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Many Americans — some more than others — are putting hard-earned money toward bank fees, according to research released this month.

Millennials, racial minorities and people living in the Northeast pony up more in bank fees than other groups, according to a survey by the personal-finance and credit-card recommendation site Bankrate. The American Bankers Association, the trade organization for the banking industry, was not immediately available for comment on the report.

Millennials with checking accounts, who tend to be less experienced customers than older Americans, paid bank fees of $13 a month, on average, versus $9 for Gen Xers and $3 for baby boomers. Northeasterners paid $10 a month on average, versus the $7 to $8 for residents from other regions. Of those people who paid checking-account fees, the average cost was $28.61 a month.

White checking-account customers said they paid about $5 on average in monthly bank fees, compared to $16 for Hispanic customers and $12 for black customers.

White consumers with checking accounts said they paid about $5 on average in monthly bank fees, compared to $16 among Hispanic consumers, $12 among black consumers and $8 among consumers of another race. White consumers (78%) were more likely than their black (60%) or Hispanic (59%) peers to report paying no monthly bank fees.

Overall, 73% of respondents with checking accounts said they didn’t pay any monthly bank fees. The survey, commissioned by Bankrate and conducted by YouGov, polled 2,634 adults, 2,285 of whom had a bank or credit-union checking account. All of these fees add up, but they are relatively easy to avoid, Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst for Bankrate, told MarketWatch.

Separately, a report published this month by the Financial Health Network found that financially under-served people — those struggling to access “mainstream financial products” because of low-to-moderate or volatile incomes, credit challenges and/or being un-banked or under-banked — spent a collective $189 billion in financial-product fees and interest in 2018.

With regulation restricting high-interest payday loans, under-served consumers continue to shift away from single-payment credit toward longer-term and larger amounts of credit, added John Thompson, the chief program officer of the Financial Health Network. “The under-served consumer is paying more for access to financial services than their wealthier counterparts,” he added.

But there are four hacks to avoid paying these fees:

Forget fiscal fidelity. Look for a bank that offers low-cost banking or no fees at all, and consider multiple banks or credit unions for different services, such as a checking account, savings account or auto loan, Hamrick said. The days of being tied to one financial institution are over. “We don’t need to be monogamous with one bank or credit union,” he said.

Don’t be dazzled by the fee structure. Are there fees related to your application, termination of the account, third-party ATM withdrawals, monthly account maintenance or penalties for not keeping a minimum-balance requirement? The full fee structure will sometimes be hard to determine until you reach the end of the purchasing process or examine the company’s formal terms and conditions.

Download the bank’s app. Add your bank to your favorite apps. The Bankrate survey showed that mobile and online banking wasn’t a top draw for checking-account holders, Hamrick said, but tapping into those resources can help you keep tabs on deposits, payments and balances. Mobile banking gives us a better sense of what’s happening with our money in real time, he said.

Expect the unexpected. “Often when we’re buying these products, we’re assuming that everything’s going to go right or everything is going to be the way that it is today,” Thompson said. But you should anticipate what will happen with a form of credit if something goes wrong or changes, he said, like if you default on a loan or need to pay late.

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The holiday debt hangover can be very real for those who get carried away on during the festivities of the season. But whether you tend to overspend when you’re holiday shopping for the people you love or splurge on seasonal trappings and comfort foods, coming into the new year with holiday debt doesn’t have to cripple your money management for the next year. Check out this list of realistic, easy-to-apply tips for how to payoff holiday debt.

1. Consider applying for a balance transfer card

How you recover financially after the holidays depends in part on your overall financial situation and credit score. If you can swing an approval for a balance transfer credit card, this might be a good move in helping you curtail holiday debt. If it seems counterintuitive to open a new credit card in the face of existing debt, consider these facts:

  • A balance transfer card with a 0% introductory APR lets you pay down your balance without incurring additional interest charges. That lowers the overall cost of your debt and helps you get rid of it faster.
  • Balance transfer cards sometimes offer this option for 12 to 24 months. That gives you one to two years to pay off your debt in a less stressful way.
  • If you can transfer $1,200 in holiday debt to a card with a 12-month introductory APR of 0%, you can pay it off $100 a month.

The best balance transfer credit cards are often reserved for those with good or better credit, so consider checking your credit score before you apply. And if you do go this route, make sure you don’t run up new debt on your old cards after transferring the balances. That puts you in a position that’s worse than when you started.

2. Reduce interest charges by paying holiday credit card debt early

Not everyone may qualify for a balance transfer card, and that’s OK. There are other ways to pay down holiday credit card debt quickly. By paying as much and as early as possible, you help reduce the amount of interest you’re charged.

Interest accrues daily on credit card balances. By making your payment as early as possible in your statement cycle, you reduce the balance for future days. That means there’s less of a balance to calculate interest on, which means you’ll be charged less interest.

You might like: This guy racked up $16,000 in credit-card debt — 7 ways he found financial freedom

It might sound like a small amount, but interest fees add up quickly. Americans carried over an average of more than $1,000 in holiday debt in 2018. Paying off a decent chunk of that amount early could save you more than $100 in interest. Consider the example below.

$1,000 balance, 21% interest and payments of $50 each month:

  • Total interest cost: $241.58.
  • Time to pay off the debt: 2.1 years

The same balance and interest rate but paying $100 each month:

  • Total interest cost: $108.93
  • Time to pay off the debt: 1 year

The same situation with a $200 monthly payment:

  • Total interest cost: $55.97
  • Time to pay off the debt: 6 months
3. Create a realistic plan for zeroing out holiday debt

The difference between paying your holiday debt off in six months and two years can be huge, but make sure you’re realistic about your debt reduction plans. You can’t pay $200 a month on a card if you don’t have $200 a month.

See: Here’s how long it will take for your credit to recover from the holidays

Take some time to make a working budget for the year. Account for all your income and your expenses. Consider what’s left and how much you need to save for emergency expenses or retirement. Then, determine how much extra you can put toward your holiday credit card debt.

4. Find one thing you can give up temporarily to pay off debt faster

If you’re looking at your budget and scratching your head trying to come up with extra money for credit card debt, consider your expenses. Are they all absolutely necessary? If you can give up something, even in the short term, you can divert that money to pay down your debt.

Common expenses people give up to help them payoff their credit card debt include:

  • Eating out—or eating out as often
  • Entertainment expenses, such as cable
  • Extras such as going out every weekend or unnecessary driving
  • Certain types of snacks or beverages that bring the grocery budget up but aren’t needs
5. Consider a debt consolidation

If your holiday debt is on high-interest credit cards, you may feel like every step forward is smaller than it should be when paying it off. Balance transfer cards aren’t the only way to reduce the interest rate on this debt. You may be able to use a debt consolidation loan to pay off the credit card balance, especially if you have equity in your home you can use as collateral.

Related: 5 myths about debt consolidation

There are a few debt consolidation options can be beneficial if they result in lower interest rates. But make sure you don’t run up your credit card balance again. If you do, you’ll be looking at double the debt you were trying to pay down.

6. Plan ahead for the next season to avoid a repeat

Use a credit card payoff calculator to get a full understanding of what your holiday debt could end up costing you—and how long it could take to payoff. This can be a real eye-opener and help you see the danger in arriving at the next season unprepared. Make a plan now to reduce overspending for this year.

You might start saving now, shop throughout the year for gifts to get the best deals or set a budget on what you’re able to spend during the holidays. When you do, make sure you stick with it. It’s the impulse spending in the middle of the season that usually ends up pushing people into debt.

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NerdWallet: What to do when you lose your job

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

It doesn’t matter if you were fired or laid off, whether you saw it coming or were completely blindsided: Losing your job is disorienting. You’ll feel like you’re in a fog. And yet, in that fog you still need to answer some important questions:

How will you pay rent? Put gas in your car? What about your student loans?

The average length of unemployment is almost 22 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it’s important to quickly adapt your finances to your temporary new normal.

Working through these tasks in the first seven days can help you find your financial footing as you figure out the next step in your career.

Day 1: Apply for unemployment

“Filing for unemployment insurance is a critical piece to getting back on your feet,” says Kyle Goulard, a certified financial planner in Portland, Oregon.

Contact your state’s unemployment office the day you lose your job. In most cases, you can file your unemployment claim online. The process can take a few weeks, so don’t delay.

Day 2: Assess your savings

Take stock of what you’ve squirreled away over the years. How far will it get you? Factor in any severance or payouts for unused vacation days, which will help you stretch your reserves.

In an ideal world, you’ll have enough savings to get you through a few months. In reality, you may only have a few weeks’ worth. Prioritizing bills and cutting back spending can help stretch that (more on that below).

Your 401(k) might look like a lifeline, but resist the urge to cash it out. Between taxes, penalties and lost retirement earnings, that’s an incredibly expensive move. Consider it a last resort, and you’re not there yet.

Day 3: Strip down your spending

“As soon as you lose your job, you should switch to an emergency bare-bones budget,” says Bruce McClary with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

That means cutting nonessentials, including gym memberships, ride-shares, cable, streaming services and other subscriptions.

These changes feel extreme, but they’re only temporary. You can readjust your spending once you find another job.

Day 4: Call your creditors

Contact any lenders, utility companies and credit card issuers that you owe money. Many will have options to help out, including reducing or suspending payments, McClary says. The key here is to be proactive.

Related: This 29-year-old woman lost her job and is looking for healthy ‘poor people meals

“It’s definitely taken into consideration when a borrower reaches out first,” McClary adds. “It can change the entire conversation.”

Day 5: Don’t neglect your student loans

Most student loans have built-in protections to help with this exact situation.

You may be able to temporarily suspend your loan payments through deferment or forbearance, or change your repayment plan to lower the amount due each month. Call your loan servicer to figure out the best option based on your loans.

If you’ve already missed a payment, you may have some wiggle room. Federal student loans aren’t considered in “default” until they’re 270 days past due. Avoid getting to that point, says Dana Kelly with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

“Little dings are going to happen, but you don’t want anything major. Especially when truly there is no need for it to happen,” Kelly says. “You can simply make a phone call and get yourself on better footing while you’re finding that next job.”

Day 6: Prioritize financial obligations

You may need to make some hard decisions if you don’t have enough money to go around. But how do you decide what gets paid and what doesn’t?

“Your top priority should be on making rent, keeping the lights on, putting food on the table,” says Scott Newhouse, a certified financial planner in Thousand Oaks, California.

Debt comes next. McClary says to prioritize collateralized loans, like your mortgage or auto loan. Defaulting on those could lead to losing your home or car.

Also see: You’re likely to be out of a job in your 50s — 4 ways to prepare and minimize the pain

With credit cards, continue to make at least the minimum payment for as long as possible. Missing payments will damage your credit score, which can take years to rebound. And you may need your credit cards to cover expenses down the road.

Remember: Continue talking with your creditors, especially if you need to miss a payment. You’ll have more control over the situation if you keep them in the loop.

Day 7: Sort out your health care

Health insurance through your employer typically won’t terminate the day your employment does. Often, you’ll have coverage at least until the end of the month, but you’ll need something to bridge the gap until your next gig.

Job loss is considered a “qualifying event,” meaning you can get health insurance outside of the annual open enrollment period. Explore the following options:

  • Your parents’ plan, if you’re under age 26.
  • Your spouse’s employer-sponsored plan.
  • The health insurance marketplace (
  • Continuing coverage through your former employer via COBRA insurance.

One option that should not be on the table: forgoing insurance.

“This is a ‘must-have’ without question,” Goulard says. “The only thing worse than being unemployed is incurring health care costs without health insurance coverage.”

More from NerdWallet:

Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email:

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This article is reprinted by permission from It is part of the America’s Entrepreneurs Special Report.

If you’re thinking about running a part-time business in retirement, researching and even starting it while you’re still working full-time is a smart move.

“It’s great to see if there is a market for your business while not depending on it for an income,” said Phillip Phan, a Johns Hopkins Carey Business School professor as well as an editor on the EIX Editorial Board of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. (EIX is a funder of Next Avenue.)

Whether you’ll want to, say, provide a concierge service to care for pets, create craft items or run a nonprofit for a cause you love, getting things going before you retire also offers an opportunity to assess if there is a demand beyond your friends and family, said Kimberly A. Eddleston, a Northeastern University entrepreneurship professor and a senior editor on the EIX Editorial Board.

Cutting hours to build a business for retirement

Mary Pender Greene, a psychotherapist, social worker and career coach, laid the groundwork for incorporating her consulting business in New York City — MPG Consulting — during her last full-time year as an executive at The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in 2010. She had worked at that nonprofit for 26 years.

See: How to create steady retirement income

MPG Consulting is “committed to ensuring that organizations serving populations of color are prepared to provide transformative culturally and racially attuned clinical, programmatic and administrative services,” noted Pender Greene.

Between 2010 and 2013, Pender Greene continued working at The Jewish Board in a smaller capacity, roughly six hours a month, keeping a connection to the organization while expanding her consulting firm.

“There was never a moment when I thought: ‘Oh, what else am I going to do?’ I was always thinking about what else I could do, said Pender Greene, author of “Creative Mentorship and Career-Building Strategies: How to Build Your Virtual Personal Board of Directors.” “No matter what, there are always transferable skills.”

Having a wide swath of contacts helped Pender Greene grow her consulting practice to a team of roughly 60 diverse consultants with a broad range of experience as coaches, clinicians, trainers and managers.

A chance to test your product or service

Launching a business perhaps one to five years before retiring from your current one provides the chance to test the market for your product or service. “By starting a business before you stop working, you can see what your time commitment will actually be. It will help you to understand what your actual day would look like once you are doing it full-time,” said Eddleston.

Also read: The SECURE Act is changing retirement — here are the most important things to know

Pender Greene agrees. “When you’re thinking about leaving your current job, you need at least a year to plan before you leave,” she said. “A part of what makes it successful during the transition is to keep your focus open. If you hold on too tightly to a goal, you might not see the new opportunities.”

Also, said David Deeds, Schulze professor of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, and EIX executive editor, “You need to really take the time to do your research getting feedback from potential customers.”

If you’ll be test-marketing a new business while fully employed, there are two things to keep in mind:

For one, make sure there’s no conflict of interest between your idea and what you do for your current employer. You don’t want to be accused of stealing intellectual property.

Sometimes, this just means having a conversation with your employer ahead of time, noted Phan.

Don’t miss: ‘I love guns, liberty and independence — and despise high taxes. Where should I retire?’

You’ll also want to learn your state’s tax reporting requirements for small businesses. “Work with an attorney and accountant,” said Phan.

Taking these steps to slowly roll out your business idea lets you “find out if what you want to do provides the profit margins that you need. You want to fail early and cheap, without putting your retirement savings and investments at risk,” said Deeds.

Leslie Hunter-Gadsden is a journalist and educator with over 25 years experience writing for print and online publications. She has covered business topics for several trade publications and Black Enterprise magazine.

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

More from Next Avenue:
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Happy Thursday, MarketWatchers. Don’t miss these top stories:

Personal Finance
‘We’e in a happier place now!’ My husband wrote a secret will when our marriage was rocky — should I now write one too?

‘I do not know what is in this will, but it’s still current and in his brother’s possession.’

House votes to make it easier for scammed students to cancel loans

Borrowers who racked up debt at closed schools also got a break from the IRS.

The ‘best job in America’ pays $105,000 — and you’ve probably never heard of it

‘Because of the stiff competition to recruit and retain this talent, more companies are investing in their employees’ experiences at work,’ says Amanda Stansell, senior economic research analyst at Glassdoor.

Harvard Medical School researchers allege ‘erosion’ of standards at FDA, criticizing shorter drug-review times

‘The FDA has increasingly accepted less data and more surrogate measures, and has shortened its review times,’ according to a new study in JAMA.

The No. 1 ‘happiest country’ in the world also has one of the highest suicide rates — these Fed economists have a theory

The top countries ranked highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

One industry replaced over half of its CEOs with women in 2019 — so why did these 6 industries replace all their CEOs with men?

Men replaced women in 131 cases in 2019, while women replaced men in 189 cases, according to a new study.

Meghan and Harry are starting a foundation, but they may be opening a Pandora’s box

The Sussexes say they want to forge their own financial path away from the royal family, and launch a ‘new charitable entity.’

‘It’s just unfair they could deny this claim.’ A Wisconsin couple missed a $7,386 refund — but they say it’s not over yet

More than 1.2 million people last year may have missed out on long-owed refunds, totaling $1.4 billion.

Mortgage rates went up, but geopolitics could expand Americans’ home-buying power

The ‘phase one’ trade deal between the U.S. and China didn’t significantly boost optimism among investors.

This is what happens when employers can’t ask job applicants about salary history

More states and cities are passing laws saying employers can’t ask about salary history.

Elsewhere on MarketWatch
Disney heiress slams the company her grandfather co-founded, says workers are at risk of ‘a death spiral’

Abigail Disney supports a bill in California that would increases taxes on companies depending on the gap between their highest paid executives and the rest of the workforce.

Trump administration to bar media from using computers in economic data ‘lockups’

News reporters will no longer be allowed to use computers — just pen and paper — to write articles on U.S. economic reports issued by the Labor Department before they are released to the public.

USMCA heads to Trump’s desk for signature after Senate approves pact

The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, sending the pact to President Trump for signature just a day after he inked a separate high-profile trade deal with China.

Trump’s impeachment: Here’s what happens next as John Roberts swears in senators for trial

An impeachment trial in the Senate is expected to start in earnest on Tuesday. Thursday’s impeachment-related action in large part was featuring formalities.

Martha McSally blasts CNN reporter as a ‘liberal’ hack for ‘simply doing his job’

CNN reporter Manu Raju asked Sen. Martha McSally a question and she wasn’t having it.

This post was originally published on this site
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a December hearing on rules about loan relief for scammed students.

Federal lawmakers voted Thursday to block Education Department rules that would make it harder for scammed students to wipe away loans from shuttered schools.

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would halt rules slated for implementation in July and reinstate Obama administration-era regulations on how to deal with the debt loads of students with useless degrees.

The bill passed by a 231-180 vote, largely with Democrats in support of the legislation.

The vote centered on the “borrower defense to repayment” law, which lets defrauded students cancel their loans. The 1990s-era law caught renewed attention after the 2015 collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

But critics say the law’s new regulations under Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos would make it much tougher for borrowers to discharge their loans.

They already contend the DeVos-led department has granted far too few applications. As of last April, the number of approvals held steady at less than 50,000, even as pending applications grew. The DeVos department also allegedly forgives too few loans under a loan forgiveness program for teachers, nurses and other public sector workers, critics say, pointing at a 99% rejection rate.

“When you’re defrauded, you have a right to relief,” Rep. Susie Lee, a Democrat from Nevada, said in a press conference after Thursday’s vote. On Twitter TWTR, +2.96%  , Lee had said it was “almost impossible” for borrowers to get a discharge under the DeVos rules.

The bill to block the rules still has to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and then get signed by President Donald Trump, which might be a tall order for the bill’s supporters.

After the vote, Education Department press secretary Angela Morabito defended the new rules. She said the new procedures had “clear and verifiable financial triggers designed to hold institutions accountable, and it applies to nonprofit and for-profit schools alike.”

She said the rule “corrects the overreach of the prior administration, gives students and borrowers the relief that they’re owed, and restores fairness and due process, saving taxpayers $11.1 billion over 10 years.”

While the fight continues on which rules will apply to the borrower defense law, there’s some good news from the IRS for borrowers who get a loan discharge.

Student loan cancellations can result in taxable income, but there are exceptions.

Until Wednesday, one of those exceptions was for former students who used the borrower defense rule to discharge loans from Corinthian Colleges, and the American Career Institutes, a for-profit school that closed in 2013.

Now, the IRS said students successfully using the borrower defense to wipe away debt from any school do not have to report the amount of the discharged loan in their income return.

Borrower advocates applauded the move, and but said the Education Department needs to grant more borrower defense applications.

“When the government discharges a federal loan because a student was defrauded, it is common sense that the student should not be taxed on the relief,” said Aaron Ament, the president of Student Defense, a nonprofit founded by former Obama-era Department of Education staffers.

“At least we now know that, if claims ever are granted, at the end of the day borrowers will not suffer large, and potentially debilitating, tax bills.”

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The S&P 500 Index (SPX) has made a series of new all-time highs so far in 2020, and its chart is strongly positive: The moving averages are rising, and what small pullbacks there are form a series of higher highs and higher lows.

The only “complaint” might be that the rise has been so persistent that the market is overbought. But “overbought does not mean sell,” so we would need to see some violation of support before considering a bearish position.

There is minor support at S&P 500

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How big a deal is it that your 401(k) is now more likely to offer annuities alongside other investment options such as mutual funds and ETFs?

That’s a timely question, because the Secure Act—which takes effect on Jan. 1—makes it easier for your employer to include annuities as one of the investment options offered in its 401(k). Though employers up until now were theoretically able to offer annuities in their 401(k)s, few actually did so.

Read: Inheriting a parent’s IRA or 401(k)? Here’s how the Secure Act could create a disaster

For this column, I turned to Jamie Hopkins, a finance professor at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business and director of research at financial planning firm Carson Group. You may recall that I interviewed Hopkins 18 months ago about this subject, when the Secure Act was just beginning to be considered in Congress and most investors had never even heard of it.

In an interview this week, Hopkins allowed that this legislation’s annuity-related provisions would be beneficial to the extent it leads more retirees to having guaranteed lifetime income. But those changes will carry a heavy price.

Read: The Secure Act is likely to have a positive — but small — impact

“I don’t think it’s bad to have annuities within 401(k)s,” he said. “But I do think we are going to end up with inappropriate investments in annuities.”

The benefits to which Hopkins refers trace to the current low proportion of retirees who have invested in annuities. Where Hopkins takes issue with the Secure Act is how it goes about trying to increase this percentage: It does so by reducing the fiduciary obligation that 401(k) sponsors must meet when selecting annuities that would be offered within their plans. And that could have some unfortunate consequences.

Read: Secure Act: This financial planner believes you probably don’t need an annuity for your retirement

The rationale that’s been offered for why this reduced fiduciary obligation is needed is that many 401(k) sponsors are scared of the potential future liability they would face if one of the insurance companies they pick to offer annuities goes bankrupt in the future. Their lawyers supposedly are telling them to avoid that liability by simply not offering annuities.

But Hopkins points out that plan sponsors already face a similar liability if they offer a mutual fund or ETF within their 401(k) and the fund’s management company eventually goes bankrupt. Yet 401(k) sponsors don’t seem to have any problem offering those funds within their plans. Why should insurance companies have to jump over a lower hurdle for their products to be offered within a 401(k)?

There’s a second problem with making it more likely that annuities get offered within 401(k) plans: Annuities are not always appropriate investments, especially for younger investors. And it’s hard to get good asset allocation advice within a 401(k). It’s therefore not unlikely that some of those taking advantage of the newly-available annuity options in their 401(k) accounts will be making a mistake.

What’s to prevent a 30-year old from purchasing an annuity, Hopkins asks—which almost everyone would agree is inappropriate?

Read: The Secure Act is changing retirement. Here’s what you need to know

The absence of good asset allocation advice in a 401(k) is not a new problem, of course. But this pre-existing problem gets compounded when annuities are part of the investment options being offered.

Stepping back, Hopkins said he thinks it is disappointing the direction retirement finance regulations have taken over the last decade. Coming out of the financial crisis, there seemed to be a strong consensus to impose higher standards on anyone offering investment advice—which led, among other things, to the proposed Fiduciary Standard.

Far from that standard being adopted, Hopkins laments, we’re now ending up with even weaker standards than before.

Another reason to be cynical, according to Hopkins, is that there is nothing preventing you today from investing in an annuity with pre-tax dollars. Even before the Secure Act, for example, you were allowed to invest in an annuity from within your IRA. So if your 401(k) didn’t offer one, you could simply do a tax-free rollover from it into an IRA and then purchase an annuity there.

“There’s nothing the [annuity-related provisions] of the Secure Act allow you to do that you couldn’t have done before,” according to Hopkins. “Insurance companies are just hoping that once their products get into 401(k)s more people will invest in them,” he added.

Might that be one reason why insurance companies were among those lobbying most strongly for the Secure Act?

The bottom line? As always, buyer beware. Good advice is becoming more valuable than ever. While annuities can play an important role in many, if not most, retirees’ financial plans, don’t even consider them without first getting the advice of a qualified retirement planner—someone who does not have a financial incentive to be recommending an annuity in the first place.

Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. Hulbert can be reached at

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Apparently, the land of the free and the home of the brave is not the best place to start a family.

In fact, the United States barely cracked the top 20 Best Countries for Raising Kids, which is part of the Best Countries report released by U.S. News & World Report this week.

The rankings are drawn from a global perceptions-based survey of more than 20,000 people, who assessed 73 different nations on 65 different attributes.

For the list of Best Countries to Raise Kids, nations were ranked based on scores for eight attributes, including: caring about human rights; being considered family friendly; gender equality; being seen as happy; income equality; safety; having well-developed public education; and having well-developed health care systems

Surprise, surprise — Nordic countries topped the list, as they have for the last few years. Denmark took the top spot, followed by Sweden and Norway. Danes ranked highly for quality of life and citizenship, with high marks for gender equality, caring about human rights and the environment, as well as demonstrating income equality and public safety. Canada and the Netherlands rounded out the top five.

The U.S. didn’t make the top 10; in fact, it was parked at No. 18, although that is a modest improvement from being in 20th place last. year.

While America ranks as the world’s most dominant economic and military power, and it took the top education spot in this year’s Best Countries Report, U.S. News noted that safety has become a troubling issue; indeed, the U.S. ranks 32nd in the list of safest countries, which affects how well-suited it seems for children. A rising number of mass shooting incidents, and volatile U.S.-Iran tensions, have certainly shaken a sense of security in the U.S.

Read more: Iran warns U.S., Europe soldiers may not be safe as tensions rise over nuclear deal

But the report also blamed President Trump, suggesting that the president’s “rhetoric and stances on issues including immigration and foreign trade have raised questions around the world, including from the country’s closest allies, about the nation’s future course on the global stage.”

Indeed, the world’s trust in the U.S. just hit a record low, according to another part of the U.S. News report, as some recent statements by President Trump and media reports may have “rattled public opinions in various countries about the U.S. commitment to its traditional strategic alliances.” 

And America was in 15th place for citizenship, quality of life, and as the best place to visit; it was 17th in greenest countries; 18th in most transparent countries; and 26th in best places to travel alone, once more reflecting safety issues.

What’s more, despite the strong economy, many American parents are struggling to make ends meet.

The cost of child care has soared so high, according to a Freddie Mac report released this week, that many families are unable to rent or buy homes. Families spend an average of $715 a month on child care, and some households are spending almost as much on child care as they are on rent.

Read more: ‘Even two paychecks can only go so far.’ How skyrocketing child-care costs put aspiring home buyers in a bind

Vermont Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also noted during Tuesday’s debate that many fast-food workers are paid more than child-care workers.

“Every psychologist in the world knows zero through four are the most important years of human life, intellectually and emotionally. And yet our current child-care system is an embarrassment, it is unaffordable. Child-care workers are making wages lower than McDonald’s workers,” he said. “We need to fundamentally change priorities in America.”

Read more: Bernie Sanders had a point: fast-food kitchen staff are often paid more than child-care workers

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Mortgage rates edged up slightly over the last week amid continued uncertainty about the state of global affairs.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.65% during the week ending Jan. 16, up a single basis point from the previous week when rates dropped as a result of growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Freddie Mac FMCC, +0.00%   reported Thursday.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage increased two basis points to an average of 3.09%, according to Freddie Mac. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable mortgage averaged 3.39%, rising nine basis points from a week ago.

The direction of mortgage rates tends to reflect movement in the 10-year Treasury yield. Before this past week, investors had rushed to purchase Treasury notes as a precautionary measure when it looked likely that a conflict could emerge between the U.S. and Iran. As a result, the yield on these notes fell, causing mortgage rates to drop to their lowest levels in a month.

Read more: Will 2020 be a good year to buy a home? Here’s what the experts say

But this week, the yield on the 10-year Treasury noted improved somewhat as tensions in the Middle East abated and the U.S. and China signed the first phase of their trade deal. While an improvement, the investor response nevertheless was somewhat muted, said Zillow ZG, +1.96%  economist Matthew Speakman.

“Wednesday’s signing of an initial trade deal between China and the U.S.— a major development in what has been the most impactful story in bond markets over the past several months — prompted only a small response from investors that are otherwise cautiously digesting the news,” Speakman said. “The fact that many tariffs will remain in place illustrates the distance that still remains between the two nations and that will need to be covered in order to come to an enduring agreement.”

If continued global geopolitical uncertainty continues, the 10-year Treasury yield and mortgage rates could continue their roller-coaster ride. That could benefit Americans willing to take a risk and enter the housing market, said Mark Fleming, chief economist at financial services company First American FAF, +0.91%  .

“While global uncertainty can reduce domestic consumer confidence in their own economic future and cause potential home buyers to hesitate before purchasing the largest durable consumer good of their lifetime, a home, there is a benefit too,” he said in a recent report.

That benefit comes in the form of increased buying power. If increased uncertainty were to push the 10-year Treasury yield down to 1.6% from where it is now at 1.8% that could send the 30-year fixed mortgage rate as low as 3.3%, Fleming said.

Also see: Renting is more affordable than buying in almost 50% of these housing markets — and they tend to have one thing in common

“Assuming no change in household income, that would mean a house-buying power gain of $21,000, a five percent increase,” he said. “Amid uncertainty, the house-buying power of U.S. consumers can benefit significantly.”

Of course, Americans have pressures here at home that make buying a home more challenging. “While the outlook for the housing market is positive, worsening homeowner and rental affordability due to the lack of housing supply continue to be hurdles, and they are spreading to many interior markets that have traditionally been affordable,” said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac.