to a criminal ring moving stolen goods. You could do hard time! These crooks use stolen credit cards to buy merchandise, they send it to you to send further out. That leaves you holding the bag. Also next month, expect to see a push in MLM schemes. Legit multi-level-marketing are all about selling a product or service, NOT about recruiting. If the emphasis is on recruiting, the MLM is likely a pyramid scheme. But even when legit sales are involved, 2/3rds to 3/4ths of participants make 0 net dollars from the effort.

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