Saturday, 26 December 2015

Living a happier life on far less money? Here's where.

Editor’s Note (26 December 2015): BBC Capital brings you one of our most-read stories on where you can live well on a budget.
Paying for the roof over your head is eye-wateringly expensive, and economising is getting you nowhere fast. So, could there be a simpler, easier life?
We went to question-and-answer site Quora to find the best place in the world to live cheaply — with great weather and reliable internet of course.
After all, no idyllic paradise is complete without speedy wi-fi.
South East Asia was top of the list for many Quora users.Jingcho Yang suggested Bali, Indonesia, for “rockstar living on backpacker budgets”.
The weather is balmy and beaches are “pretty awesome,” Yang wrote. “There's a few hundred beaches around the circumference of the island. Most are still 'undiscovered' by outsiders.” 
Two-bedroom homes in good neighbourhoods cost about $200 per month, Yang wrote, and luxuries such as top-flight French cuisine cost a third of the price of major cities, because of the island’s huge, competitive hospitality industry. A two-hour spa treatment is $20, and pool villas go for less than $100 per night, she said.
“Bali rivals any major city I've been to in terms of diversity and sophistication in dining, nightlife and design,” Yang added. “It's home to some of the world's best beach lounges and clubs. An endless list of sporting activities, yoga, water-sports.” 
Plus, Yang wrote, there's a “growing niche of digital nomads on the island too”, with the locus around Ubud town.
(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)
Meanwhile, teacher Nathan Edgerton wrote in 2011 that he was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he was sharing a house with a friend for just $70 per month. “I eat out for every meal, even though it's generally at cheaper Thai restaurants. I have plenty of money to go out drinking with friends and to train at a kick-boxing gym. I can do all this easily for under $700 per month,” he wrote.
“Chiang Mai is a great place to live, but you could live pretty much anywhere in Thailand with similar expenses,” he added. 
For Spanish speakers, there’s Latin America. Brian Fey has been living “frugally” in Mexico since 2004 and it has become more and more popular with expats. “Where I live there are people from Argentina, France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, the USA, Switzerland, Chile, etc,” he wrote.
Getting six-month or longer-term visas is fairly “easy” for people from most nationalities, he wrote. Fey added that despite the negative news stories about violence in Mexico, “it is quite safe and there are millions of expats from other countries. Some areas have concentrations of expats: Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and Patzcauro".
He added that while renting is generally good value, there are also a large number of expats looking for house-sitters, so a responsible person “could live for free all year in very swanky places”. 
Eastern Europe is also a popular choice. Mircea Goia voted for Romania, where he said you can live easily for under $1,000 per month, including food and rent, in part because the average monthly salary is only about $575 and even lower in smaller cities. Goia posted his answer in 2013.
“Real estate prices have dropped dramatically as well, thanks to the global crisis, so you can buy a cheaper home/apartment/land,” Goia wrote. Those who wish to rent in the capital, Bucharest, should expect to pay around $200 to $500 per month, he said, adding that “people are friendly towards foreigners” and many know basic English. 
Whereas Chinmaya Patanaik, suggested “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”, Prague, Czech Republic, where the cost of living is lower than other western European cities.
“With $1,000, you can live quite comfortably. You can get a decent one-bedroom or a studio apartment with $400 or less. This also includes expenses on utilities such as internet, heating, electricity etc. The internet connection is very fast. I pay around $30 per month for a 100Mbps connection.”
Patanaik added, that although summers can be hot ”you can cool off with a traditional Czech beer for just $1.50.”
Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.

In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears

STOCKHOLM — Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the AbbaMuseum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins.
Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.
This tech-forward country, home to the music streaming service Spotify and the maker of the Candy Crush mobile games, has been lured by the innovations that make digital payments easier. It is also a practical matter, as many of the country’s banks no longer accept or dispense cash.
At the Abba Museum, “we don’t want to be behind the times by taking cash while cash is dying out,” said Bjorn Ulvaeus, a former Abba member who has leveraged the band’s legacy into a sprawling business empire, including the museum.
Not everyone is cheering. Sweden’s embrace of electronic payments has alarmed consumer organizations and critics who warn of a rising threat to privacy and increased vulnerability to sophisticated Internet crimes. Last year, the number of electronic fraud cases surged to 140,000, more than double the amount a decade ago, according to Sweden’s Ministry of Justice.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

China’s Former Security Chief Zhou Yongkang Sentenced to Life in Prison






Media captionZhou Yongkang is the most senior Chinese politician to be put on trial for corruption
China's ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang has been jailed for life - the most senior politician to face corruption charges under Communist rule.
He was found guilty of bribery, abuse of power and "intentionally disclosing national secrets", China's official Xinhua news agency reports.
Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou was one of China's most powerful men.
He was put under investigation one year later as part of President Xi Jinping's major anti-corruption campaign.
State TV showed a clip of Zhou, 72, pleading guilty at a closed-door trial in the northern city of Tianjin. When responding to the judge, he said he would not launch an appeal.
"I've realised the harm I've caused to the party and the people. I plead guilty and I regret my crimes," he said.
line

Analysis: Celia Hatton, BBC News, Beijing

The verdict caught many people off guard.
It was expected that Zhou Yongkang's trial would be played out for the Chinese public; his failings strung out for every citizen to see.
In similar high-profile cases, like that of Zhou's protege, Bo Xilai, the foreign and Chinese media were given 48 hours' notice that Bo's trial would begin. Reporters camped outside the courthouse for days, breathlessly waiting for updates.
In March, the head of China's Supreme People's Court had promised that Zhou Yongkang's trial would be "open in accordance with the law". The trial was set to take place in the eastern port city of Tianjin. It seemed Zhou was set to follow Bo's pattern. Like other senior officials convicted of serious crimes, it was expected he would receive a suspended death sentence.
Months passed without any word. Some guessed that Zhou Yongkang was not co-operating with prosecutors. Others believed that his crimes were too much of an embarrassment for the government.
After all, Zhou Yongkang had held a seat at the very top of the Chinese government pyramid. If he was thoroughly corrupt, some in China might ask whether others at the top were rotten too.
In the end, the decision to keep Zhou Yongkang's trial secret matches the case surrounding him, and Zhou's own public persona: inaccessible and secretive.

IMF Halts Its Bailout Talks With Greece Amid Lack of Progress There are still major differences between creditors, Greece in most key areas

There are still major differences between creditors, Greece in most key areas

The International Monetary Fund said it was halting bailout talks with Greece in a stark signal of its exasperation about a lack of progress toward a deal needed to avert a Greek default, as European leaders suggested negotiations were nearing their endgame.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mobile banking: Will you be hacked?

You're in the store trying on a stunning but outrageously priced shirt. You have to have them, and your hand has already palmed your debit card--but wait! Did your mortgage payment clear your money market account yet?

You could whip out your smart phone and check your balance using your bank's app, and maybe make a quick transfer between accounts. If you access your bank account information on your mobile phone, are you jeopardizing the security of your checking and savings accounts ?

No, you're not, says Phil Blank, managing director of security, risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy and Research--not as long as you exercise some basic online street smarts.

"All you need to do is use a little common sense," Blank says.

Consumers worried about mobile banking securityIf you think twice before accessing banking information on your smart phone, you're not alone. Even though smart phone adoption has jumped, more consumers with mobile banking capabilities are concerned that sharing personal financial information on their phones will open themselves to hacking and fraudulent activity.

According to a 2010 Javelin survey, about 40 percent of smart phone owners said mobile banking made them nervous--up dramatically from 26 percent in 2009.

"It's very clear to us that people are saying, 'I am nervous about using my smart phone to bank,'" Blank says.

In Blank's estimation, financial institutions must address this perception quickly, or else many consumers will never take advantage of mobile banking.

Banks: We've made mobile banking safeMarc Warshawsky, senior vice president of mobile channel planning and design at Bank of America, says its customers have no reason to worry about their financial information being stolen--whether they're using their computer or their smart phone to bank.

"We've taken the necessary steps to minimize any risk to their accounts, whether they access them on their mobile phone or from their computers," he says.

Besides, Warshawsky says, should something happen and their phones are hacked, customers of Bank of America would be protected by its zero-liability guarantee. "They would not be responsible for any unauthorized charges to their debit cards, credit cards or accounts," he says.

Smart banking on your smart phoneIf you're still unsure, here's what Blank and Warshawsky say you need to do to be sure the transactions you make using your smart phones are safe:

Do…
Stick to your bank's apps for mobile banking or trusted, well-reviewed third-party personal finance apps. Download them directly from the app store for your phone's type--iPhone, Android, etc.
Treat your smart phone as if it's a PC. "I really hate the term 'smart phone,'" Blank says, "because what it really is is a PC that happens to make phone calls. If you look at your phone that way, you're minimizing your risks." For instance, install antivirus software on your phone as you would your PC.
Monitor the whereabouts of your phone. One big difference between your phone and your desktop computer is that the latter is much less likely to fall out of your pocket or purse. Check every so often to make sure your smart phone is on you when you're out and about.
Don't…
Use public Wi-Fi access to conduct your banking business. You can't be sure they're secure, Blank says. Opt for wireless networks that require a network security key or have some other form of security.
Be the first in line to use your bank's new app. "Wait until it's been about 30 to 40 days and then go and download it," Blank advises. The reason? Sometimes early versions of apps contain malware or are not safe.
Leave the keys in plain sight. Never send a text message on your phone containing sensitive information such as your Social Security number or checking account and savings accounts numbers or even your passwords to log into them. "We don't give the customer the option to store anything sensitive on their phones," Warshawsky says. "That's for their own protection."
Be fooled by emails or text messages asking for personal information. Often, these "phishing" messages claim to be from your bank and ask for personal information or ask you to click on certain links to update account information. "We would never ask you to provide your ID or password over digital communications," Warshawsky says. You should also avoid visiting any websites that you don't know anything about.
Using your phone to bank on the go can be a great convenience. As long as you're smart about it, says Blank, there's no reason you shouldn't access your bank accounts through your smart phone.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

Should I Own Life Insurance in Retirement?

When people near retirement they often wonder how much, if any, life insurance they should have during retirement. When you are working and have financial obligations such as a mortgage, college funding, etc., you have a need for higher levels of insurance. In retirement, people often figure they don't have to worry about replacing lost income; therefore, the need for life insurance is non-existent. However, this may not always be the case.

Generally, there are two main uses for life insurance in retirement: to replace lost income or to pay estate tax upon death. For instance, you may still have dependents that need your Social Security or pension income and would suffer a financial hardship in the event of your death. When it comes to estate planning, life insurance is often used to pay estate taxes rather than forcing heirs to liquidate other assets. To determine whether insurance in retirement would be necessary, you should start by asking yourself, "Will someone suffer a financial hardship if I die?" Remember, this "someone" could be a spouse, significant other or even a child. If the answer is yes, then you need to protect your assets or income stream. If no, then life insurance may not be necessary. Once you figure out if you do in fact need it, then it's important to consider how much you may need.

For retirees who receive a pension, the highest benefit is generally paid for a "life only" or single life payout. While this provides a higher retirement income than a joint-life annuity, the benefit stops upon your death. In this case, life insurance would be purchased to replace the lost pension benefit for the surviving spouse or other dependents. A strategy called Pension Maximization can help. This involves using the additional income you receive by choosing the single life annuity over the joint life annuity to pay for life insurance premiums. Since life insurance costs are based on age and health status, it is important to balance the higher income with potentially higher life insurance premiums if you have health problems.

For example, a retiree could choose between the following:


Option 1: Pension of $5,000 per month with no survivor benefit
Option 2: Pension of $4,800 with a 50 percent survivor benefit (Survivor would receive $2,400 per month)
Option 3: Pension of $4,500 with a 100 percent survivor benefit (Survivor will continue to receive $4,800 per month)
In this case, Pension Maximization means you choose option 1. The $500 per month additional income benefit is used to purchase enough life insurance to replace the lost pension of $4,500 per month. If the insurance will not do this, then the retiree may be better off choosing a lower payment and leaving the survivor benefit. (The above is an example of how this works and the numbers used are for illustrative purposes only.)

In the case of Social Security, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to the higher Social Security of the two. In other words, one check stops coming in. This loss of income may be a burden for the survivor. Purchasing life insurance on each spouse will provide death protection to replace the lost Social Security income.

Finally, when it comes to estate planning, under the current estate tax laws, most people will avoid having to pay estate taxes. You must keep in mind though that the current laws are scheduled to change in the near future and depending upon what direction Congress takes with the estate tax, you could find your estate exposed to higher taxes. Also, in some cases where your estate is made up of illiquid assets such as a business or real estate, you would not want to have to put your heirs in a position to having to sell the assets. This is where life insurance can provide much needed liquidity.

As for types of life insurance to buy, the choices can be confusing. One thing for sure is that Term Insurance is not appropriate for retirement due to the fact that this type of insurance usually ends between the ages of 70-75. Since life insurance needs in retirement are usually permanent, consider policies such as Whole life, Variable life, Universal life or Second to die (insures two and payable after the death of the second) to name a few. There are other permanent life insurance policies you may consider as well.

You need to carefully evaluate your needs and the cost for protecting those needs. Have a financial planner run the numbers. Only then can you make the right decision about whether life insurance in retirement is necessary for you.

FPA member Scott M. Kahan, CFP®, is president and founder of Financial Asset Management Corp . in New York City.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

Should I Own Life Insurance in Retirement?

When people near retirement they often wonder how much, if any, life insurance they should have during retirement. When you are working and have financial obligations such as a mortgage, college funding, etc., you have a need for higher levels of insurance. In retirement, people often figure they don't have to worry about replacing lost income; therefore, the need for life insurance is non-existent. However, this may not always be the case.

Generally, there are two main uses for life insurance in retirement: to replace lost income or to pay estate tax upon death. For instance, you may still have dependents that need your Social Security or pension income and would suffer a financial hardship in the event of your death. When it comes to estate planning, life insurance is often used to pay estate taxes rather than forcing heirs to liquidate other assets. To determine whether insurance in retirement would be necessary, you should start by asking yourself, "Will someone suffer a financial hardship if I die?" Remember, this "someone" could be a spouse, significant other or even a child. If the answer is yes, then you need to protect your assets or income stream. If no, then life insurance may not be necessary. Once you figure out if you do in fact need it, then it's important to consider how much you may need.

For retirees who receive a pension, the highest benefit is generally paid for a "life only" or single life payout. While this provides a higher retirement income than a joint-life annuity, the benefit stops upon your death. In this case, life insurance would be purchased to replace the lost pension benefit for the surviving spouse or other dependents. A strategy called Pension Maximization can help. This involves using the additional income you receive by choosing the single life annuity over the joint life annuity to pay for life insurance premiums. Since life insurance costs are based on age and health status, it is important to balance the higher income with potentially higher life insurance premiums if you have health problems.

For example, a retiree could choose between the following:


Option 1: Pension of $5,000 per month with no survivor benefit
Option 2: Pension of $4,800 with a 50 percent survivor benefit (Survivor would receive $2,400 per month)
Option 3: Pension of $4,500 with a 100 percent survivor benefit (Survivor will continue to receive $4,800 per month)
In this case, Pension Maximization means you choose option 1. The $500 per month additional income benefit is used to purchase enough life insurance to replace the lost pension of $4,500 per month. If the insurance will not do this, then the retiree may be better off choosing a lower payment and leaving the survivor benefit. (The above is an example of how this works and the numbers used are for illustrative purposes only.)

In the case of Social Security, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to the higher Social Security of the two. In other words, one check stops coming in. This loss of income may be a burden for the survivor. Purchasing life insurance on each spouse will provide death protection to replace the lost Social Security income.

Finally, when it comes to estate planning, under the current estate tax laws, most people will avoid having to pay estate taxes. You must keep in mind though that the current laws are scheduled to change in the near future and depending upon what direction Congress takes with the estate tax, you could find your estate exposed to higher taxes. Also, in some cases where your estate is made up of illiquid assets such as a business or real estate, you would not want to have to put your heirs in a position to having to sell the assets. This is where life insurance can provide much needed liquidity.

As for types of life insurance to buy, the choices can be confusing. One thing for sure is that Term Insurance is not appropriate for retirement due to the fact that this type of insurance usually ends between the ages of 70-75. Since life insurance needs in retirement are usually permanent, consider policies such as Whole life, Variable life, Universal life or Second to die (insures two and payable after the death of the second) to name a few. There are other permanent life insurance policies you may consider as well.

You need to carefully evaluate your needs and the cost for protecting those needs. Have a financial planner run the numbers. Only then can you make the right decision about whether life insurance in retirement is necessary for you.

FPA member Scott M. Kahan, CFP®, is president and founder of Financial Asset Management Corp . in New York City.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.