Covid19

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delta

The Delta Factor

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The après-COVID party is in full swing. Travel is booming. Restaurants are full. Real estate is on a roll. Even used cars are a hot commodity. In 2021, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) recently topped 35,000 and other major stock hit all-time highs.

But an uninvited guest has crashed the party. Her name is Delta, and she’s out to spoil the fun. The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has spread rapidly around the globe. It now accounts for the overwhelming majority of new cases in the U.S. Its high rate of transmission has brought about a new wave of infections across the country. As of August 18, the number of new Covid-19 cases had risen to levels not seen since February. Ditto hospitalizations. Although the overall caseload remains well below levels seen at the peak of the pandemic, infections have skyrocketed in a number of areas, and some states are seeing record numbers of new infections.1

Critical Reaction

The first to react to the Delta wave was, unsurprisingly, Wall Street. Stocks fell sharply on July 19 following the announcement of pandemic stats, with the DJIA tumbling over 700 points, its biggest decline in almost 10 months. Prices quickly recovered and the index went on to post new highs, although volatility has since tested those highs.

More concerning is what effects the upsurge of infections might have on the economy. Even before the rebound in COVID cases, shortages of labor, computer chips, and other goods were holding back a full recovery. A new surge could bring about renewed supply chain delays. The reopening of schools and offices could be postponed or even cancelled. Already, Apple decided to delay the planned reopening of its sprawling Cupertino campus. Many other companies have followed suit.

More importantly, restrictions are being reimposed across the country on dining, entertainment, and travel. Although lockdowns and full closures seem unlikely at this stage, the uptick in cases has brought about a return to enforced social distancing, mask mandates, and restrictions on public gatherings in many areas — all of which impacts consumer confidence and demand.

Is the Party Over?

With over 70% of U.S. adults now vaccinated,2 no one expects the economic fallout to approach last year’s recession. But the Delta wave is likely to affect different areas differently.

In some southern and Midwestern states, new vaccinations have plateaued and rates remain stubbornly low, even after a recent Delta-inspired uptick. Unless they improve further, higher infection and hospitalization rates could derail economic recoveries in those areas.

State and local restrictions will also play a role. The CDC tightened its mask guidance in late July, and many areas have reinstated some restrictions. Los Angeles County and San Francisco in California have reinstituted mask mandates and other restrictions, and towns and cities in other states have followed suit. What’s more, a growing number of government jurisdictions and businesses now require workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to regular testing. How all these moves will impact the economy is unknown, but they are likely to have some effect on consumer spending and confidence.

Delta’s long-term impact on the economy will ultimately depend on how widely it spreads, vaccination rates, and how effective the vaccines are in preventing serious illness. To date, the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been with unvaccinated people. But breakout cases are growing, and soaring infection rates could spur the emergence of ever-new variants, which could eventually become more resistant to existing vaccines and boosters. That’s a sobering thought, but one to keep in mind as you plan for an uncertain future.

 

 

 

Notes

1New York Times, Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, July 26, 2021.

2CDC, COVID Data Tracker, August 19, 2021. Represents adults 18 or older that have received at least one dose.

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

 All company names noted herin are for educational purposes only, and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

           

Ways to manage your debt

Manage Your Debt

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New Year’s Resolution: Manage Your Debt

As the new year dawns, most Americans are probably happy to bid good riddance to 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, political brawls, and challenging economic times. Many have had to take on debt to tide them over. If you’re among them, or one of the many other Americans who pay an ever increasing portion of their paychecks to service debt, now may be the ideal time to reassess your finances and take steps to manage and reduce your debt.

I Owe, I Owe…

In America today, carrying some debt is unavoidable, and even desirable, for most households. But between mortgages, car payments, student loans, and credit cards, many Americans find themselves in over their heads. In fact, the average U.S. household carries $6,124 in credit card debt, owes $27,649 in auto loans and $46,459 in student loans, and has a mortgage balance of $197,445.1 Paying off such debt can be costly, in terms of both cash on hand and your overall financial health. So it helps to plan. Start by finding out where you stand, then take the appropriate steps to dig out.

Assessing Your Debt

How much debt is too much? The figure varies from person to person, but in general, if more than 20% of your take-home pay goes to finance non-housing debt or if your rent or mortgage payments exceed 30% of your monthly take-home pay, you may be overextended.

Other signs of overextension include not knowing how much you owe, constantly paying the minimum balance due on credit cards (or worse, being unable to make the minimum payments), and borrowing from one lender to pay another.

Here’s how you can build a clear picture of your debt situation:

  • List all of your credit cards and how much you pay to them each month;
  • List all of your fixed loans (such as car loans and student loans) and their monthly payments; and
  • List your monthly mortgage or rent payment.
  • Once you are done, add them all up. That’s your total monthly debt load.

If you find that you’re overextended, don’t panic. There are a number of steps you can follow to eliminate that debt and get yourself back on track.

Begin With a Budget

The first step in eliminating debt is to figure out where your money goes. This will enable you to see where your debt is coming from and, perhaps, help you to free up some cash to put toward debt.

Track your expenses for one month by writing down what you spend. You might consider keeping your ATM withdrawal slip and writing each expense on it until the money is gone. Hang on to receipts from credit and debit card transactions and add them to the total.

At the end of the month, total up your expenses and break them down into two categories: essential, including fixed expenses such as mortgage/rent, food, and utilities, and nonessential, including entertainment and meals out. Analyze your expenses to see where your spending can be reduced. Perhaps you can cut back on food expenses by bringing lunch to work instead of eating out each day. You might be able to reduce transportation costs by taking public transportation instead of parking your car at a pricey downtown garage. Even utility costs can be reduced by turning lights off, making fewer long-distance calls, or turning the thermostat down a few degrees in winter.

The goal is to reduce current spending so that you won’t need to add to your debt and to free up as much cash as possible to cut down existing debt.

Three Steps to Reduce Debt

Once you’ve got your budget settled, you can begin to attack your existing debt with the following steps.

Pay off high-rate debt first. The higher your interest rate, the more you wind up paying. Begin with your highest-rate credit cards and eliminate the balance as aggressively as possible. For example, assume you have two separate cards, each with a $2,000 balance, one charging 20% interest, the other 8%. By paying the maximum you can afford on the higher rate card, and the minimum on the lower-rate card until the higher-rate card is fully paid off, you will be able to reduce your overall interest costs — perhaps significantly over time.

Transfer high-rate debt to lower-rate cards. Consolidating credit card debts to a single, lower-rate card saves more than postage and paperwork. It also saves in interest costs over the life of the loan. Comparison shop for the best rates, and beware of “teaser” rates that start low, say, at 6%, then jump to much higher rates after the introductory period ends. You can find lists of low-rate cards online from sites such as CardTrak and Bankrate.

If you can only find a card with a low introductory rate, maximize the value of that low-interest period. By paying off your balance aggressively, you will reduce the balance more quickly than you will when the rate goes up.

You can also contact your current credit card companies to inquire about consolidation and lower rates. Competition in the industry is fierce, and many companies are willing to lower their rates to keep their customers. Even a percentage point or two can make a difference with a sizable balance.

Borrow only for the long term. The best use of debt is to finance things that will gain in value, such as a home or an education, or big-ticket necessities, like a washing machine or a computer — assets that will still be around when the debt is paid off. Avoid using your credit card for concert tickets, vacation expenses, or meals out. By the time the balance is gone, you’ll have paid far more than the cost of these items and have nothing but memories to show for it.

By analyzing your spending, controlling expenses, and establishing a plan, you can reduce — and perhaps eliminate — your debt, leaving you with more money to save today and a better outlook for your financial future.

 

1Source: Nerdwallet.com, 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, updated June 2020. Balances are as of June 2020 for households carrying that type of debt.

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

 

COVID college costs

College Costs in the Era of COVID-19

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Paying for College in the Era of COVID-19

This semester, millions of students, teachers, and college administrators are having to deal with a radically changed landscape while still managing college costs. At many institutions, classes have been cancelled or moved online. Sports programs have been suspended and dormitories, libraries, and labs shuttered. In fact, traditional campus life has been turned upside down thanks to COVID-19, and it’s unclear how long it will last.

Meanwhile, the cost of a college education is higher than ever. According to the College Board, the average total charges at four-year public colleges (in state) for the 2019-2020 academic year were $21,950. Average costs at four-year private nonprofit colleges were more than double that ($49,870).1 And while increases in costs have moderated in recent years, they continue to outpace inflation and median household income, resulting in a growing dependence on student loans; the average student borrower graduating in 2018 owed about $29,000.2

For cash-strapped students and parents, the current crisis has tipped the scales. Many are rebelling at the high costs in the face of a severely diminished college experience. Others have decided to wait until the crisis has passed before enrolling. Still others are questioning the very value of a college degree under current circumstances.

But the issue of soaring college costs is hardly new, and there are two sides to consider.

Students and Parents: Give Us a Break!

“We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” comments one California parent, incensed at paying in-person prices for education that has moved online. On-campus facilities and services like computer labs, libraries, and networking opportunities have also been severely diminished by closures.

Already suffering from a pandemic-induced recession, many families are feeling the pinch and want relief. Students in particular have been hard hit with furloughs and layoffs, as many rely on retail service jobs to help them get by — the same jobs that have suffered the most in the face of closures and lockdowns. Many students had also signed leases for off-campus housing and are now stuck with them even if classes are cancelled. In short, students and parents are demanding tuition rebates, increased financial aid, reduced fees, and leaves of absences to compensate for what they feel is a diminished college experience.

Colleges: How Can We Manage?

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are taking a major financial hit from the pandemic. Enrollment is down. International admissions and offshore semesters have been halted. Entire programs have had to be suspended for health reasons. What’s more, substantial resources are required to set up an online curriculum, administer the courses, and train educators. There are also major costs involved with constant COVID testing of students and disinfecting of classrooms, offices, and other facilities. And, colleges must continue to pay existing vendor contracts, maintain facilities, and compensate their own staff. The situation has created an existential crisis among smaller colleges, who lack the endowments and funding of larger institutions. For many, it’s a question of survival.

A Mixed Response to Managing College Costs

Given this predicament and the widely varying circumstances faced by different institutions, it’s no surprise that their responses vary widely. A handful of universities have announced substantial price cuts. Some have cut fees. But most have kept prices flat, and a few have even increased them. While many offer refunds of fees and room and board, the reimbursement policies vary from school to school — and nearly all have drawn the line at tuition. Here’s a sampling of actions taken — or not — by different schools:

  • Full or partial refunds for room and board costs
  • Reduced tuition and fees
  • Discounts in the form of scholarships or loans
  • Renegotiated financial aid packages
  • Frozen tuition at previous year’s level
  • Imposition of “COVID fees” to cover added costs
  • Increased tuition to cover added expenses

Which of these actions a given school takes depends largely on its financial health and reputation. Smaller, private colleges with more at stake are generally offering more in the form of relief. Larger, well-endowed institutions, such as the Ivy League colleges and large state schools, trend toward the status quo. But there are many exceptions, and each institution has its own approach.

What Can You Do?

If you are a student or parent seeking compensation or relief, your options are limited, especially for the current semester. At nearly all institutions, tuition reimbursement is almost nonexistent after several weeks, no matter what the circumstances. Some schools are now offering tuition insurance, but coverage typically applies only when a student withdraws for medical reasons. To find out what relief may be available at your school, contact the registrar.

Alternatively, you can join the thousands of students and parents who have signed petitions or filed lawsuits demanding tuition cuts, housing reimbursements, and more. Check online to see if any such actions may be already in the works at your school.

In the end, like so many other issues arising from the pandemic, the current predicament facing students and schools is likely to be with us until a COVID-19 vaccine is in place. Even then, skyrocketing costs and mounting student debt pose longer-term issues. Any resolution will take time and likely have far-reaching implications for the costs and nature of a college education.

Notes:

1The College Board, Trends in College Pricing 2019.

2The College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Estate Plan Review

Your Estate Plan: Time for a Checkup

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Your Estate Plan: Time for a Checkup

COVID 19 has brought tragedy to many families and businesses and impacted personal finances. It has also rendered many an estate plan inaccurate and unrepresentative of current circumstances. If you, your family or your beneficiaries have been affected by the virus, you may need to review and make changes to your plan. Consider the following questions in your review.

Are your beneficiary designations still accurate?

If you have lost someone named in your estate plan, you’ll need to make the appropriate changes. This could include changing beneficiaries, trustees, executors, healthcare decision-makers, your legal power of attorney or any other parties named in the plan.

You’ll also want to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up-to-date for your retirement accounts, such as an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or 401(k), where beneficiaries are designated directly, rather than through your will.

Has the size of your estate changed?

If you have taken a financial hit as a result of the pandemic, then you may need to adjust some aspects of your estate plan. Adjustments may also be needed if the size of your estate has increased significantly. A large change in the total value of your assets could affect the distribution of your assets, particularly if you have made specific bequests to individuals or charities rather than dividing your estate proportionally. If you own a business, you may also need to consider how its value may have changed and how that might impact your plans to pass on control.

Are your minor children still protected?

If you have named a guardian for your minor children, check to ensure that person is still willing and able to serve in that role. And ask yourself if you still have confidence in your choice of guardian. A different job, a move out of state, or other changed circumstances may make your original choice no longer optimal.

In addition, it may make sense to keep the financial responsibilities of guardianship separate from the actual care of the minor children. You could choose a professional fiduciary to provide financial management on behalf of the minor children and name a family member to provide their actual day-to-day care.

Is your life insurance coverage still appropriate?

If your circumstances have altered materially as a result of the pandemic, you may also want to take a look at your life insurance coverage, too. Any significant changes to your life — births, deaths, marriages, or divorces — could affect your life insurance needs. It’s important to ensure that you have adequate coverage for you and your loved ones.

Do you have up-to-date documents?

Any updates needed as a result of your review will need to be reflected in your estate documents. These typically include a will, healthcare proxy, and power of attorney. They may also include a living will or trust documents. Keep in mind, however, that estate planning can be a complex endeavor. Therefore, any estate planning decisions or changes are best made with the help of a qualified legal professional and the rest of your professional team.

 

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.