Last Minute Financial Moves for Year’s End

There are certain year-end financial transactions that must clear by Dec. 31 to be reported on the 2020 tax return. It’s important to take a good look at your financial portfolio in light of the plethora of unusual events that occurred this year. Now is a good time to see if you have fallen off track and reposition your portfolio for better opportunities in 2021.

Investment Portfolio

Despite the dramatic stock market drop that accompanied the outbreak of COVID-19 on our shores, markets have recovered remarkably well. This means the traditional strategy of harvesting gains and losses at year-end could be appropriate for many investors. When your capital losses are more than your capital gains for the year, you can claim up to $3,000 to reduce your taxable income and even carry over remainder losses on next year’s tax return.

Harvesting is also a good way to rebalance your asset allocation strategy, so you are well-positioned to meet long-term goals starting in the New Year. If you are interested in selling winners and losers to mitigate your 2020 tax liability, make sure, these transactions are fully completed by Dec. 31.

Tip: Some investors might be tempted to sell shares for a loss and then buy back into that position. However, take pains to avoid running afoul of the “wash rule,” which is when an investor purchases a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of a loss sale. Doing so diminishes the losses you can claim on your taxes, even if you buy it back in January. This also can occur inadvertently through automatic dividend and capital gains reinvestment purchases – so monitor your holdings and make sure there’s a 30-day lag between sale and reinvestment.

Retirement Accounts

For workers who invest in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, you have until the end of the year to defer up to $19,500 ($26,000 if you’re age 50 or older) from your paycheck. If you’d like to stash away more money, the combined annual limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,000 ($7,000 for age 50+) for 2020. Note, however, that contributions for these accounts may continue to be made up until you file your 2020 tax return.

Tip: Given the potential for higher taxes under the new administration, it might be wise to max out after-tax Roth IRA contributions while taxes are low. When taxes are higher, traditional IRAs and 401(k)s tend to be more valuable because tax-deferred contributions help reduce current income. You also might want to convert a portion of traditional IRA funds to a Roth this year to take advantage of the lower tax environment. Convert only a strategic portion to avoid tipping your current income into a higher tax bracket.

Retirement Plan Withdrawals

You have only until year-end to withdraw up to $100,000 without penalty from a retirement plan if you have been directly affected by COVID-19 this year. Note, too, that subsequent income taxes on this withdrawal either can be spread out over a three-year period or avoided entirely if you re-contribute the funds over the next three years.

Tip: Legislation passed early in the year permits retirees to skip taking required minimum distributions in 2020. However, because the stock market has recovered nicely, and in light of higher taxes in the future, it might be a good idea to go ahead and take this distribution before year-end.

Education Savings Accounts

If your college student received a tuition refund this year because the class experience moved online, be aware that any refunds of College Savings 529 plans must be deposited back into that account. Otherwise, that money is considered a distribution for non-qualified expenses. Make that deposit back into the 529 account by year-end to avoid any taxes or penalties.

Tip: Parents and grandparents can reduce their estates by making a year-end gift to a student’s 529 plan. You may gift up to $15,000 ($30,000 for married couples) per beneficiary without incurring gift taxes or affecting your lifetime gift tax exemption ($11.58 million).

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout: Where We Are So Far

While the pandemic is not over, we do have some good news. There are vaccines and they will be available soon. Here’s where we are in terms of an overall plan and where states are with distributing the vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed

The current administration has already purchased hundreds of millions of doses of several vaccine candidates. Two of them are from Moderna and Pfizer and they’ve shown significant efficacy in Phase 3 clinical trials. The incoming Biden administration will take on distribution and has established a COVID-19 Task Force. A limited number of doses may become available as early as December.

The Interim Playbook

This document from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the roadmap for state, territorial, tribal, and local public health programs and their partners. It focuses on how to plan and operationalize a vaccine response to the pandemic within their jurisdictions. It’s quite comprehensive and is a good reference for the coming months.

Phased Approach

In the Interim Playbook, the CDC has given states a set of planning assumptions by which they can develop their distribution plans and explains how the vaccine will likely be administered in phases.

  • Phase 1 – there is an initial limited supply of vaccine doses that will be prioritized for certain groups. The distribution will be more tightly controlled and a limited number of providers will be administering the vaccine.
  • Phase 2 – supply would increase and access will be expanded to include a broader set of the population, with more providers involved.
  • Phase 3 – there would likely be sufficient supply to meet demand and distribution would be integrated into routine vaccination programs.

Common Themes and Concerns from State Plans

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, sought to collect plans from all 50 states and DC. As of Nov. 13, they’ve reviewed 47 of these plans and have singled out key areas contained within each plan.

  • Identifying priority populations for vaccination. Each state will determine who will be first in line, initially; however, every plan highlights the following categories as being the priority during Phase 1: healthcare workers, essential workers, and those at high risk (older people and those with pre-disposing health risk factors). A majority of states (25 of 47, or 53 percent) have at least one mention of incorporating racial and/or ethnic minorities or health equity considerations in their targeting of priority populations. 
  • Identifying the network of providers in their state will be responsible for administering vaccines. Even though states are at different points in the process, providers will likely include hospitals and doctors’ offices, pharmacies, health departments, federally qualified health centers, and other clinics that play a role in administering vaccines today. Given the need to quickly vaccinate most residents, additional partners will be needed, such as long-term care facilities, and will (potentially) set up public locations like schools and community centers for mass vaccinations.
  • Developing the data collection and reporting systems needed to track the vaccine distribution progress. Many states are relying on (and often expanding) existing state-level immunization registries, while other states are developing new systems or using those provided by the federal government. To sum it up, each state is at a different stage in this process.
  • Laying out a communications strategy for the period before and during vaccination. The CDC has asked states to design plans that anticipate and respond to different populations and include the need to address misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Not surprisingly, some of these states’ plans are detailed while some are not.

All of these things are high-level summations of what is planned so far. For a more detailed explanation, check out the Interim Playbook from the CDC. The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing, but the most important takeaway is that steps are being put in place to help protect us all. Stay safe.

Sources

States Are Getting Ready to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines. What Do Their Plans Tell Us So Far?

https://www.newsweek.com/fauci-optimistic-about-covid-19-vaccine-says-high-risk-could-get-it-december-1546384

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/downloads/COVID-19-Vaccination-Program-Interim_Playbook.pdf

Will StarLink be the Next Disruption to the Telecommunication Industry?

With every new project comes expectations, uncertainties, questions, opposition, and more. Elon Musk’s StarLink internet is one such project.

Just last month, on Nov. 24, SpaceX launched 60 StarLink internet satellites – making a total of more than 900 of its flat-panel satellites already on low earth orbit (LEO). This also marked the company’s 23rd space launch since the start of 2020.

But just what is StarLink; why is it a big deal; and will it replace existing internet infrastructure?

Follow along for information already in the public domain that will help answer some of these questions.

What is StarLink?

StarLink is an initiative by SpaceX that aims to provide internet from space. Its goal is to do this through a low earth constellation of micro-satellites that promise high speed and low latency internet access to all parts of the world. What this means is that you can access fast internet from any corner of the world, whether in the forest, in the middle of the ocean, or anywhere else.

How Does StarLink Internet Work?

First, a little history. Product development started in 2015, and by February 2018, two prototype test flights were launched. In May 2019, the first large deployment made up of 60 operational satellites was launched. Since then, it has been a continuous process to send more satellites into space. SpaceX intends to have launched 12,000 satellites by 2028, with an ambitious target of 1,440 per year.

So how does StarLink internet work? Unlike other satellites that are placed in higher earth orbits, StarLink satellites are placed in low earth orbits. The high-placed satellites have to travel long distances, which leads to high latency – and this is what SpaceX intends to solve.

Will StarLink Replace ISPs?

Currently, service providers like Verizon and AT&T are already spending millions to reinforce their fiber infrastructure reach to cover more ground. In addition, 5G is already available in many areas and promises superior reliability, negligible latency, and high speeds. Yet more StarLink satellites are being sent to space.

In fact, if the project is successful, there will be a constellation of satellites surrounding the earth as Musk plans to have an additional 30,000 added to the initial approved 12,000 (although this doesn’t go well with astronomers, who have raised concerns that this will ruin the night sky).

So, will StarLink replace other ISPs? There is no telling the long-term plan that SpaceX has, but one thing that Musk has given an assurance on is that he intends to serve only remote areas and mobile applications, such as in planes, trains, and ships.

If we were to compare StarLink and 5G, you would find that they do have different characteristics. However, it would cost a lot more for 5G to cover large areas, while StarLink would be able to cover most of the world if all satellites are placed correctly. Nevertheless, the two may work together. For example, in situations where there is no internet connection, StarLink could provide internet backhaul to 5G remote towers.

If you are in a densely populated city, you will still need your ISP. According to Musk, StarLink can’t work in cities with dense populations due to bandwidth limitations.

When Will StarLink be Available to the Public?

On Oct. 26, 2020, a public beta test was launched in select areas in the northern United States and Canada. StarLink internet is expected to be available in more regions in 2021.

One of the few instances of when StarLink has publicly been reported on is by Washington emergency responders in early August when the organization offered the internet to areas devastated by wildfires. Following an interview with CNBC, emergency telecommunications leader Richard Hall praised StarLink as being quick to set up and reliable.

As we wait for the internet to go public, one sure thing is that there are a lot of interested people. In March 2020, SpaceX got a license for up to one million user terminals from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By August, there were already more than 700,000 people registering interest across the United States, and so the company asked for expansion for up to 5 million user terminals.

Final Thoughts

As already pointed out, the StarLink internet might not initially disrupt the monopoly of the telecom sector. Instead, it could be a beneficial project and even complement the telcos.

Keeping in mind that the internet has played a great role in improving economic opportunities and easing communication, StarLink could be the bridge to help solve the digital divide by providing internet to remote areas.

A Flush of Protections for Veterans and Native Americans

Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2020 (HR 6168) – Introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) on March 10, this bill increases Vet compensation benefits by 1.3 percent (the same as for Social Security recipients). The increase impacts veteran disability compensation, compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. This bill passed in the House in May and the Senate in September, and was signed into law by the president on Oct. 20.

Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act (HR 2372) – Designed to improve mental health care for veterans and reduce suicide rates, this bill was introduced by Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) on April 25, 2019. It requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on all arrangements between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and non-VA organizations related to suicide prevention and mental health services. The bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in September, and was enacted on Oct. 20.

Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act of 2019 (S 3147) – This Act was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Dec. 19, 2019. The bill passed in the Senate in December 2019, the House in November, and is waiting to be signed by the president. Following the investigation of events that ended in tragic veteran deaths in 2017 and 2018, this legislation aims to increase VA health center accountability. Specifically, it requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit reports to Congress detailing VA policies and procedures relating to patient safety and quality of care. The first report is due within 30 days after the bill is written into law.

Whole Veteran Act (HR 2359) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Connor Lamb (D-PA) on April 25, 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to expand VA Health efforts to deploy a holistic model of care that focuses on patient engagement and total health. It includes integrating non-drug approaches, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, with standard medical treatment. The bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in October, and was signed into law by the president on Oct. 30.

Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act (HR 1812) – This legislation extends readjustment counseling and related mental health services to non-combat veterans. These benefits are now available to National Guard and Reserve troops whose service includes fighting national disasters and other emergency and crisis situations. Introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) on March 18, 2019, this bill passed in the House in May, the Senate in September, and was signed by the president on Oct. 20.

A bill to nullify the Supplemental Treaty Between the United States of America and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of Indians of Middle Oregon, concluded on Nov. 15, 1865 (S 832) – This bill nullifies the supplemental treaty between the United States and this particular tribe in Middle Oregon, which was signed in 1865. The treaty restricted the tribe members from leaving the reservation, among other conditions. The Department of the Interior has stated that the treaty was never enforced by the federal government or Oregon. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on March 19, 2019, passed in both Houses, and signed into law on Oct. 20.

Native American Business Incubators Program Act (S 294) – This bill establishes a grant program to provide business incubation and other business services to Native American entrepreneurs and businesses. It was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) on Jan. 31, 2019, passed in both Houses, and signed by the president on Oct. 20.

Predictions for a Post-COVID Working World

According to the Brookings Institution, economists are predicting that 58 percent of unemployed workers who were laid off as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns are likely to return to their old jobs. But with the majority of laid-off workers facing an uncertain employment future, the question remains of how workers and employers will transition into a post-coronavirus world of work.

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) explains that employers are a major source of ongoing employee training. But with events like the COVID-19 pandemic, these former employees have been dislocated from an upward career path.

According to the CED and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during June 2020, approximately one-third of unemployment insurance went to the self-employed, individuals who do not benefit from employer-based training. This presents a challenge for those workers, who might require more training to enter the market as an employee.

One potential scenario for these pandemic-dislocated workers, according to the CED, is through “publicly supported training in a time of crisis.” Recommendations, especially for individuals on the bottom earning tiers, are for increased public investment in community colleges. Providing virtual training could help these individuals learn new skills and become employable again. Be it a community college or similar, and the CED explains that it could be subsidized by either a modified Pell Grant or direct payments to the individual taking classes to become a member of the workforce again.

Much as the pandemic’s course is uncertain, only time will tell until how these newly created job problems will be addressed.

Sources

Turning COVID-19’s mass layoffs into opportunities for quality jobs

https://www.ced.org/2020-solutions-briefs/meeting-the-upskilling-challenge-training-in-the-time-of-covid-19

Our Top 6 Year-End Tax Planning Tips

Our Top 6 Year-End Tax Planning 2020This has been a year of economic and tax uncertainty with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, potential stimulus bills, and the presidential election. As a result, tax planning may be more important than usual this year. To help guide you, we will cover six year-end tax planning strategies – three for individuals and three for businesses.

Individual Year-End Tax Planning Tips and Strategies

1. Take advantage of above-the-line charitable deductions.

Unlike previous years, where taxpayers needed to itemize their deductions in order to see any tax benefit from charitable deductions, everyone can benefit on their 2020 tax return. The CARES Act created an above-the-line charitable deduction for taxpayers who don’t itemize. In order to benefit from the $300 cash contributions deduction, make sure to donate before the end of the year if you haven’t already.

2. Stimulus Check Impact

The CARES Act also created the stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per qualified dependent child. While the initial round of stimulus checks was based on 2018 or 2019 tax return filing information, these stimulus payments are technically pre-paid 2020 tax credits. As a result, your 2020 tax return will calculate the credit due based on your income level, and there’s nothing but good news here. If your 2020 return shows you should receive an additional credit, you can claim it on your return. But if your return shows a credit less than a stimulus check you’ve already received, there is no clawback.

3. Investment With Opportunity Zones

Congress created powerful incentives for investing in very specific geographic regions by creating special tax treatment for “opportunity zones.” Investments in opportunity zones offer taxpayers the potential to defer tax on gains until as late as 2026. Moreover, there is the potential to recognize only 90 percent of gains on investments held for at least five years; and no tax on those held for 10 years (there are other rules, but they are out of the scope of this article). As a result, investments in opportunity zones can provide tax-free potential and protect against future tax law changes.

Business Year-End Tax Planning Tips and Strategies

1. Accelerate AMT Refunds

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and let companies claim all of their unused AMT credits in any taxable year beginning after 2017 but before 2022. The CARES Act accelerated the refund timeline, letting companies claim all their unused credits in either 2018 or 2019. For many, the most effective way to take advantage of this is to file a tentative refund claim on Form 1139, which must be done by Dec. 31, 2020.

2. Use Current Losses for Quick Refunds

The CARES Act brought back a tax provision that allows businesses to take current losses and offset them against income from prior years and receive refunds now. Net operating losses (NOLs) that are the result of 2018, 2019, and 2020 business activity can be carried five years back to claim refunds against taxes paid.

Careful consideration should be given to the strategy for claiming these NOL carry-backs because, depending on the type of business entity, your tax rate may have been higher in some of the five available years versus others. Make sure to leverage any tax rate arbitrage to maximize your benefit.

3. Payroll Tax Deduction Timing

Another provision of the CARES Act gives employers the option to postpone payment of their portion of Social Security taxes until the end of 2020. The deferred amounts are due half by the end of 2021 and 2022. This may be great from a liquidity perspective; however, depending on your business’s accounting, this could also mean a deferral of the deductibility of this expense as well. You should weigh the liquidity benefits of the deferral versus the value of a current year deduction – especially considering the accelerated NOL provisions discussed above.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the potential year-end tax planning strategies you can employ before the end of 2020. Make sure to consider these and speak with your tax advisor to see what makes the most sense for your situation.

How to Effectively On-board & Train Employees Virtually

How to Effectively On-board & Train Employees VirtuallyWith COVID-19 still requiring remote working, companies that effectively on-board new workers retain their workers longer, have better worker performance, and increase their profits by almost 100 percent, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. However, there are many considerations that companies should take during this important process.

For remote orientations, a welcome package that discusses the company’s products or services can be emailed to attendees prior to the live introduction. It’s also imperative that essential employees for the new hires (training and supervisors, for example) and existing employees who they will be working with are on the virtual meeting for introductions.  

Other considerations include maintaining a sense of professionalism. If a company has a dress code, training managers should serve as an example by dressing appropriately and communicating the requirement to new hires. This also can apply to the physical background of remote workers – having a professional-looking environment with muted colors.

Equip Workers With Varied Communication Tools

While almost everyone uses email to communicate, Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests that email should not be the sole method of communication for remote workers. Along with team communication platforms, video conferencing benefits workers because communicating with body language helps normalize the remote work experience. Video conferencing with recording capabilities also can be used for online training so that employees may access this resource at their own convenience.

Managing Virtual Communication

Regardless of how virtual employees communicate, there needs to be some structure to find the right balance for efficiency. Examples could include using instant messages for urgent but simple communication needs. When it comes to video conferencing, consider touching base for 10 to 15 minutes once a day for a check-in or feedback session. Determining communication frequency depends on when workers work (different time zones, staggered shifts, etc.) and what’s effective for managers and employees.

Schedule a check-in phone call – either once a day or perhaps once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. It can be modified depending on the individual or the type of worker, be it a call with a single employee or an entire group if they are used to working together.

HBR says that workers are heavily influenced on how to deal with abrupt changes or crises based on their leaders’ actions. Whether a manager is calm and collected or anxious and not in control, those they are supervising will act similarly. Regardless of the situation, managers who empathize with feelings of uncertainty and give verbal encouragement will impart a sense of confidence to the entire team.

Regardless of how social a person is during office hours, the lack of morning greetings, break room conversations, water cooler chat, and saying goodbye when leaving the office reinforces the isolation of working remotely – and that can affect anyone.

Therefore, weaving in time for employees to build rapport is also recommended by HBR. Whether it’s going around virtually to ask how everyone’s weekend was, or having the company deliver a meal to remote workers for a virtual office party, it’s been reported that these types of activities relieve feelings of isolation and garner goodwill with the company.

Businesses that take the appropriate steps to build and develop a balanced remote workforce can survive and thrive, but only by adapting to the very different demands of working virtually.

Sources

https://www.uschamber.com/co/run/human-resources/onboard-employees-during-covid-19

https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers  

How to Effectively On-board & Train Employees Virtually

How to Effectively On-board & Train Employees VirtuallyWith COVID-19 still requiring remote working, companies that effectively on-board new workers retain their workers longer, have better worker performance, and increase their profits by almost 100 percent, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. However, there are many considerations that companies should take during this important process.

For remote orientations, a welcome package that discusses the company’s products or services can be emailed to attendees prior to the live introduction. It’s also imperative that essential employees for the new hires (training and supervisors, for example) and existing employees who they will be working with are on the virtual meeting for introductions.  

Other considerations include maintaining a sense of professionalism. If a company has a dress code, training managers should serve as an example by dressing appropriately and communicating the requirement to new hires. This also can apply to the physical background of remote workers – having a professional-looking environment with muted colors.

Equip Workers With Varied Communication Tools

While almost everyone uses email to communicate, Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests that email should not be the sole method of communication for remote workers. Along with team communication platforms, video conferencing benefits workers because communicating with body language helps normalize the remote work experience. Video conferencing with recording capabilities also can be used for online training so that employees may access this resource at their own convenience.

Managing Virtual Communication

Regardless of how virtual employees communicate, there needs to be some structure to find the right balance for efficiency. Examples could include using instant messages for urgent but simple communication needs. When it comes to video conferencing, consider touching base for 10 to 15 minutes once a day for a check-in or feedback session. Determining communication frequency depends on when workers work (different time zones, staggered shifts, etc.) and what’s effective for managers and employees.

Schedule a check-in phone call – either once a day or perhaps once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. It can be modified depending on the individual or the type of worker, be it a call with a single employee or an entire group if they are used to working together.

HBR says that workers are heavily influenced on how to deal with abrupt changes or crises based on their leaders’ actions. Whether a manager is calm and collected or anxious and not in control, those they are supervising will act similarly. Regardless of the situation, managers who empathize with feelings of uncertainty and give verbal encouragement will impart a sense of confidence to the entire team.

Regardless of how social a person is during office hours, the lack of morning greetings, break room conversations, water cooler chat, and saying goodbye when leaving the office reinforces the isolation of working remotely – and that can affect anyone.

Therefore, weaving in time for employees to build rapport is also recommended by HBR. Whether it’s going around virtually to ask how everyone’s weekend was, or having the company deliver a meal to remote workers for a virtual office party, it’s been reported that these types of activities relieve feelings of isolation and garner goodwill with the company.

Businesses that take the appropriate steps to build and develop a balanced remote workforce can survive and thrive, but only by adapting to the very different demands of working virtually.

Sources

https://www.uschamber.com/co/run/human-resources/onboard-employees-during-covid-19

https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers  

How Would a Second Stimulus Check Impact Markets?

How Would a Second Stimulus Check 2020 Impact Markets?The $1,200 stimulus check sent out to individuals had mixed impacts on our economy, based on academic research, including by the University of California-Davis. For recipients with $3,000 or more in their bank accounts, there was no positive impact on the economy. However, for recipients with bank account balances up to $500, they spent 44.5 percent of their check, on average, within 10 days of receiving the stimulus check.

The first stimulus check was part of the CARES Act, which guided how the checks were issued:

The IRS began with those who filed 2018 and/or 2019 taxes, and looked at their adjusted gross income (AGI) as a starting point.

  • For “eligible individuals,” they received a full $1,200 check if they earned up to $75,000. If they earned between $75,000 and $99,000, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every $20 earned beyond $75,000. If they earned $99,000 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.
  • For “head of household filers,” they would get a $1,200 check for earnings up to $112,500. For earnings up to $136,500, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every additional $20 earned. If they earned $136,500 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.
  • For “married couples filing joint returns,” they would get a $1,200 check for earnings up to $150,000. For earnings up to $198,000, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every additional $20 earned. If they earned $198,000 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.

Depending on the filer, if they had a qualifying child 16 years or younger who they claimed on their tax return, each child could qualify for $500 in additional stimulus funds.

While the language is still subject to change because there’s no legislation passed and signed into law, uncertainty still exists regarding proposals for a second stimulus check/plan.

One proposal includes increasing the payments for dependents to $1,000 from $500. Another proposal includes casting a wider net for dependents – college students and/or older parents who reside in the same household, giving $500 for this category.

A September report by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows how consumers across the income distribution levels handled their stimulus checks.  

The NBER study found that once a stimulus payment was received, the typical individual spent $250 per day, compared to $90 a day before stimulus checks were available to recipients. Within 10 days, more than 20 percent of each dollar was spent. However, the report found different activity depending on the respondent’s income level and job security.

The study found that for recipients with checking accounts with more than a $4,000 balance, only 11 cents of stimulus money was spent in the month following receipt of their check. Looking a month out from when a stimulus check was received, those who had more assets were far less likely to spend their check quickly. However, for respondents with bank account balances of less than $100, more than 40 percent of their stimulus check was spent within one month.

These consumer expenditures offer a good indicator of how spending from another stimulus check would impact the economy. As the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show for 2019, there are different spending trends for each quintile or income strata (20 percent per quintile) for different income levels.

During 2019, each quintile increased, with the bottom quintile’s income growing by 6.6 percent, compared to the top quintile’s income growing by 6.7 percent. Quintiles two through four saw increases of income between 3.2 percent and 4.9 percent.

For reference, the 2019 “lower income bounds” are as follows:

  • Second quintile: $22,488
  • Third quintile: $43,432
  • Fourth quintile: $72,234
  • Fifth quintile: $120,729

“Average annual expenditures” for 2019 were $63,036 for “all consumer units,” or 3 percent more than 2018. A consumer unit is defined as either a family, an individual living on his or her own, and/or sharing costs with others or maintaining a residence with other individuals, but retaining the financial means to take care of themselves.

During 2019, while every quintile increased spending, the bottom quintile spent 8.6 percent more, versus the second quintile increasing their spending by 1.3 percent. All quintiles saw growth in spending for food at home, housing, transportation and cash contributions. Except for the second quintile, healthcare expenditures increased. For the food away from home category, the first, third and fifth quintiles increased spending. For apparel and services, the first, third and fourth quintiles saw increased spending.

Based on analysis conducted after stimulus checks were issued to individuals and families, sending out an additional stimulus check to those in the lower to mid-quintiles, along with promoting job growth and a strengthening job market, looks like the best way to help the economy recover. 

Why Gratitude is Important During a Pandemic

Why Gratitude is Important During a PandemicWe’re living in unprecedented, challenging times. If you’re feeling stressed and scared, you’re not alone. However, there is a way to navigate through all of this uncertainty: gratitude. Studies have shown that keeping in mind the things you’re grateful for on a regular basis not only helps you mentally but also physically, which is something we all need these days.

Gratitude Improves Your Immune System

According to Lisa Aspinwall, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah, there’s data to back this up. In one study, researchers compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students who were under stress and characterized themselves as optimistic to their more pessimistic classmates. Result: The former maintained a higher number of blood cells, which protect the immune system. Specifically, white blood cells are key players in your immune system and move through blood and tissue looking for foreign invaders (microbes) such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. When they find them, they launch an immediate attack. Tip: The moment you notice that you’re appreciative of something – the sun is shining, the sky is blue, you have clean water to drink – stop and savor. Bask in the experience. 

Gratitude Affects Your Brain

When you’re feeling appreciative, it wires and fires new neural connections to the bliss center and enhances dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness. Gratitude also reduces fear and anxiety by regulating the stress hormones; and it fosters cognitive restructuring by evoking positive thinking. Tip: When you’re eating, give thanks for the bounty before you. Make mealtimes mindful.

Gratitude Reduces Pain

In the research report, Count Blessings Versus Burdens (2003), patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more inclined to work out and cooperate with the treatment procedures. A deeper dive revealed that by regulating the level of dopamine, gratitude fills us with more vitality, which reduced the subjective feelings of pain. Tip: Try keeping a journal. If you think you have nothing to be grateful for, think about all the little things you have. You might find that you’re taking for granted certain abilities or privileges you have that others don’t.

Gratitude Affects Sleep

Studies have shown that receiving and displaying simple acts of kindness activates the hypothalamus, and thereby regulates all bodily mechanisms controlled by the hypothalamus, one of which is sleep. The hypothalamic regulation by gratitude helps us get deeper and healthier sleep, naturally. Tip: Hold the door for a stranger. Let someone have that parking space you both came upon. Share that compliment that’s on the tip of your tongue. To give is to receive. You might just rest easier.

Gratitude Gets Rid of Toxic Emotions

The limbic system is the part of the brain that’s responsible for all emotional experiences. It consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. Research has shown that the hippocampus and amygdala, the two main sites regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning, get activated with feelings of gratitude. Specifically, what we call emotions or feelings are neural activations in the neocortical regions of the brain (Moll et al. 2005). Further, a study conducted on people who were looking for mental health guidance revealed that those who wrote letters of gratitude, in addition to having regular counseling, felt better and recovered sooner. In the other group, people who journaled about their negative feelings felt anxious and depressed. Tip: In addition to journaling, maybe there’s a letter you need to write to someone expressing how you feel, releasing a past hurt. The simple act of writing can be powerful. You don’t even have to send it to feel better.

Right now, when we’re faced with so many unknowns, staying present and giving thanks can do a world of good. Give it a try and see.

Sources

https://www.adventhealth.com/blog/why-gratitude-important-during-coronavirus-pandemic

https://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost#1

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system?viewAsPdf=true

https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201111/how-gratitude-helps-you-sleep-night