Category: Stocks

Dispatches from a Pandemic: Ireland just surpassed China in confirmed COVID-19 deaths — how on earth did that happen?

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How did a small island on the northwestern periphery of Europe end up with more coronavirus cases than China, the most populous country on the planet?

As of Wednesday, Ireland had confirmed 4,847 COVID-19-related deaths and 244,297 confirmed cases. China, meanwhile, had reported 4,845 deaths and only 102,294 cases.

Johns Hopkins University ranks Ireland as No. 40 in the world on a list of COVID-19-related deaths per capita by country: 98 per 100,000 with a case-fatality rate of 2%. By comparison, China is ranked No. 160 with 0.35 deaths per 100,000 people and a case-fatality rate of 4.7%.

“China is underreporting their cases, but we don’t know how much,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and chief economist of the China Beige Book. “Chinese vaccination is proceeding so much slower than it should.”

‘Xi Jinping is not allowed to fail at anything.’

— Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and chief economist of the China Beige Book

More than 143 million people have been infected worldwide by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, according to Johns Hopkins. Worldwide, more than 3 million people have died from the disease. In the U.S., at least 31.7 million people have been infected and 568,532 have died.

China’s National Health Commission told news media this week that 65 million people there had been vaccinated. Health officials in the capital city of Beijing distributed 10 million doses, and more than 3 million people have received two shots, Reuters reported.

About 4% of China’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, recent reports say. The country plans to vaccinate 40% of its population by the end of June, a goal that would require a significant increase in vaccinations. China has four COVID-19 vaccines available, the first of which was reportedly available for emergency use in the summer of 2020.

“They started distributing emergency doses last summer? And here we are in April, and they’re behind the United States in dose administration,” Scissors said. “If there was a new variant that came out of China, we wouldn’t hear about it until it’s too late.”

The Chinese government was slow to report the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and 2021 is no different, Scissors said. “Xi Jinping is not allowed to fail at anything. Therefore, the problem is solved. This is now a national political issue for them, and it’s a public-health issue way down in priority.”

China did not appear to take preemptive actions in the early days of the pandemic, and was reluctant to tell its citizens about the suspected virus outbreak. The first known person was reported to have contracted the virus on Dec. 1 in China, according to an article in The Lancet.

In December 2019, Yaxue Cao, a political activist, wrote on Twitter US:TWTR  that a Wuhan doctor said in a WeChat group there were seven cases of SARS connected to the Wuhan food market, and was forced to retract that by the party disciplinary office. That doctor later died from COVID-19.

Amid the fear and confusion surrounding the initial days of the virus in China, some families there voiced concern and frustration at the time that their relatives’ cause of death was marked as “severe pneumonia” or “viral pneumonia” on their death certificates, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We don’t have a way to find out what current spread is like,” Scissors said. “It’s very suspicious that we have new variants that seem to be more infectious, and seem to have had no effect in China.”

“It wouldn’t be surprising if they were hiding local outbreaks,” he added. “I read the Chinese press every day, and it’s like the new variants don’t exist. There are massive variations across countries. Even if they are doing well nationally, it’s unlikely they’re not having local outbreaks.”

Last March, China banished journalists from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post from China, including the semi-autonomous states of Hong Kong and Macau.

Others are more optimistic. “The pandemic continues everywhere in the world, including Ireland and the United States, but not in China, if you believe the reporting,” Dr. Daniel Lucey, Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, and fellow at the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Still, he added, “I do believe there’s been no major outbreak in China.”

Also read:‘Asian-American businesses are dealing with two viruses’: Reeling from racist incidents, many are hurting financially during COVID-19

Customers enjoy a drink at Murrays Pub on Grafton Street in Dublin last summer. Photo: Getty.

“Hong Kong is still very transparent,” Lucey said. “We know what’s going on in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in the mainland I am more skeptical,” he said. “There have four outbreaks in markets in China, but there have been no major outbreaks in China since the spring of last year. There are strict rules for travelers, and the South China Morning Post has integrity and independence.”

Lucey said the rate of fatalities related to COVID-19 does “sound unbelievable,” and the media there is also very reliant on official data from state sources. What’s more, the small percentage of vaccination on the mainland means that the population is “still very vulnerable to infection, particularly variants,” he added.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This week, however, state media reported that vaccine supply was “relatively tight,” but did not specify where the problem was most pronounced or how long people would have to wait.

One thing Ireland and China share: their battles against COVID-19 are far from over.

Ireland’s road to recovery, meanwhile, has not been a straight line. The rollout of vaccinations there, as in much of Europe, has been slow compared to the U.S. Mask-wearing policies have been haphazard and compliance has been uneven, particularly in the early days of the pandemic.

The recent Johnson & Johnson US:JNJ  blood-clot issue in the U.S. is similar to one that prompted many European countries to restrict use of the AstraZeneca US:AZN  vaccine developed with Oxford University, also an adenovirus viral vector-based vaccine.

In addition to AstraZeneca, US:AZN the vaccines made by Pfizer US:PFE and its German partner, BioNTech SE US:BNTX, and Moderna US:MRNA are also available in Ireland. Authorities there have decided to limit availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over age 60 due to the concerns over blood clots.

The country has had three separate lockdowns, which were restrictive by international standards: one in the initial surge last year, another in the fall, and a third lockdown after Christmas, when people went shopping and many gathered in homes to celebrate the holidays.

The lockdowns have been described as brutal. Visiting people other than for outdoor exercise was banned, and people cannot travel beyond 5 kilometers from their home. Those who leave the country for a non-essential reason can be fined €2,000 ($2,407).

People arriving in Ireland who have not been vaccinated are required to stay in a hotel for 10 days at their own expense. Several people attempted to flee; two Irish women who went to Dubai for cosmetic procedures refused to enter a hotel and, as a result, were arrested at Dublin Airport.

Under an agreement reached in June 2020, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin took the reins as taoiseach, or Irish prime minister, from Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar until 2022. It is a polite, if imperfect, game of musical chairs to maintain stability.

This time last year, the nation’s lawmakers were — perhaps more so than usual — eager not to upset this delicate balance of power or upset the public by making any drastic or sudden moves or, indeed, missteps as the nation reeled from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Case in point: The government only advised people to wear masks in June 2020. In August, masks were mandatory in supermarkets and other indoor public spaces such as hairdressers and museums. In January 2021, the rule was extended to banks, post offices and credit unions.

A growing body of research suggests that face coverings help stop the transmission of COVID-19 through respiratory droplets, and may also encourage people to adopt more behavior recommended by health professionals, including practicing social distancing and avoiding touching their faces.

Ireland is a long way from those laissez-faire policies in April 2021. This month, the European Commission urged the country to ease some of its measures. Spokesman Christian Wigand expressed concerns under EU law on the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination.

“The commission believes that the objective pursued by Ireland, which is the protection of public health during the pandemic, could be achieved by less restrictive measures,” Wigand said. He also called out Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg for their mandatory hotel quarantines.

Ireland’s government said Wednesday that it hopes to reopen the economy as much as possible by May and June, given the current rate of vaccinations and rate of new infections. But it’s not clear whether the country will reach its goal of vaccinating 82% of adults by the end of June.

Aside from their difficulties in rolling out their respective vaccines and the official COVID-related fatalities, there is one other thing Ireland and China have in common: their battles against COVID-19, as in much of the world, are far from over.

“This pandemic isn’t going to end with a bang,” Ireland’s Varadkar told Today FM radio station on Wednesday. “We will probably have to get through another winter to know for sure if it really is behind us.”

The Moneyist: My ex-husband racked up $70K in credit-card debt in my name, and bought a house with our son. Now his business is in trouble

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Dear Quentin,

I divorced my former husband in 2011. There were many reasons we didn’t get along, but one of them was finances. He would just decide to do something with our money or my inheritance money, and not even ask me first.

This was the way my father treated my mother, so I thought it was normal. He even took out a credit card in my name and charged $70,000 on it.

He retired early from a professional job to run his store. I agreed to never seek his retirement in our divorce settlement. It would have decreased substantially, as he retired six years before he was eligible (it was an early out option).

We still get along, and get together whenever our son is involved. Our son Ryan was in college when we divorced. I shrug off my ex-husband control tendencies with me, because he just can’t do that to me anymore.

‘They bought a house together, and now my husband’s business is declining.’

However, a few years ago, my former husband said he wanted to have a house to leave to our son. I agreed to them buying a home together, only if my husband could afford it. His store was doing well at the time.

They bought a house together, and now my husband’s business is declining. He keeps putting money into the store so the “corporation” can pay for his truck and the credit cards he keeps using for the store, all of which are in his name.

He used to be really smart with things, but never with money. And, of course, I was making most of the money and he was the MAN who made the decisions. I eventually grew out of that, which is one reason we are not together anymore.

Our son graduated with his M.S. and J.D. degree and moved in with his father before he bought the house. Our son has since bought and sold a house of his own with his wife, and now owns a really nice house with her too.

‘My son realized his dad should have been on meds a long time ago for his mental health.’

His dad still expects him to make half the payment to the original house, as half of it belongs to him. In the meantime, the store has a tremendous debt of over $150,000, and is not making money.

I feel my son has put enough money into his dad’s house. His dad is 76 with a heart problem (I’m younger), and I am fearful he will leave my son with nothing but debts due to the store, and our son’s investment into his house will be pointless.

Let me say that my son realized his dad should have been on meds a long time ago for his mental health, but his dad laughed at both of us for mentioning it, along with marriage counseling. We recognize his spending habits are unhealthy and a compulsion. But we also recognize that it is affecting our son’s finances.

What should our son do? If he stops paying on the house, his dad won’t be able to afford the payments, and he will lose the money he’s already put into it.

Thanks for any insight you can offer.

Concerned Mother

Dear CM,

Who is the adult here, and who is the child?

You write that your husband’s controlling behavior does not affect you anymore. But you walked into this situation eyes wide open: You son Ryan owns a home with his own father who may or may not pay his half of the bills, if indeed he pays any. You approved the deal, and feel a sense of guilt or responsibility as a result. Your ex-husband continues to spend money without regard for the consequences, and appears to be as willful as ever regarding the fate of his failing business.

The co-dependent behavior, financial recklessness and manipulation has continued unabated, despite your divorce. Your husband wanted to leave your son a house, but he needed your approval and perhaps your willingness to persuade your son to co-sign a mortgage agreement to do so. I don’t buy your ex-husband’s motives. It reads more like your ex-husband wanted a house for himself, and couldn’t do it without his ex-wife and son playing a central role.

‘Your son is an adult, and he alone is responsible for signing this contract with his father. Not you.’

Ryan is an adult, and he alone is responsible for signing this contract with his father. Not you. This is between him and his father, and it’s time for you to step out of the picture. Your involvement does not help either party, and it certainly does not help you. Your son can choose to allow his father to use his business troubles as emotional leverage with mortgage payments or household expenses, or he can give him a choice: pay up or sell up.

Ryan needs to be the adult in the room, especially because he has his own family to take care of now. If his father cannot afford this house, and his business is bleeding money, he needs to down size, and sell the house. Alternatively, your son could buy his father out. His father could explore bankruptcy, and with the help of a lawyer explore how that may or may not affect his primary residence. In such a scenario, the mortgage payments would need to be in the black.

Your ex-husband is 76. He is highly unlikely to change his ways. We have an expression in Ireland: “An Béal Bocht” or The Poor Mouth.” It describes someone who professes financial dire straits so they can evoke pity in others. If you truly want to live separate lives, you need to step back from all of this familial financial psychodrama, and Ryan needs to get tough with his father. You have control over the former, but you have no control over the latter.

Whether or not Ryan does so stand up to his father is his decision to make, not yours.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook US:FB  group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

Despite falling unemployment, America’s poverty rate just reached the highest level since the pandemic began

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As of last month, the U.S. poverty rate has been on an upward trajectory.

Between February and March, the rate of poverty in the U.S. increased by 0.5 percentage points to 11.7%, resulting in the highest level since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, though the change wasn’t statistically significant. That’s second only to 11.6% recorded in November 2020. These estimates were taken before the rollout of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

Since spring of 2020, real-time poverty data in the U.S. has been tracked every month by economists Bruce Meyer, from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and James Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Economics and the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities.

More than 100 million claims for unemployment insurance have been filed over the last year, the economists wrote with co-author Jeehoon Han of Zhejiang University in China, describing the government’s three stimulus packages.

“While new UI claims fell sharply from April through July of last year, weekly claims have remained high since then at more than 1 million claims each week, about 5 times the pre-pandemic rate,” they added.

‘Many government benefits expired, unemployment insurance benefits are typically only about half of pre-job loss earnings, and nearly 5 million people have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic and, therefore, are not counted as unemployed.’

Those who experienced the sharpest rise in poverty included children, white people, women, those with low education, and those in nearly half of U.S. states that have more restrictive unemployment-insurance payment policies. Last month marked the first time that poverty has been so acute for children, non-minorities and women, the report added.

Under the American Rescue Plan, individuals making less than $75,000 a year in adjusted gross income received $1,400. The payments decreased for individuals earning $75,000 and up — and phased out completely for those making $80,000 or more and couples making $160,000 or more in adjusted gross income. It was the third such relief package over the last year.

Unemployment fell to 6% in March 2021 from a seasonally adjusted 14.8% in April 2020, as poverty rose. Initial jobless claims filed traditionally through the states fell to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 from 769,000 in the prior week, the government said last week, marking the largest decline since August. Yet 16.9 million people are still reportedly collecting benefits.

“This disconnect between poverty and unemployment is not surprising given that many government benefits expired, unemployment insurance benefits are typically only about half of pre-job loss earnings, and nearly 5 million people have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic and, therefore, are not counted as unemployed,” the economists added.

In the last week of March, 20 million Americans getting by primarily due to the generosity of friends and family were more likely to be suffering from food insecurity, according to a separate analysis by Claire Zippel, a research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank focused on the impact of budget and tax issues on inequality and poverty.

Also see: George Floyds and Christian Coopers are all around you — they are your neighbor, teacher, co-worker and friend

Encore: Has COVID-19 increased retirement?

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While older workers were not disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 recession, many older workers, like their younger counterparts, did experience layoffs. To what extent did these job exits lead to retirement and how did the pattern vary by earnings levels?

To answer this question, a new Center for Retirement Research study compared outcomes for the COVID Recession with those for the Great Recession and for 2019, a year of strong growth. The analysis was based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), whose unique sampling structure makes it possible to follow people over time.

Why it’s never too early to think about retirement savings

Read: Have you claimed Social Security and then gone back to work?

To capture the COVID shock, the study followed people who were working in October-December 2019 into the same period in 2020. A similar analysis for the Great Recession followed people from August-October 2008 to the same period a year later, when unemployment peaked. And the results for 2019 followed workers from April-June 2018 to the same period in 2019 to show the pattern during a strong labor market. The analysis was done for two age groups: 50-61 and 62+.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of those ages 50-61 in the lowest and highest weekly earnings terciles who were retired during the period reported, but were working a year earlier.

Read: What Nelson Mandela and Arnold Schwarzenegger can teach us about growing older

For the COVID Recession, 4% of low earners who were working in October-December 2019 were not working during the same period in 2020. The comparable number for high earners was 2% — not much different. Moreover, the outcome during the pandemic does not look very different from 2019 — a year with a strong labor market — nor, for that matter, from the outcome during the Great Recession. Not much retirement news here, which is not surprising given that those 50-61 are not yet eligible for Social Security and are unlikely to classify themselves as “retired.”

Figure 2 reproduces the analysis for people 62+. Here we see a lot of action — many who were previously working were retired one year later. Some clear patterns emerge. Low earners were more likely than high earners to retire in all three periods. Low earners experienced a disproportionately large increase in the likelihood of retirement compared with high earners as a result of COVID. And the COVID experience for low earners looks very similar to their experience in the Great Recession.

The unexpected result is the pattern among high earners — a much higher percentage of this group moved into retirement during the COVID Recession than during the Great Recession. One possible explanation for this pattern is the fact that COVID was particularly dangerous for older people, and those who could afford to retire opted to leave the labor force.

The bottom line is that while recessions hurt older workers generally, low earners — not surprisingly — suffer more than their higher-earning counterparts. And, low earners, as a group, fared slightly worse in the COVID Recession than they did in the Great Recession. The interesting result is that high earners (ages 62+) retired in greater numbers during the COVID Recession than they did in the Great Recession.

Not sure where to live in retirement? We can help

Mutual Funds Weekly: These money and investing tips can help you stay upright against the market’s headwinds

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can give you greater knowledge about the financial markets’ current condition as you monitor your portfolio and plan ahead. Plus, check out several short videos about whether to include bitcoin and other cryptocurrency in your portfolio and how to go about it if you do.

Sign up here  to get MarketWatch’s best mutual funds and ETF stories emailed to you weekly!

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Outside the Box: I took advantage of the 2020 RMD rule but now my 1099-R looks wrong — what should I do?

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Q: I took advantage of the 2020 RMD rule and returned what I had taken from my IRA thinking there would be no taxes. I just got a 1099-R showing the full RMD. That can’t be right. How do I correct it?

—Pauline

A.: Pauline,

If the 1099-R is incorrect, you will need to contact the firm that issued the statement to get it corrected. However, the 1099-R is probably correct.

Read: Are there new RMD rules this year?

Under the law, the firm issuing the 1099-R has no responsibility for reporting how much of a distribution is taxable. That responsibility rests on your shoulders as a taxpayer. The issuing firm need only report what was paid out of the IRA on 1099-R.

Not sure where to retire? Let us help you find the right spot

That does not mean you will pay any tax. Any funds returned to the IRA by Aug. 31, 2020 is considered a rollover and is not taxable. Normally, Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) are not eligible for rollover, but IRS guidance after enactment of the CARES Act that waived RMD for 2020 changed that. The guidance stated the normal 60-day time limit for rollovers would not apply and instead instituted a fixed deadline of Aug. 31, 2020 to return such distributions and avoid taxation.

Read: It’s not too late to save on your 2020 tax bill — here’s how

I get similar questions about 1099-Rs every year. The reporting of the gross distribution looks like an error but in most cases, it is correct and the person receiving it simply hasn’t learned how it is accounted for yet.

Here’s how the accounting typically works.

As with any gross amount reported on Form 1099-R, you declare the amount that is not taxable when you file your 2020 tax return. What I hear most tax preparers would do in your situation is put the gross distribution amount from 1099-R on line 4a as per the normal procedure. Then, they would place a zero in 4b of your Form 1040, and put a note on the return near those lines that it was “returned to the IRA under the CARES Act,” “CARES Act rollover,” “CARES Act,” or simply “Rollover.”

Read: These are the best new ideas in retirement

If you did not return all of distribution by the deadline, the portion that was not returned would be taxable. You would put that number on line 4b.

Read: 5 things to do if you inherit a Roth IRA

As I mentioned a moment ago, the discrepancy between the gross distribution reported and what should actually be taxable comes up in other situations. Three of the most common are other rollovers, Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD), and distributions from accounts that had received after-tax contributions.

In all those cases, the reporting process looks like what I described above. You put the gross distribution on line 4a and the taxable portion on Line 4b. Then note why the numbers are different with “rollover,” “QCD,” or “See Form 8606” on the 1040. Form 8606 is the form used to determine the taxable amount of an IRA distribution when nondeductible contributions have been made to any of one’s IRA accounts.

If you have a question for Dan, please email him with ‘MarketWatch Q&A’ on the subject line.

Dan Moisand’s comments are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for personalized advice. Consult your adviser about what is best for you. Some questions are edited for brevity.

The Moneyist: I’m on track to retire at 58. My fiancée is in debt and drives my old car, and I support her family. How do I ensure my son inherits my wealth after I die?

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Dear Quentin,

I have dated my fiancée for just over three years. Within those three years, I have been severed from a job and spent two years unemployed looking for a new job. I have a new job, making roughly 75% of what I previously made, but it is a more than livable salary. My fiancée makes a modest salary in comparison to my own.

Financially, I had spent a lot of years going without in order to pay for my son’s college education and to stockpile savings in order to retire early. According to my financial planner, I am well ahead of my goal to retire at 58 (I’m 51 currently) with an IRA of around $2 million, plus savings and other liquid assets.

Currently, my fiancée is trying to get herself out of debt. She drives my old car and shares no utility bills or mortgage payments, but she does buy groceries, as the household is made up of her, her children and me. By supporting her family, I have very little I can do for my own son.

It has always been tradition in my family to leave an inheritance. I had planned on leaving my only son a rather large inheritance so that he may better himself and his family. My fiancée has children, and my concern is that if I am married (I live in Texas), the savings I have would go to her and subsequently her children, bypassing my son.

Since I am 10 years older than my fiancée, I suspect she may outlive me. How do I protect my assets so that they can be split as part of my wishes?

Nervous Fiancé and Father

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear F & F,

Texas is a community-property state, so what you bring into the marriage, you also take out of the marriage. Assets accrued during the marriage, with the exception of inheritance, are deemed marital or community property.

You have several options, including setting up a living trust to allow you to transfer your wealth to your son during your lifetime, and thereby avoiding going through probate, which can be an unpredictable, cumbersome and public process.

You have two choices of trust: revocable or irrevocable. The first can be changed. You could retitle financial accounts in your son’s name. The latter cannot be changed, and also serves to save on estate taxes. It’s typically used to leave assets to children and grandchildren.

Other routes: a prenuptial agreement, a will (obviously) and naming your son as your beneficiary on your life-insurance policy. With the help of an estate planner, you can devise ways to ensure your son is taken care of after you’re gone, and your future wife is not left out.

In the meantime, ensure you keep separate property separate. If you deposit an inheritance in a joint bank account, for instance, it becomes marital property. If your fiancée contributes to the renovation of a home in your name, it again becomes community property.

Speak to your fiancée about your concerns and goals. It’s important to be transparent and ensure that you and she are on the same page, and share the same financial expectations. You may also want to wait until your wife pays her debts before marrying.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -1.55%  group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist: My wife offered to ‘loan’ me money when I was having financial trouble. I now make six figures — and she refuses to pay any bills

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Dear Quentin,

I’m wondering if I am paranoid, or if I have reason to feel used.

My wife and I have two kids and own a home. We have had rocky moments throughout our marriage, but we are hanging in there. In 2019, I took a sales job thinking it would lead to more pay. I was wrong. It took a while for me to get my sales up and running, along with my commissions.

I had to start dipping into my savings to pay my part of the bills, which is usually a little more than half of what we spend. My wife, coincidentally, started making lots more money with her job, and made more than me during 2019. It was about 60/40.

She knew I was short and dipping into my savings, and offered to “loan” me money to pay back. I declined her offer and chose to borrow money from my company, which they called a “draw.” I was shocked and upset that she was treating our marriage like a business transaction.

‘She claims she shouldn’t have to pay any bills because she is now home with the kids during COVID, and I make six figures.’

Fast Forward to 2020. Fortunes changed. She received a $200,000 inheritance, plus $40,000 from her job as a severance after she was let go in March. The difficult sales job I had taken actually led to me landing a new job paying me well over six figures.

As I started my new job, and my wife received her money, she used part of her $200,000 inheritance to go on a spending spree: a $50,000 truck, and a $20,000 camping trailer. AMZN, +0.61%  packages arrive every other day, and the rest is tucked in a savings account.

Here’s the thing. She won’t pay any bills anymore. She says she doesn’t have income coming in, except $3,200 from unemployment. She claims she shouldn’t have to pay any bills because she is now home with the kids during COVID, and I make six figures.

She also insists on “budgeting” so she can account for every dollar I spend, and make sure I put as much extra money after bills into our mortgage to pay the house off quicker. This feels like I’m being hustled, but I can’t force her to pay bills.

Am I a sucker?

Confused

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Confused,

I was feeling more bemused than confused when I read your letter. Why would your wife offer to give you a “loan” instead of contributing more money to get you both through tough times? Why would your wife not consider her $40,000 severance a form of income from her company? Why would she just not help pay bills given that she can afford to? Would that not make her feel good to be able to participate in the running of your household? You went to great lengths to pay your way.

‘If there’s a sucker born every minute, it’s safe to assume that there’s one married every minute too.’

— The Moneyist

You could put these questions to her, of course, and you would no doubt become embroiled in a debate that was tit for tat. If we accuse others of acting in a churlish manner they no doubt will find some example — whether it is comparable or not — of some churlish or petty behavior of our own. I’m not naive enough to believe that I, or anyone else, can win a lifelong game of petty point scoring, and come out of it unscathed. It can last years. Until death do you part.

And so these questions — while valid — are unlikely to lead to any satisfying conclusion. They would likely open doors to more rooms filled with stubborn indignation heaped upon financial fecklessness. Are you being a sucker? There is no productive answer to that question either. If there’s a sucker born every minute, it’s safe to assume that there’s one married every minute too. But what good does it do to luxuriate in self pity or displeasure, and embark upon another battle of wills?

The Moneyist:My fiancée’s mother asked us to raise her 2 kids, as we live in a good school district and she has a gambling addiction — then she claimed their stimulus checks

The questions you need to ask might go something like: “What has happened that has led us to this unhappy place where we embark on a cold war — bank account against bank account, income against inheritance, and spouse against spouse? Is this the life we had planned for ourselves? Because it wasn’t the life I had planned for us, and it is not the kind of life I want to live. What can we do to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect?”

You also need to ask yourself both the hardest and easiest questions of all: What are you prepared to accept? Where do the red lines in this marriage lie, the ones that are unacceptable to you, and where do the white lines lie, the ones where you are willing and able to compromise on? Your wife making lavish purchases while declining to contribute to household expenses is not an action that is conducive to a healthy marriage, but it does not come from nowhere.

You must find out where all of this comes from. It is either fixable, or it is not fixable. But you need to ask the right questions of your wife — and of yourself — to find out.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.57%  group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Dispatches from a Pandemic: Johnson & Johnson saga reveals critical strengths in the U.S. COVID-19 mass-vaccination strategy — and its weaknesses

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Todd Paul administers the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Janssen Vaccine to Gerald McDavitt, 81, a Veteran of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, at McDavitt’s home in Boston, Mass. last month.

AFP via Getty Images

The United States campaign to reach herd immunity through vaccination involves a delicate — sometimes tricky — dance with side effects, public opinion and virus variants. All three are unpredictable, and can turn when you least expect it.

The rollout of coronavirus vaccines has not been without challenges, but the Biden administration’s strategy of not relying on just one vaccine has preempted potential setbacks with any one product. As recent events illustrate, however, the suspension of one vaccine can impact public opinion of the entire process.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday as they examine six severe cases of rare blood clots. J&J’s JNJ, -1.34%  vaccine is an adenovirus vector-based vaccine that only requires one shot. Clinical trials showed it had 72% efficacy in the U.S.

‘It’s still a race between the variants and the vaccine.’

— Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security

The two-shot mRNA-based vaccines made by Pfizer PFE, +0.51% and German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, +6.68%  and Moderna MRNA, +7.40%  make up the majority of shots administered in the U.S., and were about 95% effective in clinical trials. (Mayo Clinic research puts their “real world” effectiveness at closer to 88.7%, still high.)

Currently, 22.7% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated. On Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet to discuss the cases and the FDA has launched an investigation into the cause of the clots.

“It’s still a race between the variants and the vaccine,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told MarketWatch.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development and distribution program, has been key to this success, he said.

“Part of Operation Warp Speed was not knowing which ones would cross the finish line, and having alternative vaccines that can handle the J&J pause and other vaccines in the pipeline,” Adalja said. “We are increasingly not supply-constrained in the U.S. because of the bulk manufacture of vaccines.”

The FDA and CDC said the J&J pause would give their scientists time to investigate the six cases of blood clotting in vaccinated individuals. There were six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a blood-clotting disorder, out of roughly 6.8 million people in the U.S. who have received this vaccine.

“When I was offered Moderna, J&J wasn’t even an option. It was never in my consideration not to take it,” Maury Newburger, a New York-based travel consultant who received the Moderna vaccine in March. “Knowing what I know now, I probably would not take the J&J. I still think I would have taken the two-shot vaccines.”

All six cases of blood clots occurred in women ages 18 to 48. One woman died, and another remains in critical condition, according to details released by the FDA Tuesday. “We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” health officials said.

“Hiccups in production and hiccups in safety are inevitable,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, the George and Esther Gross Presidential Professor at the University of Utah and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

“It was a wise decision to spread the risk,” he told MarketWatch. “Factories can be hit by a hurricane, run out of a supply, or be hit by contamination that forces them to shut down.”

Maury Newburger in Greenland in before the coronavirus pandemic. He received the Moderna vaccine in March. ’Knowing what I know now, I probably would not take the J&J,’ he said.

c/o Maury Newburger
The good (and the bad) news

The good news: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna supply the majority of vaccines in the U.S., and currently ship roughly 23 million doses a week here. The White House said the J&J pause will not have a “significant impact” on the rollout in the U.S.

”We’ve been doing fairly well and not having the outcome Europe is having,” Adalja said. “We have successfully vaccinated high-risk populations: nursing-home residents and those in community dwellings. We’re nowhere near the winter surge. Nursing-home deaths have plummeted.”

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a statement: “This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan: Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5% of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date.”

‘These types of things make vaccine-hesitant people more concerned.’

— Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau

The latest complication has further delayed a rocky rollout in the European Union, which ordered approximately 200 million doses of the J&J vaccine in 2021. “We have made the decision to proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe,” J&J said in a statement Tuesday. The U.K. has ordered 30 million doses of the J&J vaccine, although it has not yet been authorized for use there.

Now, for the bad news: “Unfortunately, there is always going to be a halo effect in a negative way,” Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, N.Y., told MarketWatch. “What’s happened with J&J is forcing people to have questions with all vaccines.”

The J&J vaccine “remains an extremely important vaccine for a fatal disease,” he added. “These types of things make vaccine-hesitant people more concerned.”

“Certainly, having other vaccines has been extremely helpful because there can always be manufacturing issues, or different strains may or may not be effective against a particular vaccine. That’s not intentional, it’s just the way science works,” Glatt said.

“The boosters, if and when they do come, will be more easily approved,” he added. “We’ve done most of the legwork already. It’s impossible to predict what will happen. It’s possible the vaccines will have efficacy against different strains. Time will tell, and the different strains will tell as well.”

In one recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken before the J&J vaccination pause, 13% of Americans said they would definitely not get the vaccine, and 7% said they would get it only if required.

“As humans, we are not very good at translating risk into action,” Pavia said. “If I have the chance of being one of the 500,000 who die of COVID, how do I balance that with the one person who had a fatal side effect, if it’s a side effect at all? It’s the same perceptual problem when we blindly drive to the airport texting, yet we worry about the airplane.”

In the aftermath of the J&J vaccine pause, Barbara Alexander, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said that the American public must continue to receive clear, accurate and up-to-date information, and have their questions answered, “so that we can maintain and build trust and confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.”

“The risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, and the potential for severe illness or death, remains a serious concern, and we urge everyone who is eligible to take the opportunity to be vaccinated with one of the currently available options,” she added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said good ‘herd immunity’ would equate to 70% to 85%, and that the U.S. should start to see a return to normalcy by the fall.

Getty Images
The appeal of J&J and AstraZeneca

The J&J blood-clot issue is similar to one that caused many European countries to pause and/or restrict use of the AstraZeneca AZN, -0.47%  and Oxford University coronavirus vaccine, which is also an adenovirus viral vector-based vaccine. The U.K. has restricted its use to those over age 30.

Moderna started its vaccine rollout in England on Tuesday, providing an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine. In Ireland, where Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are also available, authorities decided to limit AstraZeneca to people over age 60 for the same reason.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was appealing for poorer countries and rural communities, said Bill Schaffner, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tenn.

‘We’re not going to get COVID zero. It’s going to be with us season after season.’

— Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security

“AstraZeneca was supposed to be a relatively inexpensive vaccine, and it can be handled at conventional refrigerator temperature,” he said. “That issues with this vaccine is putting a substantial crimp into the plans of distributing it internationally.”

The J&J vaccine, meanwhile, was an attractive prospect for people who had a particular dislike of vaccines and/or needles, Schaffner added.

“The J&J vaccine has kind of caught on because it’s one and done, so this pause will no doubt slow us down,” he said. “In our state, as we try to vaccinate more people in rural areas, we’ve run into real vaccine hesitancy or indifference to getting vaccinated.”

Elsewhere, Russia’s Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) coronavirus vaccine was the first in the world to be approved last August, and Hungary was the first country in the European Union to approve it. That country too has rolled out more vaccines. A second Russian vaccine, EpiVacCorona, was registered in October. Last month, Russia approved a third domestic COVID-19 vaccine, CoviVac.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. has reached 563,428, and continues to climb. More than 31.3 million people in the U.S. have been infected by the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Worldwide, more than 2.9 million people have died from the disease.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that good “herd immunity” would equate to 70% to 85%, and that the U.S. should start to see a return to normalcy by the fall. That, of course, depends on individuals’ age, circumstances and underlying conditions.

“Herd immunity is likely something that will happen in late summer,” Adalja said. “We’re not going to get COVID zero — it’s going to be with us season after season, but it’s not going to have the ability to cause a public-health emergency. The key was to tame it, and the damage it was causing.”

Vaccine variety also helps protect against variants. Israel has vaccinated over 50% of its population so far. A preprint of a small study, which was published last Friday, said the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first detected in South Africa, was more likely to infect people in Israel who had been vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine.

The study has not been peer reviewed, but it was still of particular interest in Israel, which has relied predominantly on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Fauci said clinical data thus far indicates the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna provide protection against B.1.1.7, first detected in the U.K., but their efficacy is thought to drop against the B.1.351 variant, a rarer strain of the virus, at least in the U.S.

Newburger, the travel consultant, never got a flu vaccine until the coronavirus came along. “I never did believe in the flu shot,” he said. “I maybe got sick one or two days a year, but this was the first year I got the flu shot. It was the combination of COVID, traveling and the possibility of catching something, and this time I thought, ‘I’ll get it.’”

He said there will always be vaccine holdouts who remain beyond convincing to any coronavirus vaccine. “There’s a very small group of people who don’t believe in it for religious reasons or political reasons, or they’re just completely oblivious,” he said. “That’s hard for me to comprehend.”

The Moneyist: My mother is dying of cancer. Her husband said she’s leaving everything to me and my brothers. When is a good time to ask about her will?

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Dear Quentin,

My mother is dying of cancer, and doesn’t have much longer to live.

I was told by her current husband that they sought counsel to establish a will, and all of her assets are going to myself, and my two brothers.

1. When is it a good time to ask about her will?

2. To whom should I speak to regarding her will?

3. Do I ask about it now or wait until she passes?

Obviously, I don’t want to sound greedy, but I feel as though this is important information for myself and the rest of my family to know.

Sincerely,

One of Three Sons

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Son,

Trust your gut. How you decide to approach this depends on how sick your mother is currently, and what kind of relationship you have with her. If it’s a strong, healthy relationship where you can talk about anything, you might say, “Jack kindly told us that you made a will providing for the children. Is there anything that we need to know, or is there anything we can do to help with Jack or your estate?” That is, don’t come bearing questions alone. Bring some offer of assistance to the table.

If your mother is in a vulnerable state, you can take your stepfather at his word, and be there for her during her last days. It may be that she does not want to discuss her last will and testament, and I’m guessing she would not like to be grilled on the subject on her death bed, so tread carefully. (I am assuming that your stepfather was appointed executor.) Ultimately, ensure that your mother is comfortable during her last days, and that includes helping to alleviate any stress or anxiety.

Timing and tone is important in any discussions. Amy Zehnder, managing director, leadership and legacy consultant at Ascent Private Capital Management of U.S. Bank, told me in MarketWatch’s recent “Mastering Your Money” series, that families often stumble awkwardly into such conversations. “Kids don’t want to ask, because they are afraid of coming across as greedy,” she said. “Be curious and understanding about how it works, and not ‘what’s it for me.’”

The document will be filed with the probate court upon your mother’s passing. You can access the document through the probate court and/or through the family’s attorney. The court clerk should be able to help you find the case number and hearing dates, if you supply you mother’s name and the date of her death. Failing that, you can ask your stepfather. If he is good enough to inform you about your mother’s will, he should be willing to share the will’s contents after your mother passes.

The Moneyist: My fiancée’s mother asked us to raise her 2 kids, as we live in a good school district and she has a gambling addiction — then she claimed their stimulus checks

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, +0.36%  group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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