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Bank of America leads charge to bonds as banks build $2 trillion hoard Mar 1, 2015 7:35 AM
Growth is on a tear, hiring is the strongest in decades and households are the most upbeat since 2011. Yet banks such as Bank of America keep plowing their burgeoning deposits into U.S. government and related debt — pushing the industry’s holdings past $2 trillion — instead of lending it all out.
Build emergency savings first. Then pay down that debt Mar 1, 2015 7:31 AM
Roughly one fourth of consumers have more credit card debt than emergency savings, according to a survey released Monday by Bankrate.com. Another 13 percent don’t have savings or credit card debt, which leaves them vulnerable to taking on debt when emergencies happen. “Too many people don’t have enough emergency savings,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Obama endorses new rules for brokers giving retirement advice Mar 1, 2015 1:00 AM
The president endorsed a new rule proposed by the Labor Department on Monday that would increase the standards for brokers who recommend investments for retirement accounts, requiring brokers to have the client’s best interests in mind. Under more stringent standards, brokers would need to justify if they are recommending a security that is more expensive than other options available or that may be underperforming, retirement experts say.
Study: Economic segregation shaped by wealthy people Mar 1, 2015 7:33 AM
A new analysis from Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, which identifies the most and least economically segregated metropolitan areas in the United States, makes clear that economic segregation today is heavily shaped by the choices of people at the top: “It is not so much the size of the gap between the rich and poor that drives segregation,” they write, “as the ability of the super-wealthy to isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do.”
How restaurants get you to spend more money Mar 1, 2015 7:00 AM
You may think you’re immune to transparent sales pitches like, “Do you want fries with that?” But the tactics restaurants use to nudge you into spending a little extra may be subtler than you realize. Here’s a look at a few ways companies get you to spend (and eat) more than you intended.
Buffett reflects on his firm’s success, strengths Feb 28, 2015 2:40 PM
Buffett said his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate benefited over the past 50 years from the S&P 500’s growth from 84 to 2,059.He said no commentator or investment adviser can predict the stock market.
Moody’s downgrades Chicago’s rating over pensions Feb 28, 2015 2:45 PM
The agency said Friday that it lowered the rating on $8.3 billion in general obligation debt from Baa1 to Baa2. Moody’s also maintained its negative outlook for Chicago, indicating another downgrade could occur even if recent efforts to address the city’s pension problems survive legal challenges.
Stocks slip, but end best month since 2011 Feb 27, 2015 5:29 PM
The current bull market, now in its sixth year, has been powered by strong corporate earnings growth and low interest rates, which make stocks more attractive relative to bonds. Strong job growth and improving consumer confidence have also encouraged traders, despite signs of sluggishness in Europe and elsewhere.
As tastes change, big food makers try hipster guises Feb 27, 2015 6:34 PM
Unlike Pepsi cola — which has suffered sales declines since 1998, according to Beverage Digest — PepsiCo’s Caleb’s Kola comes in a glass bottle and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.There are no signs the drink is from the maker of Mountain Dew and Gatorade, and the bottles bear the words “Honor In Craft.”McDonald’s also decided not to use its name recognition when it opened The Corner late last year.
Too big to manage? HSBC’s chiefs to testify on tax scandal Feb 25, 2015 10:56 AM
First there was money laundering. Then foreign-exchange rigging. Now tax evasion. HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, has endured a string of scandals — and paid millions in penalties to regulators around the world. But recent revelations that its Swiss private bank helped the wealthy evade taxes are raising new questions about HSBC’s conduct and shining a spotlight on an industry still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis.
Yellen says Fed still ‘patient’ on raising rates Feb 24, 2015 9:49 AM
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that the Federal Reserve remains patient in deciding when to start raising interest rates because too many Americans remain unemployed, wage growth remains sluggish and inflation is running below the Fed’s target.
What to do if your tax refund is stolen Feb 22, 2015 7:31 AM
There are three main ways that fraudsters can obtain personal information to file fake returns, says Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser for Sophos, a security software vendor. They involve phishing scams that trick people into giving up their account information or personal details, security breaches exposing consumers’ personal information and fraudsters reusing account passwords that people repeat from other accounts, he says. Here’s what you should do if you’re a victim.
Life after a minimum wage hike means a better version of poverty Feb 22, 2015 7:43 AM
Like tens of thousands of others in Arkansas, and millions whose states this year enacted pay increases, Shanna Tippen has found herself caught in the reality of America’s fiery debate on whether to raise the minimum wage. While politicians frame the discussion in bold terms — a ticket to the middle class; a death knell for small businesses — Tippen’s experiences reflect a more realistic picture: a slight help for poor workers, but not the game-changer that politicians promise.
HealthCare.gov sends wrong tax info to nearly a million Feb 20, 2015 3:07 PM
People can find out whether they’re affected by logging in to their accounts at HealthCare.gov, where they should find a message indicating whether they were affected or not. They also can check by phoning the federal customer service center at 800-318-2596.
FBI probes fraudulent state tax returns made with TurboTax Feb 15, 2015 1:00 AM
The FBI is investigating cases of fraudulent tax returns filed using TurboTax software. The probe comes after a number of states, including Minnesota, Utah, Alabama and Georgia, reported a spike in potentially fraudulent tax returns being filed by scam artists attempting to steal tax refunds. State tax authorities investigating the fraud say it’s too early to know whether the personal information was pulled from TurboTax or another database, but some states say it’s clear the fraudsters had access to 2013 returns. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the agency is working to determine whether a data breach allowed scam artists to obtain the personal information used to file the returns. It is trying to figure out whether the personal information was pulled from TurboTax or another source, the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the case. Several states have introduced new security measures in recent days while insisting that their own systems have not been breached. As many as 19 states may have been affected. “We got a bigger spike than we normally get this time of year,” said Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Utah State Tax Commission, which as of last week had identified 8,000 potentially fraudulent returns, a number he says has grown. “The common thread in that was TurboTax.” Jeff Parish, who does marketing for a Virginia credit union, was surprised when he signed on to his TurboTax account over the weekend to prepare his tax return and found a message on the website congratulating him because the Internal Revenue Service had accepted his federal tax return. Parish told The Washington Post that he had learned that someone had signed on to his account and filed a return about a week before, claiming a refund of roughly $5,000 — much larger than the $200 he normally receives — and directing it to be deposited to a reloadable debit card. Now, he must file on paper. State tax authorities have held conference calls and are sharing information with one another to make it easier to spot bogus returns, said Gale Garriott, director of the Federation of Tax Administrators. The additional security measures may delay tax refunds. Kentucky, for instance, says that after it temporarily stopped issuing refunds, state tax refunds could take up to 14 business days to be delivered, up from seven to 10 business days. Last week, TurboTax stopped submitting state tax returns for about 24 hours while it investigated a rise in “suspicious filings” made using its software. After looking into it, Intuit, the parent company for TurboTax, said that it did not think the fraud resulted from a breach of TurboTax’s systems and that the personal information was obtained elsewhere. Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller said Wednesday that the company was aware of the FBI investigation but added that “to the best of our knowledge, Intuit is not the target of that investigation.” The company also said last week that federal tax returns were not affected and it did not stop submitting those returns. But some state tax authorities reported seeing cases of fraudulent state and federal tax returns that appear to have information pulled from 2013 returns. The IRS says it “added and strengthened protections in our processing systems this filing season to protect” taxpayers and prevent fraud. But some improvements to the tax agency’s identity-theft program were put off because of budget cuts, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said last week in prepared remarks to the Senate Finance Committee. “This means, among other things, that aging IT systems will not be replaced and new taxpayer protections against identity theft will be delayed,” he said.
Warren gains upper hand in Dodd-Frank debate Feb 15, 2015 7:42 AM
The financial industry is finding that winning in Washington comes at a cost. Wall Street lobbied aggressively and succeeded late last year in persuading lawmakers to roll back rules for the $700 trillion derivatives market. Instead of generating momentum for further changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, the victory sparked a populist uprising among Democrats that’s had wide-ranging consequences, including stymieing less controversial requests from regional banks like Capital One Financial Corp. “A short while ago there was bipartisan agreement on a number of common sense improvements,” said Rob Nichols, president of the Financial Services Forum that represents the chief executives of Wall Street’s biggest banks. “Unfortunately, that bipartisan agreement is gone.” Financial companies and their employees spent $169 million on the November elections and had expectations that their bid to loosen regulations would get easier with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate. Now, there is second-guessing that banks overplayed their hand, according to lobbyists. The December win on swaps rules has become a rallying cry for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of Wall Street, and spurred repeated White House vows to defend Dodd-Frank. The fallout has frustrated banks, which hope it’s temporary. Democrats who previously said they wanted to revise the law now won’t even discuss it. Republicans are altering their strategy for attacking Dodd-Frank. And lobbyists have been hindered in their efforts to persuade Senate Democrats to champion changes to financial rules. A sign of the political headwinds has been regional banks’ difficulty winning bipartisan support for a bill that would free them from stringent oversight imposed on lenders with at least $50 billion of assets. Capital One considers getting the threshold increased a top legislative goal this year, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company’s inability to persuade Democrats to lead the charge in the Senate, particularly home state Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, has reverberated through the ranks of financial lobbyists, according to two people involved in the talks. The message is clear that Warren’s attacks on the industry have made even moderate Democrats skittish to stand up for banks, the people said. Capital One’s discussions with Warner aren’t unique, said company spokeswoman Tatiana Stead. “We have had identical and multiple discussions with his Senate colleagues and other elected officials,” she said. If legislation is proposed that helps banks lend “responsibly” to small businesses and homeowners, Warner will consider it, said his spokesman Kevin Hall. Banks are responding to the blowback by taking a pause from public campaigning. Lenders have also urged Capitol Hill allies to refrain from proposing minor bills that bring attention to Dodd-Frank and stand little chance of getting through the politically-divided Senate. The industry’s lobbying hasn’t stopped in more private settings, according to interviews with congressional aides, trade associations and representatives of large and small banks. For now, it’s more focused on urging regulators to scale back rules, said the people, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Banks were never going to have an easy time rolling back Dodd-Frank. Because bills require 60 yes votes in the Senate to overcome political hurdles, Republicans need at least six other votes to pass legislation. President Barack Obama also can veto measures he doesn’t like. Changes to Dodd-Frank that Congress has approved so far were wrapped into unrelated bills that had broad political support, like funding the federal government. The banking industry’s predicament became even harder in January when House Republicans tried to tweak financial rules during the first week of the new Congress, a move that Warren and Representative Maxine Waters jumped on to push the theme that Dodd-Frank was under attack. Democrats lined up against the bill and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi the day of the vote to emphasize Obama would veto the legislation if it ever passed Congress, according to a Treasury official with knowledge of the discussion. The bill failed to get the two-thirds support of House members that it needed to pass, necessitating a second vote. Soon after, Wall Street lobbyists called the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging the Republican lawmaker to drop it, according to three people with knowledge of the talks. The lobbyists told his staff the legislation wasn’t a high priority to big banks and not worth the public backlash being stirred up by Warren, Pelosi and Waters, a California Democrat, the people said. Republicans proceeded anyway. The bill passed a week later with the support of only 29 of the House’s 188 Democrats. It hasn’t been taken up by the Senate. Even though they lost the House vote, Warren, Pelosi and Waters cemented Democratic opposition to further changes to Dodd-Frank in the process. They built on support gained in the December debate on derivatives, when during a week of TV interviews and news conferences they portrayed Wall Street as putting taxpayers at risk so soon after the financial crisis. The vocal opposition has affected some Democrats, including Rep. Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs executive whose Connecticut district is home to major hedge funds. Himes was an early advocate of repealing the derivatives measure, a change that lets JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and other banks keep trading swaps in divisions with government backstops. Now, Himes is staying away from Dodd-Frank. He told a group of banking lobbyists earlier this month that he won’t be backing any revisions to the law, given the current political climate, according to three people who attended the meeting. “I’m going to hold off on commenting on Dodd-Frank,” Himes said last week during a brief interview. “I’d rather not weigh into something as controversial as this.” Himes’ office later issued a statement in which the lawmaker said “this is an environment in which proposed changes to Dodd-Frank, meritorious or otherwise, are a lot less likely to get a dispassionate hearing.” Rep. K. Michael Conaway, the Texas Republican who leads a committee that overseas the main U.S. derivatives regulator, said Dodd-Frank has become a “lightning rod.” At a January conference in Miami, he told a group of commodity traders that he plans to propose legislation this year that would change some derivative rules. Conaway said he will couch the effort not as altering Dodd-Frank, but as part of a routine review of legislation that governs the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s regulatory powers. “You just mention it, and they just close up, shut up,” Conaway said of lawmakers and Dodd-Frank. • Reported with assistance from Robert Schmidt in Washington.
White House to intervene in West Coast ports strike Feb 14, 2015 7:39 PM
The dispute has caused back-ups in shipping, turning the waterways off the coast into parking lots for container ships and other vessels.
House bill locks in charity tax breaks Feb 13, 2015 3:14 PM
“This is where there’s an incredible amount of common ground,” said Representative Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican.The dispute over the charity tax bill is the first legislative fight this year over how to handle dozens of expired breaks and how to move ahead on lawmakers’ shared goal of revamping the U.S. tax code.
Stocks end little changed; investors wary of Greek debt Feb 11, 2015 4:05 PM
Once again, investors turned their eyes to Europe. Finance ministers from nations that use the euro held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, the group’s first opportunity to hear directly from Greece’s new government.
IRS apologizes for seizing bank accounts Feb 11, 2015 5:42 PM
By law, bank transactions above $10,000 must be reported to the IRS. It’s a felony, called “structuring,” to manage transactions to avoid the reporting requirement, even if the money is legally earned.In some cases, the IRS seized and held bank accounts for years without bringing charges.
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