Don’t let romance blind you to the financial downside of living together

Unmarried couples need as much, if not more, financial and estate planning than those who are married. Without it, one or both partners may lose everything they have committed to the relationship. Here is a primer on what steps you should take. Over 6.7 million unmarried couples are cohabitating in America at last count. Over 90% of them are heterosexual, in case you’re wondering. As such, these couples, regardless of sexual orientation or length of the relationship, are considered and classified as unrelated individuals in the eyes of the law. And the rights of unmarried couples are different depending on your state. Not all states, for example, recognize common-law marriages. As a result, without legal safeguards, the children you are raising, the assets you have mutually accumulated, and the house that you share can easily be taken from the surviving partner. The law will assume that any property and the care of surviving children should pass to your next of kin. Even your stated wishes of what you would want to happen in the event of your death or disability may not be followed. Okay, now that I have your attention, the first rule is to protect your estate. Your estate is everything and anything you own, or have contributed to before your death. Next, there needs to be documents established for situations that may be short of death but that still safeguard your rights. This would include what happens to you and/or your partner in the event of disability or illness, which might require someone else to make medical and financial decisions for you. Such an agreement is...

New quarter, new market

As traders and institutions put to bed the first quarter, several concerns loom large in the weeks ahead. How things play out over that time period will have important implications for the averages, given that they are not far from their all-time, historical highs. What will the Fed do in May? Will Washington pursue tax cuts and if so, will there be opposition? What will first quarter earnings look like and how will markets react to all of the above?  Let’s look in my crystal ball, shall we? Wall Street analysts expect corporate earnings to be higher by as much as 10-11%. That would be a big change from the recent past, where dismal guidance and feeble results have been the name of the game.  If the numbers match or beat expectations, that could be good for stocks. Next up, the central bank, what are its intentions between now and June? The betting is that there is little chance that the Fed will raise rates again between now and then. If so, chalk up another positive for the markets. Then there is the Washington wild card where all sorts of things could go right or wrong, depending on a fractured Republican party and a mercurial administration. Last week’s debacle, centered on the belly flop that was the House’s attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare has set people thinking and worrying about the future. I’m thinking that we may still need a few more days/weeks of consolidation before markets begin to climb. We have already brushed my first downside target for the S&P 500 Index at 2,323. Many times markets...

Living together is not what it used to be

Times are changing. Over 12 million Americans now “live in sin,” as my parents would say, and their numbers are increasing every year. As long as they remain together, everything is copacetic, but what happens when they break up? Thanks to the economy, demographics, and life-style choices, young couples today are living together and having children despite their unmarried status. In my own family, my niece is pregnant, unmarried, and has no intentions of tying the knot. Although her partner is the love of her life, they have decided (for now) to keep it that way. And in today’s economy, there may be a lot of good reasons not to get married. Number one among them may be affordability. In my example, both parties are young and work in a drugstore, stocking shelves and clerking. They live with his mother because they can’t afford to get a place of their own. You might ask why in the world they have decided to bring a child into the world under these economic circumstances, but that’s none of my business and more and more young people see nothing wrong with it. It could be that like most unmarried couples they are going through what I call a “test-drive” period to feel more emotionally and financially secure before making a more permanent commitment. That happens all the time. However, there are other reasons why getting married is no longer the first choice. As earnings and education levels among men and women are flattening out, there is no longer a crying need by some women to get married just to make ends meet....

Congress’s comedy of errors

Volatility was back in the markets this week as traders watched the House of Representatives wrestle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. As failure after failure marked the progress of the new bill, some wondered if this might be a hint of what the future might be under the Trump Administration. Given that this is really the first piece of legislation the new Republican Congress and White House has introduced, it might not be fair to judge the next four years by this week’s performance by our new legislators. Much that could go wrong did go wrong, but there is still a chance that something may be passed before the weekend. What confounds me is that Republicans have had seven years to come up with an alternative to Obamacare. For seven years, they have been demanding the end to the Democrats’ first attempt at providing insurance to millions of Americans and Donald Trump campaigned on his promise to repeal Obamacare. One might have assumed that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s alternative plan would therefore be the blueprint for change that all Republicans could get behind. That was the smoke and mirrors that was sold to the public. This week’s antics revealed that the majority of Republicans were nowhere near ready to back his plan.  Some want to simply ditch the whole effort. Others want to moderate the most draconian parts of the proposal, while still others simply want a new plan altogether. On Thursday night, after the House failed to vote on the plan (because the votes weren’t there for passage), President Trump lost his patience...

Don’t worry, be happy

It is official: the happiest country in the world is Norway, with Denmark the runner-up, according to the World Happiness Report. What lessons can we learn from this survey and what, if anything, should we do as a nation to join their ranks? Where, you might ask, do we here in the U.S. rank? The answer would be number 14, down from number 3 in 2007. The least happy inhabitants on earth appear to be in Africa while the average Chinese person is no happier than he was 25 years ago, despite the country’s much-lauded economic miracle. How do a pair of tiny countries stay so happy for so long? It sure isn’t the weather, where it is so cold that summers require overcoats and the days can last so long that they keep tourists complaining about lack of sleep. Or is it? Clearly, the people there have a lot of money. Norway, for example, is the sixth wealthiest country in the world. They can thank the North Sea’s oil discoveries 40 years ago for that. Denmark also has a high GDP per capita, but so do we, and yet we placed far lower. One answer is what these people actually do with their money. These countries make it a priority to give their citizens economic security. Take health care, for example. While our government is in the throes of reducing the number of Americans who will be insured through health-care, in Norwegian society citizens pay a maximum of $300/years for doctors, hospitals, and other medical services. After that, the government pays for everything for that year. In addition,...