Here’s a review of top personal finance stories, columns and studies from publications, websites and blogs across the country.
What you need to know as the “fiscal cliff” approaches
Fears about the fiscal cliff have gripped both Main Street and Wall Street, driving down stock prices in recent weeks. Investment and financial planning experts are advising consumers to focus on taxes, as people across all income levels are bound to be affected by the forthcoming changes. For instance, federal income taxes are scheduled to increase in the top bracket from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, and increase from 15 to 20 percent in the lowest. What’s at stake for you with the current fiscal cliff arguments and negotiations?
Read more at Yahoo! News.
In-default student loans on the rise
At a time when average personal debt levels on credit card balances and mortgage loans have been on the decline, a new study shows that payments on student loans paint a different picture. The recent recession has not stopped the increase in the cost of a college education. And according to data released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank, 11% of all student loans are at least 90 days past due, up from 8.9% in the previous quarter.
Get the full story from Forbes.
Higher income earners may want to contribute more to their 401Ks
Americans are generally advised to put away as much cash as possible into their retirement accounts for two reasons: to enjoy the tax benefits and to build personal resources for long-term security. That advice might have stronger resonance today, because of the impending tax increases coming in 2013. Many benefits consultants are recommending that investors fund their tax-advantaged accounts, such as 401Ks and IRAs, to the maximum limit possible, because of the likelihood that retirement and pension accounts will get impacted next year.
Read the full article at CNN Money.
Baltimore public schools improving personal finance education
The Baltimore school system will now be providing finance training to educators. In the new program, made possible by a grant from Discover Financial Services, 10th grade students will receive an enhanced curriculum involving personal finance courses. Maryland mandates that elementary through secondary schools teach personal finance, in order to better prepare students for the realities of today’s economy. But until this grant, few teachers have received any formal training on teaching this new curriculum.
Read the full article at the Baltimore Business Journal.
How to be a shrewd outlet shopper
If you’ve wondered why clothes and items at outlet stores often seem to be of lower quality than what you find in the mall, it’s because they typically are. According to Consumer Reports, 82% of products sold at outlets are made specifically for those discount stores – and not overstocks, lightly bruised merchandise or discontinued lines. Rather than relying on the often-inflated “suggested retail price” to figure out what kind of bargain you are really getting when you shop at outlet stores, try comparing to online prices for similar items. And make sure to closely inspect the items before taking them to checkout.
Get more outlet shopping tips at MSN Money.
Jobs and industries with the best retirements
Qualified potential home-buyers are prevented from getting mortgage loans because of banks’ tight standards, said Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, during a speech in Atlanta last Thursday. As a result, it could be having a negative impact on the economy. Home lending criteria had to be tightened after 2008 due to the financial crisis, but overly high standards may be keeping credit-worthy consumers from taking advantage of historically low mortgage loan interest rates. The Federal Reserve has helped keep rates at historic lows, and Bernake said it would continue to pursue efforts to open credit availability for more homebuyers.
Read the complete list at Yahoo! Finance.
Charitable donations in a changing world
Charities are finding more creative and innovative ways to reach potential donors in this high-tech and social networking age. Many organizations are increasingly using social media resources such as Facebook to appeal to people and their networks of friends and family. However, donations to charities fell in the first nine months of the year, as compared to the same period in 2011, and things don’t look to be getting brighter. For those considering a gift, a few precautions will help ensure their donation is put to the best use.
Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal MarketWatch.
Cash bonuses favored over other corporate holiday handouts
The annual holiday office party that has been a tradition for years is losing favor, according to a new survey by the career site Glassdoor. They may be fun, but employees would much rather receive a cash bonus, or perhaps an extra day or two of paid time off. According to the survey, even grocery gift cards and permission to work from home are considered more desirable than a company party… open bar notwithstanding.
Read more at Fortune.