Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.
Okay, off we go …
Credits and Debits
Debit: More cash-strapped Americans than ever are turning to so-called “refund anticipation” checks — and paying the fees that come with them — when getting tax preparation help; almost 22 million in 2014 alone. That’s up 17% since 2011.
Credit: Taxpayers aren’t the only ones who are cash-strapped: For those of you who still don’t believe that the United States’ debt situation is dire, check out this post by Brandon Smith — it explains why you probably should.
Debit: The bottom line is that the official $18 trillion National Debt is vastly understated. How understated is it? According to Professor Lawrence Kotlikoff of Boston University, the real National Debt was $205 trillion — in 2013.
Debit: That means US debt is at least 13 times its “official” GDP — which is America’s national income. There’s a word that describes most people with household debt equivalent to 13 times their annual income: bankrupt.
Debit: Don’t think the world doesn’t know the US is drowning in red ink — and that the US dollar is, therefore, on borrowed time. It’s why China has been patiently working behind the scenes to create an alternative to the current dollar-based international monetary system.
Credit: Yet another nail was pounded into the dollar’s coffin last week when the UK, Germany, France and Italy all applied to join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — despite US protestations. Even America’s traditional European allies see the writing on the wall.
Debit: Then again, our insolvent European allies are also desperate for more income — which is why Italy has resorted to taxing shadows. No, really. The tax applies to businesses with awnings that cast a shadow on public property.
Debit: And I thought Maryland’s rain tax was patently absurd. That tax, which went into effect last year, is based on the amount of rain that falls on developed property. Well, unless it’s government property. That’s exempt. Naturally.
Debit: Then there’s France: Not only did it just announce a prohibition on cash payments of more than 1000 euros ($1089), but the French government now requires people to report whenever they travel with gold. Think about that for a moment — because the implications are chilling. So much for liberté.
Credit: Speaking of gold … Until a couple of weeks ago, the mainstream media lamented that the yellow metal was on its worst “losing” streak in 40 years. I looked at it as simply an incredible opportunity to buy gold on sale.
Credit: Remember, despite their falling prices, gold and silver can still buy essentially the same amount of gasoline and other commodities that they could 40 years ago — unlike the dollars they’re measured against. And they always will.
Credit: Maybe that’s why Ireland’s Minister of Finance recently sold his euro shares for gold. Unfortunately, he bought “paper gold” in an ETF — which is fraught with counterparty risk — instead of physical metal, which has none.
Debit: Did you see this? An illiterate cook in Australia was awarded $200,000 after the restaurant owner forced him to work 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week, for 16 consecutive months. Yikes.
Credit: Before you get too indignant, you should know that his boss wasn’t a total slave-driver: The cook did get Christmas off.
Credit: I’m sure the rainbows-and-unicorns crowd will tell you it was most likely a paid holiday.
Debit: On a related note, a California restaurant owner was arrested last week for allegedly beating and enslaving one of his chefs over a period of more than three years. And food servers think they have it bad?
By the Numbers
Last month Hakim Emmanuel of Stoughton, Massachusetts, bowled a perfect 300 game while playing in a doubles league. Then he bowled another one. Then he bowled another one, making him an exclusive member of bowling’s 900 Club. How exclusive is it? Read on:
27 Number of official 900 series currently in the record books.
1997 Year when bowling’s governing body, the US Bowling Congress, first affirmed the feat.
1982 Year of the first unofficial 900 series, bowled by Glenn Allison. (The USBC said the oil in the lanes wasn’t compliant.)
1,460,000,000 Approximate number of all series bowled since 1997.
0.000000018% Chance of bowling a 900 series.
0.00008% Chance of being struck by lightning during an 80-year lifetime.
4 Number of 300 games bowled by Mr. Emmanuel. He bowled his fourth perfect game last week on the same lanes he recorded his 900 series.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
The Question of the Week
Last Week’s Poll Results
What is your favorite color?
- Blue (35%)
- Green (25%)
- Purple (13%)
- Red (10%)
- Yellow (7%)
- Something else (5%)
- Orange (4%)
- Black (1%)
- Brown (0%)
More than 300 people responded to last week’s question. The most popular color among Len Penzo dot Com readers is blue; it was the favorite for slightly more than one out of three respondents. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering this is a website about money, green was next in popularity, preferred by one in four readers. As for the least popular color … well, that would be brown, which failed to get a single vote. Apparently, UPS drivers don’t read my blog.
Other Useless News
Here are the top 5 articles viewed by my 6314 RSS feed and weekly email subscribers over the past 30 days (excluding Black Coffee posts):
- Why Coffee Drinkers are Wasting More than Just Money at Starbucks
- How I Live on Less Than $40,000 Annually: Amanda from Michigan
- 100 Words On: The Difference Between Paper Wealth and Real Money
- Stop Feeling Guilty! Why Getting a Tax Refund Isn’t Such a Bad Idea
- What Girl Scout Cookies Can Teach Us About Mortgages
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Letters, I Get Letters
Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at: Len@LenPenzo.com
This week’s article on Starbucks’ expensive coffee drew plenty of interesting responses, including this one from Garrett, who took exception to my suggestion for saving money by brewing Folgers at home:
I agree that Starbucks is overrated and overpriced, but Folgers?? Come on.
You’re right — but I was on a tight deadline and Chock Full O’ Nuts was too many words.
I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.
Photo Credit: brendan-