As a former federal government employee, who lived through the longest government shutdown on record in modern times, I have great sympathy for the government workers who have been furloughed; for others, like contractors and suppliers, who have been financially affected; and for Americans who have had important services suspended, because of the current shutdown.
The federal government furloughed and suspended non-essential services from Nov. 14 through Nov. 19, 1995, and from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996, for a total of 27 days, when I was on the Bankruptcy Court Bench. Fortunately, for me and my staff, the court system was then considered to be essential, so no one was furloughed or went unpaid. Nevertheless, I knew many federal government workers who were not so lucky, and, because I was following it all very closely, I was sensitive to the various services that were suspended, and concerned for those others who were indirectly financially affected.
Some might say that this is not the time to “preach,” since many people are suffering financially because of the shutdown, but I can’t help but see it as a teachable moment for everyone. As for the non-essential federal government workers, given the facts that, first, this is the fourth shutdown since 2013, two involving furloughs, and, second, we now have a divided Congress for the next two years, it might be a good time, when the shutdown ends and back pay is provided, for them to rework their budgets in order to save more for the future. After all, what are the chances that there will not be another shutdown in the near future? Unfortunately, it should figure into the anticipated expense category of their budgets.
Also, isn’t this a lesson for all of us? We all need to be making the necessary sacrifices to build our emergency savings accounts, for true emergencies, but also to have savings for those anticipated expenses that we really could see coming, if we just spent some time realistically looking at our futures. They are those anticipated expenses, not emergencies, like, our car is getting older, is out of warranty, and we are going to need some money for repairs. Our appliances are getting older, and we may need to start replacing them soon. One of our children is clearly going to be getting married in the next few years, and we are going to want to help with the wedding. Our child is going to be graduating from high school or college, and they may need some financial help for a while. We all should be able to come up with many similar examples, depending upon where we are in the cycle of life.
I understand that saving for emergencies and anticipated expenses can be especially difficult for some Americans, but can anyone afford not to in the long run?
On a different subject, we are all being bombarded by tax preparation commercials now that it is 2019. My wife still says that I watch too much television. I must say that I was taken aback by one of the new Turbo Tax commercials. It wasn’t because, as they say, “with TurboTax Live, an experienced Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Enrolled Agent (EA) or Practicing Attorney will review your tax return and give you the approval to file, ensuring that you’re getting the most money possible and your taxes are done right.” After all, I am the one that always says that sometimes you need experience and expertise.
It was because of a line in the commercial where a young person essentially says, “I think personal contact is overrated, but this makes sense.” I was taken aback by it because I feel that is becoming too true of our society. I sometimes wonder if I am the only one who “hears” these things and is concerned about them.
Of course I have to once again remind everyone, now that income tax return season has started, that if you are still getting a big tax refund, you might want to ask yourself if there isn’t something else that you could do with those over-withholding dollars during the year, that would be financially better for you and your family, than letting the government use them interest-free? Some examples that always come to mind are paying down any high interest rate debt, like credit card debt, and building up that adequate emergency savings account.
When it comes to early filers, the federal government shutdown may present some additional problems for some taxpayers this year. First, as of Jan. 4, when I am writing this column, the IRS help lines are not operating because of the shutdown. Second, refunds are not being processed, so that if you are really counting on a quick turnaround, because you absolutely need that refund, you may have to look at a “refund anticipation loan,” something that most independent financial advisors generally discourage, because of the fees or interest that you will have to pay. If you are considering one, especially this year because of the shutdown, read the terms very carefully and understand what it is really costing you. It is another reason not to be in that position next year.
Finally, because we will all be filing our tax returns within the next few months, and many of us will be meeting with our accountants, the reality of the cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes in high tax states, like New York, will once again be front and center for many. Of course by now you have heard that New York officially ranks number one in people leaving the state, at least in part because of the high taxes. It also raises the question of, if your real estate taxes may not be fully deductible because of the cap, can you really afford as much house as you could before the cap was enacted, since the government won’t be fully subsidizing those costs? We may see the answer to this in the next few years, as realtors and buyers focus on this issue. I am told that it is still a little too early to tell for sure.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.