Desiree Stennett - The Penny Hoarder

Once a decade, we know it’s coming. The government sends out surveys in hopes of tallying every man, woman and child for the U.S. census.

The questionnaire and the ongoing American Community Survey help determine more than you might imagine.

The numbers measure how populations shift over time. They’re used to determine how seats in the House of Representatives are divided among each state and how resources are spent to serve the needs of communities all over the country.

As you would probably guess, surveying every person in America is a massive undertaking that requires an enormous amount of planning, time, money and manpower.

Kenneth Prewitt, former Census Bureau director, told The Washington Post there are “only a handful of people in the country equipped for the very difficult challenge” of pulling off a successful 2020 census. One of those few people is John Thompson.

The good news is that Thompson was already appointed to the job as Census Bureau director. The bad news is that he just submitted his resignation and is retiring from public service at the end of May.

His unexpected resignation came after disagreements with Congress over the estimated $12.5 billion cost of the 2020 census. That’s about $200 million more than was spent in 2010, which would make it the most expensive census in history.

Earlier this month, Congress issued a mandate to cap the census budget at $12.3 billion, which is what it cost in 2010. That lower budget did not leave room to pay for a new technology-driven data collection system that costs nearly $1 billion.

The $1.47 billion Congress allocated for 2017 was already 10% below what officials under the Obama administration believed was needed. And experts feel the $1.5 billion the White House proposed for 2018 will fall far short of what the bureau will need.

As Thompson prepares to step down at the end of the month, many are worried that his departure will have a negative impact on how the census is conducted. Thompson says that stepping down now leaves time for his replacement to get acclimated before 2020 arrives.

What Happens When Census Data is Wrong?

The census doesn’t just measure population sizes. It also collects data about factors like income, age and military status.

Mistakes in the collection of that data -- like counting too many or too few people -- could lead to the misallocation of essential resources over the next 10 years, Prewitt told The Washington Post.

“The consequences of not reaching that goal are substantial,” Prewitt said. “The Veteran’s Administration wants to put a new hospital where it can serve elderly veterans. To do so, it needs measures of age and of veteran status that are accurate. A significant undercount puts the hospital in the wrong town. A poor-quality census means policies that miss their mark.”

A miscount could also put resources for the poor or disabled in inaccessible places, making those resources effectively useless.

What is Needed for a Good Census?

Although Thompson has resigned, the show must go on. A census will still be conducted in 2020 as it has been done every decade since 1790.

President Donald Trump will nominate a new director, who will then go before the Senate for confirmation. The Trump administration has not revealed any candidates yet. That person will have to take on the big job, and the No. 1 goal will be accuracy.

“A good census counts everyone in the country, counts each only once, and counts all in the right place,” Prewitt told the Post.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

The number of Americans using auto loans to pay for a car purchase is higher now than it has ever been, data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows.

But as more and more Americans are taking out auto loans to buy cars, more of these loans are going into default.

About 6 million people are currently more than 90 days late on auto loan payments, according to CNN Money. And those missed payments are putting more people at risk of repossession, which, in many lower income families, could mean no longer having a way to get to work

As with any debt, if you find yourself close to defaulting, don’t bury your head in the sand. The earlier you act, the more options you have to keep your head above water and your car in the driveway.

About to Miss a Car Loan Payment? Here’s What You Can Do

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has four tips for you if you’re on the verge of losing your car because you can’t keep up with the payments.

1. Determine If You Can Really Afford the Car

Take the time to look over your finances and decide if the expensive car loan is really in your budget. Maybe when you made the purchase you were in a different financial position than you are now.

If you have not yet defaulted and you can afford a car (just not the one you have), trading the pricier car in and downsizing to a more affordable option could be the solution for you if your current payments are eating away at your bottom line.

2. Don’t Dodge Your Lender

Whether you got your car loan through your bank, a local credit union or through the dealership itself, as soon as you realize that you may miss your first payment, your lender should be your first call.

Often, there may be options for you that could ease your financial burden and help you keep your car. Contacting your lender early shows that you intend to make good on your loan.

3. Change Your Payment Due Date

In most cases, the due date of your auto loan is determined by the date you bought your car. But some people could find it easier to pay on time if the date came after their normal pay date.

Your lender may be willing to make that tiny change for you and it could help ensure on-time payments that save you costly late fees.

4. Set Up a Payment Plan

Traditionally, most people make their car payments once a month, but maybe two smaller payments scheduled around pay day could make the bill more palatable if you’re on a tight budget. Others may want to spread their loan period over more time to reduce their monthly payment.

But those are only two options. Your lender may have more options that allow you to change the way you pay and create a plan tailored to you.

Of course, before you sign up for an alternative payment plan, make sure you understand how it will impact how much you pay over time. Do the math to make sure the short-term solution also makes long-term sense.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Internet scammers are savvy. They have to be. How else would they be able to swindle thousands of people out of millions of dollars?

One scam in particular has sent the Federal Trade Commission on a warpath this week as officials filed 16 new actions, including legal complaints, settlements, indictments and guilty pleas against deceptive tech support companies.

These scams generally work the same way: A pop-up in your internet browser will instruct you to call a toll-free phone number to get help with a security issue or risk losing your data.

Once the scammers have you on the phone, they will attempt to gain remote access to your computer to run fake security scans and eventually try to sell you expensive software you don’t need to solve your fictitious problem.

According to the FTC, this scam has already cost consumers millions of dollars in hard-earned cash. Although the FTC’s legal battle against the scammers could slow down scammers, there are several steps you can take to make sure your money stays with you.

Protect Yourself Against Tech Support Scams

The FTC recommends taking this series of steps to avoid being the victim of a tech support scam.

1. Keep Your Security Software Updated

It’s important to keep your anti-virus software updated and know exactly what an alert from that company looks like. If you do that, it’s less likely a scammer will be able to fool you with a look-alike. This will also help fight back against any malware a scammer could potentially install.

2. Don’t Call the Phone Number

The scammer’s goal is to get you on the phone and convince you they are real tech support employees. That way, when they offer you services or software, you will be willing to pay up.

Remember, Microsoft will never display a pop-up warning asking you to call a toll-free number to talk about viruses or security problems on your computer, the FTC said.

3. Never Give Anyone Control of Your Computer

If you make the mistake of calling the phone number and the person on the other end asks you to give them remote access to your computer for any reason, don’t do it. Hang up immediately. That same rule applies if the person asks you to send money for any software or service.

4. Report it to the FTC

Although you WON’T be calling the toll-free phone number, don’t just close the pop-up. If you see something suspicious, make sure to report it to the FTC. Record as much information as possible, including the phone number the pop-up prompted you to call. That could help the FTC in its effort to catch the scammer and protect other people from getting swindled.

5. Spread the Word

Once you’ve reported the incident to the FTC, be sure to tell your family and friends about it, too. Sometimes, letting loved ones know this type of crime exists is the best way to protect them.

6. Never Share Your Passwords

Don’t share passwords to your computer or private accounts with anyone. If you’ve already done this, make sure to change those passwords immediately on every account that might be compromised.

7. Do You Need Tech Support? Find the Right Phone Number Yourself

Of course, there may be times when you need someone to walk you through a security issue. While you should never call the phone number in a pop-up, you can still feel comfortable calling your security software company directly. Just be sure to look up the correct phone number on its official website.

8. Think You’ve Been Scammed? Call Your Credit Card Company

If you’re finding our advice a little late and already missed the chance to follow all the steps above, it’s not too late. The scammer may have your money, but you can still call your credit card company to ask it to reverse any fraudulent charges. Be sure to keep checking your statements to make sure no future charges appear.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Whether you’re a NPR kind of girl or a smooth jazz guy, your driving listening just got more exciting -- at least for the next couple weeks.

Between now and May 30, your inactive satellite radio is back on, and you’ve got access to 100 free channels ranging from pop to news and politics.

This limited-time freebie is part of SiriusXM’s Road Happy campaign, and there are no strings attached. Just turn on your SiriusXM radio and listen all you want for the next two weeks.

Here’s the Best Part of SiriusXM Free Trial

If you choose not to sign up for the service, you don’t have to opt out. Your service will stop automatically.

That means you (hopefully) won’t get stuck dodging the endless series of calls from the sales people over at SiriusXM once your two weeks are over. (They are persistent!)

So bask in the free music — then either sign up or don’t.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. For her, it was far easier to quit SiriusXM after the trial than it was to quit Spotify so she thinks this deal is safe.

If you only had minutes before your hard drive crashed and every document, picture and music file on your computer disappeared forever, you’d probably be willing to take help from just about anyone -- at least that’s what scammers are hoping.

The Federal Trade Commission knows that.

That’s why this week, officials are taking a series of actions to help protect you and crack down on those committed to stealing your hard-earned money.  

On May 12, the FTC announced 16 new actions, including legal complaints, settlements, indictments and guilty pleas, involving deceptive tech support companies.

How Tech Support Scammers Fool You

Many of these scams work the same way.

They start with a pop-up in your web browser that looks like it’s from Microsoft. The warning messages are urgent and meant to get you to act before you think.

In some cases, the pop-up will imitate blue error screens. In others, it will mimic an alert from a popular anti-virus software. Either way, the messages will be similar. You will see a message that alerts you to a problem on your computer and a prompt to call a toll-free number for help.

According to the FTC, the most aggressive messages urge consumers to call immediately or risk losing personal data.

Some will even show a countdown clock to make you feel an even greater sense of urgency. If you call that phone number, you will be speaking directly with your scammer.

Once you’re on the phone, the scammer’s goal is to be convincing and insistent.

Most calls start with the scammer acting as tech support and asking you to give them remote access to your computer. From here, the scammer will pretend to run a diagnostic test to solve your fictitious problem.

The scammer will then try to convince you that the initial alert prompting you to call was true and try to get you to pay to have your problem fixed.

According to the FTC, the scammer’s “services” can be relatively minor actions like selling security software you can get online for free or pretending to fix a problem that didn’t really exist. Or they can be harmful and use remote access to install malware that will help them steal personal information from you later.

If you try to counter their arguments and say you don’t need help fixing your problem, the scammer will try to convince you that no one else can fix the problem for less money.

In many cases, the scam can be difficult to spot, especially if the initial pop-up was convincing enough to get you to call the toll-free number.

How the FTC is Fighting Tech Support Scams

The latest actions are part of an international operation spanning several states that includes a partnership with the government of India to crack down on overseas companies scamming U.S. consumers.

“Tech support scams prey on people’s fear of losing important work, family photos or sensitive identification information,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Using that fear, scammers trick thousands of consumers into paying millions of dollars to fix problems that never existed.”

Many of the scammers are now facing arrest, and others have had to repay money they stole. Some financial penalties were more than $1 million.

It’s not yet clear how the FTC will get that money back to the people these scammers wronged. But if you believe you may have been a victim of this type of scam, be sure to report what happened to the FTC.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

America’s favorite grocery store is looking to give Blue Apron a run for its money.

Kroger is rolling out a meal kit program that will give customers pre-portioned ingredients and recipe cards to make dinnertime more convenient, according to Business Insider.

While Kroger’s Prep + Pared kits still require a trip to the grocery store, unlike Blue Apron, there are still some clear reasons why the Kroger kits might be worth your while.

How Does Kroger Compare to Blue Apron

Here are four things to consider when comparing Kroger’s Prep + Pared kits to Blue Apron.

1. The Food

Kroger has been selling dinner ingredients longer, but Blue Apron is the veteran when it comes to meal kits. And when it comes to variety, Blue Apron’s got it.

Blue Apron offers six new options to choose from each week, and there’s no need to worry about repeats. Only the most popular recipes get repeated, and Blue Apron will wait at least a year before repeating a recipe. This means dining with Blue Apron will never get dull.

Kroger will add more options as its Prep + Pared kits catch on, but for now, there are only five meal options, according to Cincinnati local news station WLWT.

The options are a Japanese-inspired beef bowl, a chimichurri steak, Moroccan-inspired spring vegetables, creamy chicken and bacon Alfredo, and chicken enchiladas rojas.

2. Cost and Commitment

At $14 for each two-serving kit, Kroger’s Prep + Pared kits are cheaper than Blue Apron, which will set you back about $20 for a two-serving kit.

Blue Apron also sells its meals in packages. So that means you pay about $60 a week for three kits instead of buying one kit at a time from Kroger.

However, if you sign up for Blue Apron through this link, you can get $30 off your first order.

3. Cook Time and Convenience

Both Blue Apron and Kroger kits aim to limit food waste. Both give you only the exact amount of each ingredient you need to make two servings. But there is a big difference. Blue Apron’s ingredients come whole. Any chopping, peeling or other prep work is your job. With Kroger, all your food comes ready for your skillet or oven.

The ready-to-cook Kroger option means faster cook times.

You should also note that all Blue Apron recipes are available on its website. So if you lose track of your recipe card, you’ve got a backup plan. With the Prep + Pared kits, you’ll need to hold on to the card if you’re not confident enough to wing it.

4. Delivery

Of course, Blue Apron is a subscription service. That means the food is delivered to your door, so you can skip the after-work grocery run on Blue Apron nights. Unlike Kroger’s service, Blue Apron’s delivery service does not require you to be near a store.

Kroger’s meal kits are still in the testing phase. So for now, they are only available in select stores, and you have to make a trip there to pick one up. But if this program is a success, Kroger expects the boxes to become more widely available next year. Delivery may also be in the cards.

Don’t Live Near a Kroger? No problem

Several other grocery stores are testing similar programs at different price points. Closer to our office in Florida, Publix and Fresh Market also offer meal kits.

Even if none of the grocery stores near you offer meal kits just yet, Blue Apron is not your only option. We tested four food box services to see how they all stacked up. If you’re on the fence about giving it a try, we suggest starting there.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. There’s no Kroger here in St. Petersburg, Florida, but she has big plans to try out a Publix meal kit.

Listen.

I’m about to tell you about a Spotify Premium deal that I’m pretty excited about, but you have to understand something first: Under no circumstances should you ever try Spotify Premium unless you intend to pay for it until you die.

Yes. I’m serious.

I’ve had it for about two years now and every time I’m searching for new ways to save money, I look for subscriptions to cut for the sake of a few extra dollars in my savings account that month.

Spotify Premium often ended up on the chopping block. I must have canceled it at least five times in the past year and within a week, I was back.

I mean, did you expect me just to be OK without my commercial-free music? Was I supposed to just accept only having the option to “shuffle play” when I’m listening on my phone? Am I a cavewoman?

The moral: Try Spotify Premium at your own peril.

Already Hooked? There’s a Way To Save 50% on Spotify Premium

Now that my warning is out of the way, I’ve got news for those who already pay for Spotify Premium and the brave souls among us who think they want to try it.

A new partnership between Spotify and Capital One means savings.

If you have either a Capital One Quicksilver card or a QuicksilverOne card and you use it to pay for your monthly subscription, you will automatically get 50% back on your Spotify bill every month for one year.

The cash back deal lasts until April 2018. After that, you’re back to paying full price. (And if you think you will just cancel when it goes back to full price, you are not ready for this deal and you did not take me seriously up above.)

How the Deal Works

No sign-up is necessary if you already have a Spotify Premium account -- all you need to do is log in and update your payment information to an eligible Capital One card, and the savings will start rolling in each month.

It could take up to two months to see the first credit. Don’t worry, it’s coming.

This deal applies to individual accounts that cost $9.99 per month, student accounts that cost $4.99 each month and family accounts for $14.99 each month.

Don’t have Spotify Premium but want to “try” it? There is a separate deal for you.

If you’re a new customer who has never tried Spotify Premium, you can sign up with an eligible Capital One card and get three months of Premium for free.

Unfortunately, when your three-month trial is over, you don’t get to join me in the land of half-off milk and honey. You’ll be paying full price until you cancel. (Which you won’t.)

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She is pretty passionate about her Spotify Premium account. Obviously.

Just as your midday slump kicks in this Friday, Peet’s Coffee will be ready to give you a free caffeine fix.

The California-based coffee chain is giving away free drinks from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday, May 12. Customers who arrive during that time frame can enjoy any drink in any size without spending a penny.

The Friday giveaway kicks off a summer long buy one, get one free special that will run from 1 to 3 p.m. every Friday from May 19 through Aug. 25 at participating Peet’s Coffee locations.

This deal will promote the coffee chain’s new line of specialty cold brew summer drinks, which include:

  • Cold Brew Fog: An East African Baridi blend whipped until smooth with a hint of chicory.
  • Cold Brew Fog Latte: A dressed up fog with a touch of milk.
  • Mojito Black Tie: Baridi cold brew with a hint of minty mojito, layered atop sweetened condensed milk and finished with half-and-half.

The drinks range from $2.85 to $4.70 depending on the type and size you choose.

You can choose one of the new drinks on free coffee days or stick with an old favorite if your order’s set in stone.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She is a self-proclaimed coffee addict.

Every now and then, the bravest among us attempt to do something life-changing.

Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail.

Sometimes the victory is simply in their willingness to take a leap of faith and try the impossible.

Carter Wilkerson, a 16-year-old high schooler from Reno, Nevada, is one of those brave souls. His quest? One year of free nuggets from Wendy’s in exchange for 18 million retweets.

He still has miles to go before he hits the 18 million mark, but holding the record for the most retweeted post ever -- beating out former President Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres -- might be the fuel he needs to stay motivated.

Despite the fact that Carter hasn’t hit the 18 million mark yet, Wendy’s has already given him his year’s worth of free nuggets. Additionally, Wendy’s donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in Carter’s honor.

How Did He Get a Year’s Worth of Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets?

It started as a joke.

Inspired by posts from other kids seeking retweets to convince their parents to get pets, Carter decided to go for the gold. Golden-brown nuggets, that is.

That’s what led to the tweet that started it all.

“Yo @Wendy’s how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?” he tweeted. Wendy’s replied with a mammoth “18 million.”

Eighteen million retweets was a huge and likely impossible goal. But Carter put his hopes in our hands. In us, the 313 million active monthly users of Twitter.

In the first 48 hours, he broke 1 million retweets.

From there, it took a month to get more than 3.4 million retweets and finally win the spot as the most retweeted post ever. Obviously, not everyone was on his side. DeGeneres’ famous Oscars photos, which once held the top spot, raked in more than 100,000 additional retweets during Carter’s ascent.

Carter quickly became a social media phenom.

He not only grabbed the attention of regular folks like me, but huge brands like Microsoft, which also called Amazon and Google into the push for Carter’s nuggets and pushed Carter’s retweet count up. The CEO of T-Mobile got in by offering to pay for the nuggets himself if Carter’s family was willing to leave AT&T. Also supporting this young man’s dream of free nuggets was “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul.

Carter Shares the Wealth

Possibly the best part of a story is the kid himself. Carter seems to be pretty awesome.

When this started, Carter, the oldest of four children, had 138 followers on Twitter. Now he has more than 100,000, and he’s been using his growing popularity for the greater good.

He launched the website nuggsforcarter.com and sells T-shirts.

He will donate the proceeds from the shirts to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Why? Because he feels like he hit the jackpot by being born into his family and wants to help the 110,000 children in the U.S. foster care system find families as awesome and loving as his.

Don’t want a shirt? Carter also wants you to check out a Reno, Nevada organization called Pinocchio’s Moms on the Run, which provides services for women with breast cancer.

His motivation here is clear, too. When he was 9, his mom battled cancer and won. His community stepped in to make sure his family was taken care of during that tough time, and he wants to make sure other families get help when they need it, too.

Clearly, Carter is the best 16-year-old ever.

So we salute you, Carter. Congratulations on your Wendy’s nuggets. You deserve them.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She knows Carter already has his nuggets but would love it if he could still reach 18 million retweets.

Right now, more than 91,000 people who defaulted on student loans are stuck in limbo.

The ones who were already working on making the nine on-time payments to get the loans out of default still have the money sitting uncollected in their bank accounts.

The newly defaulted have not been contacted so they can learn about the payment options that could get them back on track and save their credit scores.

If members of either group try reaching out to their servicers for answers, their calls and subsequent voicemails go unanswered.

It’s not clear when the issues will be resolved.

And while the problems are not the fault of the borrowers, they are on the hook for the consequences which can be as serious as going into default again, according to BuzzFeed News.

Wait, Why is This Happening?

A federal lawsuit is moving through the court system that involves the Department of Education and several student loan servicers, which believe their contracts were unfairly terminated under the Obama administration.

The judge on the case issued, then repeatedly renewed an order that stopped the government from assigning new default cases to new servicers, according to Politico. The purpose was to “maintain the status quo” until a resolution could be reached.

Shortly after the order was extended, the DOE told all servicers to stop work altogether, saying that the judge's order effectively shut down its ability to operate the defaulted student loan collection program.

Now, we’re all losing.

Until the newly defaulted can begin their payment plans, taxpayers will lose about $640,000 each month, the DOE said.

And the consequences are pretty severe for individual borrowers, too.

According to court filings, the order “has created a service interruption that will likely cause significant harm to borrowers, including damaged credit, confusion, the accrual of unnecessary interest, and excessive wage garnishment,” BuzzFeed reported.

What’s Being Done to Fix This?

This problem is only affecting people whose loans are in default, most of whom only recently went into default. That’s just a tiny fraction of the 4 million people currently in default.

Unfortunately, an attorney with knowledge of the case also told BuzzFeed that “[there] is no fix in sight.”

Servicers say the DOE’s inability to reach a resolution, not the judge’s order, has stopped work and harmed borrowers. But the DOE says that was its only option.

For now, borrowers are stuck waiting.

Many have already called their servicers and left voicemails, with at least one filing a formal complaint after not hearing back.

Until a resolution is reached or the DOE finds a way to continue servicing while the court battle wages on, borrowers caught in the crosshairs seem to have very little recourse.

Of course, this is just the latest in what is beginning to seem like all bad news from the DOE.

We included some tips to help student loan borrowers learn to protect themselves after a recent memo from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled back some borrower protections last month.

If you think you might be close to defaulting and want to fix things before it’s too late, read up on your options now.

Your Turn: Are you among the 91,000 affected by this lawsuit? What happened when you tried to reach your servicer or the Department of Education?

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Men may not be all that interested in asking for directions on the road, but when it comes to navigating the financial landscape, they are far less likely than women to go it alone.

That’s according to a new study conducted by insurance and investment company Country Financial. The study surveyed men and women over 18 and asked if they had ever sought financial advice on a variety of topics from buying a new home to charitable giving.

Overall, 84.8% of men reported they had asked for financial advice at some point, while only 76.4% of women said they had ever sought financial guidance.

The study confirmed this trend in every common financial situation it explored, with the widest margins showing men were over 12 percentage points more likely than women to seek help when purchasing insurance and estate planning.

Men and women were about equally as likely to seek advice before making large purchases, attending college or giving to a charity.

Despite the disparity between men and women, 80.5% of people surveyed said they have asked for financial help in the past. Good thing, because 44% of Americans also report that “they are not as responsible in their spending choices as they feel they should be.”

Getting Your Finances Under Control

If you’re among that 44% — or the 51% of people who think they should be making better choices with their savings and investments — Country Financial has some advice for you.

1. Analyze Your Money Management Habits

This is a no-judgment zone. You can’t make better financial decisions if you are not clear on what you’re doing right or wrong. You need to know how much money you have coming each month and crunch the numbers to determine how much you should spend, save and invest.

2. Set Your Priorities

Once you know how much you’re spending and saving, you may want to make some changes. But don’t make arbitrary decisions -- set a list of priorities instead.

According to Country Financial, most people list covering the cost of an emergency, paying for an unexpected health care expense and funding a vacation as their top financial concerns. When you know how much you’re spending, saving and investing, you can make room in your budget to cover your needs and wants.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

You knew it was coming — Country Financial is an insurance and investment firm, after all. So it’s no wonder it would suggest seeking out help when it comes time to make important financial decisions. While hiring someone is possible, that’s not the only route to go for financial advice. You may also find it useful to seek advice from friends, family members and even co-workers.

Just be sure to double-check any information that sounds too good to be true because, on average, 39% of people report they are far more comfortable dispensing financial advice than they are with taking it themselves.

Your Turn: Have you ever sought financial advice before making a big money decision?

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She reads her coworkers posts to get financial insight.

If you’re saving for retirement at all, you’re ahead of the curve. You are better off than the 67% of Americans who are not putting aside any cash for later in life.

The shockingly high percentage of people who could retire into poverty prompted several states to create programs to get people saving. The state-run programs, made possible by Obama-era initiatives, would require businesses without employer-sponsored retirement plans to automatically enroll their employees in individual retirement accounts.

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Oregon passed legislation necessary to make their respective state-sponsored IRA programs a reality. Although the details varied by state, the programs did not require employer contributions and allowed employees to opt out.

These states hoped easier access to IRAs would convince more workers to save toward retirement.

California and Maryland began their respective programs in 2016, while Oregon and Illinois planned to launch their automatic-enrollment pilot programs later in 2017. Connecticut hoped to launch its program in 2018.

But Congress threw a wrench in these states’ plans and the plans of any other states considering following suit. On Wednesday, the Senate passed two bills repealing the Obama-era IRA laws. That vote came three months after the House of Representatives passed accompanying bills to do the same.

Why Congress Voted to Repeal the Key Rules

To keep the cost of the programs under control, Obama administration rules exempted state-run plans from some Employee Retirement Income Security Act regulations.

According to the Department of Labor, ERISA sets the minimum IRA plan standards.

Because Congress voted to repeal the rules, state-run plans will have to meet ERISA requirements.

Opponents of the state-run programs believed those plans should not be exempt from federal regulations that private companies must comply with. Opponents believe these exemptions could result in these plans failing to protect people who use them.

"This resolution, once passed and signed, will roll back a last-second Department of Labor regulation that eliminated long-standing federal protections for the retirement savings of private-sector workers," Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said in March. “Ultimately, I have to wonder why states and municipalities want to do away with these protections in the first place.”

But supporters of automatic-enrollment plans say repealing the rules puts financial companies’ interests ahead of the needs of those who would benefit from a public option.

“Without access to easy and affordable retirement savings options, far too many workers are on track to retire into poverty,” officials from 22 states wrote in a letter asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote against the repeal. “States across the country have been innovating to address this problem.”

You Still Need to Plan for Retirement

According to CNN Money, Oregon will likely continue with the launch of its program, even if the state must abide by ERISA regulations. But it’s not clear how other states will move forward following the repeal.

As the battle plays out, it is still important to start saving if haven’t already. The earlier you start saving, the less you’ll need to put away each month to retire comfortably.

Of course, saving for retirement can be a little complicated if you don’t understand your options. But don’t worry — we’ve got your back with detailed guides explaining 401(k) plans vs. IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Your Turn: Does your employer offer a retirement plan? If not, how do you save?

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.