Opinion

The Great Debate

Aging Americans have a new companion: higher debt

I like to joke about the fact that I have a ten-year-old boy at the age when my mother was not only an empty nester, but also an empty nester with a son-in-law. (That would be my husband.)

What I don’t like to contemplate as much? That I will almost certainly have just finished paying for the college education of the same adorable ten-year-old when the law permits me to claim a monthly Social Security check.

In a society infatuated with youth, the message is that you are only as old as you feel.

What seems to get short shrift is the impact of forever-young finances on middle-aged balance sheets.

“Boomers don’t think they’re going to get old,” says Ann Fishman, the president of Generational Targeted Marketing.

How to close America’s financial literacy gap

In an election year, many issues vie for our attention. Complex matters like healthcare, social security, and taxes — that inspire endless opinions but have no easy solutions — are debated daily. One issue that we should all agree on without any debate: the need for financial education in schools. As a country we are failing in financial literacy. We owe it to our children to provide them with the best opportunity for a brighter financial future. By giving them a stronger grasp of the basic principles that can help them achieve their dreams — and avoid financial nightmares — we can help our nation as well.

Americans, on average, were able to correctly answer just three of five questions about fundamental financial concepts, according to a FINRA capability study. And less than 25 percent of students say they are prepared to deal with the financial challenges that await them in the real world. Yet while Treasury Department research shows that high school graduates in states that mandate financial education have higher savings rates and a greater net worth than graduates from states without financial education, only 12 states require that students take a personal finance course to graduate.

It’s up to all of us — parents, schools, government, private sector, and public sector — to give students the tools they need to succeed. We must take steps to ensure that our kids remain competitive and prepared for the future.

from Reuters Money:

Tea Party downgrade? Here’s what S&P actually said

Was it a Tea Party downgrade?

Beltway media has offered the usual pox-on-both-political houses analysis of Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. debt and this week's market meltdown. The two parties spent Monday blaming one other side for the debacle. According to this narrative, both sides must bear equal guilt.

But what does S&P actually say in its downgrade report?

Politics: The downgrade analysis is very political. S&P issued the downgrade even though we avoided default -- and even after the Treasury pointed out S&P's $2 trillion math error. S&P went ahead with the downgrade due to its concerns about political dysfunction in Washington, which has created "greater policy uncertainty."

Which political party does S&P fault? Let's go to the memo (emphasis added):

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

from Reuters Money:

Fury brewing at ratings agencies as markets gyrate

Carnival revellers are silhouetted as they carry a burning wooden wagon in Liestal, near Basel, February 21, 2010.  REUTERS/Michael BuholzerSo let me get this straight.

Ratings agencies helped spark the financial meltdown of 2008-9, when they deemed that steaming piles of mortgage junk were brimming with triple-A goodness. They were wrong – and epically so.

Now S&P downgrades the debt of the entire country, further threatens to do so another notch, teams with fellow ratings agencies to bring Europe to its knees with each new appraisal and gets an assist for wiping trillions in wealth from investors’ portfolios in just a few days.

Anyone else think the ratings agencies need a time out?

“If you had asked me a couple of years ago if they could do anything more destructive than the mortgage debacle, I would have said never,” says Roger Kirby, Of Counsel for New York City law firm Kirby McInerney, who is involved in a class action against Moody’s on behalf of shareholders. “But it seems they’re managing to do it again, right now. In order to restore their damaged reputations, they’re interjecting themselves unsolicited into sovereign markets.

from Reuters Money:

What the CFPB should be doing with private education lenders

The following is a guest contribution from Mark Kantrowitz, founder and publisher of finaid.org and fastweb.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which starts operating on Thursday, has oversight and enforcement authority over private education loans and most private education lenders.

The Private Education Loan Ombudsman within the CFPB will respond to complaints about private education loans by students and their families and will help mediate borrower disputes with education lenders on an informal basis. Here are my recommendations to improve the private loan process.

from Reuters Money:

How safe is your money-market fund?

Here's a $12 trillion question: Are money-market mutual funds safe?

The industry insists that they are and banking regulators aren't calling in the National Guard, although the U.S. Treasury Department is considering some emergency measures in case of a U.S. debt default.

Yet with the U.S. default risk hissing like a cobra, Congress and the White House at loggerheads and all the bad debt sloshing around Europe, is there a reason to be concerned?

Fear has reared its coiled head again. On Monday, stocks worldwide slumped on fears that Europe’s financial woes would spread to Italy.

from Reuters Money:

Is the American Dream dead?

The American Dream lures people from all over the world, and it’s because of this possibility: If you come here and work hard, your kids will have a better life than you.

What if that weren’t true anymore?

Record debt, persistent joblessness, millions of underwater mortgages and a stock market that hasn’t gone anywhere in 10 years: For today’s kids who are entering the job market, it’s hardly a recipe for future success.

For parents who only want the best for their children, those prospects are like a wrenching pit in our stomachs. When such a central pillar of the American story is falling apart, frantic moms and dads hardly know what to think.

from Reuters Money:

5 reasons why banks hate Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren, it's not you they hate. It's what you represent. You want to be an honest cop when so many before you in Washington have looked the other way and pretended that the banking industry could police itself.

I can't think of a better reason why this presidential adviser shouldn't be the new chief of an unfettered Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

She knows where the bodies are buried -- in countless toxic forms and statements that only bank lawyers fully understand. She'll make every attempt to end the silent rip-offs and myriad shenanigans that cost consumers billions.

The gender gap in personal finance

womenmoneyIt’s not surprising that men and women handle their personal finances differently. Yet, data collected by the employee benefits company Financial Finesse shows that men trump women when it comes to managing their wallets.

Out of the 3,500 U.S. workers polled, 90 percent of men said they pay their bills on time each month compared to only 74 percent of women. Also, 71 percent of men said they have a handle on their cash flow so they spend less than they earn each month, while only 53 percent of women could claim the same.

Manisha Thakor, a Houston-based finance expert for women, explains that women tend to be less educated in personal finance.

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