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Study reveals 14 craziest excuses for calling in sick to work

While many employees use the old-fashioned "not feeling well" excuse to take off work, others have come up with the weirdest excuses in the book, according to a study from CareerBuilder

In its annual survey, CareerBuilder found that more than 35 percent of workers have called in sick when they were feeling fine, and 33 percent of those employers say they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth.

Here are the 14 craziest excuses employers reported hearing from their workers:

>> Read more trending stories

1. The ozone in the air flattened my tires. 

2. My pressure cooker exploded and scared my sister, so I had to stay home. 

3. I had to attend the funeral of my wife’s cousin’s pet because I am an uncle and pallbearer. 

4. I was blocked in by police raiding my home. 

5. I had to testify against a drug dealer, and the dealer’s friend mugged me. 

6. My roots were showing, and I had to keep my hair appointment because I looked like a mess. 

7. I ate cat food instead of tuna and am deathly ill. 

8. I'm not sick, but my llama is. 

9. I used a hair remover under my arms and had chemical burns.

10. I am bowling the game of my life and can't make it to work. 

11. I am experiencing traumatic stress from a large spider found in my home. 

12. I have better things to do. 

13. I ate too much birthday cake. 

14. A duck bit me.

Read full study at

Texas jewelry store's 'shotgun wedding sale': Buy a ring, get a gun for free

A Texas jewelry store will hold its annual “Shotgun Wedding Sale” starting Thursday and ending Saturday.

Thacker Jewelry in Lubbock is offering a gift certificate for a shotgun or rifle at local gun store LSG Tactical Arms with each purchase of an engagement ring over $2,000.

>> See the store's Facebook post here

Thacker Jewelry Shotgun Wedding Sale is next Weekend. Free Shotgun or Rifle with purchase of engagement ring over...Posted by Thacker Jewelry on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Owner Joe Thacker gave some insight on the promotional event, now in its third year:

"The idea, of course, is the wordplay and the old shotgun wedding. Not going back to the negative connotation, playing off of that and it’s been a lot of fun. We had a lot of people participate and this year we’ve even gotten into it more."

You can RSVP for the sale here. If you can’t make it to Texas in time, put this on your calendar for next year.

>> Read more trending stories

(H/T: CNN)

>> Watch a video about the sale

​Final SGWSTalk about getting a Bang for your Buck! Once you watch this Thacker Jewelry video you'll be talking about our famous Shotgun Wedding Sale this weekend! Scoot on in to Thacker Jewelry for this incredible sale! #thacker #shotgunweddingsale #lubbockPosted by Thacker Jewelry on Tuesday, October 25, 2016

3 Ways the Cost of Your Mortgage Can Go Up Before You Close

Getting a mortgage can be a costly endeavor from the onset. You’ve got to worry about getting together a down payment, securing an affordable interest rate and covering closing costs, among other things. What you may not realize is that the total costs of your mortgage can wind up rising before you close on the loan, especially if you don’t plan accordingly. Fees associated with a home loan can change for a slew of reasons, but here are the most common ones to look out for.

1. You Take Your Time Supplying Documentation

When your lenders asks for bank statements, pay stubs or any other form of supporting documentation for your mortgage application, it’s in your best interest to get this paperwork to them as quickly as possible. In fact, aim to do so within the following 24-to-48 hours. Failure to provide documentation in a timely fashion can result in having to take a rate-lock extension, which could drive up the total cost of your loan.

See, an interest-rate lock is only good for a certain period of time, typically for 30 days or, in some cases, as long as 45 days. Essentially, a rate lock locks in the rate you’re going to pay over the life of your mortgage for a certain period of time under certain terms. But, as the market moves, the value of this rate lock to the end investor can go up or down.

As an example, let’s say you lock in a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.625% with no points on $500,000 loan. As the rate-lock’s 30-day window expires, it is determined you’ll need another 10 days to close. Meanwhile, interest rates changed and are now at 3.875% on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on that same $500,000 loan. Since rates rose and your lock-in date has passed, it is now more financially advantageous for the end investor to lock in a new loan with a higher interest rate. Depending on the situation, the lender would either re-lock your loan at worst-case market pricing or would allow you to extend your loan, potentially driving your loan fees higher.

2. You’re Derailed By External Factors

External factors can also cause delays in escrow. These can include the seller of the property failing to quickly sign required documentation or home appraisal delays. These delays aren’t your fault, but can still cause you to have to pay more money when extending your interest rate lock. Best to plan accordingly. This means ordering an appraisal upfront when buying a home in order mitigate delays down the line. When refinancing, it’s a good idea to order the appraisal at loan application or to plan for a 45-day escrow timeframe.

3. The Appraisal Doesn’t Go as Planned

Residential real estate appraisers have total and complete authority on the value of your property. Most mortgage companies have a set standard appraisal fee. However, the appraiser has the right to change what they want to charge for the appraisal. For example, if the appraiser has a heavy workload, they may require more money to complete the order. They also may deny the order, resulting in the lender having to find a new appraiser. If you’re on a tight closing deadline, you may have to pay the additional fee to have the appraisal done quickly or within the timeframe stated in your purchase contract.

If your appraisal does not come in at the desired value, changing the loan-to-value ratio on your mortgage, you may also subsequently face higher fees and/or rates than you were expecting based on the prior valuation of the home. Additionally, if the property is missing a carbon dioxide detector, which in some states is required by law, the appraiser must to go back out to the property to sign off on the appraisal following installation, resulting in an additional charge.

The best way to mitigate additional fees is to stay in constant communication with your lender. You can also generally lower the cost of your mortgage by improving your credit, since a good credit score will help you qualify for the best interest rates. You can see where your credit stands by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on

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5 Annoying Fees Lurking in the Fine Print of a Business Loan

Taking out a loan is often a necessary action for owners looking to grow a successful business. However, many business owners engaging in the loan hunt don’t realize there are a variety of underlying fees and charges rolled into the final loan, which is why it’s important to get out that magnifying glass and read the business loan small print.

Loans advertised with an annual percentage rate (APR) should give you the total cost of the loan, including the interest rate and other standard fees. However, if the loan is only advertised with an interest rate, or other rate specified by a lender, you’ll likely encounter additional costs. Understanding these extras can help you compare offers from lender to lender; it may also help you vie for a lower loan rate.

Some of these fees are non-negotiable and simply part of the loan agreement. Some of these won’t be included in an APR but will still affect your costs. In any case, it’s important to watch out for these business loan fees before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Origination Fee

This fee is pretty common and is meant to recoup the labor that goes into things like paperwork, verifications, underwriting and any other processes required for the lender to approve your loan and get the money in your hands.

Origination fees are typically charged upfront, with the amount subtracted from your loan before it’s disbursed. These fees are commonly between 1% to 4% of your total loan amount, which might not sound like much but can eat into your capital, big time.

The good news is that in some cases this fee is negotiable. If you have good credit or multiple lenders competing for your business, you’ll likely have more leverage to reduce the fee.

2. Third-Party Fees

Depending on your loan purpose (commercial real estate, for example), you may find fees from third parties — such as appraisers and notaries, as well as for documentation requirements — added to your business loan fees.

Talk to your lender and ask which, if any, of these fees may be included. Due to the nature of these fees, there is no set rate amount, but it’s likely at least some of them can be negotiated or reduced.

Ultimately, these may not seem significant at the time of signing. However, they’re either deducted from your loan or added to your total loan amount, and therefore can increase your costs.

3. Prepayment Penalties

Paying off your loan early might seem appealing, but for lenders, that leads to a potential loss in the interest they anticipated receiving when they disbursed your loan. For that reason, some lenders protect themselves against this loss by charging the borrower a percentage or flat fee if the borrower attempts to pay the loan off early.

The fee varies from lender to lender, but it’s something you should determine early in the application process. It’s likely that once you sign, you’re locked in to whatever repayment or redemption charge was listed in the business loan small print, so your best bet at catching this fee is to inquire upfront and read any and all documentation. Note that because you only incur this fee if you prepay a loan that carries this penalty, an advertised APR typically wouldn’t reflect this cost.

4. Check Processing Fee

Some businesses and lenders may incentivize you to have your loan payments automatically deducted from your account, but others take a different path and will penalize you for not doing so.

Much like the prepayment fee, this will vary in structure and cost, and will not be reflected in an advertised APR. If you prefer to pay by check, ask your lender what, if any, payment-processing fees exist.

5. Guarantee Fee

Loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) will be subject to a guarantee fee, meaning a fee that is charged to the lending bank to guarantee that they’ll recoup some of the cost if the borrower defaults. It’s likely that the bank will pass a portion of the cost along to you, but the amount passed on from the lender to the borrower may vary, according to the SBA website. SBA loans under $150,000 are not subject to this particular fee.

The rate is based on the maturity and the guaranteed loan amount: For loans greater than $150,000 with a maturity of one year or shorter, the fee is 0.25% of the guaranteed amount. Loans between $150,000 and $700,000 with a maturity of over one year are subject to a 3% guarantee fee, and loans exceeding $700,000 have a 3.5% guarantee fee. The good news is that even though interest and fees are determined by the lender, SBA backed loan rates may not exceed the maximums set by the SBA. All of this can be a little difficult to figure out on your own, so be sure to ask your lender for an explanation of how your fee is calculated.

Ultimately, the burden is on the borrower to find out what fees they’ll have to pay, and as such, be sure to read all business loan small print, ask questions, and demand explanations for any fee. If you aren’t sure whether a fee is normal or if you can negotiate it, do your research. In the worst-case scenario, they simply can’t adjust the fees. However, empowering yourself with this information can help you negotiate lower rates and make the best decision if choosing between multiple lenders.

[Editor’s note: Lenders may review your personal credit standing when reviewing your application for a business loan. To get an idea of what they’re looking at and if your credit needs improvement, you can get a free snapshot of your credit report every 14 days on]

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What Does Halloween Have to Do With Insurance Deductibles?

During the Halloween season, pranks like an egged car or a broken window from a smashed pumpkin often become more common. If any of these, or another damaging prank, happens to you, you may want to consider whether or not to make a claim on your auto or homeowner’s insurance policy if your home or car suffers some damage due to Halloween tricks. Here’s a guide to help you decide.

Know How Your Deductible Applies to Halloween Prank Damage

Every homeowner’s insurance and car insurance policy comes with a range of deductible amounts from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000. That deductible is the portion of the cost of the repair or replacement of your damages you must pay before your insurance policy pays the remainder of any claim (and deductibles generally do not apply to the liability portions of your policies), according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded consumer education organization. A deductible applies each time you file a claim and is “deducted” from your claim amount so you don’t have actually pay the deductible to the insurance company.

“Because of the way deductibles work, it makes sense to be aware of your deductible amounts for each policy,” Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, said. “Then, if you experience damages on Halloween, weigh the cost to repair or replace any damage against that deductible amount you’d need to pay out of pocket and whether that would cause your household financial distress.”

Should You File a Claim?

Even though policies generally cover your home and car for accidents, vandalism and theft damages (the category many Halloween pranks fall under), Barry said if you can financially absorb that amount, it’s usually not worth it to make a claim.

Damages to your home or car that may occur on or near Halloween — like toilet-papered trees or smashed pumpkins — can be more of a messy inconvenience than expensive to repair. When it comes to these smaller damages that may cost less than or slightly above the deductible amount to repair, Barry suggested keeping an emergency savings fund to cover these smaller repair costs yourself instead of making a claim on your insurance policy.

Keeping that insurance deductible amount in an emergency fund can help protect you from resorting to a credit card to cover any out-of-pocket damages and from making small claims that could cause premium rate hikes.

But if the damage is much greater than your deductible — such as a Jack O’ Lantern that causes a house fire, eggs on your car that destroy the paint or a serious burglary — that’s when you may want to resort to your insurance to help you with the repair and replacement costs.

When Making a Claim Can Cause a Rate Hike

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, car insurance rates can go up after you file a claim, although many insurance companies offer “accident forgiveness” as an additional perk so this doesn’t happen because of one accident. Rate hikes are usually reserved for collision claims or claims involving dangerous behaviors (like drunk driving), according to Barry. Either way, you want to be sure it’s worth it to file a claim for damage to your car from Halloween pranks, as making several claims on your auto insurance policy can raise your risk profile. This is something insurers use when it comes time to set your premiums.

When it comes to homeowner’s insurance, Barry said it’s fairly similar to auto insurance. Homeowners who file more claims may be seen as riskier to insure, so it’s important to keep this in mind during your decision process.

“Several damage claims in a short time period such as a year or two could trigger a rate hike, depending on your risk profile, your insurance company and your claims history with the company,” he said.

If you’re considering switching providers, it’s important to know that your claims are only part of what they may look at to determine your rates. Some providers also review at a version of your credit reports, so it’s a good idea to know where yours stand before shopping around. You can see an overview of your free credit report, updated every 14 days, on

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How to Pay for Bankruptcy When You’re Broke

It’s a classic Catch-22: You’re in rough enough financial shape that you need to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy — but you have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to do so.

The filing fees for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy total $335, but that’s only part of the picture. You’re likely to pay between $500 and $3,500 to your attorney, depending on where you live and the complexity of your case.

Your strategy for how to pay for bankruptcy could include:

  • Raising the money.
  • Working out a payment plan.
  • Going pro bono, which means finding an attorney who will take your case free of charge.

The first option takes creativity and hard work. The last two require you to show financial need, so gather your tax statements and documents on your income and expenses before meeting with any legal counsel.

Raise the money

A few simple steps can help you free up or find more money for your bankruptcy.

The first: Minimize your outgoing cash. “If you’re still paying your credit cards, stop paying them,” New Jersey bankruptcy attorney John Hargrave says. “You’re just throwing that money away if you’re going to file. Save that money and put it toward your bankruptcy.”

Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out unsecured debts like credit card balances, so it makes little sense to keep paying toward them if you’ve decided to use this debt relief option.

Next, try to get some additional income. Anything from selling old electronics to taking on a part-time job as a dog walker can earn you some fast cash.

If you’ve already pawned your flat screen TV and started a dog walking service but still don’t have enough to cover your bankruptcy, try asking family and friends for some money. If you have a retirement account, you can try tapping into it. That’s truly a last resort, though, as it could jeopardize your ability to save enough for retirement.

Work out a payment plan

You may be able to spread out the costs of your attorney and filing fees.

The first step is finding the right attorney. In this case, beyond the requirements of expertise, fair compensation and good communication, that means finding one who is willing to work out a payment plan with you. Ask about the possibility in the initial meeting with any bankruptcy lawyer you’re considering.

Payment plans vary; some lawyers will allow you to spread payments over six months, others three months. But most attorneys want full payment before you file your case: Since Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out most your debts, you wouldn’t be legally obligated to pay outstanding attorney fees after filing. That’s just not a sustainable business plan.

But even while you’re making the payments, you can still get some benefit, Hargrave says. Once you officially hire someone, the lawyer can take calls on your behalf, getting creditors off your back even before you file. When you discuss setting up a payment plan, ask how much of the fee you must pay before the lawyer will begin taking calls from creditors.

“When people hire a bankruptcy lawyer, they know the fear of going to the mailbox, the fear of what phone call is going to come next. That evaporates when you hire an attorney,” Hargrave says. “That’s a huge benefit for people.”

Your attorney is likely to start working on your case in earnest only after you’ve paid in full. Then, if you need, the attorney can work with the court on a payment plan for your bankruptcy filing fee. The $335 fee can be split up into as many as four payments.

Go pro bono

You might qualify for free legal services or waived fees if your income is less than 150% of the official poverty line for your family size and you’re unable to afford a payment plan.

There are a few ways to find a pro bono attorney. First, your local bankruptcy court will have information on free legal clinics and local free legal aid resources. Legal aid organizations can offer you free legal help if you meet their need guidelines, and they may be able to connect you with a pro bono bankruptcy attorney. Be prepared: Legal aid organizations are often underfunded and overworked, but getting on their list for legal help is a good first step while pursuing other options.

The American Bankruptcy Institute has a bankruptcy attorney directory that can help you find pro bono attorneys in your area.

You can also reach out to your state’s bar association to see if you can get help from a bankruptcy attorney who is willing to take a pro bono case. At some firms, attorneys are required to make pro bono work 10% to 15% of their caseload. Just make sure you feel confident working with that person.

While you may feel a little odd asking for free representation, Jim Carman, communications director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, says bankruptcy lawyers are accustomed to the requests.

“They understand that people aren’t coming to them lightly, and they’re going to understand that there’s a certain tightness in the wallet,” Carman says. “If people are in that kind of extreme situation, they really need to seek out a pro bono attorney.”

Lastly, you can hire a petition preparer if you’re in a hurry to file. A petition preparer will help you fill out your paperwork for an hourly fee that can be as low as $70. A petition preparer can’t give you the legal advice that an attorney can provide, but this is an option if you just want to get your bankruptcy filed in order to trigger the “automatic stay” that halts collection efforts.

What about DIY?

If you’re thinking of filing on your own, without any legal assistance whatsoever, Hargrave advises one thing: Don’t.

“There’s a jeopardy in doing a bankruptcy by yourself,” he says. “Even if you’re a well-educated, articulate person, the law still has a lot of jargon and technical stuff that you, without assistance of a lawyer, could screw up.”

Making a mistake on your paperwork can lead the court to throw out your case, wasting the effort and money you’ve put into it.

Next steps

Chapter 7 is confusing, and worrying about how to pay for bankruptcy makes it even worse. If you’re struggling to pull together enough money to pay for your filing fees and attorney, these options can help you get on the right track toward getting your debts forgiven.

From there, you can start to rebuild your credit, work out a budget and get on the path toward living debt-free.

Sean Pyles is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:

How a Microloan Helped My Business Grow

Before a chance meeting in 2013 with Accion, a nonprofit microlender, Kris Schoenberger pulled in $20,000 to $30,000 annually through his mobile catering company, BBQ’d Productions. Catering was his side gig at the time.

A little more than a year later, Schoenberger’s business in Third Lake, Illinois, north of Chicago, had grown to include a full-service restaurant. His revenue from July 2014 to July 2015, the first year of business for the restaurant, soared to $2 million.

Schoenberger gives a lot of the credit to Accion, which lent him about $7,500 to help upgrade his catering operation from a grill in the back of his truck to a fully equipped catering trailer. He says an Accion loan officer helped him save nearly $6,000 on the trailer.

‘They also teach you’

“Not only do they give you the money,” Schoenberger says, “they also teach you how to make the most out of that money. I would not be where I’m at today if it weren’t for them. Any time I have a problem or question, I can always call them.”

This type of financial and business education is central to the mission of most nonprofit microlenders. Rather than lending money and leaving borrowers to fend for themselves, microlenders provide counseling and mentoring to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Nonprofit microfinance organizations also help people in underprivileged and underrepresented communities access the capital they need to start businesses, buy homes or build credit, often when they can’t get financing through a traditional bank.

In recent years, microlenders have become more visible as traditional lenders, such as banks, pulled back on small-business lending during and after the recession.

Microlending has been growing in the U.S., according to the latest information from the Aspen Institute, whose FIELD program collects data on microlenders across the country. Total microloans disbursed in the U.S. jumped to $209 million in 2014, up 47% from $142 million the previous year. The total number of microloans rose to 56,351, a gain of 49% from 37,927.

Germaine Seufert took out an $18,000 loan from Accion, after being declined by a bank, to buy a bus to help expand her organization’s summer camp. Seufert is the director of Consultants for Children, a Colorado company that provides in-home and small-group services for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Before approving the loan, Accion made a site visit, called business references and looked over the organization’s books. The whole process took about four weeks, Seufert says.

When she went to Accion to refinance the loan to buy a second bus, the process went much more quickly.

‘They immediately approved’

“It took more time for me to pick out the vehicle,” she says. “But once we had the appraisal done, they immediately approved the loan.”

Founded in 1961, the global nonprofit Accion helps millions of people in more than 20 countries secure financing. Among those countries: the United States.

The organization offers microloans and general small-business loans in the U.S. in amounts ranging from $200 to $750,000. Accion offers loans to help businesses in specific industries — including child care, food and beverage, spa and salon — as well as those that are in the nonprofit sector or aiming to go green. Accion’s lending activity in the U.S. is committed to helping underserved entrepreneurs, including women, veterans, people with disabilities, Native Americans and other minority business owners.

Many nonprofit lenders are local, serving specific regions or communities. California-based Opportunity Fund is one. The microlender has been serving residents of the state since 1994, with more than $100 million in microloans.

Laura Hanson, a co-owner of Watershed Nursery in Point Richmond, California, was one of those people. In 2008, Hanson borrowed $10,000 from Opportunity Fund to expand the nursery, which she and her co-owner started in the backyard.

‘They were there to help’

“They were offering better rates. It felt more attractive and straightforward and helpful,” Hanson says. “We had a person who was on our account who was accessible and answered questions. I felt like they were there to help us.”

In addition to microloans to small businesses, Opportunity Fund also promotes microsavings. This program matches every dollar saved by low-income clients with $1 from Opportunity Fund and $1 from donors.

Opportunity Fund doesn’t simply give money, though. The organization provides basic financial literacy education to clients to help them learn to budget, save and spend wisely.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

NerdWallet staff writer Benjamin Pimentel contributed to this report.

Today’s Headlines: Social Security Benefits Rise — Barely


A Small COLA For Seniors The Social Security Administration recently announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2017 benefits would be 0.3% due to the relatively low inflation rate. For the average Social Security recipient, that equates to an extra $4 per month. While the COLA is tiny, it's still an improvement on the zero COLA recipients “enjoyed” for 2016. If COLAs are based on inflation, why would a low COLA cause difficulties for seniors? Three reasons: the time lag in COLAs and current inflation, the way inflation is calculated for Social Security purposes, and concurrent Medicare expenses. All three causes manifest themselves the same way: increased expenses are likely to outpace the meager increase in income. Not All Inflation is the Same By definition, COLAs are backward looking in nature. The amount you receive in the future is based on inflation data from the recent past. That offset in timing works to your advantage if inflation is decreasing, but when the rate of inflation is rising, your check will not go as far. Inflation reflects rising prices — but to capture the effect on seniors, it is important to distinguish which prices are rising. Social Security COLAs are calculated based on the past three-month values of the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, known as the CPI-W. This is derived from the CPI-U that is more reflective of the entire US population. The CPI-W provides a higher weight to transportation costs and thus has been skewed downward by the relative collapse of gas prices compared to other prices. Because seniors spend less on gas compared to items with rising costs, especially medical care expenses, Social Security recipients are likely to receive COLAs that are less reflective of their actual expenses. The experimental CPI-E is weighted toward expenses that are more typical of elderly consumers, and some are advocating its use in calculating Social Security COLAs — but to date, the CPI-W still prevails. At least the law prevents across-the-board cutting of Social Security benefits when the CPI is negative. To arrive at a 0.3% increase, the CPI-W for 2016 was compared to the CPI-W for 2014 in the same time period (recall the zero increase in benefits for 2016, the result of a negative CPI-W when comparing 2014 to 2015). Medicare Mess Some seniors are going to have an even more difficult time making ends meet as their tiny COLA is likely to be gobbled up (and then some) by increased Medicare Part B costs. The 2017 premiums have not been announced yet, and they have been predicted by the Medicare Trustees to be relatively flat — but Social Security recipients will still likely pay more due to a provision called "hold harmless." In general, Part B premiums are automatically deducted from Social Security benefits. The hold harmless provision keeps Part B premiums from rising more than the COLA in their Social Security benefits, essentially preventing a net decrease in Social Security benefits. Because of no COLA in 2016, the component of the premium increases that should have taken place in 2016 will be passed through in 2017 (to the extent allowable by hold harmless). However, about 30% of recipients are not covered by hold harmless because they fall into one of the following categories: they have higher incomes and thus pay more than the 25% share of Part B costs that the average Social Security recipient pays, they are at a poverty level such that their premiums are paid by Medicaid, or it is the first year they have claimed Social Security (and thus have no reference point for a cut). This group ends up picking up the slack for those covered by hold harmless — unless Congress intervenes to hold those increases down, as they did in 2016. The 2016 deal would have similarly held down costs for this 30% of Social Security recipients, but only if there were no COLA. Strangely, for the 30% outside of hold harmless, a small COLA could be worse than no COLA at all. Congress and the White House could intervene again, but let's just say they are more distracted this year than usual. Bad News for Some Non-Recipients Meanwhile, if you are on the other side of the Social Security equation and paying into the system at the maximum rate because of your high earnings, prepare for some bad news. High-earners will be paying more because of a significant change in the Social Security wage base (the value beyond which wages are exempt from Social Security tax). The trigger mechanism for change is an increase in average American wages, with a caveat — the wage base can't be increased in years when there is no Social Security COLA, such as 2016. Thus the wage base increase from $118,500 to $127,200 represents two years of growth in average earnings, resulting in up to an extra $539.40 deducted from an employee's' paycheck (and worse for the self-employed who must pay twice the amount to also cover the employer's portion of the Social Security tax). The same two-year phenomenon works to the advantage of those who are working while drawing early Social Security benefits. The threshold monthly earnings at which a recipient's benefits are reduced have increased by more than 7% ($1,410 per month from ages 62-65 and $3,740 per month at age 66). Given the meager increase in COLAs over the past seven years, with three years of zero COLA (2010, 2011, and 2016), seniors drawing early benefits may need to use this provision and find ways to increase their semi-retirement income to make ends meet. The Takeaway Current recipients of Medicare and Social Security are used to the annual cost-benefit balancing act, and have learned to deal with it as best they can. Those who were fortunate enough to establish a solid retirement plan are not as dependent on Social Security and are able to withstand these changes without major lifestyle ramifications. For those who haven't reached retirement, the message is clear: provide as much for your own retirement as possible and consider your retirement age carefully. If you can afford to do so, delay drawing your Social Security benefits past your full retirement age (66 or 67 depending on your year of birth) and receive an extra 8% per year up to age 70. At the least, try to avoid reducing your benefits by claiming them early. How do you bridge the gap? Build your retirement funds through investing early and taking as much advantage of compound interest and IRAs/401(k)s as possible. Would you rather have an extra morning latte every day of your working life and an extra meal out each week, or a stash of retirement funds that could allow you to avoid making the choice between food and your necessary prescriptions? That choice is up to you. Let the free MoneyTips Retirement Planner help you calculate when you can retire without jeopardizing your lifestyle. Photo ©

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The End To "File And Suspend"?

File and Suspend Strategy

Will Social Security be There for Me?

Today’s Headlines: Social Security Benefits Rise — Barely


A Small COLA For Seniors The Social Security Administration recently announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2017 benefits would be 0.3% due to the relatively low inflation rate. For the average Social Security recipient, that equates to an extra $4 per month. While the COLA is tiny, it's still an improvement on the zero COLA recipients “enjoyed” for 2016. If COLAs are based on inflation, why would a low COLA cause difficulties for seniors? Three reasons: the time lag in COLAs and current inflation, the way inflation is calculated for Social Security purposes, and concurrent Medicare expenses. All three causes manifest themselves the same way: increased expenses are likely to outpace the meager increase in income. Not All Inflation is the Same By definition, COLAs are backward looking in nature. The amount you receive in the future is based on inflation data from the recent past. That offset in timing works to your advantage...

Judge Approves $14.7 Billion Settlement in VW Diesel Scandal

A federal judge Tuesday gave final approval to Volkswagen’s $14.7 billion settlement of its emissions-cheating scandal, clearing the way for buyback payments to begin soon to nearly half a million diesel-car owners who were driving vehicles that don’t conform to U.S. pollution laws.

The written ruling also allows VW owners the option of keeping their cars and having them modified by the carmaker to meet air quality standards.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who had heard objections to the proposed settlement in an Oct. 18 hearing, said Tuesday that the agreement “adequately and fairly compensates” owners, according to a copy of the final ruling. “Given the risks of prolonged litigation, the immediate settlement of this matter is far preferable,” Breyer wrote.

The final settlement in a San Francisco court brings to an end a year of waiting for as many as 475,000 owners of the 2.0-liter diesel models that were found to be rigged to pass government lab tests. In the ruling, Breyer also approved VW’s $1.2 billion settlement with about 650 U.S. dealerships.

The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal and state agencies sued VW, which has acknowledged fitting VW and Audi diesel vehicles from the 2009-15 model years with defeat-device software to pass smog tests. People who bought or leased the sporty cars — billed as  “clean diesel” vehicles — were offered a temporary deal, subject to public comment, after the scandal broke in September 2015.

The final settlement offers restitution amounts of $5,100 to $9,852 plus the value of the vehicle based on various factors including the year, make model and current mileage of the vehicle. For owners taking the buyback, the combined total could range anywhere from $12,475 to $44,175.

Under the settlement, Volkswagen (and “related entities”) will spend up to $10.03 billion to compensate owners of the affected vehicles and $4.7 billion to mitigate pollution from the cars and invest in green auto technology.

About 340,000 owners of affected cars have registered to take part in the settlement, according to Reuters, and now have to decide how to make the most of the agreement. About 3,500 owners have elected to opt out.

“Given the high claim rate and the low opt-out and objection rates, this factor strongly favors final approval,” Breyer wrote in his ruling.

September 2018 is the deadline for VW owners to accept the buyback offer or wait for the to-be-announced emissions system fix. Meanwhile, in addition to its tarnished reputation, VW may have further troubles: Emissions of other diesel engines it makes are still being investigated.

Philip Reed is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:

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