February 1, 2022
If a time-traveler from the 19th century landed in your living room, you’d likely have a hard time explaining the way our world works – especially the way we deal with finances. Your visitor can watch as you hold an oblong object in your hands and proceed to order a full summer wardrobe, new bedroom furniture or maybe even airline tickets. Who would have imagined we’d be able to do all that and more or without ever touching a dollar bill, coin or even a credit card?
But the changes to the way we handle our money continue, and the world of finance evolves along with technology in the most incredible ways. Let’s take a look at two major innovations in the world of technology and finance, as well as how they may affect us in the very near future: the metaverse and NFTs.
What is the metaverse?
The term “metaverse” has generated many curious Google searches since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta in October of 2021. In short, the metaverse is a scaled, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced simultaneously by an infinite number of users. In addition, the metaverse has continuity of data, which includes identity, objects, communications and payments. In simple English, the metaverse is an all-immersive digital universe where users can live, connect and even make financial transactions through virtual reality and augmented reality. If you played “Second Life,” you’ve already had a taste of this.
Does the metaverse exist?
While some forms of the metaverse already exist, the full experience that tech giants envision likely won’t be ready for consumer use for another five to 10 years. However small aspects of the metaverse, including ultra-fast broadband speeds, online worlds that are always “on” and virtual reality headsets to bring the user into another world are already quite common across the internet and gaming world.
What are some examples of the metaverse?
Here’s where you can get a feel for what the metaverse is actually about:
Meta. Formerly known as Facebook, the platform’s CEO speaks openly and often about the metaverse and the role Facebook will play in its rollout.
“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied than the internet, where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it, and we call this the metaverse,” Zuckerberg said after the company’s rebranding.
Microsoft. Similarly, the software giant has made no secret about where it believes the future of technology lies. Microsoft is already developing mixed and extended reality applications through its Microsoft Mesh platform, which blends the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Of course, Xbox Live already connects millions of gamers across the globe in a small-scale metaverse.
How will the metaverse affect the world of finance?
Experts envision a world where a consumer can enter a massive virtual shopping mall, purchase a unique digital item and sell that item in a different virtual world, such as on Twitter or eBay. In addition, the expected meteoric rise in popularity of the metaverse creates a unique investment opportunity for the savvy investor.
What are NFTs?
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a kind of crypto asset in which each token has a unique value. This is as opposed to “fungible” assets like Bitcoin and dollar bills, which all have exactly the same value. Because every NFT is unique, they can be used to authenticate ownership of digital assets including artworks, recordings and virtual real estate or pets.
How do NFTs work?
NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, but its blockchain can support NFTs as well. It’s important to note that other blockchains can easily implement their own versions of NFTs.
NFTs can be anything digital, like music, videos or drawings, but digital art has been monopolizing NFT trading since its inception. NFT art collecting is not unlike fine art collecting in the real world: Millions of people can buy a Monet print, but only one person can own the original – and pay for it. Similarly, while anyone can own a copy of a digital piece of art, the original can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or in some cases, even millions. The irony here is that while the owner of an authentic Monet has a genuine piece of art, there is no real difference between owning a copy of a digital artwork and owning the original.
As bizarre as it may sound, NFTs are gaining popularity at record speed. A 50-second video by Grimes sold for $390,000, a tweet by the founder of Twitter sold for just under $3 million, and a video by Beeple sold for $6.6 million.
What’s the purpose of NFTs?
NFTs present a world of financial possibilities for artists and collectors alike.
Digital artists with real talent can earn a pretty penny through NFTs. Instead of posting a creative meme they designed on their Facebook page, digital artists can now try selling their work as an NFT. The good news is the artist will continue enjoying dividends of their work far beyond its sale. Every time the NFT changes hands, the artist gets paid a percentage of the profits. This way, if the work only becomes popular a while after it’s created, the artist can still pocket their share of its ultimate value.
Collectors can use NFTs to purchase unique digital artwork as a financial asset. A work of art always carries with it the possibility of becoming wildly popular and spiking in value. Digital artwork is no exception. In addition, owning an NFT comes with some basic rights, which include being able to post the image online or use it as a profile picture.
The world of finance is constantly evolving as technology races to stay ahead of current trends and futuristic visions. The metaverse and NFTs are just two mediums that can change the way we handle our finances in the near future. Use the primer here to learn all about these technological wonders so you are better prepared to participate in and invest in the future.
January 20, 2022
As the outside temperature falls, we raise the temperature inside, and with it, heating costs go up, too. While peaceful white snowfall may be picturesque, the winter utility bills are not quite as pretty.
If you’ve been to a gas station or store recently, you’ve seen first-hand how the 6.8% inflation rate is affecting prices on just about everything nowadays. The smaller supply along with increased demand for fuel will really hit home as a result.
Almost half of U.S. households use natural gas heat as their primary fuel source, which costs over 25% more than last year, and consumers are projected to spend 30% more than last winter, on average.
The 41% of U.S. households that heat with electricity, which is up 6.5%, are slated to spend 6% more, according to the Winter Fuels Outlook 2021 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The 4% of households that heat mostly with heating oil, or the 5% who use propane, could see even bigger cost hikes, between 43-54%.
While we can’t change the weather or the economy, we can change our habits to be smarter for our budget and more environmentally friendly.
Here are some practical ways to keep more heat inside your home and more money inside your wallet.
- Add rugs to your floors, such as in the bathroom, to help keep rooms insulated. Dress in layers, warm sweaters and socks. Use flannel sheets and more blankets at night to keep your body heat inside.
- Clean or change air filters for heating devices. Debris is unclean for breathing and will keep the warm air from circulating. Move furniture and curtains away from heaters to enable air flow and prevent fire hazards.
- Lower the thermostat by 7-10 degrees when everyone is out for the day. An electronic thermostat usually allows you to set the temperature to automatically increase or decrease as your schedule changes each day. If going away for a few days, do not reduce temps to less than 55 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing.
- Call a professional to inspect your furnace and either clean it or upgrade it. The cost can be well worth the savings in heating. An old and dirty furnace system can work at 60 to 70% efficiency; switching to a newer, high-efficiency system can work at 90 to 98%.
- Contact your utility company for a free home check-up. Costs for service or upgrades can be offset by federal tax credits, and utility rebates are available for many energy-efficient upgrades.
- Check windows for leaks. Detect air leaks by lighting a candle and watching if it blows in a certain direction. Seal windows with caulking or spray-foam insulation, or cover with plastic insulation sheets. Put draft stoppers under doorways.
- Open the shades during sunlight hours to let the sun naturally heat up your space. Close curtains at night to retain your heat and prevent cold night air from entering. Insulated curtains can help to better trap the heat than basic curtains would.
- Use plug-in space heaters to warm up isolated areas instead of turning on entire heating zones if all the space is not in use. Place them in open areas, away from flammable items and children or pets. Close vents in rooms that are not being used to avoid unnecessary output.
- Switch to LED light bulbs. They use about 75 percent less energy and last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Though their initial cost is higher, it pays off in the form of reduced electric bills over time. Unplug devices that are not in use.
- Reduce your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. Many houses or buildings have water heaters set to a burning temperature of 140 degrees. Reducing it to a comfortable 120 degrees is safer for skin and easier on heating costs.
Following a few of these easy-to-implement tips and hacks for saving on heat costs can make a big difference. Put them to good use so you can sit back and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa during this cold winter, content that you are staying warm and also saving money.
December 28, 2021
The holidays may be over, but scammers never take a break. The weeks after the holiday season generally bring an increase in scams that can be difficult to spot. Watch out for these four common post-holiday scams.
Did you know that there are more charity donations made nationwide during the last two days of each December than there are all year? People are a lot more charitable during the holidays or when they are trying to get in more tax deductions for the calendar year. Scammers know this all too well. Unfortunately, they use this opportunity to con do-gooders out of their money through bogus charities, look-alike sites and fraudulent fundraising schemes.
When giving to charity this time of year, be extra cautious. Don’t make a donation without taking some steps to verify if the charity is legitimate. You can look up the organization on CharityNavigator.org, do a quick Google search with the charity name and the word “scam,” and look for a physical address and phone number on the organization’s website. Also, if you have a specific cause you like to give to, contact them personally instead of clicking on an ad that allegedly represents them.
Bargain-priced gifts for sale
The weeks following the holidays bring a rush of scams on resale sites like Craigslist and eBay. Typically, you’ll see a listing of an expensive item priced at a fraction of its real cost with an excuse like, “Got this as a gift and already have it,” to explain the price. Of course, when it’s too good to be true, you’re likely looking at a scam. If you agree to purchase the item, it will probably never arrive in the mail and you won’t see your money again.
Avoid a gift scam by exercising great caution when buying an item on a resale site, especially after the holidays. Ask for the seller’s phone number, street address and for several references to see if they check out. If everything seems to be legit, make arrangements to meet in a well-lit and populated area, preferably one with security-camera coverage. Make the exchange of goods and money after you’ve checked out the legitimacy of the item, using cash only.
Belated holiday e-cards
Late holiday cards are as much a part of the January scene as yards of tangled Christmas lights. However, lots of the e-cards that land in your inbox after the holidays may be the work of scammers. These fake virtual greetings are often loaded with malware that will infect your device if you click on a link embedded in the email.
Don’t assume that every belated holiday e-card you receive is legitimate, even if it appears to be sent from your friend. An authentic e-card will include a confirmation code for you to copy and paste to the associated website. If you receive a late e-card without such a code, do not open it. Delete the email and mark it as spam.
With the pre-holiday frenzy over, retailers are looking for ways to attract customers and increase their sales. In fact, January is famous for sales on a variety of products, including furniture, bed linens and even gym memberships. Unfortunately, though, lots of the advertised sales you may see in the weeks after the holidays are actually scams. The scammers may be working off a bogus site that looks just like one representing a legitimate business, or they may be targeting their victims with emails that advertise “sales,” but are actually carriers of malware.
Before making an online purchase, check the site for signs of authenticity. Look for the “s” after the “http,” and check for the lock icon in the URL. If the site allegedly represents a well-known retailer, check the URL carefully to see if there are any spelling mistakes. Words like “deal” and “sale” should not appear in the URL; if they do, you are likely looking at a scam. Look for the store’s logo on the site, and continue to check the URL of each landing page as you complete your purchase.
If you’ve been targeted by an email from an unfamiliar contact that’s announcing a “sale,” delete it and mark it as spam. Never download an attachment or click on a link in an email from an unverified sender.
Stay alert and stay safe!
July 8, 2021
The Child Tax Credit, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that takes effect in July, is already drawing the attention of scammers. The newly expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) will provide monthly payments of up to $300 per child for approximately 40 million households across the country. Payments will be issued via direct deposit, paper check, or debit cards, providing a plethora of opportunities for scammers to get in on the action.
Here’s what you need to know about Child Tax Credit scams and how to avoid them.
How the scams play out
There are several variations of the Child Tax Credit scam, each ultimately designed to trick parents and guardians out of their rightful CTC funds.
In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information in order to receive their CTC funds. In lieu of pretending to represent the IRS, the scammer may also claim to be in the position of “helping” the victim receive their funds. Unfortunately, in either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions of the contact, they will be playing right into the hands of a scammer.
In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website where they are prompted to input their personal information. This scam is especially common, as the IRS has announced that it will be launching two web-based portals for families who’d like to update their information for the CTC: one for taxpayers who file annual returns and would like to share their banking details or a change in the number of dependents they have in their household, and one for taxpayers whose income level falls below the threshold for filing returns. While the two separate sites will make the application process smoother for the IRS, they also open the door for more bogus sites to spring up and snag unsuspecting victims in their trap.
What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit
As always, knowledge is your best protection against potential scams. Here’s what you need to know about the CTC and the way the IRS operates:
- The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail. The IRS will never call, email, text, or DM you asking you to share sensitive information.
- You do not need to take any action or share personal information to receive the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve filed taxes in 2020, or even in 2019, and you’re eligible to receive the CTC funds, they will arrive via paper check, debit card or direct deposit without any action on your part. You only need to update information on one of the upcoming IRS portals if you’ve had a change in income, the number of dependents in your household or you’d like to share your banking information with the IRS.
- Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.
If you’ve been targeted
As the date of the first advanced CTC approaches, scams are exploding everywhere. If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety by never sharing sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Note that all authentic government sites will end in .gov. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC immediately.
For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov.
The advanced Child Tax Credits will help millions of families struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, but scammers can ruin it all. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!
June 8, 2021
Q: All I’m reading and hearing about in financial news lately is about investing in cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. Should I invest in cryptocurrency?
A: Investing in cryptocurrency is all the rage, but that doesn’t mean it’s the financially responsible choice for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at cryptocurrency, its volatile nature, and explore the question of whether it’s a good idea to invest in what has been hailed by some as the “money of the future.”
What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is digital money people use as investments and for online purchases. The investor exchanges real currency, i.e. dollars, to buy “coins” or “tokens” of a type of cryptocurrency. This digital money can only be used at select retailers and vendors, though that number is constantly growing.
Cryptocurrency is unique because it’s decentralized and is not regulated by any government or institution. Instead, every cryptocurrency transaction is verified through blockchains, a database of complex, unique codes. Cryptocurrency is stored in a digital wallet that can be accessed through a “key” that is another unique code.
What are the most popular cryptocurrencies?
There are approximately 10,000 kinds of cryptocurrencies, but you’ve likely never heard of most of them. Here are the top contenders:
- Bitcoin. The first and most valuable cryptocurrency by far, Bitcoin was created in 2009 by an anonymous person who goes by the code name Satoshi Nakamoto. As of May 24, 2021, one Bitcoin is valued at $37,742, though at its peak in mid-April, it was valued at $63,233.
- Ethereum. The second-most popular cryptocurrency is also mineable, which means it allows its users to use computers to solve complicated math problems to verify when other crypto transactions are complete. Miners are paid in Ether coins.
- Dogecoin. The crypto that started as a joke back in 2013 has been dominating financial headlines since the start of the year, thanks to its incredible YTD gains (6072.52% as of May 24, 2021) and frequent tweets by Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, about its future and current value.
Which retailers accept cryptocurrency as payment?
Most people still regard cryptocurrency as an investment in the future, but there are some major retailers that already accept crypto coins as payment. These include Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Etsy, Expedia, PayPal and more. Of course, cryptocurrency can also be used to pay for goods or services provided by any private vendor that values digital money.
Why is cryptocurrency so volatile?
Cryptocurrency’s decentralization also makes it extremely volatile; with no regulation, demand and supply can drive the price of a cryptocurrency through the roof or plummeting to the ground, practically overnight. Recently, viral tweets by billionaire investors, as well as new regulations by the Chinese government, have been dramatically affecting the cryptocurrency market.
Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy, says that volatility is a good thing. In a recent interview, Saylor told Stansberry Research, “I would much rather have a volatile 300% return than a non-volatile 15% return.”
Saylor explains further: “It’s like a Jedi-mind trick to convince you that you should be afraid of volatility. If volatility is going to return 200% pre-tax a year for 12 years, or for 10 years — and you’re afraid of it — you lost 99.5% of your wealth because you’re afraid of volatility.”
To put this into monetary terms, Bitcoin has increased by 612% from May 2020 to May 2021. A $1,000 investment held for just 12 months would be worth $7,100 if sold in early May 2021. A $1,000 investment made 10 years ago (when each Bitcoin sold for just $3.50) would have bought 285 full Bitcoins, and would have become a whopping $18 million (and then some) if sold at Bitcoin’s peak in mid-April.
Similarly, Dogecoin sold at less than half a cent per share at the end of 2020; a $1,000 investment made in December 2020 and sold at Dogecoin’s peak of $0.69 in the beginning of May, would have netted you $121,052, or a gain of more than 12,000% in just five months. Numbers like these make investors want to get in on the action!
Why did cryptocurrency perform so well this year?
Although the crypto market has recently dipped, the YTD gains are still remarkably high for the following reasons:
- The lockdowns of COVID-19 provided investors with time to consider alternative investments, stimulus checks that couldn’t be spent at their favorite retailers and a stock market that showed positive signs after its initial coronavirus crash.
- Large corporations, including Tesla, Square, Twitter and MicroStrategy, as well as several billionaires, have shown public interest in cryptocurrencies.
- More companies, including PayPal, now accept Bitcoin as a method of payment.
Why you may not want to invest in cryptocurrency
Before you pour your life savings into Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or any of the thousands of cryptocurrencies, consider these factors:
- Cryptocurrency is inherently unstable. Cryptocurrency has bought major returns for investors over the past year, but it has recently performed bearishly, showing only small pockets of growth over several weeks.
- Cryptocurrency is still a big unknown. Though it recently passed its 12th birthday, the crypto market still holds many mysteries. No one even knows who founded Bitcoin!
- Cryptocurrency is often targeted by scams. The FTC warns that crypto’s decentralization means the U.S. government has no obligation to step in and help victims of crypto fraud.
Reasons to consider investing in cryptocurrency
With all the risks involved, you may still want to consider investing in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or another digital currency. Here are some reasons that may be driving your decision:
- Cryptocurrency provides investors’ portfolios with diversification. A small percentage of your total investments going toward cryptocurrency can be a good idea.
- Cryptocurrency has the potential for outstanding long-term performance. The cryptocurrency market has performed incredibly well over the past decade, which makes investors confident that similar gains will be enjoyed by those who put their money in Bitcoin and other digital currencies over the next decade as well.
- If you do decide to invest in cryptocurrencies, it’s best not to touch your 401(k) or other long-term saving funds. Invest with caution and only invest what you can afford to lose. It’s also a good idea to wait for one of the frequent dips in the market so you can buy your crypto when they’re at a relatively low price. You can invest through a brokerage platform that sells cryptocurrencies like Robinhood, Coinbase or Binance.
Investing in cryptocurrencies is trending, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. Consider every factor outlined here carefully, and make an informed decision before putting your money into the digital market.
April 27, 2021
Prices on both new and used cars have soared since the beginning of 2020, and experts aren’t expecting them to fall anytime soon. Here’s what you need to know about the current auto loan market and how to navigate it successfully.
Why are auto prices so high?
When the pandemic hit American shores, demand for new and used cars shot up. This was the result of many avoiding public transportation for safety reasons. The mass exodus from big cities and their high rates of infection also boosted the demand for new cars.
At the same time, supply of new and used cars dried up, thanks to the following:
The pandemic halted production of new vehicles for a bit, drying up sales and their subsequent trade-ins.
The production freeze prompted a freeze in the manufacturing of chips for automobiles and auto parts.
Business and leisure travel paused for months, leading to a steep decline in car-renting travelers. This led to rental agencies holding onto more of their cars instead of selling them to used car dealerships.
The rise in demand and shortage of supply naturally triggered a steep increase in prices of both new and used vehicles.
Rethink your auto purchase
If you’re in the market for a new car and the price tags are scaring you, consider holding onto your car for a little longer until the market stabilizes. Make your vehicle last longer with these tips:
Use a trickle charger to keep the battery in excellent condition.
Change your filters regularly.
Follow the service schedule.
Keep all fluid levels high.
Avoid sudden braking.
Replace spark plugs when they begin showing signs of wear or melting.
Check your tires regularly and rotate and inflate them as needed.
Pay attention to all warning lights.
Have your car rust-proofed.
Tips for buying a car in today’s market
If you’ve decided to go ahead and buy a car, it’s best to adjust your expectations before starting.
First, a seller’s market means many dealerships will not be as eager to close a deal as they had been. This can mean unwillingness to budge on a price, or a refusal to even negotiate.
Second, expect to pay much more than usual for your new set of wheels. If you’re looking for a new car, plan to pay about $40,000. A used car can run you $23,000. You’ll also have slimmer pickings when making your choice than you may have had in the past.
Follow the tips outlined above to navigate today’s car market successfully.
March 25, 2021
March 30 is National Virtual Vacation Day, and the past year has taught all of us that almost anything can be done virtually. You can attend a crucial client meeting, your best friend’s wedding and even take a college course over the screen — and you can even take a dream vacation!
Whether you’re stuck in quarantine, you just feel safer at home, or you want to save a buck on travel costs, here are 10 tips and trip ideas for celebrating National Virtual Vacation Day.
1. Set the scene
Wherever you decide to “go,” you can immerse yourself in the experience by setting the scene. Choose a spot in your home that is separate from your work and sleep areas. Then, try to recreate the setting you’d have if you’d actually taken a trip to your chosen destination. For example, if you’ll be virtually traveling to a rainforest, you can play soundtracks of real animal calls you’d hear in that setting. Are you going camping? Kill the lights and turn on the fireplace to get that campy outdoorsy feel. To go all out, recreate the aromas and tastes you’d encounter on your trip by whipping up a dish you’d find at your destination.
2. Grab a friend
It’s always more fun to travel with company. Share the experience with a friend by jumping on a video call together as you set out on your trip. You’ll compare your impressions as you travel and share the sights and sounds for the ultimate adventure.
3. Dress the part
We’ve all had the opportunity to master the “Zoom look” this year — yes, the one with the business-suit top paired with sweatpants and fuzzy slippers. But just because your trip is taking place in your living room, it doesn’t mean you need to dress like you’re binge-watching your favorite series on Netflix. Dress up as if you were actually traveling to your virtual destination, sunglasses included. It’ll make the experience feel a lot more authentic.
4. Scuba dive in Palau
Have you always dreamed of exploring the wonderful world beneath the sea? Now you can — without dropping a boatload of money on scuba gear. Check out this tour on YouTube for a fantastic 360-degree virtual scuba-diving experience in the clear waters of Palau.
5. Tour the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
Go on safari without getting jet lag! This 360-degree tour will help you get up close with the wildebeest, gorillas and other animals native to the African plains.
6. Explore the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska
If winter wonderlands are more your thing, you can hop on over to Alaska for a virtual tour of beautiful ice caps, enormous glaciers and frozen vistas you don’t see back home. Don’t forget your parka!
7. Across Europe in a Day
It’s time to take that jaunt through Europe you’ve always dreamed of taking! Here are some great virtual hotspots to visit while you travel through the continent:
- London Enjoy a guided tour through the city’s most famous landmarks.
- Windsor Castle Whether you closely follow the royals or you’re just mildly curious to see how they live, you’ll enjoy this virtual tour of this royal home and fortress.
- Milan This fascinating tour will take you through the metropolitan city of Milan and its most celebrated buildings and art exhibits.
- Spain Explore this beautiful country through these nine virtual tours.
- The Louvre Don’t forget to leave time for the famous Louvre museum in Paris.
8. The show must go on
If you love being entertained, you may want to include one of these venues in your virtual vacation:
- Broadway BroadwayHD offers a seven-day free trial and front-row seat to plays like Macbeth and Swan Lake.
- Detroit Symphony Orchestra The DSO offers viewers a wide range of options categorized by orchestral style (baroque, classical, romantic), women composers and composers listed in alphabetical order.
- The Metropolitan Opera The Met is offering free encore presentations from the company’s Live in HD series. Each performance is available for viewing for 23 hours.
9. An out-of-this-world adventure
If you’ve had enough of the wonders on planet Earth, check out what Mars has to offer on this mind-blowing virtual tour.
10. Transition gently
When you travel for vacation, the time you spend flying or driving back home serves as a gentle transition from vacation to your home life. If you’ll be vacationing virtually, you’ll need to actively create that in-between time for yourself to avoid a bumpy return. When your getaway is over, take a few minutes to relax, mentally review the sights and sounds you enjoyed and exhale slowly before getting back to your everyday routine.
It’s Virtual Vacation Day! We’ve got tips and trip ideas for you to enjoy the vacation of a lifetime — from the comfort of your living room.
March 12, 2021
On March 6, the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The coronavirus relief bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which must approve the Senate’s changes, before the president can sign it into law. The bill promises further financial relief and assistance to millions of Americans who may still be struggling with the financial devastation of COVID-19.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the most significant measures included in the bill:
The third round of stimulus checks are set at $1,400 for all eligible recipients. Here’s who is getting checks:
- Single taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or below.
- Taxpayers filing as heads of household with AGIs of $112,500 or below.
- Married couples filing jointly with AGIs of $150,000 or below.
Parents will also be getting checks for every child they claim as a dependent on their tax return. This includes college students and adult children with disabilities.
Older relatives living together with taxpayers will also be counted as dependents; the payment will go toward the taxpayer and not toward the dependent adult.
Higher earners will receive partial payments, but these will phase out quickly. For single filers, the amount decreases to zero at an AGI of $80,000. For heads of household, the checks stop at AGIs of $120,000, and for joint filers, the cutoff is $160,000.
Eligibility will be based on the taxpayer’s income during the year of their most recently filed taxes: 2019, or 2020. To be eligible for a payment, an individual must have a Social Security number.
As during the last two rounds of stimulus payments, information on the status of individual checks can be found through the IRS’s Get My Payment tool.
Also like the prior rounds, payments issued through direct deposit will be distributed first. You can still share your account information with the IRS here.
Changes to unemployment insurance
The relief bill will extend unemployment benefits for another 25 weeks, until Sept. 6. The weekly supplemental benefit of $300 will continue running through that date as well.
The new legislation will also make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free for people with an income of less than $150,000. This only applies to unemployment paid in 2020.
In addition, unemployment benefits received through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers self-employed, gig workers, part-timers and others who are usually ineligible for regular unemployment benefits, will now be available for a total of 79 weeks and run through Sept. 6.
Finally, benefits received through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
(PUAC) program would also run through Sept. 6.
Under the relief bill, buying insurance through the government program, COBRA, will be a lot more affordable. Usually, the insured must pay a minimum of 102 percent of the premium of insurance secured through COBRA; however, the government will pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30.
Changes to the child and dependent care tax credit
The bill will expand the child and dependent-care tax credit significantly, but only for one year. The credit, which helps families offset the cost of caring for children under age 13 and other dependents, will now be fully refundable and worth up to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more. The credit is calculated by taking up to 50 percent of the value of eligible expenses, up to certain limits and depending on your income. The credit is currently worth between 20 and 35 percent of eligible expenses, with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals.
The bill would also increase the income level at which the credit begins to be reduced from the current AGI limit of $15,000 to an AGI of $125,000.
Changes to the child tax credit
Another significant component of the relief bill is the expansion of the child tax credit. The credit is currently worth up to $2,000 per eligible child. That credit will now increase to $3,000 for children ages 6 through 17, and to $3,600 for children ages 5 and under. Also, the credit will now be fully refundable.
In addition, the bill changes the way these funds will be distributed: Half of the child tax credit may be advanced to parents before the end of 2021. Plans for the distribution are still being finalized, but lawmakers are hopeful that parents will begin receiving monthly payments toward their child tax credits for 2021 as early as July.
The bill will also change eligibility requirements for child tax credits. Payments will be based on 2019 or 2020 tax information. Married couples with a modified AGI of up to $150,000 for the relevant year (or up to $112,500 for heads of household and up to $75,000 for single filers) would receive the full value of the new benefit. After that, the beefed-up benefits would be reduced by $50 for each additional $1,000 in modified AGI.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling with their housing costs and are under risk of being evicted from their homes.
Approximately $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance; the majority of these funds will be used to replenish the Coronavirus Relief Fund. In addition, the bill would provide nearly $10 billion to help homeowners who are struggling with mortgage payments, utility bills and other housing costs. Approximately $100 million would be dedicated to housing counseling and another $5 billion would be designated to help the homeless.
Changes to student loans
Under the new law, there would be no income tax on forgiven debt for those qualifying for loan forgiveness or cancellation, such as those who have been in an income-driven repayment plan for the required number of years. This would apply to all debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2025.
The most recent coronavirus relief bill is both ambitious and comprehensive. Referencing these guidelines, you can learn all about the American Rescue Plan and better know what to expect going forward.