2013 - the bad and the good
A list of financial issues that had me either ranting or applauding.
THIS IS THE TIME of year when you see lists of the best and worst television shows, albums, movies or books. I've come up with a list of my own - financial issues that had me either ranting or applauding.
Let's start with two serious matters that came up this year:
* The failure of HealthCare.gov to launch properly. So much was riding on a smooth rollout of the website for the health-care exchanges, one of the signature objectives of the Affordable Care Act. What a disaster for the millions of people who wanted to sign up for health insurance. I know many people who would put the website glitches on the "best" list because they want the exchanges to fail. My hope for 2014 is that as many people as possible find affordable access to health care so that they don't have to worry about going broke when they get sick.
* Food-stamp cuts. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was cut by $5 billion. The cuts have affected nearly 48 million people, including 22 million children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Almost a million veterans are affected. Yes, we have to trim the federal budget. But allowing cuts to a program that helps prevent people from going hungry is just cruel.
Although not nearly so financially devastating, here are two issues I fumed about in 2013:
* Cellphones in movies. On one of our date nights, my husband and I went to see "The Best Man Holiday." Shortly after the movie started, the woman in front of me pulled out her cellphone to check her email. I asked her to turn it off. Know what she did? She took a scarf and put it over the phone. Even through the scarf, I could see the screen, which was set to a lighting level bright enough to land an airplane. I didn't get a manager as I typically do because I would have had to climb over several people. So I just kept asking her to turn off the phone.
One survey by Jumio found that 35 percent of people use their phones in movie theaters. If theaters I patronize don't figure out how to fix this annoyance, I'm staging a one-family boycott. I'm tired of having my movie experience ruined by rude, selfish patrons. I want to enjoy the movies I pay to see.
* Phones on planes. The Federal Communications Commission voted to consider letting airline passengers use their cellphones in flight. I pay too much money already to be sardined into seats, only to be subjected to the inane chattering of the person sitting next to me. Before takeoff and after a plane lands, passengers can be heard loudly talking on their phones. I can't imagine that disruption on any length of a flight. Even if the government eventually allowed in-flight cellphone use, airline carriers should prohibit it. People's emotions are already pretty frayed before they board. Between delays, fewer flights and the addition of all those add-on fees, cellphone usage would only make keeping a calm cabin environment that much more difficult. This is definitely a consumer-rights issue, and we should fight for our peace on planes in 2014.
Here are three financial stories in 2013 that had me cheering:
* Janet Yellen's nomination. Yellen was nominated by President Obama to be the next chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Board. The person in this post helps make decisions about the economy, which affects your personal finances. I like Yellen's policies, especially her concern about the effects of joblessness on people. "She sounded the alarm early about the housing bubble, about excesses in the financial sector and about the risks of a major recession," Obama said in nominating her. It's always important to get the right person for the job. But the fact that Yellen also would be the first woman in the position would be a historic moment worth a high five.
* Debt dealers get more scrutiny. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it was considering rules for the debt-collection industry. Among the agency's chief concerns is making sure that debt collectors have the correct person, debt and documentation when they set out to do their jobs.
* Record-high stock-market indexes. In November, the Dow Jones industrial average crossed 16,000 for the first time. Of course, it's all relative and you have to look long-term to see where you end, but I have enjoyed the ride up in my investment portfolio.