October 18, 2018

Your Money Adviser: ‘Virtual’ Doctor Visits Are Enticing Employers. What if You’re the Patient?

It’s hard for some people to break out of the tradition of going to a doctor’s office, Ms. Kwong said. Some people simply may not know the services are available or how they work. She said offering demonstrations of the technology might be helpful.

“Seeing is believing, for a lot of folks,” Ms. Kwong said.

Tracy Watts, a senior partner at Mercer and a specialist in health care cost management, gave an example of how “super easy” an online visit can be for a patient with, say, a rash. The patient chooses an appointment time and can upload a picture of the rash. The doctor and the patient then talk online at the appointed time, and the doctor can call in a prescription to the patient’s pharmacy — all in about 10 or 15 minutes.

For now, employer adoption of virtual medicine is on the upswing. But that may change. Some studies suggest virtual visits may increase costs by spurring patients to seek treatment for minor ailments that wouldn’t otherwise have prompted them to see a doctor.

Here are some questions and answers about virtual health care:

Is there a fee for consulting a doctor online?

Fees or co-payments depend on the details of your insurance plan.

Some employers offer virtual visits through a health plan, while others contract with separate companies to offer the service. While some providers charge people without health coverage about $70 per virtual visit, the cost can be $40 or less — or even free — for people with workplace health insurance. Some health plans may offer virtual visits with no or lower fees to encourage workers to use them, the Kaiser study found.

Mercer has found that lower fees are linked to higher use of virtual visits. Among employers who reported relatively high rates of telemedicine use, the typical co-payment was $15. Employers with below-average use had a typical fee of $30.

Whether a virtual visit costs a patient more than an in-person visit depends, again, on your insurance. The average co-payment for a primary care office visit is $25, according to the Kaiser foundation. But the cost for someone with certain health plans — like high deductible plans, which have a different payment structure — may be much higher.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/12/your-money/virtual-doctor-visits-employers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Marriott Workers Struggle to Pay Bills, and Credit Union Fees

But even so, he often falls short. The August statement for Mr. Ramirez Paredes’s credit union account shows more than $800 in overdraft fees so far this year. Mr. Newton said that overdraft fees had declined by nearly 10 percent between 2013 and last year, and that he believed such cases were unusual.

Workers like Mr. Ramirez Paredes and Mr. Troyah say their financial problems are heightened by Marriott’s decision to rely more on temps and less on full-time employees, who have seen their hours cut back and their annual earnings fall. According to Rachel Gumpert, a spokeswoman for Unite Here, the union that represents the company’s striking workers, a central issue in the dispute is that workers are having to hold down multiple jobs to support themselves because they aren’t receiving enough hours at the hotel chain.

Mr. Ramirez Paredes says that even though he is considered a full-time employee, he is frequently assigned to work only three or four days per week, sometimes as little as one day. (If his hours in a six-month period fall too much, he will lose his full-time status.) Mr. Troyah’s W-2 forms show that his income declined from about $34,000 in 2016 to about $28,000 in 2017 because, he says, Marriott cut his hours.

Both men said that they had asked their managers why they didn’t receive more hours, and that the managers had told them business was slow. But that claim was at odds with the presence of workers dispatched from staffing firms. Marriott declined to comment.

Lekesha Wheelings, who has worked as a line cook at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown for the past 12 years, says that she makes just over $19 an hour, but that she, too, is sometimes sent home early and ends up with fewer than 40 hours per week.

Ms. Wheelings, who lives with her eldest daughter and supports twin 17-year-old children, said she made nearly $45,000 in 2016, but only about $39,500 last year because she worked less.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/11/business/marriott-credit-union-employee-strike.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Your Money Adviser: Children’s Allowances in a New Form: Debit Cards Linked to Parents’ Phones

Promoters say the cards do encourage saving. Greenlight lets parents automatically match money the child sets aside in a savings account. Rates on bank savings accounts are still low — 2 percent is considered generous — making compound interest a hard sell. But parents can direct the app to pay the child their own, personal interest rates — say, 20 percent or even 100 percent — as an incentive. (The card account itself doesn’t pay any interest.)

Greenlight also allows parents to supervise spending by choosing the type of stores or restaurants where children can shop. Money on the card is put into two categories: for spending anywhere, or for only preapproved stores and websites. If the child tries to buy something at a nonapproved store — or tries to spend more money than is available on the card — the purchase is declined.

Children with mobile phones can get their own version of the app, which lets them check balances or seek a parent’s permission to buy a specific item.

Greenlight, with financial backers that include Amazon and two big banks, became available in 2017 and now has about 200,000 paying customers, said Tim Sheehan, the company’s chief executive. Next week, the card will add new features, including the ability to use the card at A.T.M.s.

Current, backed by investors including an arm of Fifth Third Bank, lets parents offer their children the option to earn money by doing chores. One example: “Mow Lawn. $10.” Once the chore is done, funds are transferred. Stuart Sopp, Current’s founder and chief executive, said his 9-year-old daughter had a card and often told him, “I want more chores.”

“It’s a parental toolbox,” he said.

The cards can offer a learning experience as long as parents don’t go into “helicopter” mode and overdo their control, said Bill Dwight, founder of FamZoo, a longtime family finance and budgeting program that added a debit card to its menu several years ago.

The idea is to let children make spending mistakes, with guardrails to prevent disasters, Mr. Dwight said. “If you nag the kid about every transaction,” he said, the child may tune you out.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/your-money/childrens-allowances-debit-cards-parents.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

8 Questions About Social Security Answered as Election Day Nears

More than 170 House Democrats, nearly the entire caucus, have co-sponsored a bill by Representative John B. Larson of Connecticut that would generally increase benefits by 2 percent (more for people with lower lifetime income; less for those with higher incomes), set a minimum benefit for low-income earners and adopt a potentially faster-rising cost of inflation adjustment than the one now in effect because it takes into account that older people tend to spend proportionally more on medical care.

To pay for those changes and for the coming shortfall, the legislation would apply payroll taxes to wages above $400,000 (not indexed for inflation, meaning that, eventually, all earnings would be covered). It would also gradually raise the payroll tax over 24 years by 1.2 percentage points to 7.4 percent for workers and employers.

Although Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas, is retiring, a bill he introduced in 2016 includes the types of changes that Republicans typically support. Among other things, it would gradually raise the age at which retirees can claim full benefits to 69.

In practice, that would amount to a significant benefit cut, according to an analysis by Melissa M. Favreault, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who studies social insurance programs and models the effects of different policy changes. Based on the Social Security Administration’s actuaries’ review of Mr. Johnson’s proposal, Ms. Favreault calculates that a retiree would either have to forgo two years of benefits, or receive a check that was 13.3 percent smaller at 67. This change would affect people born in 1968 and later. Those born from 1961 to 1967 would see smaller cuts. (Mr. Johnson’s office confirmed the accuracy of Ms. Favreault’s calculations.)

Mr. Johnson’s proposal would also change the benefit formula so that higher-than-average earners would receive less while the lowest earners got more. Another provision would cut benefits for people who had more variable earnings or people who spent long periods not working, Ms. Favreault said. The plan also proposes using a cost-of-living adjustment that grows more slowly, and the creation of a minimum benefit.

A couple of relatively recent actions would hurt the trust fund slightly over the next decade, but would have a negligible long-term effect. The tax law enacted last year has a “significant net negative effect” over the next 10 years, according to the 2018 annual trustees’ report, and the proposed elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, would also reduce program revenue.

The last time Congress made significant adjustments to close a shortfall, in 1983, both Democrats and Republicans had to make concessions. Some policy experts said they believed the parties were more polarized now, making such an agreement more difficult.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/your-money/8-questions-about-social-security-answered-as-election-day-nears.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Strategies: The New iPhones Look Fine. But My Old One Is Better Than Ever.

Could this have been a case of planned obsolescence of a nefarious sort, the deliberate ruination of a perfectly good product to spur sales of a new one? I am not convinced that it was, although suspicions have been rampant for years that this kind of behavior might be standard for big tech companies. Facing widespread criticism, as well as lawsuits that are pending in California, Apple apologized late last year.

In a statement at the time, the company said it had meant well and had merely been trying to keep phones working longer. Critically, Apple said it would offer expedited services at lower prices for owners of old phones who wanted to replace their batteries. In March, the company also issued a minor operating system upgrade that made it easier for iPhone users to understand what was happening to their batteries.

While my new battery made my phone serviceable again, I still assumed I would have to replace it when Apple introduced the new models, and a new operating system, in September, as it does just about every year. New operating systems typically make old phones slow to a crawl.

But Apple executives said the new system, iOS 12, would be different. Older phones, going back to the 2013 model year, would work better this time, not worse. “We’re focusing our efforts especially on the oldest devices,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said in June. “While it’s still early days, we’re excited with the results that we’ve seen.”

Apple now reports that in test conditions, older phones are indeed running much faster after iOS 12 has been installed. For example, the company says, the camera app opens 70 percent faster, the keyboard starts 50 percent faster, and under a heavy workload, multiple apps work up to two times as fast. In a full review, Ars Technica, the Condé Nast website, found similarly impressive results.

I downloaded the new software, and my phone works spectacularly now. Some people who installed iOS 12 have reported minor glitches, but that hasn’t been my experience. My phone can’t do everything the new iPhone Xs can do, but it seems fast enough to me.

Plus, it’s doing things it never did before. When I connect it with my car, for example, and start up CarPlay, I can now choose to see Google Maps on the dashboard, not Apple’s proprietary and, in my view, inferior mapping system. Allowing me to make that choice is the mark of a confident company.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/business/apple-old-iphone-operating-system.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Your Money Adviser: So You’ve Frozen Your Credit Files. Here Are Tips on Unfreezing Them.

The third bureau, Experian, still requires a PIN to lift a freeze.

“We’ve kept this in place as it provides a level of security that the consumer has control over,” a spokesman, Greg Young, said in an email.

To lift a freeze, consumers enter personal details on Experian’s website as well as their PIN. If consumers lose their PIN, Mr. Young said, they can complete an online process to get a new one.

Here are some questions and answers about security freezes:

How can I make sure my credit freeze password is secure?

Passwords tend to be more secure than PINs, said Lorrie Cranor, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. PINs are typically just a series of digits, while passwords include letters and symbols, enabling more combinations and making them harder to guess.

The addition of an extra step, like a one-time code texted to your phone, as Equifax is doing, provides extra security, Dr. Cranor said, adding, “That’s a good thing.”

But, she cautioned, no system is perfect. Many people reuse the same passwords or create passwords containing letters and numbers that are relatively easy to guess — like birthdays or phone numbers. Dr. Cranor recommends using password-generating software to create truly random combinations, and then using a password manager to keep track of them. The Wirecutter, a New York Times affiliate, offers recommendations.

It’s also fine to write down your passwords, she said, as long as you keep them in a secure location, like a locked file cabinet.

Does having a credit freeze mean I can’t use my current credit cards?

No. The Federal Trade Commission says some consumers mistakenly think a freeze will prevent them from using their credit cards. A freeze prevents new accounts from being opened without your permission, but has no effect on cards already in your wallet.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/your-money/frozen-credit-files-tips-unfreezing.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Your Money Adviser: An Alternative to Payday Loans, but It’s Still High Cost

Reaction to the new loans has been mixed. Nick Bourke, director of consumer finance at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which supports making affordable small loans available to consumers with appropriate safeguards, said the new loan appeared promising. When the loan program was announced, he tweeted that it was a “game changer.” Pew opposes payday loans, but has called for mainstream banks to offer less risky small loans to help consumers when they hit financial potholes. The U.S. Bank loans include some features that Pew recommends, Mr. Bourke said, such as limiting loan payments to 5 percent of the borrower’s monthly income and avoiding overdraft fees.

While the loans are relatively expensive, they are far less costly than alternatives like payday loans or auto title loans.

“It’s a great first step,” Mr. Bourke said.

According to Pew’s research, 12 million people a year take payday loans. If borrowers can’t make the payment, they often pay more fees to renew the loan. Payday borrowers, Pew found, spend an average of $520 in fees to repeatedly borrow $375.

U.S. Bank’s new loans cost $12 for each $100 borrowed, when payments are automatically debited from a customer’s account. The fee is $15 per $100 if a customer opts out of automatic payments.

“This is a high-cost loan,” Ms. Heitman acknowledged, adding that the bank was being “transparent” about the fees. The bank has received strong positive feedback from customers, she said, who say they find the loan terms easy to understand.

The Center for Responsible Lending, an advocacy group, was skeptical of the value of U.S. Bank’s offering, saying the loans are still too expensive for most low-income people, many of whom are already burdened by debt and have little wiggle room to take on more.

“It’s a step in the wrong direction,” said Rebecca Borné, the center’s senior policy counsel.

And while the bank won’t let the customer’s checking account be overdrawn by a loan payment, she said, the payment itself could cause the account’s balance to shrink so low that subsequent bills cause overdrafts.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/your-money/alternative-payday-loans-high-interest-us-bank.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Wealth Matters: Life Insurance Offering More Incentive to Live Longer

This may sound trivial, but behavioral economists say short-term rewards drive long-term results.

“The main thing we’ve seen in a variety of studies looking at health incentives is that healthy people are very interested in being in these types of programs,” said Justin Sydnor, associate professor of risk and insurance at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “One, it’s about money, but two, healthy people don’t like to fail at getting the incentives. People who know they’re going to struggle aren’t as interested in programs like this.”

For John Hancock, a division of the Canadian insurer Manulife Financial, the program is good for business. “The longer people live, the more money we make,” Mr. Tingle said. “If we can collectively help our customers live just a bit longer, it’s quite advantageous for us as a company.”

The market for life insurance is vast. About half of Americans own some form, but only a third own individual policies, which are more profitable than group policies they could get through work. The most common reason people list for not buying life insurance is cost, according to Limra, an insurance industry research group.

What John Hancock is trying to do is not easy. The pilot program, started in 2015, has not been a roaring success: Only about 20 percent of customers signed up that year. Three years later, the company said it had doubled that figure, which experts said was below expectations.

“It’s a great idea to extend it to their full line of products, but they have not had spectacular success with the product so far,” said Steven N. Weisbart, chief economist at Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.

“People do respond to incentives,” Mr. Weisbart added. “But the question is, do people respond to these incentives? The answer seems to be, not really.”

Mr. Tingle said that what drove the decision to make Vitality mandatory on all new policies was not the adoption rates but how customers used the offering. Over the past three years, use of the software has increased 706 percent.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/your-money/john-hancock-vitality-life-insurance.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Your Money Adviser: Freezing Credit Will Now Be Free. Here’s Why You Should Go for It.

One credit bureau, TransUnion, introduced a smartphone app, myTransUnion, this month that consumers can use to more easily freeze and thaw their credit. The app is available for both Apple and Android phones. Mr. Stephens, of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said he had not seen the app, but cautioned consumers to tread carefully, in case it is used to market other, fee-based products and services.

The credit bureaus also offer something called a credit “lock,” which they promote as a more convenient way to protect your information. But some offerings carry fees, and consumer advocates prefer freezes because the rules are set by law, rather than by the credit bureaus.

One other less-protective option is a fraud alert, which requires credit bureaus to contact you to verify your identity when a company requests your credit file. Under the new law, initial fraud alerts must last for one year once established. Fraud alerts are free, and, unlike the freezes, an alert placed at one bureau is automatically placed at all three.

U.S. PIRG also recommends freezing your file at a lesser-known reporting agency known as the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange. The exchange provides credit information to some cellphone, pay television and utility companies. (Some consumers have reported having cellular accounts opened in their names, even though they had placed freezes on their credit reports at the main bureaus.)

The website for the utilities exchange says its database is “housed and managed” by Equifax. But the exchange is a “distinct” entity that requires its own freeze, said Craig Caesar, outside counsel to the exchange. “A separate request to N.C.T.U.E. is required because it is a separate database,” Mr. Caesar said in an email. There is no cost for a freeze, he said.

The new law also requires credit bureaus to allow parents to create and freeze credit files for their children under 16, to prevent their identities from being misused. The Federal Trade Commission offers information on what to do.

Freezes will not protect you from other types of fraud, like someone using the number of a credit card you already have, or impersonating you online to claim your Social Security benefits. To help prevent those types of theft, Mr. Litt recommends checking your credit card statements regularly for suspicious charges, and setting up and monitoring an online Social Security account, to prevent criminals from opening one first and diverting your benefit checks. A PIRG report suggests other helpful steps as well.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/14/your-money/credit-freeze-free.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Robots Can Manage Your Money. But Even They Need Humans.

With most of its customers being over 50, Vanguard has plans to introduce a tool to help people better estimate their health care and long-term care costs in retirement. It is also testing other new features in areas where it is lacking, including a “What if?” tool that lets you see how various factors affect your savings.

Schwab, with $33 billion in assets, introduced its own digital service three years ago. The firm added an online service with a human financial planner last year; it costs 0.28 percent of assets, or about 0.42 percent of assets when the cost of investing is included. (Schwab’s advisers are salaried and act as fiduciaries, meaning they promise to put customers first.)

The tools are comprehensive: Planning for college? You can pull up the actual costs of a specific university, estimate what percentage you expect to pay and plan around that goal with a 529 account, even if it’s not held at Schwab. Selling your home in retirement? It can estimate how much you expect to clear, and how that might factor into your planning.

Schwab’s investment recommendations were criticized when the firm introduced its online service, in part because of its allocation to cash — a larger slice than many financial advisers recommend. The cash component makes money for Schwab, which earns revenue on the difference between the interest it pays to customers and what it can earn on that money invested elsewhere.

There are many others that provide distinctive services. Ellevest, which focuses on helping women and is run by the former Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck, now offers a premium service that goes as far as providing career coaches. Then there’s Wealthsimple, based in Canada but available to customers in the United States. Its premium “black level” service includes access to airport lounges. Rebalance provides advice largely for those over 45, while Personal Capital is an established player that describes itself as a “bionic adviser” — and carries higher fees as a result.

There are also, of course, the human-led practices, more of which offer advice with flexible price options, including monthly subscriptions. And if robots and humans can keep playing nicely, even more people who don’t have piles of money will be able to get affordable financial advice.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/07/business/roboadvisers-financial-planning-betterment.html?partner=rss&emc=rss