Day: September 28, 2020

CityWatch: New York state’s coronavirus infection rate highest since July

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New York state officials are looking to contain several alarming outbreaks of COVID-19 in Brooklyn and Rockland and Orange counties as the statewide infection hit 1.5% for the first time since mid-July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. In some areas, clusters of positive cases have caused infection rates to rise as high as 30%.

“The key with these clusters is to jump on them quickly [and] attack them from all sides,” the governor said in a conference call with the media.

To help curb the increases, Cuomo also announced the state would make 200 rapid-testing machines immediately available for local governments and schools. Results are available in 15 minutes using these machines. 

“We will be contacting the local governments and the schools, but to accelerate this, I’m calling on [them] to contact us if they need the machines…and we’ll send staff,” he said. 

In addition, he asked officials to continue to make sure people are wearing masks and observing social distancing. 

Over the weekend, Cuomo announced that more than 1,000 New Yorkers tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, the first time since June 5.

The New York City health department threatened last week to shut down nonessential businesses and limit gatherings if infection rates continue to rise in certain neighborhoods that were seeing infection rate spikes.

“If the indicators continue to rise, there must be additional enforcement actions,” the department said Thursday. “For the first time in the city’s recovery period, there could be the immediate scaling back of activities in these ZIP Codes.”

Coronavirus update: Global death toll inches toward 1 million as hot spots emerge in India, Europe, South America and Israel

More than one-quarter of all new cases on Sunday came from just 10 ZIP Codes, despite accounting for less than 3% of the state’s population, Cuomo said. Those 10 ZIP Codes had a positivity rate of about 15%, compared to a statewide rate of about 1% when excluding those areas, the governor explained. 

ZIP Codes with increased positivity rates in New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Two areas in Rockland County had the highest infection rates, with 30% of those tested in ZIP Code 10977 now positive for the virus and 25% in ZIP Code 10952. The third highest infection rate, 22%, was in the Orange County ZIP Code of 10950. Schools in these counties have opened with face-to-face and remote options. 

Kings County, or Brooklyn, has also seen clusters of increased COVID-19 cases. It’s overall infection rate was 2.6% as of Sunday, according to state data. Clusters can be found in neighborhoods such as Borough Park and Midwood, with ZIP Codes 11219, 11210, 11204 and 11230, which have infection rates of 17%, 11%, 9% and 9%, respectively. 

The Queens ZIP Code of 11367, encompassing the neighborhood of Kew Gardens, had a rate of 6%.

Other New York coronavirus developments
  • The governor also announced the state will extend the Tenant Safe Harbor Act to Jan. 1, 2021, for residential occupants. The measure protects tenants from eviction because of financial hardship caused by the virus.

  • The state will issue guidance on the reopening of homeless shelters on Tuesday. Cuomo called on shelters that have been closed because of COVID-19 to reopen, citing public concerns about homeless encampments in New York City and other metropolitan areas. “Shelters have to open,” he said. “It’s getting cold, and we have to get homeless people off the streets.”

Read next: This university’s COVID-19 protocol reduced positivity cases after a recent spike — but will it last?

In One Chart: This map shows where American taxpayers are most likely to be audited — and it’s certainly not Washington, D.C.

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The tax man cometh after the working poor as much as the rich — if not more.

As allegations that President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017 — and nothing at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — have renewed conversations about the fairness of the U.S. tax system, a map showing where Americans are most likely to be audited has come back into the spotlight.

Related:Democrats say Trump tax avoidance allegations show need to make filings public

The graphic first published in the industry journal Tax Notes last year and reported by ProPublica reveals that the five most audited counties in the country are all predominantly Black, rural areas in the Deep South. Audit rates are also very high in the largely Hispanic communities in south Texas, the counties with Native American reservations in South Dakota, as well as the poor, white counties in eastern Kentucky’s Appalachia region. In fact, the audit rates in these areas were more than 40% above the national average.

But the states that tend to be home to middle-income, largely white populations, including New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota, have the lowest audit rates.

What’s more, Humphreys County, Mississippi, where the median annual household income is just $26,000, is audited at a rate 51% higher than Loudoun County, Virginia, where residents boast the highest median income in the entire country at $130,000.

Check it out here:

So what’s going on?

One thing these poorer communities have in common is that many residents claim the earned income tax credit (EITC), an anti-poverty program for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children. And while the general rule is that the more money you make, the more likely you are to be audited, it turns out that EITC recipients are the exception: The IRS audits EITC recipients, whose annual income usually falls under $20,000, at higher rates than all but the richest Americans. EITC recipients were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers with income between $200,000 and $500,000 in 2017.

Related:Trump reportedly paid no federal income tax in 10 of the 15 years before his election. Why 75 million U.S. households pay no federal income tax

There are a few factors putting EITC recipients in the crosshairs. First, many people claim the credit by mistake, and ProPublica reports that Republicans in Congress have pressured the IRS to cut down on these overpayments, in particular.

The IRS has also suffered crippling budget cuts over the past decade, losing almost 30,000 full-time positions between 2010 and 2019 and leaving the tax collection agency with fewer auditors than it has had at any point since World War II. As a result, the overall audit rate has been falling. But while the IRS has audited the rich less, it’s continued to audit the poor at about the same rate. And that’s because IRS commissioner Charles Rettig has admitted that auditing lower-income taxpayers is easier and less expensive than going after wealthier ones. The audits are largely done by mail, and are “the most efficient use of available IRS examination resources.” He also said that the agency won’t be able to address the audit gap until Congress restores IRS funding.

But while auditing poor taxpayers may be more “efficient” with fewer resources at hand, the IRS is leaving hundreds of billions of dollars on the table by letting high net-worth taxpayers slide when they intentionally under-report their earnings, or they don’t file their taxes or pay their tax bills. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who served in two Democratic presidential administrations, reported last fall that the federal government could have $535 billion more in the coming decade if the IRS audited returns as often as it did back in 2011 — and focused those audits on millionaires and billionaires.

Read more:This former top Obama official says auditing more rich people would raise $500 billion in personal-income tax

While high-net-worth returns may take more time to investigate, the IRS will get a greater return on its investment by looking into these cases compared to the lowest-earning Americans, Summers said. “Under-reporting is more than five times as high for individuals who earn $10 million or more annual than it is for those who make under $200,000 a year,” Summers wrote in his report.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), an IRS watchdog, also reported in May that the IRS is ignoring hundreds of thousands of delinquent high-income taxpayers who owe billions of dollars in total. Between 2014 and 2016, the top 100 high-income nonfilers (taxpayers who don’t file a required tax return or pay their tax due in a timely manner) whom the IRS did not send delinquency notices to, and whose cases were simply shelved, owed about $9.9 billion in total taxes.

That “let it go” attitude (for the rich, anyway) has been adopted by some Republican pundits and voters, as well. Former U.S. senator-turned-Republican-commentator Rick Santorum told CNN on Monday that “If you have a lot of money, no matter what you do with the tax system, you can always game it.” And almost two-thirds of Republicans and right-leaning independents (64%) say the current tax code is fair, compared to just under one-third of Democrats and left-leaning independents, according to a Pew poll.

Related:Rick Santorum is not impressed with the New York Times story on Trump’s taxes — how many voters feel the same way?

Still, a November 2019 National Bureau of Economic Research report estimated that the IRS will fail to collect nearly $7.5 trillion of the taxes it is owed between 2020 and 2029 — but conducting more audits, particularly of high-income earners, could help generate more than $1 trillion in additional revenue to shrink that tax gap. And following the NBER and TIGTA reports, the IRS began conducting new audits on several hundred high net-worth individuals over the summer, with these examinations expected to run between July 15 and Sept. 30.

Bitcoin is All Grown Up and the Future is Bright

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Currency has had a fruitful and largely charmed life, and watching it come into its crypto own is heart-warming indeed. 

Currency as we know it has been evolving throughout our lifetimes. Along the same timeline and gently curving slope that it has evolved along since the advent of currency. From bartering and trading for goods, to exchanging precious metals, gems, and even spices for something else. Notes and coins are still, in the larger sense of currency, a fairly novel addition, but even those have seen their heyday and are entering into their twilight years. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 92% of the world’s money exists in a digital format today.

So, money has evolved. Come up from the muck of cumbersome goods and awkward items, to become easily transportable bills and coins, only now to blossom into a near digital enterprise. Surely, this may come as a surprise to some, particularly when seeing so many who balk at the thought of a cashless society—because reasonably, we’re already there. We live in a world where money is largely represented by a series of numbers, zero’s and one’s jumbled elegantly into bank balances and portfolio pages. Anyone who frequents Bitvavo, or any other crypto exchange, can tell you that despite them not holding a bitcoin in their hand, they know it exists. They’re sure it has value. Largely because they are capable of trading it. Turning it into other numbers—like those representing fiat. Or exchanging it for tangible goods and services.

Understanding Money 

Nearly all money as we understand it, not just digital currencies, is purely representative of an idea. A dollar has value because you’re told it does. Because you can exchange it for things that you want. But that piece of specialized paper has no more, or no less, worth than the $1 in your bank account. One can be held, the other can be seen on a screen, but both can be traded for something else. Both have equal value.

Bank notes and coins haven’t been “worth” anything since the 1970’s, when the last real ties to gold-backed currency were cut. Now, the inherent value of what you find under your couch cushions is merely that which the state tells you it’s worth. And digital economies representing global demand tell the state what it’s worth. Despite all of us being familiar with money, how to use it, and its assigned value, we seem to be willfully ignorant of the fact that the actual value of that bill is the same as the actual value of a non-existent bitcoin. It’s almost arbitrary, based on nothing more than an idea.

But it’s those ideas that make both money, and bitcoin, worth having. The shared agreement between a wide community of people that, if I give you a bitcoin, you’ll give me something in return that I need or want. Similarly, if I give you a dollar, hopefully the same will happen.

Decentralizing Its Adolescence

What sets bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies apart from being just another form of money is that they are decentralized. They are the next step in the inevitable evolution of finance. What it means when it’s said that bitcoin is “decentralized” is that there is no central authority that grants us permission to have bitcoin. No one entity that decides it’s value, how to use it, or when to ‘print’ it. Bitcoin is owned, operated, and maintained by the entire bitcoin community, making it a fully democratized form of currency.

Because of this, bitcoin is protected against many of the things that make traditional currencies less than ideal. You cannot create more bitcoin. Governments can essentially just print money any time they need it. Like when the economy gets hit hard and stimulus is required. This practice is called quantitative easing (QE), and while it’s not quite as simple as “just printing money,” that’s mostly what it boils down to. QE is a slippery slope, however. Print too much, and the market becomes saturated, devaluing the agreed upon worth of the asset. This can also cause a problem called hyperinflation. When there is too much money in circulation, it can cause the prices of goods and services to skyrocket, requiring even more money to obtain them.

With bitcoin, there is a finite amount of it in existence, and that amount is released slowly over time, making it impossible to saturate the market in such a way. The value of bitcoin is somewhat predictable. By looking at the number of bitcoins in circulation, and weighing that against public demand, you can get a good idea of what bitcoin is worth. This is a system called artificial scarcity. Assets like gold and natural diamonds base their values off of this system. 

A Freer Future

But bitcoin is just one (and by far the most popular) form of cryptocurrency. Realistically, if cryptocurrencies and decentralized digital currencies are embraced in the future, there’s no limit to what their values could represent. Instead of creating worth based on demand, we could reasonably have a system of tokenized tradable assets. Which means that digital tokens (like bitcoin) could be used to represent anything—from a carton of eggs to a roof being built. Each of these assets could then be equally represented based on their individual demand, created a global currency that is representative of a genuine barter system.

This effectively cuts out the ability for shady monetary practices to exist. No more leveraging interest rates, no more speculation, or insider trading, or short selling. No more rampant and unnecessary wealth accumulation. Just a genuine exchange of goods and services as and when they are needed. However, we may never actually see that system, or it may be quite a long way off. Regardless, money has evolved into the age of bitcoin and we’re thrilled for the future.

Featured image: Pixabay

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Key Words: Rick Santorum is not impressed with the New York Times story on Trump’s taxes — how many voters feel the same way?

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“If you have a lot of money, no matter what you do with the tax system, you can always game it. I mean, that’s just the reality of the situation. And Donald Trump’s been very forthright, and I’m sure he will be at the debate, that he does not like paying taxes and he’s going to do everything he can not to pay taxes.”

Onetime U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and President Donald Trump.

Getty Images

That’s Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator, onetime presidential hopeful and Republican commentator on CNN one day after the New York Times story saying President Donald Trump paid a $750 income tax bill in 2016 and in 2017, while paying no income tax in 10 of the 15 years before that.

Trump’s low tax bills were reportedly the result of business losses that, under tax code rules, can offset a taxpayer’s income tax liability.

Though Trump has declined to release his tax returns, the Times story said it obtained the data from sources with “legal access” to the information. During one 2016 presidential debate, Trump said his ability to not pay taxes “makes me smart.”

The story was “a big nothingburger and a pre-debate attack intended solely to help Joe Biden. It ought to be reported as an in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman. The story is “inaccurate as the President has paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes,” Murtaugh added.

Santorum on Monday didn’t sound all that taken aback by the revelations in the story (which also said Trump could face a $100 million bill from the Internal Revenue Service if a pending audit doesn’t go his way.)

But are other people infuriated by the Times report, and will it make a difference in the upcoming election?

“I don’t see this moving the needle very much,” Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow studying public opinion at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that supports lower taxes, told MarketWatch. At this point in the campaign, there are very few undecided voters who may be swayed by a story on Trump’s tax strategies, Bowman said.

Other issues, like the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and a looming U.S. Supreme Court confirmation battle for Judge Amy Coney Barrett may loom much larger in voters’ minds, she noted.

Two-thirds of people polled in July by Reuters and Ipsos thought Trump should release his tax returns, she noted. Still, the issue “doesn’t seem to have a great deal of intensity.”

To be sure, people can get fired up about taxes when it’s framed as a matter of fairness, research suggests. Ninety-five percent of taxpayers said it’s their civic duty to pay taxes, according to an annual IRS survey. That percentage has hovered in a four-point range since at least 2010, the federal tax collector said.

Ninety-six percent of taxpayers told the IRS that there’s no, or very little, acceptable amount of cheating on taxes, which is another number that hasn’t budged all that much in past years. (The Trump campaign says the recent Times story made no allegation of wrongdoing.)

The Times report comes at a moment when Republicans and Democrats are increasingly divided on whether the tax code is fair to begin with.

Almost two-thirds of Republicans and right-leaning independents (64%) say the tax code is fair while 32% of Democrats and left-leaning independents feel the same way, according to a Pew Research Center poll last year. Two years earlier, roughly the same amount of people on both sides of the aisle felt the same way.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s tax plank is premised on the idea that America’s affluent taxpayers and corporations need to pay more taxes in order to contribute their “fair share.”

“Nowhere in the story, try as they might, does the Times allege that the President did anything wrong,” Murtaugh said in his statement.

This is one task everyone in their 50s should consider before it’s too late

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Life can be unpredictable — especially when it comes to money and health — but that’s all the more reason why people need to prepare.

Long-term care planning is a crucial part of preparing for the future, and is important to do as people get closer to retirement — particularly, once they reach their 50s, experts said.

“Not having a policy can really affect your family and your family’s future planning and lifestyle,” said Brian Walsh, a financial planner at Walsh & Nicholson Financial Group, a wealth management firm. “Having long-term care coverage — that safety net — is a huge peace of mind.”

This type of planning addresses how people will manage health issues in their old age, as well as where they may receive that care and who will provide it. Long-term care is especially useful to those who suffer from physical or cognitive decline when they’re elderly.

See: This program brings nursing home residents joy in an old-fashioned way

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted numerous potential catastrophes for the elderly and their loved ones, including unexpected illnesses, risks associated with underlying health issues and general lifestyle and risks in nursing homes. Although many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have had staff working hard to protect their elderly patients and residents — such as with restricted access to visitors and constant sanitizing of the facilities — COVID-19 “ran rampant” through these establishments, Walsh said. “I think you’ll see people who were planning on entering nursing homes rethink that,” he said.

Read: A new way to pay for the single biggest expense in retirement

People are also living longer than their grandparents or great-grandparents did. Insurers paid a record $11 billion in claims to around 310,000 individuals in 2019, according to insurance industry group American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, or AALTCI, more than half of whom were in their 80s.

Read: Your retirement probably won’t be anything like your parents’ — and that’s not good

Health care is expensive, and the costs only grow as a person ages. The average 65-year-old couple who retired in 2019 could expect to spend $280,000 in retirement for their health care expenses alone, according to Fidelity Investments. That does not include long-term care insurance or the costs associated with that type of care. That figure is also expected to rise every year for the foreseeable future.

The variables that go into choosing the right type of coverage, including the initial ages of the applicant, any health issues they are currently facing, or may face as part of family health history, and how much coverage they want or can afford. Women are more likely to need some form of long-term care because they live longer than men, according to a study about what retirees’ can expect regarding long-term care needs. ← Still, anyone may want to have extra coverage if they are single or without family nearby, said Rob Williams, vice president of financial planning at Charles Schwab. Choosing a plan in your 50s is most cost-effective, he added.

Also see: Long-term care insurance: There’s no good alternative

Insurance carriers offer standalone long-term care policies. There are also life insurance policies with long-term care riders, known as a hybrid policy, which provides the insured with more flexibility about how they use their benefit and if anything is paid out to beneficiaries. Standalone policies can see premiums increase significantly over time, said Joshua Butler, wealth adviser at Girard, a financial services firm. Hybrid policies generally have premiums locked in, he said. Policies can also include automatic inflation adjustments, though that is an added expense. Here’s more on how a long-term care policy works.

Having a policy in place may give patients more opportunities to consider when they need extra care, but it comes with a hefty price tag. The average annual premium for a 55-year-old couple was $3,050 in 2020, according to the AALTCI. For a single 55-year-old woman, that price was $2,650 and for their male counterparts, $1,700. Premium costs increase the older the applicant is. Medicare does not cover much in the way of long-term care, either. The program does cover the full cost of skilled nursing care for 20 days after a hospitalization, and part of the following 80 days, but then the onus is on the patient. Medicaid only offers financial support for skilled nursing care for low-income seniors.

The alternative can be even more expensive, though. Nursing homes could cost nearly $100,000 or more a year, while assisted living costs about half and in-home care about a third of that. Not all Americans have enough money in retirement to pay for those kinds of expenses, especially considering so many people have trouble saving enough for their old age while they’re still working. “[Long-term care planning] could make a significant impact on your retirement,” Butler said. “By not taking it into consideration, you’re also putting your retirement at risk.”

Want to be a poll worker in the 2020 election? Read this before applying to become ‘a front line customer service face of our democracy’

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Election Day is just weeks away and America could be short on poll workers, voting experts say — but they emphasize that there’s still time for volunteers to fill the ranks.

They hope you’ll give the idea some serious thought.

‘Poll workers are the front-line custom service face of our democracy. … You’ve got the ability to make a difference in your community, make a positive impact.’

— Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission

“Poll workers are the front-line custom service face of our democracy,” said Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who’s volunteered for poll work 10 to 15 times himself. “You’ve got the ability to make a difference in your community, make a positive impact.”

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are locked in a tight race, even as certain polls and pundits give Biden an edge.

But volunteering isn’t about pushing for one side to prevail, added Hovland, who leads the bipartisan federal agency responsible for distributing $1.2 billion for election administration over the past several years. “It’s just about having the process work and having a positive experience.”

The coronavirus pandemic is putting that process to the test this year.

In the 2016 election, more than half of all poll workers were age 61 and above, statistics show.

When Trump won in 2016, almost 920,000 poll workers — many of them senior citizens — supervised ballot boxes and staffed polling places across the country, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Almost 32% of poll workers in that election were between the age of 61 and 70 and another 24% were above age 71, the independent, bipartisan commission said.

Four years later, in the midst of the pandemic that puts people in their 60s and older especially at risk, organizations such as Power the Polls and The Poll Hero Project are sprouting up to turn younger people into poll working-volunteers.

‘I am so encouraged by how people are answering the call.’

— Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice

“We are in better place than we were a couple months ago,” Hovland said, but he didn’t want to guess how many more people were needed. Some counties may be fully staffed by now while others are still looking, he said.

“The target goal is probably pretty close to the 2016 number, but, again, I think there’s a difference between optimal and what you can do.”

The amount of poll workers lined up now is “not actually a knowable number at this point in time,” according to Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. Volunteer numbers are collected in local jurisdictions and the staffing goals can be based on best guesses and projections, she noted.

At least anecdotally, Perez has seen a lot of enthusiasm for poll work this year. “I am so encouraged by how people are answering the call.”

Who can be a poll worker?

Poll worker requirements can vary, but there are some common themes. In many states, you need to be a registered voter, which means you need to be at least 18. Yet some states allow high schoolers to work as well, Perez noted.

Some states may also ask for an applicant’s party affiliation. That’s so when voting officials devise staffing, they can have equal numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats at a site to avoid even the appearance of bias. In many places, a felony conviction can be a disqualifier.

The majority of people working the polls should be ready for a very long day that starts in the early morning and concludes in the evening. Many jurisdictions don’t schedule poll working shifts, Hovland said.

Poll worker pay can range from around $80 to around $350.

Many poll workers are paid, Hovland noted. The money can range from around $80 up to around $350 in some jurisdictions, Hovland said. The Election Assistance Commission’s own website has a section where users can check poll working requirements and pay in particular counties.

The 2020 election may entail some extra job duties.

Traditional poll worker detail includes greeting voters, looking up their name on the rolls, pointing them to the voting booth and handing them an ‘I voted’ sticker on the way out. The job may still include that, and some more too.

“There may be some work to help with social distancing, making sure there’s limited congestion in polling places,” Hovland said. It may also mean constantly wiping down often-touched surfaces and making sure the hand sanitizer containers aren’t getting low, he added. (The CARES Act earmarked $400 million to help states with 2020 election costs that could include face masks and cleaning supplies.)

Don’t miss:What COVID-19 precautions should you take while voting? How many people will vote by mail? Answers to your 2020 election questions

Volunteers may also have to be ready to know their particular state rules if a voter requested a mail-in ballot and still shows up at the polling place, Perez said.

All states have pre-existing laws to deal with the scenario, she said, but they will come into hard focus during an election when people might cast their ballot by mail, and then wonder if it will arrive to local election officials on time, and in the correct format.

See also:Opinion: I’m the Republican secretary of state in Washington — and I believe voting by mail works

‘I would suspect that some of training is going to include how you keep people happy and what you do with people who are grouchy … You don’t know who’s going to be yelling at somebody about a mask policy.’

— Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice

Perez hopes workers will get some training on the particular protocols in order to achieve a smooth and time efficient voting experience.

She also hopes they get some practice on a less technical skill: putting potentially on-edge voters at ease.

“I would suspect that some of the training is going to include how you keep people happy and what you do with people who are grouchy,” she said. “You don’t know who’s going to be yelling at somebody about a mask policy.”

What it takes to be a poll worker in some battleground states

Potential poll workers can learn how to apply for a position in their state, using this drop-down menu from the National Association of Secretaries of State.

But here’s a look at the specifics for three swing states, Florida, Ohio and Arizona, where a comprehensive vote count is especially critical for both the Trump and Biden campaigns.

In Ohio, more than 44,000 residents in the crucial Midwest swing state had signed up to be Nov. 3 poll workers as of earlier this week, according the Ohio Secretary of State. Though Ohio has surpassed the minimum of 37,057 workers, it still wants another 20,000 people to meet its staffing goals.

To be a poll worker in Ohio, you must also be at least 18 years old, or age 17 and a high school senior. You have to live in the county where you want to serve and you can’t be a candidate for an election on the ballot. A felony conviction disqualifies an applicant.

Poll workers get paid at least the federal minimum hourly wage ($7.25) and up to $133.72 a day.

In Florida, there’s no statewide tally yet on the poll workers volunteering in the pivotal swing state’s 67 counties, a spokesman for the Florida Department of State said. The state had 46,484 poll workers in the 2016 election, agency data said.

Florida poll workers need to be at least 18, or age 16 and 17 and pre-registered to vote, according to state law. They also need to be a county resident where they want to work. If you have a felony and haven’t had your right to vote “restored pursuant to law,” you are barred from the position.

Pay is set by the counties. In Miami-Dade County, for example, you can make $40 for training and $160.68 to work Election Day. An Election Day worker’s stipend in Broward County is between $180 and $250.

In Arizona, poll workers need to be at least 18, though some counties allow 16- and 17-year-olds. Pay rates are set by individual counties. In Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the hourly rate is between $12 and $13.50. A felony can bar an applicant.

Curbside voting is already allowed in Arizona’s elections and it will be expanded this year.

The website alone for the state’s Secretary of State has received almost 15,000 applications for the primary and general elections. The agency forwards the forms on to county election officials, according to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

One pre-existing part of Arizona’s election process is curbside voting. One Republican and one Democratic poll worker bring a ballot out to the car, where the driver casts their vote. Election officials will be expanding that procedure this year, Hobbs said.

Though election officials throughout the state haven’t a large drop-out of older volunteers, Hobbs said, “there are so many people stepping up. … They want to do something to help protect democracy.”

Next Avenue: ‘A criminal sociopath:’ Judge-appointed conservator abused my mom, drained her estate and kept us from her

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This article is reprinted by permission from

When people ask me about the circumstances surrounding the painful story of my mother’s probate conservatorship — where the man appointed by a judge to manage my mother’s finances and daily life inflicted financial and mental abuse on her — there’s one question I always encounter: How did this happen to your family?

A simple answer: it can happen to anyone.

Roughly 1.5 million Americans are under guardianship or conservatorship, most of them over 65. Although many conservators and guardians do excellent work, some are notorious. One AARP article said: “Activists charge that in some cases, unscrupulous professional guardians have turned legally sanctioned exploitation into a cottage industry, abetted by greedy attorneys and pliable judges.”

A more complicated answer: our family fell apart after my father died.

It took me almost two years and half a dozen court hearings to successfully remove the conservator who I’d describe as a criminal sociopath. He charged several thousands of dollars a month for my mother’s minimal care, blew through a massive amount of my mother’s money and emptied her house.

My family’s conservatorship story

Here is my story, followed by advice so something similar doesn’t happen to you:

My father, a Los Angeles orthodontist and UCLA School of Dentistry faculty member, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and died 11 days later at 69. After his death, my family realized that he did not leave a will, and there was no guidance on how we should proceed with caring for my mom or managing her estate. As a result, my two sisters and I had different opinions on what should transpire.

With the shock of our father’s death and our immersion in grieving, we weren’t able to come together and move forward collectively. So, shortly after my dad died, my 70-year-old mother was appointed a conservator. (A conservator — sometimes called a guardian — is appointed by a judge when someone is no longer able to make financial or health decisions for themselves.)

For several years before my father’s death, he was in charge of the household finances, managing most of the day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping and handling all the bills. My mom was no longer able to manage the stressors of maintaining the household at the time.

When my father died, my older sister thought it would be better for our mother to live in an assisted living facility; my younger sister thought she should remain at home. I was caught in the middle, not sure what was best for my mom.

Also see: The case for defunding nursing homes and replacing them with a radically different model

Initially, my mom wanted to go to an assisted living facility, but after a few months there, she decided she wanted to be back in her home. Mayhem unfolded. So, I decided to reach out to my mom’s older brother for guidance and help. He and my younger sister got my mother back home and found her a lawyer who recommended that my mother be conserved.

The conservator is appointed

The lawyer filed the paperwork to make it happen.

My mother was held hostage in her home and not allowed to speak to any family members.

The requirements to become a professional, licensed conservator vary from state to state. Not all states require licensing; others mandate a credential from a professional organization in addition to licensing. To become a conservator in California, either you must file a petition with the court and nominate yourself or another interested party can nominate you.

Given the contentious nature of our family, we weren’t given any options to decide on a particular conservator. We showed up to court and the conservator the judge appointed was there, ready to take over. His fees would be paid by the estate, which he controlled.

It was all very confusing, and my sisters and I were operating more or less in the dark.

Before this conservatorship assignment, I discovered, the man who became my mother’s conservator was listed on a website about guardianship abuse. Its victims shared personal warning and tragic stories.

Related: The sad truth about who is abusing older adults the most

I remember the night before the hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court probate department to approve his position, my mother was held hostage in her home and not allowed to speak to any family members.

Her own best friend flew in from out of state to speak to her and explain the dangers of her situation, and my mom was instructed not to open the door to anyone or else she would be sent to a nursing home. I only found out later that anytime he wanted something, he would use the nursing home as a threat so he could do as he pleased.

Trying to stop the conservator

When I went to the hearing to try to stop his petition for appointment, I presented the judge the list of testimonials I’d seen of his abuse. But I was immediately shut down.

I walked home that day and thought to myself, something’s not right.

After that, the court assigned us an attorney representing the interests of my mom to make sure the chosen conservator was the right fit for the family. In LA County, this kind of lawyer is known as a member of the Probate Volunteer Panel — attorneys who register with the court to help resolve probate proceedings.

During the hearing with the PVP, it was my older sister and I (who didn’t want this conservator) on one side of the courtroom and my younger sister (who did) on the other. The PVP chose to side with my younger sibling’s wishes, and the conservator was officially appointed.

I presented the judge the list of testimonials I’d seen of his abuse. But I was immediately shut down.

Soon after, all the belongings from my mom’s house, where I grew up, were removed, with no indication of their whereabouts and with no communication about this with the family.

I remember the first time I walked into the house once this had happened; it looked like a living room set from “The Price Is Right” game show with all the furniture replaced by what looked like IKEA home ware. The family heirlooms, including paintings of my mother’s, were removed, too.

The kitchen had been completely remodeled. Those adobe tiles my dad had personally laid in the floor were replaced with plain ugly squares. I opened the cupboards only to find all the china was missing. The box of recipes passed down from generation to generation was nowhere to be found, either.

Also see: My sister-in-law moved in with her mother, changed her will and inherited everything. Is it too late to claim what belongs to us?

Down in the basement, the wine cellar was gone. I wandered upstairs to an empty second floor and found the walls that used to hang family photos where bare. My childhood bedroom was a hollow box.

All attempts to connect with the conservator were for naught.

Shut out from information about Mom

I only found out that my mother was hospitalized for dehydration days afterward. When I did, I tried phoning the conservator’s office to insist on being alerted if my mother was sick, especially a hospitalization; he wouldn’t take my call.

I followed up with an email stating that correspondence about serious matters concerning my mother’s health was unacceptable. I didn’t receive a reply, but the conservator charged my mother’s estate for receiving the email, and for my phone call.

Then one day, I received a call from another woman who had been victimized by the same conservator.

When I contacted St. John’s Hospital, where my mom had been discharged. I asked to speak to the social worker. I got her on the phone, mentioned my mom’s conservator’s name and she fell silent.

I asked if she knew him and she said, “I used to work in nursing homes over a decade ago, and he was known to prey on vulnerable women.”

Then one day, I received a call from another woman who had been victimized by the same conservator. She was involuntarily removed from her home and placed in a nursing care facility. This was one of several similar stories I heard.

Over time, I began to understand his pattern: Prey on vulnerable victims, isolate them from their loved ones, allow no open lines of communication with the family, provide no transparency in billing, bleed the estate, then toss the people in conservatorship into nursing homes. When they run out of money there, leave them there to rot and die.

The estate gets drained

I remember when the conservator did unnecessary renovations on the house, which were expensive and draining the estate, I asked my mom why she allowed them. She told me that if she didn’t go along with what he had recommended, she’d end up back in a nursing home.

My mom was constantly subject to manipulative abusive bullying behavior that came from the conservator.

As far as I can tell, my mother had very little in-person communication with him. For the most part, he employed his minions to do his dirty work, which only calls into question the caregiving company he employed to watch over my mother. In fact, this conservator is practically invisible; you’ll never find a picture online or a profile on social media about him.

When I tried to contact my mom by phone, her number had always been changed. That happened numerous times.

There was only one time my mom called me. It came in on an unidentified number, so I didn’t pick up. However there was an accidental message left on my voice mail:

“She’s not picking up, call her back.” (Mom)

“She doesn’t want to speak to you.” (Her caregiver)

The conservator tries to keep me away from my mother

I remember the one time I picked my mom up when no one was there and took her downtown to spend the night with me. We left a note on the refrigerator letting the caregiver know she was with me, and that we were going to have brunch together. When the caregiver found out, she was instructed to immediately show up at my building to retrieve my mother. After that incident, she had 24/7 people in her home to watch her.

They were more or less bodyguards to keep her away from spending any private time with the family. Once my mother’s conservator realized I was after him, he tried to put a restraining order on me to keep me from talking to my mom, saying I was causing my mother stress by voicing my concerns about him stealing her money.

To avoid the worst outcome for my mom, I immediately went to work to try to remove him as soon as possible.

I decided I’d do this on my own, rather than hiring a Los Angeles attorney at $500 an hour — something I couldn’t afford. I also believed I would be the best advocate for my mom, even though I knew nothing about the law or much about the process of conservatorship appeal.

I’m grateful I took on this endeavor by myself because later, when I spoke with other victims, I learned they’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting this same conservator over the years. And they’re still trying to remove him.

Once my mother’s conservator realized I was after him, he tried to put a restraining order on me to keep me from talking to my mom.

The first thing I did was file a complaint with California’s Probate Fiduciary Bureau; it’s supposed to be a watchdog for complaints regarding conservators. The Bureau said, after conducting their “investigation,” they didn’t find any foul play.

Next, I filed two Adult Protective Services reports, a police report and an FBI complaint.

Finally, a break

For months I blanketed Los Angeles to find any and all outlets who could help. Then one day I got a break.

I had filed a complaint with the county’s Probate Investigators Office, and after months of the financial and emotional abuse inflicted on my mother, my complaint finally led to a report recommending his removal.

I went back to court and presented the report, arguing that my mother’s mental, emotional and psychological health was deteriorating. The judge assigned a new PVP to put fresh eyes on the case.

This opened the door for me to get the conservator temporarily removed. The initial judge who appointed the conservator had retired, which I thought might help the situation.

I argued that my mother’s PVP who recommended her conservator had never interviewed all the siblings, asked for a new PVP and the judge agreed.

The troubled mediation

After this PVP conducted her investigation, she provided a report calling for a new conservator. Because my mother’s conservator didn’t want to step down, we were off to mediation.

The next thing I knew, I was in an office with my older sister, the new PVP, the new temporary conservator and me in one room and the original conservator with his lawyer in another.

The mediation turned out to be a disaster.

The conservator lied about stealing all the family belongings, among other things. But the new temporary conservator had uncovered his wrongdoings. The conservator agreed to relinquish his position only if we fired the temporary one and went with one of his suggestions.

After 10 hours of torture, my sister and I gave in. We just wanted the original conservator out, so we succumbed to his ultimatum.

After the mediation I researched the new permanent conservator my mother was given, and discovered questionable articles written about her in the Los Angeles Times. I also learned that both she and the original conservator used the same caregiving company, which struck me as odd.

Finally, after almost two years, my mom was able to start getting the care she needed and deserved.

I raced back to court and filed paperwork to undo the original conservator’s “suggestion.” Thankfully, at the next hearing, we won.

Getting Mom the care she needed and deserved

We were able to make the good, temporary conservator my mother’s permanent conservator. Finally, after almost two years, my mom was able to start getting the care she needed and deserved.

Before the new conservator, my mother didn’t see any doctors, except that one time she was hospitalized. Now, she was seeing a primary care doctor and a therapist.

I’ve since seen my mom a handful of times; mostly we speak on the phone. She’s doing pretty well.

But when I walk into her house, I don’t recognize anything, and it makes me sad.

I doubt we’ll ever get back any of the items that were ransacked. It’s so depressing not to find my dad’s vinyl record collection in the living room or the wallpaper in the dining room where we shared family dinners every night together. Seeing the chandelier over the dining room table replaced with a cheap tacky light traumatizes me.

I don’t need my high school trophies or any other items from my old bedroom, but why did the conservator find it necessary to remove all the belongings from the house?

Best as I can tell, he was preparing the house for someone else to inhabit, so he could make money from the sale while my mother would live alone in a nursing home.

I still have hope that one day, my mother’s initial conservator will be brought to justice.

Four ways to prevent a conservatorship disaster

How can you avoid an experience like my family and I had? There’s no guarantee, but here are four suggestions:

Discuss your parents’ estate wishes and their finances while they are alive. I wish we had done that with my dad.

Find out if your parents have wills, what they entail and where they are. Learn about your parents’ assets and debts as well as how they’d like to live if their spouse dies before they do.

If you can, get a durable power of attorney and a health care advance directive, giving you or someone whom you trust the authority to make decisions for a parent if they can’t.

If you will need to hire someone who isn’t a family member or friend to be a conservator for your parent, do your homework. Make sure you choose a conservator with an excellent resumé and with reliable recommendations. Don’t do what we did and accept some random person assigned by the court.

If my sisters and I had taken these steps, most likely none of the abuse our mother suffered would have happened.

If things do go wrong with a conservatorship, document everything. I cannot emphasize this enough. It means keeping a record of all conversations you have with parent that are concerning, with dates and times. This will help you make a solid case to get the conservator removed.

If applicable, cover all aspects of the conservatorship abuse, including mental abuse — not just financial abuse.

Don’t give up. Despite the long odds to remove my mother’s conservator, I never quit, despite his evil attempts to silence me and taint my relationship with my mother. If I can do it, you can do it.

If you can afford to hire a conservatorship attorney to remove a conservator, you might want to do it.

Now, back to my initial question: How did this happen to your family?

The bigger question is how was this allowed to happen to my family?

And another question: Why aren’t there better checks and balances in the conservatorship system?

The problems with conservatorship in America

While states have laws designed to protect people under conservatorship, in reality, there’s very little oversight. A National Center for State Courts report said: “Nationally, there is a dire need for guardianship/conservatorship reform, as relatively few courts have the resources, staffing or expertise to actively monitor conservatorships.”

See: My family paid $7K for my uncle’s funeral. My cousins were poor, but then renovated their kitchen. Should I ask for it back?

In 2017, the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act was approved by a group called the Uniform Law Commission. Among other things, it’s supposed to get rid of guardians and conservators not acting in the best interest of the people they’re assisting; let courts “remove a conservator for failure to perform the conservator’s duties or other good cause” and limit the ability of unscrupulous guardians to drain assets by charging unreasonable fees.

But so far, only two states (Maine and New Mexico) have adopted any or all of this model act.

At a 2018 Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said: “Some states have taken efforts to improve guardianship, but it’s also clear that much more work needs to be done.”

At that hearing, Nina Kohn, associate dean at Syracuse University College of Law, said: “Currently, monitoring is typically anemic, and the ability to monitor is generally limited to under-resourced courts.”

So, how did this happen to my family?

You tell me.

(You can read more about my experience with my mother’s conservatorship in my recent book of poetry, “I’m Not Playing.”)

Erica Loberg is a poet and author. Her new book of poetry, “I’m Not Playing,” is based on her experience with her mother’s conservatorship. Her book “Inside the Insane” is a memoir about her struggles with Bipolar II coupled with a look at inpatient psych wards in Los Angeles County. She can be reached at

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

Next Avenue: What’s a snowbird to do? The pandemic has upended plans to head south for the winter

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This article is reprinted by permission from

A year ago (was it only just a year ago?) I wrote these promising words in a Next Avenue article: In the next few months, thousands of northerners — so-called “snowbirds” — will escape their snowy, cold climates to spend the winter in warm, sunny spots in the southern or western part of the U.S.

Thousands of northerners did, indeed escape to warmer climes for winter 2019-20. Then came 2020 and the pandemic.

Due to the coronavirus, snowbirds are now rethinking, businesses are worrying, rental agencies are discounting, transportation services are marketing, and Chambers of Commerce are scrambling to find a path to recovery and normalcy.

Snowbirds David and Debby Englander have spent their winters near Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida, for the last several years since David retired from his law firm in New York City. Debby, an editor, writer and avid runner, has had a very positive motivation for going.

“I can do my work and also go outside to exercise, as opposed to the New York winters,” she says.

The pros and possible cons of being a snowbird in Florida this year

To some extent, that motivation has only grown due to the pandemic. In New York, Debby says, she’d either be “stuck inside or around so many people on buses and subways,” she says. “In Florida, there’s less interaction with people, so there’s less of a risk [of COVID-19].”

Before they left Florida to return home last May, the Englanders put down a deposit for this winter. Now, they’re keeping their options open.

“If we go, it will be to avoid the cold here in New York,” David said. “But we won’t make our decision until November. It all depends on the [coronavirus] numbers. So, if Florida is a hot spot and shuts down again or we’ll have to quarantine, we’ll cancel. And the worst thing is that we’d lose our deposit.”

Early projections for Sunbelt vacation rentals and the businesses that cater to snowbirds are down significantly.

Also on MarketWatch: If Donald Trump has a plan to save Social Security, he should tell voters what it is

Amtrak’s Auto Train — which takes passengers and their cars nonstop and overnight to the Orlando, Fla, area — is normally almost fully booked for the early winter by now. But these trains are showing less than half full. Amtrak is even offering discounted rates of as much as 45% for some dates to shore up bookings.

What Airbnb listings show

A review of homes on Airbnb and VRBO/HomeAway, the largest online rental organizations offering long term rentals in the Sunbelt, reveal that snowbirds have many more options this year than in the past.

In addition, many homes that traditionally required three-month minimum rentals in high-demand places like South Florida and the Gulf Coast are being offered for just one month this winter. Homeowners are trying to accommodate renters who are unsure about the conditions they may face.

Diane Nelson, a Realtor with Paradise Real Estate in Palm Beach County, Fla., has a different take on why rentals are down.

“You have a lot of people who decided to buy this year instead of continuing to rent every year,” Nelson said. “I spoke to a man yesterday who said he was a seasonal renter for the last 30 years and decided to buy this year mainly because the interest rates are so low.”

Coronavirus and the northern border

Barb and David Peltz from Toronto have been visiting South Florida for several years and bought a home there last year. When COVID hit in the spring, they scrambled to drive back to Toronto, fearing that the border would close — which it did.

Now, they’re not permitted to drive back to Florida.

“We’re holding out til January,” Barb said. “We have the same concerns that everyone else does. That is: Florida has got to do better with its numbers than it has. But there are two other things we Canadians need in order to go: One, the border has to be open for us to drive and two, we have to be able to get supplemental health insurance that covers us if we get COVID.”

So, for now, the Peltzes are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Recruiting telecommuters and other northerners

Many rental agencies and landlords are hoping to recruit telecommuting snowbirds this winter, according to Karen Harrell, publisher of Snowbirds Gulf Coast magazine. They’re hoping to attract those who may ultimately want to permanently move to the warmer climates.

Don’t miss: We want to leave colder Midwest states for ‘warmer and drier climes’ and good, affordable health care on $44,000 a year — so where should we retire?

She adds that many northerners are telling her that despite the pandemic, they need to get away from the seasonal depression that can set in with constant gray and bitter cold winters.

“They don’t have to be stuck inside all winter here on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and the panhandle of Florida,” Harrell says. “Now, they can work from home and also go outdoors, dine out, go biking or walking while still staying safe.”

Airbnb is helping get the word out that sunny locations are eager for visitors who’ll stay a few weeks or months this winter.

“We are working with Visit North Carolina and Visit Florida — as part of our larger work with governments and tourism agencies worldwide to support local travel and economic growth — as destinations around the world seek to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.

A wariness for some snowbirds this winter

But many people who come down to the Gulf Coast from Midwest states like Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota each winter are still somewhat wary about doing it this year.

Some are waiting to see what happens with coronavirus outbreaks.

“Down here, we have a lot of snowbird clubs, made up of hundreds of people from one state who winter in our area,” said Harrell. “Many of the members of those clubs are holding off about committing to going south.”

What happens during the 2020-2021 snowbird season will be determined by what turns the virus takes.

Also see: Making these small spending and saving changes can buy you a better retirement

As Harrell says: “Whether snowbirds come down to the Sun Belt will depend on the status of their health.”

But as many snowbirds say, it’ll also depend on the coronavirus conditions on the ground.

Bart Astor, an expert in life transitions and elder care, is the author of “AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle and Pursuing Your Dreams” and “Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents.” His website is and he can be reached at @bartastor

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

NerdWallet: 6 national parks worth visiting in autumn—plus nearby places to stay using your points

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

You may feel like this spring and summer blurred together and passed by as you stayed home amid the coronavirus pandemic, but fall is a season that undeniably feels like change. If you want to embrace the crisp autumn air with some crunchy leaves underfoot, look no further than some of the nation’s most famous parks for a socially distanced adventure.

Here are some ideas to inspire your autumn travels, plus places to stay nearby on points.

1. Shenandoah National Park

Following the summer of road trips and drive-in movies, Shenandoah National Park offers a stunning taste of the Blue Ridge Mountains without leaving your car if you don’t want to. The stunning Skyline Drive is 105 miles long, and you can take it at a leisurely pace to admire the fall foliage (and maybe even spot a wild turkey). You can also stop at any of the nearly 70 overlooks or take a hike to a waterfall. The closest lodging options outside the park are in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where the Doubletree’s king room rates start at 26,000 Hilton Honors points. You could also use a Hilton free night certificate earned from a Hilton HLT, +3.44%   co-branded credit card.

2. Acadia National Park

The “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic” comes alive in the autumn when the trees turn to vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. You might have to do a bit of climbing to get the best views; some hikes like the Beehive Trail or Beech Cliff Ladder Trail involve using some metal rungs or ladders to help you traverse steep rocks to higher elevations. Don’t miss Acadia National Park at night either. The park usually hosts a Night Sky Festival in the fall to showcase the naturally dark skies and the stars, but it’s been postponed until next year due to COVID-19. The Best Western Acadia Park Inn gets good reviews, and it’s just 3 miles outside of the national park entrance. Rooms start at 32,000 Best Western Rewards points.

Also see: Check in, but don’t fly? Airlines launch ‘flights to nowhere’

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains is a great fall destination; its so large with such a diverse landscape that you’re sure to see some nice colors. The park spans two states and is home to some 100 native species of trees. If you’re trying to go at the end of September or early October, try driving along some of the higher elevation roads like the Blue Ridge Parkway to get the best views of turning leaves. As it gets later in the season, trees at lower elevations will start to change colors as well. The Baymont by Wyndham WYND, +2.59%   Gatlinburg On The River has an excellent riverfront location near the Great Smoky Mountains, and rooms are an affordable 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.

Read: Booking a flight in advance? It might be cheaper to wait to the last minute

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

Aspens in full fall color in the Rocky Mountains.


Autumn in the Rocky Mountains not only has spectacular aspens that turn hues of yellow and gold, but you can also find elk bugling, where bull elks call out to their mates in an unexpectedly high-pitched fashion. (It’s pretty much what we imagine dinosaurs sound like.) The bugling occurs just before dusk and until dawn during the mating season in September and October, and it’s a wildlife occurrence that’s a must-hear if you’re at the park at this time of year. Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park is a good place to spot the elk. Estes Park is a nearby town that many people use as a jumping off point for the park, but the major hotel chain options are limited there. If you’ve got Choice CHH, +1.76%   Privileges points to spare, the Quality Inn might be your best bet starting at 30,000 points.

5. Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife is also one of the main attractions of visiting Yellowstone National Park during the fall. In addition to elk bugling, you might see bears feasting before hibernation and hawks migrating south for the winter. Mammoth Hot Springs is a great spot to see both elk bugling and some of the park’s magnificent fall colors. There’s a Springhill Suites hotel just minutes outside of the park, and suites start at 50,000 Marriott MAR, +1.79%   Bonvoy points.

6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Brandywine falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.


This national park might not have the name recognition of others on this list, but for people based in the Midwest, this park in Ohio is a great option for fall foliage spectating. Some of the reported best spots to walk are the Brandywine Falls or Pine Hollow, which offers views of the valley. Biking or walking the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is another great way to see what the park has to offer. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is very close to Cleveland, so you’ve got more lodging options available than at some other parks. The Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence is a super affordable option, with rooms starting at just 5,000 World of Hyatt H, +1.75%   points per night.

Read next: Here are the best destinations in every state to keep your social distance

More from NerdWallet:

Meghan Coyle is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @inkwaves.

Kelley Blue Book: 5 facts about consumers and online car shopping

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There’s no question that the world of automotive has witnessed massive change lately. Fueled by COVID shutdowns, online car buying is now mainstream. Locating the perfect car is now, in many ways, easier and more personalized experience than ever before. More and more, the automotive industry has become geared toward digital.

A recent study from parent Cox Automotive, reveals just how comfortable people are shopping for a car online.

“With the industry’s increased focus on digital retailing, we wanted to know how consumers prefer to find, research, and purchase vehicles in the online space,” said Sonia Kher, a research manager at Cox Automotive. “We wanted to understand shoppers’ experience levels with digital retailing, their attitudes and comfort levels with various steps of the online car-buying process, and any barriers that might make it more difficult for them to buy online.” Here are five things to know about online car buying:

1. Most shoppers are generally comfortable completing the early steps of the vehicle purchase process online

The majority of people are very open to doing things like researching incentives and scheduling test drives online, saying that they believe it will save them time and stress.

See: This is exactly how much car prices have gone up

2. In the final steps of the purchase process, shoppers tend to prefer in-person communication

As the deal approaches and the car-buying journey nears its close, people lean toward face-to-face interaction, saying that it makes it easier to negotiate a price and trust a dealer. That in-person connection is increasingly being offered at the customer’s home.

3. Over half of shoppers would feel comfortable selecting extended warranties and add-ons online

This is one area of automotive that still has room to grow. While prior to COVID, only about one-third of all dealers would offer these options to shoppers in the online setting. That number is growing daily. Dealers have since added services that allow for home test drives, virtual vehicle walk-arounds, and remote digital completion of paperwork.

Read: Americans’ love affair with pickup trucks might be derailing their retirement plans

4. Applying for financing is polarizing as an online step in the car-buying journey

The study found that applying for financing online is perceived to be the least comfortable step for consumers to take. But, doing your homework and pre-qualifying for a loan online first is one way to streamline the car buying process.

Also see: Some municipalities are offering money and gifts for filling out the census

5. Reducing risk is key to online car buying

When a dealer’s website or an automotive shopping website offers options that address the perceived blind spots of shopping online (think test drives, complementary mechanic inspections, and the ability to opt out of a deal after seeing the car in-person), people are more likely to buy a car online.

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