Posts by Mandi Woodruff
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance1 day ago
The next time you use a credit card to order a cup of coffee from your favorite cafe, you might find it comes with an unexpected side order: guilt. Businesses are doing everything they can to ensure that credit-using customers who don't carry cash aren't getting a free pass at the tip jar.
Starbucks announced Wednesday it will release an update to its popular payment app that will prompt customers to tip their baristas when they pay with credit via their smartphone. Suggested tips start at 50 cents and go up to $2.
- Yahoo Finance5 days ago
In recent years, a new class of “big data” brokerages have touted themselves as an alternative to traditional credit reporting and background check agencies. In lieu of credit activity supplied by lenders — like whether you pay your credit card balances off and if you pay the full amount or just the minimum each month — these companies cobble together a rough outline of an individual's professional and financial history based on their Internet searches, social media profiles, and mobile app usage. However, a new report confirms what regulators have long argued about the merits of big data. It rarely, if ever, paints an accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness. The National Consumer Law Center, an advocacy group for low-income Americans, tested a handful of data-gathering websites that have been known to sell information about consumers to businesses and employers as a means of judging their credit history. “Our concern is not how consumers use these sites but how lenders and businesses use the sites to determine credibility for credit [and employment],” Persis Yu, an NCLC staff attorney who co-authored the report, told Yahoo Finance. “There’s a lot of bad data out there about folks and it’s really hard to track it down.” Fifteen NCLC employees attempted to retrieve their personal data from four major data brokers — Spokeo, Intelius, eBureau, and ID Analytics. More than half of the participants found their reports rife with errors — including incorrect e-mail addresses, phone numbers, job histories, and salary estimates. Going after the underbanked One group of consumers whose information these data brokerages are targeting are those without much of a financial history. There are more than 64 million unbanked consumers in the U.S. — people who haven’t established enough credit to generate a credit score. By selling data to short-term lending institutions and employers, big data brokerages say they can offer insights on an untapped swath of consumers. But those insights can often be based on flawed data. In one case in the NCLC’s study, an employee’s salary was listed as more than double the actual amount by one firm, while another employee’s salary was reportedly halved. Some couldn’t find their reports at all. Because big data gathered by these sites are entirely dependent on how much information consumers reveal about themselves online, it can be difficult to develop a holistic picture of any individual. And as it stands, there are no regulations in place to enforce accurate reporting standards, such as the ones credit reporting bureaus must adhere to. “From purchase histories to search topics, a completely unedited and unmediated version of a person emerges,” Yu writes in the report. “This data is incredibly valuable to marketers and there are few restrictions on such data in the U.S. This data can be bought and sold at will.” So long as consumers continue to update their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and browse the web, there’s no stopping these sites from compiling that
- Yahoo Finance6 days ago
Everyone at some point in their tax-paying lives has been tempted to skip the whole ordeal, or delay the chore to the point that you owe Uncle Sam five years’ worth of tax returns. What would happen if I didn’t file my taxes this year? Is the IRS really going to come after me? Well, after doing some digging, we've concluded you'd be better off filling out your tax return in crayon than sitting on your hands and letting the IRS have at you — no matter how daunting the task might be. “Every once in a while I’ll have a client with a health issue or something [that prevents them from doing their taxes],” says Paul Bogdanoff, a certified public accountant with Bogdanoff Henderson PC in Indianapolis. “They’re just overwhelmed with life and they just haven’t gotten to it because it’s too much for them to deal with.”
There are countless scenarios in which a person might fail to file or pay their taxes. We outlined a few common examples of what you can expect if you wind up falling short this tax season: What if…
...It's April 16 and you still haven’t filed your taxes:
- Yahoo Finance7 days ago
Thanks to a wealth of new technology, the ATM could soon become a card-free, one-stop banking experience. In the realm of consumer banking, it's a change that is sorely needed. American banks are under pressure to not only better protect consumers from identity theft but to slash their overhead costs in their increasingly expensive bricks-and-mortar branches.
- Yahoo Finance12 days ago
One of the new ways credit card issuers are hoping to lure new customers is by offering access to a free FICO credit score, which can cost up to $20 a pop. Already, Barclays, Discover, and First Bank National offer this perk to cardholders via the FICO Open Access Program. Now, the head of the nation’s consumer watchdog agency is putting pressure on all credit card companies to supply credit scores to their customers free of charge. “Credit reports and scores can determine the terms of people’s mortgages, whether they qualify for auto loans, or if they are eligible for different credit cards,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Making consumers’ credit scores freely available on their monthly statement or online makes it easier for them to spot problems with their credit report.” This is all well and good, but it’s something of a bizarre request. Sure, it would be nice for lenders to give everyone a free credit score — but why not get the goods straight from the horse’s mouth? In this case, we mean credit reporting agencies themselves. “The CFPB's position doesn't seem to make much sense,” John Ulzheimer, credit expert at Credit Sesame, told Yahoo Finance. “On one hand, it would be great for consumers to have more access to their credit data. On the other hand, credit card issuers aren't the right parties to task with that endeavor. Credit card issuers are in the business of issuing credit cards, not educating consumers about their credit scores.” A spokesperson for the CFPB declined to comment on the bureau’s plans, if any, to make a similar appeal to credit reporting agencies themselves. But in the meantime, we do have a bit of good news: You can get a credit score estimate whenever you want — for free — from several websites already. Credit Sesame, Credit.com, Quizzle and Credit Karma all offer free credit scores to people who sign up for their services. Here’s what you need to know: Are they all the same?
- Yahoo Finance12 days ago
In a perfect world, we would all start saving for retirement at 22, work until we become millionaires, quit on our 65th birthday, and head for the nearest sandy beach for the rest of our natural lives. But what’s the point in getting caught up in a fantasy? For most people, planning for retirement is like that flickering light bulb they keep forgetting to change until one day it’s gone and all the stores are closed. More than one-third of people over 55 haven’t saved more than $10,000 for their golden years, according to theEmployee Benefits Research Institute. “There’s a great deal of information in the marketplace for people who are in their 30s and 40s and people who have already retired,” said Emily Guy Birken, author of “But there’s not a lot for that segment of people who are facing retirement but aren’t quite there yet.” Can you plan for retirement at the 11th hour — five years or less from when you want to retire? We think so. Here are some ways to get started: Get a clear picture of where you are at financially (preferably with a little help). “Particularly, when it comes to things like finances, to me it’s like weight loss. The first step is get on a scale and figure out where you are,” says Birken. “Look at all the financial statements [that] have been coming in and you’ve been ignoring, and figure out how much money you have and how much you’ll need.” Part of that calculation is getting an estimate of how much you’ll need to sustain your current lifestyle in retirement (though it’s helpful to keep in mind that your overall expenses are likely to decline). Figuring it out is tricky. Try using a retirement cost calculator like these from Bankrate, the AARP, and Kiplinger. If a few years is all you have until your desired retirement date, a certified financial planner can certainly help develop a plan. Ask family or friends for a recommendation or book a consultation with a fee-only planner who charges an hourly rate http://napfa.org. The benefit of a having an advisor on hand is that they can crunch your numbers and tell you exactly how much you’ll need to save up by retirement. Eliminate as much debt as possible. A key component of any retirement plan is figuring out how much debt you have compared to income. Your mortgage and credit card debt won’t turn to smoke when you turn 65. Even Uncle Sam won’t hesitate to garnish your Social Security income (up to 15%) to recoup student loan debt or past taxes owed. “You’d be amazed how many people punch out for the last time at work and waltz home with credit card debts, boat payments, two car payments, timeshare obligations, and a hefty mortgage,” says Roger Roemmich, chief investment officer for ROKA Wealth Strategists, and the author of Don’t Eat Dog Food When You’re Old. It’s hard to
- Yahoo Finance13 days ago
Arthur Chu locked in his seventh straight victory on “Jeopardy” Wednesday night, fanning the fire surrounding the controversial practices he has used to win. Chu, a 30-year-old freelance voice actor, has garnered both heavy criticism and praise from viewers for his unusual tactics. But it isn't that Chu unlocked some secret key to playing the game that has rankled audiences so much — it's the fact that he's become the very antithesis of a game show hero. From “Jeopardy” to “Wheel of Fortune,” what keeps the traditional game show format alive is that on some level, we could all see ourselves answering that million-dollar question. Contestants don’t need game theories and strategies to win — all they need is a brain, some guts and little bit of luck. Autumn Erhard got pretty far on that combination. At 30, the Orange County, Calif., sales rep became the second contestant ever to walk away with the coveted $1 million prize on “Wheel of Fortune” in May 2013. Her game-winning guess: “Tough Workout.” She managed to solve the puzzle with just a few letters revealed. She told Yahoo Finance she didn’t use a special strategy that day other than figuring out how to tame her nerves. “When you get to the studio, it’s completely different [from TV],” Erhard said. “You kind of have to relax and have fun, but it’s easier said than done when you have cameras and lights and the audience around you. I got in the zone and pretended I was at home.” Teams of game show producers spend their days figuring out how to make every challenge, puzzle, quiz and question as un-crackable as possible. But that hasn’t stopped contestants from coming up with their own strategies to optimize their winnings, giving rise to an entire industry in itself — with websites, books and blogs written by past winners and so-called “consultants” offering their own theories on how to play the game. Not all strategies have been scientifically proven, but it’s nice to go into a game relying on something besides sheer luck. Here are a few techniques that just might work: 1. Waste your first guess on ‘Wheel of Fortune’
- Yahoo Finance14 days ago
Like a virus, poverty can creep its way into a person’s life with startlingly little fanfare or warning. For every homeless person in the U.S., there are hundreds more impoverished Americans so adept at blending in that you would never guess they shopped at food pantries in lieu of grocery stores or were one more late rent check away from the street. In truth, one in three Americans has been poor for at least two months, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. “Look to your left and look to your right. One of the three of you is the face of poverty, ” Sheena Wright, president and CEO of the United Way of NYC, told Yahoo Finance. “There’s a little bit of everybody in that number.”
- Yahoo Finance15 days ago
Love him or hate him, “Jeopardy” fans will be stuck with Arthur Chu for a while. The controversial champion buzzed his way to his fifth straight victory Monday night, sealing a spot in future tournaments and adding another $20,000 to his winnings, for a total of $123,600. Chu, a 30-year-old history buff from Broadview Heights, Ohio, stunned fans of the long-running game show earlier this month, using unorthodox strategies to psych out his opponents and keeping such a heavy hand on the buzzer that he sometimes buzzed in before host Alex Trebek could finish reading the questions. But Monday’s showdown was far from an easy victory. Chu was clearly struggling early on in the game, looking like the mojo was seeping right out of him everytime competitors beat him to the buzzer. His favorite technique, the “Forrest Bounce,” in which he picks random categories to make the board appear jumbled in order to confuse his competitors, was rendered useless. Though viewers at home couldn’t see, he was sweating the competition — literally. “I was drenched in sweat. It’s tough. I have newfound respect for anyone who comes back a few times because it’s a stamina thing,” Chu told Yahoo Finance Tuesday morning. “At that point all my buzzer mojo was stale. I had to go home and come back to tape and I had to get used to the buzzer again. Initially, that messed me up.” But he rallied halfway through, thanks to an impulse decision to switch from his dominant right hand to his left hand. That helped to keep him from buzzing in too early, which causes the buzzer to momentarily freeze. By the time he landed in the Final Jeopardy round, he had more than double the winnings of his opponents.
- Yahoo Finance21 days ago
Since the Great Recession, reports of rising income inequality in the U.S. have pretty much followed the same basic storyline: The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. So on, so forth. It's easy to associate the economic downturn with the 1 percent’s seemingly meteoric rise in wealth leading up to the recession, but it was hardly an overnight occurrence. The rich have been on an unprecedented tear for decades, as illustrated in a new analysis of IRS income data by the new report by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Indeed, the widening income disparity has become so acute that President Obama called it the “defining challenge of our time’ in his recent state of the union address. Since 1979, the average income of the bottom 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers grew by 19%, while the average income of the top 1 percent grew more than 10 times as much—by 200.5%. Meanwhile, a combination of stunted wage growth, declines in blue-collar jobs, rising fixed costs like housing and health care, and a growing dependence on debt created something of a perfect storm for middle- and low-income households, driving the wedge between the haves and the have-nots deeper with each passing year. The EPI report, which uses the latest available data from the IRS, factors in income growth through the year 2011 -- enough to show that even after the economy began to recover, the 99 percent were still losing ground. Their income fell by 0.7% between 2009 and 2011, while the rich saw their income climb 11.5%. “Obviously, we’ve known for more than a decade about these trends in rising top incomes nationally, but I think what’s clear from looking at this report is that you see pattern in every state,” Mark Price, an economist and co-author of the report, said. “What is affecting us as a nation is affecting all of us.” Not all states divided equally When you dig deeper, it’s easy to see that income inequality is hardly a one-size-fits-all problem at the state and even city level. The wealth gap in New York and Connecticut has reached Grand Canyon-size proportions (the wealthiest earn 40 times as much as the 99 percent in both states). But in a handful of states, the bottom earners are actually faring better than the super-rich — at least in terms of income growth. In Montana, New Mexico, Hawaii, Louisiana and Alaska, the 99 percent’s income actually rose in the years following the recession, while the 1 percent’s declined. It’s no coincidence that income gaps are smaller in states that aren’t exactly known for their booming business sectors. “Take New York state, which is the most unequal in terms of the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, and that’s largely driven by the financial sector,” said Price. “Part of what’s driving differences you see across states is the size of the financial sector and, of course, the relative concentration of top executives across