Personal Finance

Current issues and related thoughts about finances

There are so many current issues being reported by the media and clearly on all of our minds these days. I am sure that I have the same concerns and thoughts, but after all of these years in financial literacy and writing this column, I can’t help but connect many of them to personal finance issues.

A perfect example is legalized online betting that has come to New York. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration budgeted for proceeds from online gambling to reach $99 million in FY 2022, $357 million in FY 2023, and $500 million by FY 2024, which would easily be the most ever for one state. Whether that is a realistic projection or not, I can’t help, as a New York taxpayer, but wonder if I will benefit from that new tax revenue. Will my taxes go down? Will it fund programs that I will directly or directly benefit from? Will our New York state government actually use this new revenue efficiently and effectively, getting the best value for every dollar, something we all try to do with our own hard-earned money?

Another issue related to the arrival in New York of online gambling is something that I, as a retired Bankruptcy Judge, am very sensitive to. It is gambling problems, especially their impact on individual and family finances and on increased bankruptcy filings.

As a recent opinion letter in the Buffalo News put it, the addition of mobile sports betting in New York state has brought access to gambling to everyone’s pocket. Anyone in New York with a cellphone can now gamble 24/7 from anywhere. With the increase in access to gambling, opportunities will inevitably result in an increase in individuals, families and communities impacted by the negative consequences of gambling problems.

When I was on the Bench, it was clear that when a new casino opened anywhere in the country, bankruptcy filings inevitably increased. I am aware that the new online banking will mean many New Yorker gamblers won’t be traveling to casinos in New Jersey and other states to gamble, but it won’t be a zero-sum game (no pun intended). There will no doubt be many more New Yorkers who will experience financial problems, and that should concern us all.

Many of the commercials for online gambling have small-print messages with a number to call to get help. Here is another option. Call the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center at 716-833-4274 for help with gambling problems.

On a different subject, after the holidays, I, like many, have tried to cut down on sweets, snacks and soda, as well as to eat smaller portions and less overall. Then I had a comeuppance this week. It reminded me of how too many Americans are willing to go into debt for false needs, which are really just wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences, and false emergencies, which were just anticipated expenses. Mentally, they say, “what was I supposed to do, I or my family needed it” or “I had an emergency.” Then they can give themselves “permission” to go into debt and not feel guilty. Well, I have been giving up sweets, but realized that I didn’t consider that chocolate-peanut-butter protein bar as a sweet. “It’s just a healthy, low-calorie, high-protein bar.” Delusional!

Speaking of the post-holiday period, they say two things you can count on are death and taxes. Another thing is that at the end of December and in January, you will see a dramatic increase in the commercials for weight loss programs, exercise equipment and gyms. This year I also noticed a dramatic increase in commercials for life insurance for the elderly. One of our promised reminders is to review all of your insurance coverage, so that works. Interestingly, one explanation I heard for the increase in those insurance commercials is that people are feeling more vulnerable with all the Covid deaths.

Another reminder for those over 72 ½ with a deferred income tax retirement fund, you need to plan for your Required Minimum Distribution. Most advisers say to postpone taking the distribution out until later in the year, to, hopefully, build up more earnings. There is some good news. New longer life expectancy tables will mean that required distributions will be less for the same fund balance than in the past.

On a different subject, we are told that unemployment is down, economic growth is up, wage growth is up, there is a “worker’s wage market,” but inflation is affecting all of us, and, as we have discussed, will be for a while. With the “Great Resignation” taking place, resulting in many achieving higher wages, either in their existing or new employment, despite higher inflation, I can’t help but remember one of the age-old pieces of personal finance advice. In one way or another, save some portion of any wage increase, don’t just spend it all!

John Ninfo

John Ninfo

On yet another subject, there are still several stores that I shop at that have signs at the cashiers asking that, because of the national coin shortage, please try to have exact change or use a debit or credit card for your purchase. It’s not a problem for me, “Mr. Cash is King” with his change purse, but I wonder if there really is still a coin shortage. Shopping seems to have gotten pretty much back to normal, and we all know that the virus is not primarily spread from contact with objects, and every store has some form of sanitizer readily available. At any rate, I hope that those signs will come down soon, and people, who otherwise would — because they know that using cash for discretionary spending results in spending less — will go back to using more cash.

Finally, mortgage rates, as predicted, are now up higher than in the last two years, and they are predicted to increase more in 2022. If a refinance or home purchase is in your near future, you may wish to act soon.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at

This article originally appeared on MPNnow: Current issues and related thoughts about finances | John Ninfo

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