Snippet from Spent

Try Walking in the Working Poor’s Shoes

Minimum-wage workers in 21 states and Washington D.C. will have larger paychecks this year.

But it’s still extremely difficult to eke out a living on the minimum wage, as demonstrated by this video game. The game, “Spent,” was actually the topic of Squared Away’s very first blog in 2011 and is worth featuring again.

The Urban Ministries of Durham in North Carolina designed Spent a few years ago so others could see how it feels to live on about $300 per week – the weekly income of those earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour but at the low-end in many states.  The game conveys the very real, sometimes impossible, financial choices faced by working men and women who use the organization’s food pantry and clothing closet.

The game was updated a few years ago to incorporate both the monthly premiums and more reasonably priced health care offered by the Affordable Care Act.

Employers from Arizona to Maine are being required to increase their 2017 minimum wages to anywhere from $8.90 to $12.50 per hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of the ballot initiatives, legislation, and automatic cost-of-living adjustments driving these wage hikes promise more increases in the future.

Click here to try walking in the shoes of a minimum-wage worker.
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Our Readers’ Favorite Blogs in 2016

The 10 articles that received the most attention from our readers last year are ranked below in the order of their total page views.  Retiree taxes and Medicare made up the top three:

Why Most Elderly Pay No Federal Tax

Medicare Advantage: Know the Pitfalls

Federal Taxation Drops for Retirees

Financial Fallout from Gray Divorce

Stress is One Reason People Retire

How Many Years Can You Do Your Job? …Learn More

Happy Holidays text

Enjoy!

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC.  To stay current on our Squared Away blog in 2017, we also invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.       Learn More

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Financial Misinformation Shared Online

My mother sent an anxious email that included the above picture, which one of her elderly friends had emailed to her as a warning about coming tax increases.

“Have you seen this?” my mother asked in her email.

I’m glad she inquired, because it took 15 seconds to learn on factcheck.org that this misleading information has made the rounds on the Internet for three years in a row, updated to the new year – 2017 this time.

There are nuggets of truth in the misinformation above. The Medicare tax already increased as part of the Affordable Care Act. However, it applies only to employed couples earning more than $250,000 and employed individuals earning more than $200,000. The retirees living in my mother’s very modest senior community – and most working Americans – are not affected. Yet “shocking” information like this rears its head over and over again on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

At a time that misinformation is deliberately being fabricated, and one such lie coursing through the Internet even spurred gun violence at a Washington, D.C., family pizza joint, it’s time to bring attention to false financial information that, unwittingly, people may be sharing online. …Learn More

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Happy Thanksgiving!

The staff at Squared Away  hope our readers enjoy their time with family and friends during the holiday weekend.
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Video: Overtime Rule to Benefit 4 Million

Just hours after the following blog went live on Tuesday, major media reported that a Texas judge blocked implementation of the new overtime regulation in response to challenges by a group that included 21 states and businesses. The future of this regulation is now in question.

On Dec. 1, an additional 4.2 million U.S. workers will potentially be eligible for overtime pay when the annual earnings cap doubles to $47,476 under the new federal overtime rule.

Retail workers bracing for the holiday onslaught will be among those receiving overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week but earn less than $47,476.   The previous cap, $23,660, was set in 2004.

Under the new rule, employers must pay overtime to any eligible full-time or part-time worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which produced the above video explaining who will benefit from its recent rule change.

This will mean bigger paychecks for low-wage workers but permanent raises for others earning slightly more. That’s because one option for employers seeking to avoid overtime pay is to increase annual pay for, say, middle managers to just over the $47,476, exempting them from the rule.

Inevitably, some employers will try to ignore the rule. It’s important that workers know their rights under the law – so watch the video and read this.  The overtime rule is enforced by the DOL’s wage and hour division offices in 50 states. …Learn More

Wyoming Retirement Education on Point

Wyoming government has brought some 535 employees of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches into its retirement savings plan since July 2015 under a new policy of automatically enrolling each new hire.

They are free to withdraw from the plan at any time, but only 15 of the 535 have done so – “and not a complaint from anybody,” said Polly Scott, who manages the savings plan and heads employee retirement education.

This technique, borrowed from behavioral economics, addresses the inertia that prevents many people from ever signing up to save in their employer’s plan.  So why wait for them to join? Instead, Wyoming uses inertia to benefit state workers: when people are automatically enrolled, research shows, they tend to stay put and save.

This is one piece of a larger effort to educate government workers about what’s required to properly prepare for retirement – and nudge them to do it.  The 457 retirement savings plan is crucial. Wyoming’s retired state workers receive Social Security, but the inflation adjustment in their traditional defined benefit pension has virtually been eliminated for the near future.  The 457 plan “is voluntary, but it’s not optional if you want a secure retirement,” Scott said.

The heart of the state’s education efforts is a website titled “Your Whole Story” that is on point and explains in clear language likely to benefit employees. Employees are encouraged to increase how much they’re already saving, resist the temptation to withdraw their savings prematurely, and prepare themselves for a long time in retirement in an era of increasing life expectancy.

This initiative is based on a campaign sponsored by the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (NAGDA) – Scott was NAGDA’s president last year – and designed by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants.  Other states use some version of “Your Whole Story,” including the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration.

One problem Wyoming is tackling is young adults who hurt their retirement prospects by withdrawing money from their 457 plans when they leave their state jobs, which “means they’re spending it,” Scott said. Another issue is that more older workers are rolling 457 savings over to private IRAs, which can have higher fees. …Learn More

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