July 8, 2020

Help! I’m Owed a Refund, But the Hotel Owner Refuses to Budge

A spokeswoman for Best Western said in a statement that “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Best Western Hotels Resorts has offered a flexible cancellation policy to its valued guests. This policy includes that ‘a more restrictive cancellation policy may apply to a limited number of high-demand dates at individual hotels,’ which was applicable to this guest’s reservation.”

After reaching out to Hilton, I learned that Nick got trapped by an even more peculiar loophole — a bizarre wrench in the pandemic’s ever-expanding toolbox of bizarre wrenches. On March 17, Italy passed the “Cura Italia” decree, a relief measure meant to offset the economic toll of the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries. The new law gave hotel owners in Italy the option to make the call on whether to issue refunds or vouchers.

As I’ve reported before, cash-strapped travel companies have numerous reasons for retaining non-refundable payments in the age of the coronavirus, and it’s also not hard to understand why the owner of hotel in Italy — at an airport, no less — would choose that option, especially when expressly given the greenlight by the Italian government. Another reader bemoaned a similar issue, also with an Italian hotel. “Why is an American who never set foot on Italian soil subject to a new Italian decree?” she wondered.

In general, though, hotels have generally been better about Covid-related cash refunds than airlines, tour operators and cruise lines. In mid-March, as the world started shutting down, every major hotel company announced newly flexible cancellation terms, even for “non-refundable” or “advance purchase” reservations. And even now, as we move into summer, hotel policies remain pretty flexible. Hilton, for example, allows guests to cancel any reservation booked through August without penalty, so long as it’s done so at least 24 hours before the arrival date. It’s a strategic move meant to get people to take a leap, plan travel, book trips.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/07/travel/virus-refunds-hotel-franchises.html

Why College Students May Qualify for Special Covid Pandemic Aid

Walter Cortina, a 17-year-old high school student in St. Paul, Minn., said he had worked for several years at a carwash, part time during the school year and full time in the summer. He used the money to help support his younger sister as well as his mother and aunt. When he lost his job in March because of the pandemic, he said, he was rejected for jobless benefits. He was eventually able to find a paid internship, but said others in his position might not be so lucky.

Some students in Minnesota were initially sent unemployment checks, only to be told that they had been approved in error and must return the money. Cole Stevens, 18, who graduated this spring, said he had applied repeatedly for benefits after the coffee shop where he worked in Bloomington, Minn., cut his hours and then shut down during the pandemic. He eventually received a lump sum of about $3,700, and spent about half to help his father pay bills and living expenses.

“I really didn’t spend it on anything frivolous,” he said.

Then, a letter arrived from the state, telling him he had to return the money. He is appealing the finding. “I think it’s a gross injustice,” he said. He has since found work cleaning and disinfecting buildings, he said, but his hours vary.

The commissioner of Minnesota’s employment department said in a recent blog post that he and the state’s governor, Tim Walz, supported a change in the law that would allow students to qualify temporarily, and were working with state legislators on a fix.

Some students have successfully claimed the benefits. Don La Fronz, an investment adviser in New York, said his college-age son had successfully filed for benefits after a summer job fell through because of the virus, and is receiving more than $700 a week. Some of his son’s friends in similar situations have claimed benefits as well, Mr. La Fronz said.

Here are some questions and answers about unemployment insurance for students:

How do I apply for unemployment insurance benefits if I’m a student?

You can typically apply online, through your state’s unemployment office. Check the website of your state’s labor or employment department for details. Each state has its own process; some may require separate applications for regular benefits and pandemic relief benefits.

What if I’m unsure if I qualify for the expanded jobless benefits?

There’s no harm in applying for benefits to see if you qualify, as long as you are truthful on the application, said Victorine Froehlich, a lawyer who participates in the New York State Bar Association’s volunteer unemployment insurance initiative. The program offers free help to New Yorkers seeking jobless benefits during the pandemic.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/03/your-money/students-unemployment-insurance-coronavirus.html

How Investors Are Addressing Racial Injustice

“Our technology helps you report on what you’re investing in,” Mr. Lipman said.

Twenty-six of the top foundations had 13.5 percent of their assets managed by firms owned by women or people of color, according to a report released this week by the Knight Foundation, which supports journalism and equitable communities. But in the investment industry as a whole, only 1 percent of assets are managed by firms owned by women or people of color.

What drove the foundation’s research was a look at its own management structure in 2010. At the time, the foundation, which oversaw $2.3 billion, had only one African-American manager, who oversaw a mere $7.5 million, said Juan J. Martinez, the foundation’s chief financial officer.

“We were very surprised,” Mr. Martinez said. That prompted the foundation to begin asking about the ownership of investment firms as part of its due diligence process. It now has 30 percent of its assets managed by women- and minority-owned firms, and its returns have continued to be strong.

He took issue with the assumption that the foundation was not focused on returns and that the minority- and women-owned firms had lower returns.” The data doesn’t bear that out,” he said.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has an $1.2 billion endowment, announced this week that it would add grants to address racial justice and democracy. But for the past decade, it has been realigning its assets — including grant making, investments and its reputational capital — with its overall mission.

The Rockefeller fund found that it had come up short on the diversity of investment managers, with just 12.3 percent women or minorities. It has announced it will double that percentage, but has not revealed a timeline.

Beyond investing more in firms owned by minorities, the fund is looking to add firms that have minority leadership and a pipeline of younger leaders. It is also tracking the diversity of the investment portfolio itself, all of which will be published starting at the end of the year.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/03/your-money/investors-racial-injustice.html

Fraudulent Jobless Claims Slow Relief to the Truly Desperate

Roughly 200,000 claimants in Washington were flagged for identification fraud in mid-May, and in mid-June 50 members of the National Guard started to help process the remainder of those claims, which were recently resolved. But there are still 71,000 people who have filed since March and have not received benefits.

Michael DeMaddalena said the delays had made him homeless. He was about to start a job as a cook at T-Mobile Park, home to the Seattle Mariners, on March 24 before the virus put the major-league baseball season on hold. He filed more than three months ago, but the $835 a week he appeared to be eligible for has never arrived.

In mid-April, Mr. DeMaddalena lost the room he had been renting for $100 a week, and with shelters on lockdown because of the pandemic, he had nowhere to go. He set up a tent close enough to a Starbucks to get free Wi-Fi so he could keep tabs on his application.

Since then, he has twice provided Washington’s Employment Security Department proof of his identity — by faxing and uploading copies of his Social Security and identification cards. But his disqualification remains unexplained.

State officials declined to discuss Mr. DeMaddalena’s case, but a Seattle law firm took a statement from him as part of a legal action demanding prompt payment of benefits that it said had been halted in response to fraudulent filings from overseas.

“I have done everything they have asked — and no response, no nothing,” Mr. DeMaddalena, 50, said. He said he had little more than the clothes on his back. “It is one thing to visualize my story, and another to walk in my shoes and sleep in my tent and not have running water.”

In a memo obtained by The New York Times in May, the Secret Service suspected a well-organized Nigerian crime ring for the problems in Washington, and said there was evidence of coordinated attacks in at least six other states: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/your-money/coronavirus-unemployment-fraud.html

Virus ‘Dramatically’ Narrows Teenagers’ Summer Job Prospects

“They give us a picture of them playing a sport, and we crop out what they want, or add stuff,” Mr. Stupka said. A basic edit is $8, and more detailed changes are $15; customers pay via Venmo or other money-transfer apps.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Kamden Wilson, 16, said he considered the photo editing work a supplement to another job, making sandwiches at a Jimmy John’s. “I tried mowing lawns,” he said, “but it didn’t work out.”

Here are some questions and answers about summer employment this year:

My teenager has tried unsuccessfully to find a summer job. Should I pay her?

For families that can afford it, agreeing to compensate teenagers for work around the house can be an option, said Janet Bodnar, a longtime writer about children and money for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and the author of “Dollars Sense for Kids.” Parents could agree on a weekly or monthly allowance, then offer opportunities for their children to earn more for special projects — say, clearing brush in the yard or cleaning out the basement.

The pandemic presents opportunities for teenagers to help out in ways that may not have previously been deemed worthy of pay. For instance, they could help supervise or tutor younger siblings while parents work at home, performing a much-needed service, and could perhaps be paid for their efforts. Ms. Bodnar also said that if teenagers couldn’t find a job when searching in May, they might want to try again — if they’re comfortable with safety precautions being taken — as states opened up.

“Don’t be immediately discouraged,” she said. “There may be more opportunities than you think.”

Are city youth job programs an option?

Thousands of teenagers, especially from low-income and minority families, rely on city-based summer job programs to earn workplace skills and supplement family income. This year, many cities are cutting back because of the pandemic. But about 70 percent of programs will continue in some fashion this summer, even if they have to move to virtual offerings because of the pandemic, said Jennifer Steinfeld, director of entrepreneurship and economic development with the National League of Cities.

The Philadelphia Youth Network, for example, will offer its annual WorkReady program, adapted for the pandemic. About 2,000 positions will remain traditional ones, putting young people to work at summer recreational camps. The remainder of the program will be delivered online, covering topics like the building of an online digital identity, financial literacy and career exploration. Participants have the opportunity to earn up to $595 for completing the courses over the summer, said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, chief executive of the youth network.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/your-money/coronavirus-teenagers-summer-jobs.html

Used Cars From Shrinking Rental Fleets May Not Be the Steal You Expect

George Chamoun, chief executive of ACV Auctions, which conducts online used-car appraisals and auctions, attributed the rebound in vehicle values to more demand for used cars as people avoided public transportation and ride-hailing services out of concern about the virus. Used-car values in some states are nearly back to where they were before the pandemic, he said, and in some — like Florida — are higher.

But even as some people are buying cars to commute to work, others may be continuing to work at home, which may reduce demand for cars. Auto manufacturers cut production in response to the pandemic, and that may push more buyers to used models, buoying demand — and prices.

All of that doesn’t mean there won’t be deals to be had, Mr. Rahim said, but consumers shouldn’t count on fire-sale prices.

Still, Julie Blackley, a spokeswoman for the car research firm iSeeCars, recommended checking rental agencies’ sales websites. The company analyzed thousands of cars available in May on HertzCarSales.com, where Hertz sells directly to consumers, and found many models were available at prices considerably lower than expected. On average, vehicles could be found for about $1,400 below market value, up from an average discount of less than $1,000 in April.

But rental cars, especially smaller models, which are typically less expensive to rent, may have more miles on them than other used cars, iSeeCars reported. The average mileage on Hertz cars sold in May was 31 percent higher than on used cars from typical dealerships. But luxury cars, which are less popular rental options because of their expense, often have “significantly” lower mileage than average.

Here are some questions and answers about buying a used rental car:

What are the pros and cons of buying a car from a rental agency?

Rental cars have many drivers, some of whom may not have treated the vehicle as gently as they would their own car. For that reason, buying directly from a major rental company may be preferable to buying from smaller outlets, which tend to buy used cars from the big companies and hold on to them for another cycle of rentals, said Jon Linkov, deputy auto editor at Consumer Reports.

“It’s had a life already,” he said. “Best to stay away from the third life.”

Most big rental companies replace their cars when they are one to two years old, but most warranties expire after a certain number of miles, Mr. Linkov said. So even if the model is relatively new, the time left on the manufacturer’s warranty may be limited.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/your-money/rental-car-companies-hertz-coronavirus.html

Pandemic Is Expected to Bring More Lawsuits, and More Backers

As in other fund structures, the litigation funds are paid a management fee and then take a hefty cut of the settlement, depending on the success of the case. With litigants, the funds negotiate their return up front. In some cases, it’s a percentage of the settlement; in others, it’s a multiple of the money they invest depending on how long it takes for the case to settle. If it takes three years, for example, they might ask to be paid back three times their money.

In all cases, the investment is nonrecourse financing, meaning if the company or lawyers lose the case, they don’t owe the investors anything. This aspect is appealing because law firms and companies can minimize some of their risk while still having access to working capital. It’s also why investors need to ensure that they spread their money across many cases.

“There isn’t any case I’d put more than $25,000 in,” Mr. Parizek said. “There are some I liked and thought it would be great to put in $250,000 and win big, but you never know.”

Peter Suarez, who runs a marketing and lead generation company in San Diego, began investing in single cases, building a diversified portfolio. But, he said, as more investors began seeking high-quality cases, he turned to funds.

“It was already getting more difficult to invest individually,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose out on the opportunities.”

Of the 47 cases he has invested in since 2015, Mr. Suarez said, his return was 38 percent. But he is paring back his investment in litigation finance.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


“I’ve only had five losses, but when you lose, you lose everything,” he said.

His other complaint is that there is no way to roll these investments into something longer term. The case pays its returns, and the investor is left with that money to reinvest. There is not the same cash flow he gets from, say, real estate investing.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/your-money/lawsuits-litigation-finance-coronavirus.html

Should Funeral Homes Be Required to Post Prices Online?

Visiting funeral homes for price lists was burdensome even before the coronavirus outbreak, but it has put the need for change in sharp relief, Mr. Slocum said. Online pricing, he said, would allow families to consider options and compare prices in the safety of their homes, without feeling pressured.

A coalition of nearly two dozen attorneys general also voiced support for online pricing and updates to the funeral rule. “As our states’ residents continue to face the immense challenge and staggering loss of life from the coronavirus crisis,” they wrote the commission, “it is ever more important to provide greater protections to consumers making funeral arrangements.”

The median cost of a full funeral with burial was $7,640 in 2019, according to the National Funeral Directors Association; cremation, which is increasingly popular, can be thousands less.

Prices vary widely, however. In their letter, the attorneys general cited a 2017 survey of funeral homes in the District of Columbia, which found a price range of $5,795 to $125,000 for the most expensive coffins.

But the industry opposes mandatory online pricing and said the decisions should be left to individual businesses. California is the lone state that requires online price disclosure, but loopholes allow some funeral homes to avoid doing so, according to the alliance.

Scott Gilligan, general counsel for the funeral home association, said many businesses posted prices online voluntarily. But he said its research suggested that most consumers based their selection of a funeral home on its location and reputation and their familiarity with its director, rather than primarily on price. Those who want to explore costs online can try independent price-comparison tools, like Funeralocity.com, he said. And consumers can choose less formal options, like do-it-yourself memorial services at home or alternate locations, to hold down costs.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


The F.T.C. is also seeking comments on a possible alternative to online pricing, like requiring funeral homes to offer an email address on their websites that consumers can use to request a price list electronically.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/your-money/funeral-homes-prices-online.html

The Stark Racial Inequity of Personal Finances in America

Even with a college degree, black Americans can’t count on getting a paycheck of the same size.

The black/white wage gap was significantly wider in 2019 than at the start of the century — even as Hispanic workers have slightly narrowed their own gap with white workers, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute.

But the gap isn’t a function of differences in education levels. Even among those who attain advanced degrees, blacks were paid 82.4 cents for every dollar earned by their white peers. Hispanics do better, at 90.1 cents on the dollar.

And the gender pay gap expands the racial gap into a chasm: Black women, on average, earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to another report from the institute.

The home is the largest asset for many American families, which may help build wealth over time. Paying down a mortgage often serves as a forced savings plan, enabling families to build equity that they can tap in retirement or leave to their heirs.

Black families have long been behind their white peers in homeownership, but that gap is the largest it has been in a half-century, according to the Urban Institute.

In 2018, about 72 percent of white households owned homes, compared with nearly 41.7 percent of blacks, 47.5 percent of Hispanics and 59.5 percent of Asians, according to the institute, using the 2018 American Community Survey. In 1960, nearly 65 percent of whites owned homes, compared with 38.1 percent of blacks, 45.2 percent of Hispanics and 42.8 percent of Asians, according to an analysis of census data.

“The gap in the homeownership rate between black and white families in the U.S. is bigger today than it was when it was legal to refuse to sell someone a home because of the color of their skin,” the Urban Institute wrote.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/your-money/race-income-equality.html

Home Prices Are Rising, Along With Post-Lockdown Demand

Because the market tilts in favor of sellers, Mr. Rinehart advises buyers to ignore certain issues, like minor repairs, that they may have negotiated over in a less heated market. “This is an unusual time,” he said.

Diana Ragland said she and her husband had started looking for a larger home for their family in Colorado Springs in February, but put their search on hold when in-person home tours were suspended because of the pandemic.

“We weren’t willing to make an offer when we could only do virtual tours,” she said. “I have to physically walk through and get the smell of the house.”

In May, with the restrictions lifted, the couple were able to tour a new house that met their needs, and their offer was accepted within a few days. Their old house went under contract in just two days, and both properties are expected to close on the same day this month.

While most shoppers balk at buying properties without visiting them first, that has sometimes been necessary during the pandemic, said Donna Deaton, a relocation specialist in the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, areas. While traditional open houses are returning in some markets, she said, some property owners still prefer that shoppers make appointments. Buyers who sign up for the first available slots get to make the first offers, leaving those with later appointments out of luck.

“We are scrambling to find homes for buyers,” Ms. Deaton said.

One problem, she said, is that some sellers are reluctant to put their homes on the market because they worry they won’t be able to find a new property for themselves and will have to rent while they shop.

In some cases, homeowners who were planning to sell have decided to remain where they are and renovate instead, adding home offices because they expect to commute less, said David Legaz, a broker with Keller Williams in Flushing, N.Y., and the president-elect of the New York State Association of Realtors.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/your-money/houses-prices-coronavirus.html