Ah, Thanksgiving. It's a time of peace, gratitude and breaking bread. All of your nearest and dearest are gathered together on a crisp fall night, and the conversation stays pleasant and light ... right?
Let's be real: Even though you're thankful for the loved ones seated around the table, it can be stressful to deal with off-color comments from Uncle Steve or Grandma's incessant questions about your love life.
Since we know how trying annual family gatherings can be, we’ve rounded up some headline-making financial news that can provide a much-needed change of topic.
From the end of QE to a controversial new work perk being offered to women working in tech, these conversation starters have the potential to put the kibosh on any petty personal quibbling.
You and your relatives can thank us later.
News Flash #1: Big Bank Data Hack Makes History
Online banking customers were on high alert last month when the nation's biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., revealed just how many consumers might have been affected by an attack on its servers—making the incident one of the largest data breaches in history.
Hackers were able to get the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for some 76 million households and 7 million small businesses. Anyone who accessed the company’s websites or mobile app may have been a target, but fortunately, the hackers didn’t get away with account information like user IDs, dates of birth or Social Security numbers. The bank also reported that it did not find any unusual fraud activity after the attack occurred.
Nonetheless, the breach brought to light the importance of taking measures to safeguard your online information, such as reviewing your bank statements regularly to check for strange transactions and watching for unusual bank communications that could actually be phishing emails.
News Flash #2: Your Cell Phone Taxes Are Too Darn High
The next time you get your wireless bill, hone in on those figures with an eagle eye. According to a new report from the Tax Foundation, you may be shelling out way more in federal, state and local taxes, and fees than you realize.
On average, more than 17% of U.S. customers' bills are devoted to these often hard to decipher costs. In some areas, these taxes and fees could even amount to more than twice what you'll pay in taxes on other goods and services.
The report found that everyone pays a 5.82% federal charge, but state taxes vary by state. Residents of Washington State, Nebraska, New York, Florida and Illinois get hit the hardest, paying between 22% and 24% in combined taxes and fees. Chicago residents, meanwhile, feel the greatest pinch; thanks to a new 911 surcharge imposed by the city, their taxes and fees surpass 35%!
News Flash #3: Egg Freezing Emerges as a Work Perk
Facebook and Apple upped the ante for employee benefits by offering their female employees up to $20,000 to cover the cost of freezing their eggs.
While some pundits say the move proves that the tech Goliaths are devoted to attracting and retaining women, critics say egg freezing sends the message that women can only get ahead if they delay starting a family.
Whether or not this perk will be friend or foe to female workers in the long term remains to be seen, but it does seem to address one reality: fertility treatments can take a hefty bite out of your budget.
News Flash #4: The End of the QE Era
At the end of October, the Federal Reserve finally ended quantitative easing (QE), or the practice of buying bonds from U.S. banks in order to promote lending and inject more money into the economy.
The Fed instituted the practice about six years ago because it felt the economy needed some help recovering from the market meltdowns of 2008. All told, it bought more than $1 trillion worth of bonds, arguably helping to boost the stock market to record highs over the past year.
Although some critics say the end of QE could mean the beginning of volatility in the stock market, the fact that the Fed is putting the brakes on its bond buying is actually good news—it likely means the central bank believes the economy is on the mend, as evidenced by a strengthening job market.
Last but not least, here are some fascinating financial facts to pair with your second helping of Thanksgiving turkey ...
• Only 53% of U.S. civilian workers actively participate in a corporate retirement plan, partially because some of them lack access to one.
• But there is some good news for nest eggs: The I.R.S. just raised the amount you can contribute to your 401(k) by $500. Starting in 2015, you can sock away up to $18,000, or up to $24,000 if you're 50 or older.
• Think you could have done a better job managing your money this year? You're not alone: A 2014 Merrill Edge survey found that 33% of Americans confessed to feeling ashamed that they didn't invest more—trumping the guilt they felt over spending too little time with family.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.