With summer ending, the 2014 elections are starting to heat up. And as usual tax policy is a hot button issue as candidates for Governor, state legislatures and other state and local offices from both parties claim their plan is more “fair.” But what does a fair tax system look like? Which states actually have the most fair tax systems?
As a follow up to our 2014 Tax Fairness Survey which focused largely on federal tax policy, WalletHub has analyzed and ranked the 50 states based on the fairness of their state and local tax systems — including income taxes, sales & excise taxes, and property taxes. To rank the states, Wallethub conducted a nationally representative online survey of 1,050 individuals to assess what Americans think a fair state and local tax system looks like. Our analysts then compared what Americans think is fair to data on the real structure of tax systems in all 50 states.
Having a baby is expensive. Between one-time expenses such as a crib and stroller and ongoing costs that include diapers and formula, prospective parents must evaluate not only their life situations but also their finances before jumping at the deep end.
Moreover, families in the United States pay the highest birthing costs in the world, according to a report from the International Federation of Health Plans. The average cost of a conventional delivery at an American hospital is $9,775. For a C-Section, it’s $15,041. In France, the price tag for normal delivery pales in comparison at $3,541 and dips to an even more modest $2,641 in the U.K.
The United States is often dubbed “a nation of immigrants.” But lately the path to American citizenship has been a rough road, especially for an increasing number of Hispanics. Whether they’ve entered U.S. borders lawfully or otherwise, many have felt the sting of marginalization, racism and discrimination in every kind of social environment. And despite the unfriendly welcome, they’re as motivated as ever to put down roots in American soil in order to find better opportunities and improve their lives.
After decades in the workforce, it seems only natural for retirees to expect financial security in their Golden Years. But gone are the days when Americans looked forward to a worry-free retirement. Many are working longer years with an increasingly unreachable goal of securing financial freedom for the rest of their lives. In 1991, only 8 percent of Americans delayed retirement to age 65. Today, that figure has doubled, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual “Retirement Confidence Survey.”
And the reasons for extending their working lives are somewhat obvious: With a number of local economies still struggling to rebound from the Great Recession, a quarter of respondents to the EBRI’s survey said they can’t afford to retire when they want or plan to. Eighteen percent cited “inadequate finances” as the other primary hurdle to retiring on schedule. Fifty-eight percent of workers and 44 percent of retirees also disclosed having problematic debt levels, which some claim are higher than they were five years ago.
With all the current costs associated with a basic checking account — from monthly maintenance fees to ATM withdrawal charges to money transfer costs — one can hardly keep track of their growing structural complexity. These days, a customer could even be assessed a fee just for speaking with a bank teller. And those costs can vary by hundreds of dollars depending on several factors, including one’s usage habits and banking institution.
On the heels of WalletHub’s annual Checking Account Transparency Report and to further assist consumers, WalletHub compared the annual costs of 65 checking accounts offered by the 25 largest U.S. consumer-facing banks, based on total asset volume as reported by the FDIC. In order to do so, we constructed five consumer profiles by using a variety of theoretical usage patterns.
It’s hard to think of modern-day America’s identity in black-and-white terms. Although we can’t patent freedom, we can safely claim buffalo wings, country music and Jay Leno as uniquely ours. But what else? Contrary to popular belief, English isn’t the official language of the United States. And the rumor that pizza was invented by Italian immigrants in New York? That’s been laid to rest. Heck, even the Statue of Liberty used to be a French citizen. Cuisine, religion, sports and vernacular are only among the myriad cultural identifiers that depend on region and give the U.S. its personality.
For centuries, diversification has perpetually blurred cultural lines. And though American “culture” can easily be described, it’s more difficult to quantify. Demographics, however, are not. Characteristics such as ethnic makeup, household size and median income can paint a picture of a country from a statistical vantage point. Why is this relevant to you, the consumer? There are many reasons. Parents, for one, may want to move their families to a city with a demographic anatomy resembling that of the U.S. to expose their children to more diversity. That way, their children might adapt more easily when they move to other parts of the country as adults. Others may wish to live in a city that is less representative of the U.S. in certain dimensions such as education standards or cultural variety.
Women’s rights in the United States have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet many women today still struggle to crack the proverbial glass ceiling. And it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2013, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 — or even the top 20 — of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. In fact, the U.S. had fallen one spot to No. 23 since 2012 and six spots since 2011 on the WEC’s annual Global Gender Gap Index. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Lesotho, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in economic participation and political empowerment.
Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the American workplace environment. Even with all their advances toward social equality thus far, women continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. This past March, the Center for American Progress reported that women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, none are head honchos of their companies.
Checking accounts have become a staple of the average consumer’s financial arsenal. Today, more than 100 million checking accounts are active in the United States, according to the FDIC. That’s unsurprising, given the versatility of such a product that allows consumers to make everyday purchases, deposit their earnings, pay their bills and manage their finances online with one account.
For such a ubiquitous financial product, one would expect consistency in disclosures and fee standardization. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Consumers face disclosure practices that resemble the Wild West. And the proof is in the pudding: In 2013, Moebs Services reported that the industry earned $31.8 billion in overdraft-fee revenue. In a recent Pew Charitable Trusts survey regarding overdraft fees, 80 percent of overdrafters agreed that charges and practices need stricter regulations.
Buying a home for the first time is an exciting and important milestone in most people’s lives. At least it was traditionally until the housing market experienced the most destructive upheaval in its history nearly a decade ago. Many Americans are still trying to recover from the collapse of the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession.
These days, home buyers are more stressed and skeptical as ever in the wake of the economic crisis, especially given the drastic variations in the pace of recovery across the United States. In 2013, the National Association of Realtors® reported that “Tightened credit standards for home buyers have suppressed the level of first-time buyers in the market.” Among primary-residence home buyers, 38 percent were first-time buyers that year, whereas the historical average is 40 percent.
Once upon a time, pets were — well, just pets. Dogs amused or protected us. Fish kept us visually stimulated — for a few minutes. Reptiles made creepy but fascinating gifts. These days, these creatures are practically family, only furrier or slimier. In fact, a record 68 percent, or 82.5 million, of American households owned a pet in 2012, according to the “2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey” released by the American Pet Products Association, or APPA. Dogs and cats retain the title for most popular, at 46.7 and 37.3 percent ownership, respectively.
And with greater pet ownership of course comes greater financial responsibility. A lengthy list of expenses that can add up to about $2,000 annually — from licenses and treats to grooming and medical care — accompanies the adoption of an animal. Health insurance alone can cost pet owners beaucoup bucks every year. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association estimated that combined annual premiums totaled between $475 and $500 million for more than 1 million animals by the end of 2012.
In an ideal world, children live carefree. They play with friends, eat nutritious food and receive a good education. They don’t worry about paying bills or searching for their next meal. They’re nurtured, protected and guided by caring adults who provide all their basic needs. Eventually, they become productive members of society. Such are fundamental rights, not privileges. And yet, the United States — one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world — has the second highest rate of relative child poverty among economically developed nations.
To put that in perspective, about a fifth, or 16.1 million, of all American children are impoverished, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. In the U.S., a baby is born into poverty every 32 seconds. Every day, 66 babies die before their first birthday. If that isn’t enough to shake one’s moral foundation, consider this: By the end of the day, 1,837 children will have been confirmed as being either abused or neglected.
Despite its name, comprehensive coverage does not protect drivers against all forms of damage to their vehicles. It covers only damage from theft, vandalism, falling objects, flood, fire, animals, or natural disasters. It also covers claims in which the damage is limited to glass damage such as a cracked windshield.
Unless one is destined to assume the ranks of wildly successful college dropouts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, education remains the traditional route to financial success for many Americans. Consider the median incomes for workers aged 25 and older in 2013. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned 59 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure grows — and chances of unemployment shrink — as a worker’s educational attainment improves.
And with school resuming session, it's a good time to reflect on which school districts offer the greatest chance for children’s academic success — and higher future earning potential. In comparing schools, it’s important to recognize that though the amount of state funding a school receives can be helpful, it is by no means a determinant of quality.
Under the Hippocratic oath, physicians and other health care professionals vow to improve the quality of life. But for whom, exactly? For a country that spends $2.9 trillion a year on health care — twice as much per capita as other industrialized nations — one would think the United States is home to the healthiest humans on the planet. And yet, the reverse is true: Americans have shorter lives, higher infant mortality rates and more cases of chronic diseases than populations of other wealthy countries.
To add insult to injury, someone’s pockets are getting deeper, and it’s definitely not the patient’s. Looks as if Hippocrates left out the clause on offering the best treatment to patients without ruining their finances. In 2013, the average annual health insurance premium for an individual had a price tag of $5,884 while families paid an average of $16,351 for group coverage. To put that in perspective, single coverage has increased by 74 percent and family coverage by 80 percent since 2003. It’s no surprise that millions of Americans consider forgoing medical attention a better option than draining their savings.
For many American cities, the Great Recession is nothing more than a distant shadow of a troubled economic past. The longest downturn since the Great Depression officially ended five years ago, and cities across the country have more than fully recovered. Some in fact have even surpassed their pre-recession economic levels, thanks to lucrative industries that either sprouted from the ground post-recession or kept cities afloat through the crisis.
And yet the effects of the recession still reverberate in many towns, falling deeper into debt and leaving millions of Americans wondering whether the crisis has indeed been over for a while. Since 2008, a total of 13 municipalities — among them Westfall Township, Pa., Prichard, Ala., Stockton, Calif., and even Detroit — have declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, a rare occurrence.
Kick off your Sunday shoes and put on some sneakers. It’s time to get moving, folks. Whether your favorite pastime is playing ball, exploring museums or hitting the local nightlife, everyone has a reason to celebrate, as July is National Park and Recreation Month.
Speaking of parks and recreation, public facilities aren’t just for the physically active. They provide immense support to the overall well-being of a city, including the health of its community, environment and economy. Unsurprisingly, Americans’ fondness for the outdoors is evident in the amount of greenbacks they invest on green space. In 2013, the most populous U.S. cities combined spent more than $6.2 billion on parks and recreation.
Most of us don’t consider the weather beyond how it dictates the clothes we put on our backs. But weather can affect more than just our outfits. It impacts our daily lives — and wallets — in often under-considered ways, ranging from total monthly energy bills and local infrastructure costs to commute times and insurance premiums. Even further, it can also affect our moods, productivity and earning potential.
In the United States, routine weather events such as rain and colder-than-average temperatures can cost the economy as much as $485 billion annually. An inch of snow in Washington, DC, for instance, will force the federal government to shut down all nonessential operations. And those effects are just from small weather changes.
It’s no secret the nature of personal finance has shifted considerably in recent years. Technology has closed the door on the era of neighborhood banking, bringing consumers simultaneously closer to and farther away from their financial institutions of choice. Widespread economic woes have unearthed a number of unsavory practices and institutional failures, while also saddling us with an uphill financial battle. Even the new regulations designed to cure the ills of years past have taken some getting used to.
Americans will be wiping sweat off their foreheads this month, so get ready to crank up those air conditioners. July tends to be the hottest month of the year in the contiguous U.S., and as a result it has the highest energy consumption. With mercury rising, consumers can expect the heat to drain not only their energy supply but also their wallets.
In the United States, 7.1 percent of the average consumer’s total income is spent on energy costs, including fuel, natural gas and electricity. And during the summer, when many Americans undergo major life transitions such as relocating to start a new job or start a family, the difference in energy costs among states becomes an important financial consideration.
Having insurance is vital to the health of your family and your wallet.
We know rates of uninsured vary dramatically across states. Yet following the implementation of ACA/Obamacare, there’s been a lot of talk but not a lot of real information consumers can use to compare states by insurance coverage rates. Why? In part because we did not have a reliable estimate of what proportion of private health insurance enrollees under Obamacare were previously uninsured. Until now.