Three-quarters of U.S. households owe money, but the vast majority pay their bills on time and have debt loads that are reasonable given their incomes.
But many people still report being embarrassed about owing money. In one study, nearly everyone with debt believed they would be happier without it. Researchers have also found a “strong relationship” between debt and several mental health issues, including depression.
Sometimes, stress and anxiety over debt is perfectly appropriate. If you’re about to lose your home, have more student loan debt than you could pay in a lifetime or are headed to bankruptcy court, some angst is understandable.
Being ashamed of having debt, though, can be counterproductive. Debt shame could make you want to hide from your situation, potentially making it worse. Or you could panic and try to get rid of debt at any cost, potentially at the expense of long-term financial security.
Borrowing a reasonable amount of money to get an education or buy a house often makes economic sense. The education can deliver increased income, while the house can build wealth over time as the mortgage is paid down and home prices rise.
Ideally, we would save to buy the other things we want or need. In reality, many households borrow when money is tight and pay it back when their cash flow increases. Economists call this “consumption smoothing,” as households try to maintain a stable living standard. (It’s also consumption smoothing when you save money for retirement to avoid a steep drop in your living standard after you quit work.)
Furthermore, borrowing takes a predictable pattern over people’s lifetimes. The amount we owe tends to peak in our middle years, when we’re buying houses and raising families, then declines as we age. Raising kids seems to be a particular risk factor in credit card debt: A NerdWallet study found 80% of parents with children under 18 carried credit card balances, compared with 58% of survey respondents who don’t have children. As well, 1 in 10 of those indebted parents expected it would take more than 10 years to pay off credit card debt.
That’s obviously not a great place to be. Unlike mortgages or student loans, credit card debt can’t be seen as an investment — just an expense. Interest rates are typically high, and it’s money better spent, or saved, elsewhere.
So if you’ve got credit card debt, getting rid of it should be a high priority. Paying off your cards is the equivalent of getting a risk-free return of 17% (or whatever your prevailing interest rates happen to be). That’s pretty spectacular, since other risk-free investments, such as Treasury bills, currently pay less than 2%.
Paying off student loans or mortgage debt early also gives you a risk-free return equivalent to the effective interest rate you’re paying. That rate is usually low enough, however, that you’re better off contributing to retirement funds, especially if you get an employer match. Of course, you could do both — once you’ve maxed out your retirement savings, you can start throwing any extra money at your lower-rate debt.
A smart goal for most people is to be debt-free by the time they’re ready to retire. Carrying debt into retirement can be dangerous, since making the payments on a fixed income can strain finances and cause you to run through your savings faster.
All this assumes that your debt load is currently manageable. It may not be if you’re spending 40% or more of your income on debt payments, including your rent or mortgage. That’s the level the Federal Reserve says is indicative of financial distress.
If debt payments are eating too much of your earnings — or if you’re missing payments, borrowing from one card to pay another or being sued over your debt — you probably need help. Consider contacting both a credit counselor (the National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers referrals) and a bankruptcy attorney to understand your options.
The important thing is to act. Allowing your situation to deteriorate because you’re too embarrassed to seek help would be a real shame.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.
EADS, Colo. — The site sits hundreds of miles from any major city. There are no statues to admire, no gift shops to buy postcards, and no cheery activities for the kids. To get there, one must drive through hours of farm and dirt roads amid potholes and sometimes ice patches in winter littering the journey like landmines.
And when you arrive at the Sand Creek Massacre site, you’ll find open plains and a few markers. The rest is up to you.
This quiet piece of land tucked away in rural southeastern Colorado seeks to honor the 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members who were slaughtered by the U.S. Army. It was one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
My wife’s grandma, Sally, said I shouldn’t visit unless I’m ready to meet ghosts. She meant it not to scare, but as a warning: The ghosts will have something to say, and if you want to venture out there, you need to listen.
On November 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington led around 700 U.S. volunteer soldiers to a village of nearly 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho people camped along the banks of Big Sandy Creek. The Ohio-born Chivington had earned praise two years before by helping Hispanic Union soldiers in New Mexico beat back a Confederate supply train in the Battle of Glorieta Pass during the Civil War.
But on that November day, he ordered his men to attack and kill mainly women, children and elderly at the camp. The village under the care of Chiefs Black Kettle and Left Hand had believed they were under the protection of the U.S. Army and even approached the unit with white flags.
For two days, the troops shot and hunted fleeing women and children about a 35 square-mile (90.7 square-kilometer) region. Troops then cut off the body parts of those killed and kept human remains as trophies.
An Army judge would later call the unprovoked attack amid tensions with white land speculators and Native Americans “a cowardly cold-blooded slaughter” and Territorial Gov. John Evans would be forced to resign. Chivington never faced a trial for his actions.
Like most massacres against people of color in the U.S., the event was passed down by victims to family members, but the atrocities faded from the memory of the nation’s narrative. Instead, it appeared in school books as a victory for Colorado “settlers” despite the slaughter being the equivalent of the My Lai Massacre in the Vietnam War during its time.
Today the reflective Sand Creek Massacre site has become a place where indigenous people from across the U.S., Latin America and New Zealand come to pray for indigenous populations affected by genocide. And it serves as a model for advocates seeking to turn historic sites connected to racial violence against people of color — from the 1921 slaughter of African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the mass murder of Mexican Americans in Porvenir, Texas — into places of remembrance.
A trail leading to a top of Monument Hill allows visitors to peek below toward where the village once stood. Most of those killed didn’t die in the village; they were slaughtered by running in various directions. Today, its an open and quiet field.
“This is a crime scene,” Jeff C. Campbell, a volunteer ranger at the site, told me during my recent visit. “And it should be treated as such. But it’s also a place that represents something else to some people.”
In 2007, the National Park Service established the location as a national historic site to “protect the cultural landscape of the massacre. enhance public understanding and minimize similar incidents in the future.” According to the agency, it’s the only national historic site with the word “massacre” in its title.
Walking on the premises, I was reminded what civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson said in the HBO documentary “True Justice.” As a lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama, he used to walk along the Alabama River outside of downtown and hear the cries of slaves from previous generations, asking the living not to forget them.
I’ve heard a similar sound when the late civil rights leader Benny Martinez took me to a tree in Goliad, Texas, where mobs once lynched Mexican Americans. I heard it again when I visited the remains of the Amache Japanese American Relocation Center in Granada, Colorado — the site of the former World War II-era Japanese American internment camp. I recognized the cries when I was taken to the site of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
For me, coming to the Sand Creek Massacre site is not part of the dark tourism movement — visiting places connected to human tragedy just for the thrill of it. It’s part of what some scholars call “memory work,” where one engages with the past to revise accounts of history.
The raw wind whiffed as I stood alone on Sand Creek Massacre’s Monument Hill. I closed my eyes and tried to listen to the words that history hasn’t said.
A good rule of thumb when you’re trying to eat healthy is to beware of any food you see advertised. The most beneficial fare — whole grains, fruits, vegetables — tends not to have a marketing budget.
Similarly, investments that are enthusiastically pushed by commission-earning salespeople may not be the best for your financial health. Before you buy any of the following, you’d be smart to investigate lower-cost alternatives and to consult an objective, knowledgeable third party, such as a fee-only financial planner.
Equity-indexed annuities are insurance products that base their returns on stock market benchmarks. They’re often promoted as a way to benefit from stock market gains while being protected from losses.
But the contracts typically limit how much investors get when the stock market rises, says certified financial planner Anthony Jones of Groveport, Ohio. Two clients, who had purchased equity-indexed annuities before joining his firm, received only a fraction of last year’s 30% increase (as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 benchmark).
“They expected bigger returns in 2019 and were very disappointed,” Jones says. “They each had less than a 3% return.”
Equity-indexed annuities typically come with high commissions and surrender charges that can make it expensive to get your money out, says CFP Scott A. Bishop of Houston. The contracts can be extremely complex, and many buyers don’t understand what they’re getting, he says.
“They are not necessarily bad products, but they are really more like bond alternatives than stock alternatives,” Bishop says.
Reverse mortgages allow homeowners 62 and older to convert some of their home equity into a lump sum, a series of monthly checks or a line of credit. Borrowers don’t have to make payments on the loan, which doesn’t have to be paid back until they die, sell or move.
But borrowers don’t always realize that their debt is accruing monthly interest. The amount they owe may grow so high they no longer have any equity in their homes, says Barbara Jones, an attorney with the AARP Foundation.
Reverse mortgages typically aren’t a good fit for people who may need to rely on their equity for future expenses, such as medical bills or nursing home care. Reverse mortgages could be a way to avoid foreclosure if a homeowner can’t afford to make payments on a regular mortgage, Jones says. There may be no equity left for their heirs, “but at least the person gets to age in place,” Jones says.
Real estate investment trusts allow people to invest in commercial real estate without having to buy and manage the properties themselves. Most REITs are publicly traded so it’s easy to buy and sell them.
Non-traded REITs also invest in real estate but are designed to reduce or eliminate taxes. The trade-off is that your money could be locked up for years. Also, non-traded REITS tend to have high upfront fees that reduce the return on your investment.
“Non-traded REITs make my heart sink when I see them in a new client’s portfolio,” says CFP Jonathan P. Bednar of Knoxville, Tennessee. “These are very complex products, with high fees, and oftentimes not the greatest-quality underlying holding.”
Bednar prefers that clients own investments they can easily sell if needed, such as an exchange-traded fund that invests in real estate.
Cash-value life insurance combines a death benefit with an investment component. (Whole life, universal life and variable life policies are all types of cash-value life insurance.) Sometimes the policies are promoted as a tax-efficient way to invest for high earners who have maxed out their other retirement savings options, says CFP Alex Caswell of San Francisco.
But the premiums aren’t deductible, and the policies tend to have high costs, Caswell says. Many investors have better alternatives, such as using a tax-efficient investment strategy in a regular brokerage account, he says.
Also, premiums for cash-value policies tend to be much higher than premiums for the same amount of term insurance, which has a death benefit but no investment component. The higher premiums can lead buyers to skimp on coverage or to drop the policy because it’s too expensive. And sometimes policies are sold to people who don’t need life insurance at all, such as single people with no financial dependents, says CFP Tess Zigo of Lisle, Illinois.
Zigo says the higher commissions paid by cash-value policies can lead insurance agents to recommend them even when there are better alternatives.
Losing a job is almost always traumatic. In your 50s, job loss can be devastating — and devastatingly common.
More than half the workers who entered their 50s with stable, full-time jobs were laid off or pushed out at least once by age 65, according to an analysis of employment data from 1990 to 2016 by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica and the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank. Only 10% of those who lost a job ever found another that paid as much, and most never recovered financially.
Such concerns may seem remote in a booming economy, when the official unemployment rate is 3.5% overall and just 2.4% for those 55 and over. But recessions are inevitable, and even in good times older workers can be more vulnerable to involuntary job loss because of age discrimination.
These realities make it important to have a plan for navigating what could be your most dangerous decade.
It can be tempting after decades of work to think you can coast to retirement. But older workers who aren’t proactively adding skills are more likely to be laid off, says Susan Weinstock, vice president, financial resilience programming at AARP.
“If the economy tanks, they’ll be the first to go,” Weinstock says. “Staying current in your field is really important.”
Weinstock recommends that older people take advantage of any training opportunities their employers offer, volunteer for new assignments and become both “a mentor and mentee.” A younger co-worker could help you stay up-to-date with the latest technologies used by your office, for example.
“This is a great way for you to learn from someone else and to build more relationships,” Weinstock says.
And when it comes to relationships, more is better. Weinstock urges older workers to keep growing their networks, since most new jobs are found through someone you know.
“Catch up” provisions were created to help workers supercharge their savings in the years before retirement. In 2020, for example, employees 50 and older can contribute up to $26,000 to workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s, compared with the limit of $19,500 for younger workers. If you can take advantage of these provisions, great, but it’s risky to put off saving for retirement expecting to make up for it later. A better plan is to start saving as soon as possible and to increase your savings rate whenever you can.
You also probably need to beef up that emergency fund. The average length of unemployment for people 45 to 54 is a little over five months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For people 55 to 64, it’s just shy of six months. In a recession, those durations likely will grow.
Many people find their ability to save is hampered by the amount of debt they have. Federal Reserve statistics show that households headed by people 45 to 54 years old owed more than twice as much in 2016 as similar households in 1989.
Limiting how much you owe as you age can give you more financial flexibility. If you’re refinancing a mortgage, for example, consider choosing a loan term that allows you to be debt free by retirement, if not before. Be cautious about borrowing money for education, either for yourself or a child, since the loans typically can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and could be tough to pay back if you lose your job.
Many parents provide their adult children with some financial support, and it’s typically for household expenses rather than emergencies. But ongoing handouts could jeopardize your financial health and theirs. Setting clear financial boundaries can help you wean them off the family dole.
You may find another job quickly if you lose your current one, but it’s best to act as if you won’t by cutting nonessential spending, asking lenders about possible forbearance or hardship programs and staying in touch with your network.
“If you see this coming, start looking immediately,” Weinstock says. “And actually I would say, always keep your eye out. There’s no reason not to, because you never know what could happen.”
FORTY FORT — In just two months of business, Suraci’s Italian Cafe already has achieved an important milestone.
If they don’t have the daily specials posted on Facebook by about 10:30 a.m. each day, owner Dan Matechak and his staff will start to get calls from customers.
“It’s great to see that kind of customer loyalty,” Matechak said during an interview Saturday afternoon at the Wyoming Avenue eatery, which is located across the street from the Forty Fort Municipal Building.
“Social media is important,” Matechak added when discussing how he spreads word of mouth about the cafe, which opened Dec. 4.
After graduating culinary school in Pittsburgh, Matechak did an apprenticeship at famed French restaurant Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, then worked at sister eatery Brasserie Perrier before returning to Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2009. He then spent a decade as a chef at Isabella Restaurant on Route 315 in Plains Township before launching his own restaurant last year.
Matechak knew he wanted to open a casual Italian eatery with affordable prices, but also knew he needed to differ from the norm around here.
“I just feel there’s a lot of pizza and wing places. I think with our background we wanted to do something different — not necessarily white tablecloth,” Matechak said, referencing his friend, sous chef and longtime coworker Matt Drevenak.
The plan was for an Italian deli that would offer specialty meats, cheeses and hoagies, as well as pastas, desserts and more — and they try to do everything from scratch.
The Daniele hoagie — named for the owner — has been a big seller, Matechak said, with the combination of capicola, soppressata, prosciutto and other Italian delicacies drumming up much social media buzz.
But Matechak says the deli’s signature offering is its pasta, pointing proudly to golden strands of macaroni in the deli case and an extruder on the counter nearby.
“People that know pasta know what kind of time goes into this,” Matechak said, adding that Suraci’s also makes its own meatballs.
All of this is a labor of love for Matechak, 40, a Lackawanna County native who said he returned to the area so that he and his young son could be closer to family.
“Even though you’re only two hours away, you miss a lot of stuff,” he said of living in Philadelphia.
“I love the area, the schools are great,” he added, then chuckled: “If I ever leave again, it’s going to be for a beach.”
Like many first-time entrepreneurs, Matechak is also learning a great deal about the joys and hard work of owning his own business.
“There’s a lot of expenses that you never thought of as a chef. You really have to be involved in everything and aware of the whole spectrum,” Matechak said.
And running a restaurant requires long hours, but Matechak and Drevenak also acknowledged an upside from their days in fine dining: With emphasis on take-out and a largely dayside crowd, “we’re out of here by 7 p.m.,” Matechak said.
“This place is amazing. I’m back there all day making soups from scratch, sauces,” Drevenak said. “And a lot of our older customers really love the soups.”
While they don’t do traditional pizza, Suraci’s seems to have a hit on its hand with personal flatbread pizzas called piadinas, garnished with fresh toppings such as mozzarella chunks, parmesan cheese and basil.
During Saturday’s mid-afternoon interview the restaurant had a steady customer flow, including a mix of return diners and new customers asking about specials.
Matechak said he’s already had some folks ask about whether expansion is in the works; he said his primary focus right now is making the Wyoming Avenue cafe a success.
In addition to quality food, friendly customer service and a strong social media presence, Suraci’s also holds cooking classes for kids every other Sunday.
NEW YORK — Remember the ethereal pale blue Prada dress Lupita Nyong’o wore the night she won an Oscar in 2014? How about Glenn Close’s moment in gold at last year’s Oscars in shimmering Carolina Herrera with the long, liquid cape?
How a red carpet moment comes together, and what happens to the clothes after, can be a peculiar affair that heavily depends on who you are and what your relationship happens to be with the designer in question. A designer’s decision to gift or not to gift often comes after the big night is over and it’s time for stylists to pack ‘em up and ship ’em back.
“They’re delighted if the designer says, ‘Oh, please keep it. I made that just for her. She should have it,’” said stylist Emily Sanchez, who has dressed Laura Linney and Sutton Foster, among others. “If a designer feels they’re going to want something back immediately, they’re pretty transparent about it.”
Many gowns live out their days in a designer’s archives, to be lent out to museums or for other special events, such as the Christian Siriano tuxedo gown Billy Porter wore at last year’s Oscars and recently put on again for “Sesame Street.” Far rarer is a celebrity buying them instead.
“For Oprah, we have dresses custom made and pay for them, so she keeps hers,” said Adam Glassman, creative director of O, The Oprah magazine.
“That’s sort of like the big honor. Typically you get to work with the designer directly. It’s such a huge press opportunity so designers are pretty excited to do that,” she said. “If you won, you probably want the dress, but I think everyone who goes to one of these events is fully prepared to give the dress back at the end of the day.”
Coming at the end of the awards season, the Oscars are a mad scramble for fresh looks after an exhausting cycle of red carpets, parties and other appearances. There are fewer nominees to dress, along with presenters.
Stylist Micaela Erlanger, who has worked with Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and others, said the Oscars are a mix of custom, couture or never-worn runway looks, the latter sometimes with modifications to the silhouette or color. Generally, Erlanger strives for custom.
“It’s the end of the season so you kind of have to resort to custom. So much has already been through the circuit. By the Oscars, I’ve probably seen every dress out there,” she said.
“Some brands want to keep them for their own archives. The brand decides that and the client is happy either way,” she said. “I’d say it’s 50-50. If someone wins in a dress, generally speaking the brands are more inclined to give that as a gift because it’s very sentimental.”
For the Oscars this year, she’s dressing Sigourney Weaver for the show and Diane Kruger for the Vanity Fair after-party.
Stylist Chloe Hartstein will be dressing presenter Chris Rock for the Oscars. She worked with two nominees, Close and Melissa McCarthy, last year.
“It’s a Cinderella moment where you wear it and then the next morning I’m there bright and early to grab it and pack it up and send it to Paris or wherever it needs to be. But there are moments where you’re lucky enough to keep them,” she said.
With many thousands of dollars of work and materials at stake, along with long hours of labor, some designers are more generous than others.
Jennifer Lopez kept her original Versace jungle dress of green silk chiffon that was the talk of the 2000 Grammys. Prior to Lopez making the dress with the plunging neckline among the most famous of all time, it was a runway piece that had been featured in a Versace ad campaign and was worn by Geri Halliwell and Donatella, the latter to the 1999 Met Gala.
Versace made duplicates for museum display, including the Grammy Museum, and Lopez wore a reimagined version for the Versace show at last September’s Milan Fashion Week.
Close enjoyed a slew of custom pieces last year with her nominations for “The Wife.” She was gifted a black velvet cape look by Armani Prive from the Golden Globes after she won for best actress in a drama. She was also gifted the white crystal Ralph Lauren suit she wore when she won a Screen Actors Guild award for the same film.
This year at the Golden Globes, Close was a presenter and wore a royal blue custom gown by Armani Prive. It, too, was gifted. The Oscar de la Renta caftan she wore to the Screen Actors Guild awards wasn’t custom and went back after she presented there.
“She has a beautiful relationship with Mr. Armani. She’s been wearing the brand forever,” Hartstein said. “With Glenn last season, it’s a discussion we had throughout the process.”
Close has a keen interest in fashion, amassing personal looks but also costumes from her films and other projects throughout her nearly 40-year career. She donated her costume collection to Indiana University in 2017.
Actress Kaitlyn Dever, who wore a soft pink strapless Miu Miu gown to the British Academy Film Awards, said her red carpet strategy is with sustainability in mind.
“I borrow them,” Dever said on Sunday’s BAFTA red carpet. “I’m trying to be more green in every aspect of my life. … I’m really trying in all areas. I think if you just try a little bit at least, that does something.”
Saoirse Ronan, who’s nominated for best actress at the upcoming Oscars, said her black Gucci gown at the BAFTAs included repurposed fabric. Does she get to keep it?
Jaclyn Alexandra Cohen, the fashion and accessories editor for Harper’s Bazaar, said designers more often than not hold on to gowns.
“Whether they’re pulled from the runway or created custom for a celebrity, most gowns we see at award shows are returned to the house and kept in the designer’s archive,” she said. “Many of these one-of-a-kind dresses will go down in fashion history as iconic looks.”
My teenage daughter and I had used a similar two-for-one deal last year to take an overnight train trip from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. This year, she wanted to use her spring break to check out colleges in Chicago as well as the Pacific Northwest. When Amtrak announced the return of its companion fare sale, I thought a couple of nights on a sleeper train might be a good way to start our college tour. She agreed.
At the same time, I noticed that we had travel rewards piling up all over the place: points, miles, free anniversary nights at hotels, even a Southwest companion pass that had yet to be used. At NerdWallet, we’re always telling people to spend rather than hoard their rewards, which get less valuable over time thanks to program devaluations.
So I decided to see how much I could save on one 10-day trip. The answer: more than $3,000. I’m bragging, but I also hope my experience might help you get more value from your own rewards programs.
First, the details. Our itinerary includes two nights in an Amtrak sleeper car, two airline tickets from Chicago to Seattle and six nights in historic hotels in three cities (plus one night in a convention hotel). The fare for our flight home was less than $90; and I got to use that companion pass, which allows me to add another person to any flight I book with Southwest for only the cost of fees and taxes (in this case, just $5.60).
My total cash outlay for all the booked travel: $846, including $740 for the Amtrak double-bunk roomette. The price tag for the trip without all the discounts: $4,234. This total doesn’t include most meals, in-city transportation or incidentals (such as college sweatshirts).
Also not included are the annual fees I pay for the credit cards that provided most of these rewards. Those fees totaled $733. That seems like a lot, but that cost is more than offset by other card perks, including travel credits, airline lounge access and free breakfasts at hotels.
Most important, we don’t carry credit card balances, so we don’t pay interest. The only way to win the travel rewards game is to pay balances in full every month, since otherwise interest costs will overwhelm any travel savings. If you do carry balances, look instead for a low-rate credit card that will help you pay off your debt faster.
If you’re new to travel rewards cards, or just want to get more out of the ones you have, here are my tips:
It’s typically easy to use your points because there are often tons of available rooms and no blackout dates. In most cases, the annual fee is more than offset by the free night you get on each cardmember anniversary. The downside: You can only redeem your points at that brand.
General travel rewards cards offer the flexibility to book with a number of different hotels or airlines. You can transfer points from the general rewards card to other frequent traveler programs or use your points to book travel directly through their portals.
In addition to two anniversary nights that were about to expire, I had about 2,500 points moldering away in a forgotten Amtrak rewards account, which paid for coach seats from Seattle to Portland.
Typically I’ll use a travel comparison site such as Kayak to get an idea of going rates, then check hotel and airline sites to see if I can get favorable exchange rates for my points. Once I’ve found a good deal, I’ll transfer points from a general rewards program to book the travel. But sometimes it’s nice to take the easier, faster way. I booked most of our hotel rooms and the flight to Seattle directly through a general rewards card’s travel portal. My points were worth 1.5 cents each, which is a decent return, and I didn’t have to spend hours comparing all my options.
It’s fun to score a big win, but the most important thing is that the rewards get used. Points programs are constantly being devalued, meaning it takes more points to get the same reward. Points in some programs can even expire (shudder). So don’t lose your points — use them.
KINGSTON — The Atrium, a popular breakfast and lunch spot on Market Street in Kingston since 1991, is moving to the new Friedman Jewish Community Center building on Third Avenue.
Owner Matthew Borwick said the new location will open on Monday, Feb. 10, with hours 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Atrium will be open Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday.
Borwick, 33 of Kingston, said the old location on Market Street will reopen soon as The Atrium Burger, featuring what Borwick called “high-end burgers, fries and more.”
“We’re excited about the move,” Borwick said Tuesday as he, his dad, Bob, and his manager Jordan Belschner were putting finishing touches on the new location. “We will offer breakfast and lunch and most of the items from the old restaurant will be offered here, plus some new features.”
Borwick has owned The Atrium since 2013 and he has owned Ollie’s in the Narrows Shopping Center on Route 11 since 2017.
The new Atrium is big — seating for 104 and additional private room space for another 25 to 30. The restaurant is decorated in earth tones and features a large black and white mural of an Italian atrium. The kitchen is state-of-the-art with industrial appliances and freezers and refrigeration.
Borwick is quick to tell you that The Atrium Restaurant delivers the highest quality of food, using only the freshest ingredients, while providing fast and friendly service. He said he and his staff appreciate the constraints of a lunch break and The Atrium also offers call-ahead service.
Borwick said The Atrium also offers corporate and in-restaurant catering for receptions, showers and business meetings, and will offer delivery service.
And, as with the Market Street location, the new Atrium will have outdoor seating when the temperatures rise. The phone number for The Atrium is 570-287-5766.
Borwick wanted to emphasize The Atrium’s breakfast offerings, noting that there will be varieties of eggs Benedict and avocado toast to go with traditional offerings of eggs, omelets, brioche French toast, bacon and sausage plates. He said bagels, muffins and fruit will also be featured.
“And everything is made here fresh,” Borwick said. “We will have daily specials that we will post on our Facebook site.”
“When we first saw the space, it was a no-brainer for us,” Borwick said. “This is a real opportunity to increase our business.”
“We hope to expand our base,’ he said. “We want to keep customers coming back and to recommend us to their friends. One good experience can lead to 10 new customers.”
The Cross Valley Federal Credit Union last week held a groundbreaking for their new location on South Sherman Street at Pine Street in Wilkes-Barre. Seen from left are: Leonard Shimko, Cross Valley FCU Board of Directors; George Brown, Wilkes-Barre Mayor; Traci Donahue, Cross Valley FCU CEO/President; Robert Chepalonis, Cross Valley FCU Board of Directors; and Wico van Genderen, Wilkes-Barre Chamber President/CEO. The branch is expected to open this summer, company officials said.
The Luzerne Foundation recently presented Court Appointed Special Advocates of Luzerne County with a check from its Millennium Circle Fund.
The Millennium Circle Fund of The Luzerne Foundation was created by a special group of donors whose onetime gifts of $2,000 play a pivotal role in helping The Luzerne Foundation identify unmet community needs.
The Millennium Circle Fund awarded a $25,000 grant to CASA after Millennium Circle members listened to presentations from six local nonprofits at an annual luncheon on Oct. 29, 2019.
Including the 2019 grant award, The Millennium Circle Fund has provided $389,000 in grant funding since its inception in 2001.
CASA seeks to provide a qualified and compassionate volunteer advocate to every abused and neglected child in Luzerne County to ensure their right to a safe, nurturing and permanent home is met. Currently, more than 500 Luzerne County children are in foster care.
Those interested in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate are encouraged to attend an information session by signing up at luzernecasa.org/events. Please call the CASA office at (570) 855-2247 or visit luzernecasa.org to learn more. CASA of Luzerne County is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Morell holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bloomsburg University and began her career as a behavioral health worker for elementary age children through the Children’s Service Center.
She joined the CASA staff in October 2019 and filled a vital and important role in the organization. As part of her day-to-day duties, Morell supervises 22 advocates as they seek to make a positive change in the lives of abused and neglected foster children here in Luzerne County.
In addition to her role as an advocate coordinator, Morell recently completed CASA’s fall 2019 advocate training class, and was sworn in alongside 16 other volunteers in December.
Currently, CASA has a total of 70 volunteer advocates serving 59 children. The program is accepting applicants for its spring training class which begins on March 25.
In a previous column, I detailed retirees’ biggest lifestyle regrets, such as not traveling more before their health gave out and not communicating clearly with a partner about what they hoped retirement would be like.
Now we’ll cover the money moves retirees wish they hadn’t made. The big ones, of course, are starting to save too late and not saving enough, but there are other common regrets, according to certified financial planners from the Financial Planning Association and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners.
About 1 out of 3 Social Security recipients apply for benefits at the earliest age, which is 62. It’s often a mistake. Benefits grow by a guaranteed 5% to 8% each year that the applicant delays. Starting early also can stunt the survivor benefit that one spouse will have to live on when the other dies.
Some people talk themselves into starting early with the promise that they’ll save or invest their benefits, says CFP Delia Fernandez of Los Alamitos, California.
“But of course they can’t earn on it what Social Security will pay them if they only wait,” Fernandez says. “They look back and say, ‘I should have waited, I would have had so much more Social Security coming in right now.’”
Making deductible contributions to 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement plans can reduce your tax bill while you’re working, which is great. But eventually that money has to come out of the accounts, thanks to required minimum distribution rules, and it’s taxed as income.
Diligent savers can find themselves pushed into higher tax brackets by these mandatory withdrawals, planners say. The disbursements also can cause more of their Social Security benefits to be taxed and raise their Medicare premiums.
Financial planners recommend saving at least some money in Roth accounts, which don’t offer upfront deductions but provide tax-free withdrawals, to better manage tax bills in retirement.
Speaking of Medicare, people are often surprised how much health care coverage costs in retirement, planners say. Those with generous employer-provided coverage can find themselves paying significantly more out of pocket than when they were working.
Medicare has deductibles, co-pays and expenses that aren’t typically covered, such as eye care, dental care and hearing aids. But Medicare itself also has premiums, and those can rise with income, thanks to the income-related monthly adjustment amount — known as IRMAA.
The standard premium for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor’s visits, is $144.60 per month for 2020. If your modified adjusted gross income is above $87,000 for singles or $174,000 for married couples, though, IRMAA can add anywhere between $57.80 to $347 per person per month.
IRMAA affected 3.5 million Part B beneficiaries and 2.5 million Part D beneficiaries in 2017, according to the Medicare trustees.
As scary as the stock market can be, some exposure to equities is essential for most retirees, financial planners say. Stocks are the only investment class that consistently outpaces inflation.
In some cases, a retiree may be able to take more risk with their investments than when they were younger, says CFP Marc B. Schindler of Bellaire, Texas. For example, if all a retiree’s fixed expenses are covered by guaranteed income — from Social Security and pensions, for example — she may be in a good position to take more risk with her portfolio and potentially reap the rewards of higher returns.
CFP Matt Wilson of Overland Park, Kansas, recently counseled a couple who had a financial advisor, but no financial plan. What the couple did have was a lot of anxiety about their investments and whether their money would last.
“They did not have a spending plan, tax plan or investment strategy,” Wilson says. “They had been pulling money from the investments in a haphazard way because they did not know what they did not know.”
Retirement is full of major, often irreversible financial decisions and hidden risks. Working with a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner — one who’s committed to putting the client’s interest first — can help people develop sustainable withdrawal rates and a sensible investment strategy.
“The level of stress and anxiety was reduced significantly after our meetings because they now had a plan,” Wilson says.
Reese worked for Planters Peanuts in Wilkes-Barre and its successors for decades. He and daughter Cheryl both collect Planters memorabilia, especially anything having to do with the famed peanut mascot with his signature top hat, monocle and cane.
So they were shocked and saddened last week to learn that Planters had decided to kill off the 104-year-old character who has been part of their lives for decades.
“I’m really disappointed with what happened to Mr. Peanut, given the fact that I worked for him for 30 years,” said Reese, who ended his career as a senior manager for facilities and administration.
“I couldn’t believe they did that, but hopefully it’s just an advertising gimmick,” Cheryl Reese added, noting that she has received messages of condolences from friends and family because of how avidly she has collected Mr. Peanut items over the years.
Planters has said a funeral for Mr. Peanut will be broadcast during the Super Bowl next Sunday, after the character crashed his NUTmobile off a cliff when he swerved to avoid an armadillo, a violent ending which the brand publicized in a video released last week.
“Of course, knowing marketing people the way I do, they come off with weird ideas,” the Nanticoke resident said.
“My take on it is this: When you drop a peanut off the second floor roof, it doesn’t break,” he said. It floats down, because the density is such that it’s not that heavy, and the outer shell protects it anyway.”
Cheryl’s Planters collection fills an entire room — and then some — including everything and anything related to the mascot, from vintage packaging and advertisements to cups, salt and pepper shakers, matches, lapel pins, ties, posters, model railroad cars and more.
It also includes one of the distinctive Mr. Peanut costumes that once were a familiar sight here in Wilkes-Barre and outside Planters’ retail stores around the country.
For David Reese, Mr. Peanut’s “demise” also offered a chance to talk about his time with the company, and its presence here in the Wyoming Valley.
Reese, a Plymouth native, started working at Planters’ former South Main Street offices in Wilkes-Barre in 1959, when he was 24.
“I had come out of the Navy and had another job that didn’t pan out and I started working at Planters,” Reese said. “And I met a bunch of guys who were vets from World War II. I was a rookie kid. I didn’t say much at first but I listened.”
Planters Nut and Chocolate Co. was founded in Wilkes-Barre in 1906 by an Italian immigrant named Amadeo Obici and his future brother-in-law, Mario Peruzzi.
There was some manufacturing in Wilkes-Barre in the early years, but Reese noted that the South Main Street site was not a manufacturing facility, as some previous media reports had stated. Planters had other sites in the city that had been used for that purpose, he said. The only thing Reese ever knew to be manufactured there was carmel-covered popcorn for the retail stores, which was made in a stainless-steel room in the basement.
While Obici soon opened a processing plant in Suffolk, Virginia in the early 1900s, the corporate headquarters remained here for decades.
Reese also saw big changes before too many years had passed in his career: The company was acquired by Standard Brands in the early 1960s.
“There were 160 people at the South Main Street address. There were marketing people there, advertising. The company sent them down to Madison Avenue in New York, along with data processing. The 160 people that I started with was now down to about 40 to 45 guys,” Reese said.
“I had only been with the company for a couple years, and figured I would stick around and maybe get a couple weeks severance pay if it came to that,” Reese said.
A stabbing incident at one of the New York facilities, combined with increasing mechanization of data processing, caused the company to look at how many properties it needed and where they should be, he recalled.
Reese was involved in transitioning work done around the country to the South Main Street offices, where staff he supervised were turning out more work than any other office in the U.S., and typically for less.
“You could hire clerical people in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a heck a lot cheaper than you could in New York City,” Reese said.
“I worked in virtually every department in the building except cost accounting and payroll. When I was in the Navy I was the paymaster on a destroyer. I knew payroll but they never put me there,” he joked.
“I ended up being the facilities manager, running the mailroom, running what we called grocery accounting — processing of orders — with an IBM computer that filled a room the size of this, but you have more power on your desktop than that whole computer did.”
So between 1964 and 1970, more jobs were created at the facility, and part of its warehouse was remodeled for office space, he added.
“We were growing so fast,” Reese said. “By 1980 we were bulging at the seems. We just didn’t have enough room there.”
His superiors — by then the company was part of Nabisco — tasked him with finding room to grow within the region.
“They pulled me off of all my jobs in 1984 and said, quietly, go find us a spot,” Reese recalled.
There was space in a former junkyard adjacent to the South Main property, but the soil was too contaminated, he said. And Scranton was lobbying hard, but a proposed site on the north side of the city was more than 25 miles away and would have required paying relocation expenses to employees.
The solution was much closer to home, in Hanover Township, where the new Nabisco building — now part of Mondelez International — was built.
“That was my project. We started putting footers in March 11, 1985 and had the dedication Dec. 11,” Reese said. “We didn’t miss a deadline and we moved all of these departments without losing a phone call or a data transmission or anything.
Operations at South Main Street were phased out around 1990, said Reese, adding that he is sad to see the state of the building today. The warehouse is gone, with only the two-story administrative building remaining, albeit in a forlorn state. Preservation groups have called for its restoration and re-use.
“I went through a number of mergers from Planters to Standard Brands to Nabisco to KKR, which was Kohlberg Kravis Roberts,” he said.
The investment firm “didn’t want the high-priced managers and directors around,” as Reese recalled it. So in 1989 he retired.
“They offered me a retirement package at 53 that I couldn’t turn down, so I became a professional golf bum,” he said with a chuckle.
One of those fond memories has to do with Mr. Peanut himself. Among Reese’s many jobs was running the premium department, which was in charge of branded items.
“You sent in product labels — send two in and 50 cents and you get a Mr. Peanut cup or bank,” he said. “I started to buy them for my children and bring them home.”
The collections put together by himself and Cheryl go way beyond, however, including one of the famous iron statues once displayed on the South Main Street building.
David Reese sat around the table at his Nanticoke home displaying a Planters nut tin from the 1910s, from which small retailers would dole out peanuts with a little scoop, selling them in glassine bags for a nickel a piece.
Reese also pointed out that the popular Planter retail stores with which the costumed mascots were associated were separate from the manufacturing operations.
“There were two companies: The Planters Nut and Chocolate Co., and National Peanut Co. They were responsible for the running of the retail stores as far west as San Francisco,” Reese said. “When Standard Brands bought the company they did not want to be in the retail sales business. They sold them or auctioned them off.”
That initially worked well, because “most of the buyers were the managers and people who ran the stores in the first place,” Reese added. “The controller of the company bought six of them up in New England, and he became a multi-millionaire.”
The original store was on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, around the corner from what is now the F.M. Kirby Center, he added, while was another in the West Side Mall in Edwardsville.
It was outside those stores that many Americans saw Mr. Peanut for the first times, including here on Public Square.
Reese was quick to point out that the costumed Mr. Peanut characters did not walk the streets handing out peanuts, as a previous news story maintained.
If you’ve saved a lot for retirement, or your parents have, you could be affected by recent changes in the rules about retirement distributions.
The recently enacted Secure Act eliminated the “stretch IRA,” a strategy used by affluent investors to pass tax-advantaged money to their heirs. The stretch IRA allowed nonspouse beneficiaries — typically children and grandchildren — to take money out of an inherited IRA gradually over their lifetimes. The new law requires most IRAs inherited by people other than spouses to be drained within 10 years, which can lead to much higher tax bills for heirs. (Spouses still have the option of treating an inherited IRA as their own and taking money out over their lifetimes.)
At the same time, the Secure Act delayed when required minimum distributions have to begin for most retirement account owners, increasing the age for mandatory distributions from 70 1/2 to 72.
Financial planners say the changes make Roth conversions more attractive for big savers — typically those with $1 million or more in their retirement accounts — who want to reduce future tax bills for themselves or their heirs.
“The percentage of our clients that do Roth conversions is going to increase dramatically this year,” predicts certified financial planner Ryan P. Costello of Leawood, Kansas.
A Roth conversion involves transferring money from a traditional IRA or other retirement plan to a Roth IRA. Conversions usually trigger an income tax bill that can be substantial.
Once the money is inside the Roth, though, future withdrawals are tax-free. In addition, there are no required minimum distributions that force owners to take money out at a certain age.
“What this means to the owner is potentially more efficient tax planning in retirement, more time for the account to keep growing and a larger nest egg to pass on,” says certified financial planner David W. Mullins of Richlands, Virginia.
Still, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay a big tax bill now if the money can be accessed at a lower rate later. That’s the situation for most people since their tax brackets will drop once they retire and few have saved enough to leave much to their heirs. Another barrier to conversion is that people need to be able to pay the tax bill out of their current income or from nonretirement accounts. (Tapping the IRA money to pay the tax bill changes the math so much that conversions are rarely advisable.)
Conversions can make sense if the IRA owner expects to be in the same or a higher tax bracket in retirement. Good candidates for Roth conversions tend to be diligent young savers who expect their incomes to climb over the years and older people whose tax bills could jump when they start taking required minimum distributions.
Conversions also can be smart if the money is intended for heirs whose tax bracket is likely to be at least as high as the account owner’s. A retiree might not want to convert if the money will likely go to young grandchildren or other heirs in lower tax brackets, for example. But if money will be left to an heir in her peak earning years, conversion may be wise, especially now that inherited retirement accounts have to be drained within 10 years.
An ideal time for a Roth conversion can be after retirement but before required minimum distributions begin, financial planners say. Tax brackets often dip during this period, and the conversion can be spread over several years to better manage the tax bill. The higher age for required minimum distributions gives people more time to make these conversions.
Getting advice from a skilled tax professional is essential, however. A too-large conversion can push people into higher tax brackets, cause more of their Social Security benefits to be taxed and increase their Medicare premiums. Certified financial planner Linda P. Erickson of Greensboro, North Carolina, recommends hiring a certified public accountant who can model how various conversion amounts are likely to affect current and future tax bills.
Tax rates can change, of course, as can tax laws. But the advantages of a conversion can be substantial enough to make it a gamble worth taking, says Henry Luong Hoang, a certified financial planner, of Newport Beach, California.
“As a hedge, if you have the ability to pay reasonable tax rates to convert your IRA today, there is a very low chance you will regret future tax-free distributions,” Hoang says.
KINGSTON — A man from West Wyoming is accused of swindling nearly $5,000 in an investment scheme involving concert ticket sales.
WILKES-BARRE — Mayor George Brown will be the guest speaker at the combined meetings of the Heights-Mayflower Residents Association and the Heights Crime Watch that begins at 6:30 p.m. this evening at Restored Church, 74 S. Meade St.
WILKES-BARRE — Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine Wednesday outlined the Wolf Administration’s steps to prepare for community spread of the coronavirus — known as COVID-19 — as well as what Pennsylvanians can do now.
WILKES-BARRE — Traveling around the world was never as convenient as it was at Kistler Elementary School on Tuesday night.
NANTICOKE — Three men were sworn in as new members at the start of the Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday: August Piazza, Anthony Seiwell and Daniel Rodgers. They replaced Brian Gill, Barry Williams and Margaret Steele.
WILKES-BARRE — It could be considered a summit of sorts this morning when Mayor George Brown meets with four other mayors in his fourth-floor office at City Hall.
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Former township fire chief John Yuknavich has been hit several charges stemming from an alleged alcohol-fueled outburst last month.
Luzerne County will officially stop collecting the $5 vehicle registration fee at the end of 2021, council decided Tuesday.
During his required annual progress report Tuesday, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said the county is “evolving” and now “on par with some of the biggest and best counties in the state.”
WILKES-BARRE — City council will have a short agenda to deal with at its Thursday night public meeting.
WILKES-BARRE — A man from Rice Township was charged Tuesday with initiating a pursuit with city police while driving a stolen van owned by Misericordia University last week.
New reporting about last spring’s devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris — and, specifically, how the world-renowned structure is still at risk of collapse — offers yet another reminder of the fragility of humankind’s greatest creations and the stark reality that centuries of culture and history can be wiped out in minutes.
Our region’s Democratic roots were a necessary response to employers such as coal barons who looked for ways to pay their workers as little as possible, and did not care about workplace safety either. We have plenty of genuine pro-worker Democrats in our region, and they deserve our ongoing support, but neither they nor anybody like them were on stage during the recent debate in Las Vegas.
Your voice matters. So often we hear that statement as it relates to voting, social issues and community engagement. People often struggle with that statement and really believe that their voice doesn’t matter and so they retreat – they do not engage. Census 2020, however is different.
“I’m fine but, wow, thanks for asking! Very few people ask how Mom is doing; we usually get asked how baby is doing, and that’s that.”
It is a sign of our times that Attorney General William Barr tried to do something right and some illiberal liberals, including not a few in the media, decided that it was wrong on the basis of mindless presidential squawks, factual ignorance and in some cases political opportunity. What it adds up to is that the illiberal liberals are doing what they accuse Barr of doing, namely going to war with justice and other basic democratic principles, but at least Judge Amy Berman Jackson saw the light.
WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling last week applauded the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s effort to intervene in the ongoing court fight to ban Pace-O-Matic of Pennsylvania’s slot machines from the state, noting that the PGCB states unequivocally that, “The POM games are unauthorized and illegal slot machines.”
WILKES-BARRE — The other day I watched a young father walking his two children into a school — his daughter on his left and his son on his right.
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Kids often emulate their role models — whether it’s a parent, a teacher or a sports hero. And the youngsters who don the uniforms and rush to the diamond for Little League games want to be like the giants that play in the big leagues. This goes all the way down to the name of their team.
State Rep. Aaron Kaufer’s sponsored HB 1100 is the second corporate welfare gift to the fracked gas industry. The first being no severance tax on the gas that every other state has.
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