Here’s How a $10K Withdrawal From Your Bank Could Cause You Financial Problems
By: Steven Porrello |
– First published on Sept. 29, 2023
Withdrawing money from your checking or savings account may not seem like a suspicious activity. After all, it’s your money. Even if it’s a large amount, like $10,000, who’s to say withdrawing it would call for an investigation?Turns out, withdrawing $10,000 or more from your checking or savings will prompt your bank to file a report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Unit (FinCEN). It sounds more serious than it actually is, but if you withdraw $10,000 frequently enough — or worse: break up $10,000 into smaller withdrawals — you could find yourself under legal scrutiny. To avoid any problems with FinCEN, here’s what you should know.Why banks report withdrawals of $10,000 or moreEver since the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, banks have been required to report any transaction involving $10,000 or more to the federal government, whether it’s a cash deposit or a withdrawal. Often, a bank’s software will automatically file a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) electronically for transactions that exceed $10,000, even if you’re not aware of it.Though it might seem like a violation of your privacy, the Bank Secrecy Act helps the federal government track and prevent financial crimes, like money laundering. When banks fail to report large cash transactions, criminal and suspicious activities can fly under the radar. For instance, between 2004 and 2007, the bank Wachovia — now a part of Wells Fargo — allowed about $400 billion in drug cartel money to flow through its banks largely because it failed to report transactions to the federal government.When a $10,000 withdrawal can become a problemTo be clear, a $10,000 withdrawal isn’t a criminal activity per se. In fact, FINCen likely receives so many uninteresting CTRs a day, you won’t trigger suspicion through a large withdrawal alone. But there are some activities that will put greater vigilance on your bank account. The most common is called structuring.Structuring involves breaking up a large cash transaction, like a $10,000 withdrawal, into smaller parts specifically to evade the Bank Secrecy Act’s reporting requirements. For instance, if you withdraw $12,000 in total from your checking account, but break it into three $4,000 withdrawals, the transaction might be seen as structuring.Of course, you could have good reasons for making a series of withdrawals totaling $10,000 or more. But if you do it frequently enough, your bank could report it as suspicious activity. Once flagged, structuring can embroil you in a legal investigation. At that point, if you’re caught intentionally evading a bank’s reporting requirements — even if you’re just a private person who doesn’t want the government keeping tabs on your life — you could face criminal or financial charges.How to safely (and legally) withdraw $10,000 or moreThe best way to withdraw $10,000 or more is to simply do it. Don’t try to break it into smaller installments, or get smart and Venmo your friend half and have them withdraw it for you. If you don’t want your activities tracked, don’t do anything suspicious that will make your bank report it to FINCen.Truthfully, unless you are engaging in something illegal, you have nothing to worry about. FINCen knows large withdrawals and deposits happen everyday, and it’s not concerned with legal cash flows. It’s only when you behave suspiciously that you could find yourself under investigation.If you’re concerned, you can always talk to your bank. Otherwise, just keep withdrawing as you normally would, and you won’t run into any serious financial problems.
SNAP Benefits Will Increase in 2024. Here’s How Much a Family of 4 Will Receive
By: Emma Newbery |
– First published on Aug. 7, 2023
Are SNAP benefits enough?A monthly payment of $973 for a household of four equates to around $8 per person per day. While SNAP benefits aren’t designed to cover everything, it isn’t easy to feed a family on around $2.66 per person per meal. Indeed, research from the Urban Institute showed that the maximum benefits often don’t cover a family’s food costs. “Amid inflation, SNAP benefits did not cover the cost of a meal in 99 percent of counties in 2022,” said the report.The new benefit amount — a monthly increase of $34 for a household of four — is roughly in line with cost-of-living increases measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Its latest Consumer Price Index figures show that the cost of all items in June, 2023 was up 3% over the year before. However, inflation does not impact all aspects of life equally.The BLS data also shows that food at home increased by 5.7% year over year. The new SNAP benefits do not match this. Hypothetically, a 5.7% increase in benefits for a family of four would mean a new monthly payment of $992, rather than the planned $973.In addition, this year brought the end of the pandemic-era emergency food benefits throughout the country. According to CBPP calculations, this meant the average person received about $90 a month less in SNAP benefits. Even factoring in the increased SNAP benefit amount, many households have seen a significant drop in their food benefit amount, and the revised 2024 payments will do little to close this gap.How to make your SNAP benefits go furtherIt can take time and energy to provide healthy food for your family on a strict budget. The challenge is that in a busy household, time and energy are also limited resources. Even so, if you can carve out some time to plan your grocery-shopping trip, it can make a big difference.Here are some ways you might stretch your SNAP benefits a little:Use cash back apps and coupons: Look for cash back apps that work in stores that take your EBT card. You’ll usually need to download an app and then scan your receipt after you’ve been to the store. Pay attention to coupons, whether in store or online as these can often carry hefty discounts.Always shop with a list: Planning your food shopping is one of the best ways to reduce costs. Even more so if you use a cash back app or coupons. Check what offers are available on items you normally buy before you go shopping. Mark the items that qualify for rewards or discounts on your list, so you don’t miss them when you’re shopping.Look for double up programs: There are Double Up Food Bucks or other programs in various states that essentially give you two for one on all produce at participating farmers markets and stores. It’s a great way to get more fruit and vegetables for your SNAP dollars.Buy in bulk and batch cook: It isn’t always easy to find the extra cash for bulk buying when you’re eking out every cent. However, if you can manage it, you may be able to save both money and time. You might, for example, batch cook a stew and freeze portions for future meals.Unfortunately, food insecurity still impacts many American households. If you don’t have enough money to feed your family this month, look for additional help. Find out what food pantries and soup kitchens are operating in your area on which days, and whether you’ll need to present any documents. Call United Way at 211 for information about assistance programs in your area.
3 Reasons I Don’t Like Aldi as Much as I Used To
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Sept. 13, 2023
At some point in 2022, I discovered Aldi and began shopping there weekly. I found that I was able to save money on my grocery bill by purchasing certain produce items there. And since I happen to have an Aldi adjacent to my local Costco, it wasn’t particularly out of my way.But over the past few months, I’ve become less enamored with Aldi. Here’s why.1. The selection is just too limitedAldi — at least near me — is a minimally stocked grocery store. The shelves aren’t loaded the way they are at my nearby ShopRite and Stop & Shop.To be fair, this was the case when I first started shopping there. But because there’s just not a lot of selection, I’m generally limited to only buying a few items when I pop into Aldi.Not so long ago, I was running into Aldi for some fruit, which I usually buy there, and I needed to grab shredded cheddar cheese. Normally, I get that at Costco, but I didn’t want to run next door to Costco and wait in a line for cheese alone. Unfortunately, though, Aldi didn’t have the cheese I needed, so I had to make an extra stop anyway.2. The inventory is too inconsistentNot only is there a limited selection of food items I can buy at Aldi, but sometimes, I can’t even find the five or six things I’m looking for. Aldi was once my go-to source for avocados, since it’s an expensive purchase and Aldi tends to sell them for less than Costco (at least in my area). But the last few times I stopped at Aldi, avocados weren’t in stock.And that’s happened to me with other things, too. Over the past several months, I’ve struggled to find everything from cucumbers to strawberries at Aldi as well.3. What the store saves me on groceries, I lose via lost working hoursShopping at Aldi still has the potential to save me a little money on groceries. At a time when supermarket prices are up 3.6% on an annual basis, that helps.The problem, however, is that even though Aldi is right near Costco in my neighborhood, thereby allowing me to combine those trips, it still takes time to visit an extra supermarket. I have to find parking, wait in a checkout line, and spend time searching the shelves.While it’s nice to save $2 here and $3 there, the reality is that a stop at Aldi might cost me 20 or more minutes of work — especially when I don’t manage to find the things I need. And losing out on that work time often means forgoing more than $2 or $3 of income. So from a time perspective, it’s just not worth it.Shopping at Aldi could make sense for a lot of people. If you’re someone with flexibility in your schedule and grocery list, and you’re not so picky about the brands you bring home, then it could pay to spend the time visiting Aldi, even if you don’t always manage to find all the things you need. But I’ve reached the point where shopping at Aldi makes less and less sense for me, so I’ll most likely stop going there unless it’s a one-off basis.
6 Costco Purchases That Don’t Qualify for Cash Back With an Executive Membership
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Sept. 26, 2023
If you’re looking to join Costco, you could get away with spending as little as $60 a year on a basic membership. But if you plan to shop there fairly often, it could pay to upgrade to an executive membership.An executive membership at Costco costs $120 a year. But in exchange, you get 2% cash back on Costco purchases, including orders you place online.It takes $3,000 in annual Costco spending to break even on the executive membership — meaning, to make back the $60 extra you’re paying for it. So that’s a number you should keep in mind if you’re not sure which membership to get.That said, there are certain Costco purchases that do not qualify for cash back with an executive membership. Here are some you should know about.1. Cigarette and tobacco purchasesYou may be able to purchase cigarette and tobacco products at your local Costco. But those items won’t be eligible for cash back if you have an executive membership. If you’re counting on your weekly cigarette purchase to get you beyond that $3,000 break-even point, you may want to reconsider the upgraded membership.2. GasMembers commonly like to fill up their cars at Costco because the warehouse club giant is known to offer competitive prices on gas. But your fill-up won’t result in cash back on your executive membership. That said, the credit card you use might give you cash back, so your personal finances won’t totally lose out..3. Costco Shop CardsCostco’s Shop Card is the equivalent of a store gift card. The nice thing about Shop Cards is that if you gift one to someone who isn’t a Costco member, they’ll be allowed in to shop by virtue of having that card, even if they don’t have a membership card to flash at the door. But you should also know that buying Costco Shop Cards won’t result in earning cash back on your executive membership.4. StampsIt could pay to load up on stamps the next time you visit Costco. But unfortunately, you won’t get cash back with your executive membership on that purchase. You might also end up with a really large quantity of stamps if you buy yours at Costco, so you’ll need to be careful. Over time, the adhesive on stamps can become less sticky, so if you do most of your bill-paying online, you may be better off buying a smaller quantity of stamps at your local supermarket or post office instead.5. Food court purchasesThere’s nothing like a stop at the Costco food court to fill an empty stomach on the cheap. But you should know that your budget meal of frozen yogurt or pizza won’t give you cash back toward your executive membership. However, considering that you might spend a mere $1.50 for a hot dog and soda combo, not getting your 2% back means missing out on a whopping $0.03.6. Vehicle purchasesThe maximum cash back you can rack up per year with an executive membership is $1,000. To hit that max, you’d need to spend $50,000 at Costco over the course of 12 months. But that may be doable if you’re buying a car through Costco’s auto program. However, here’s some bad news: Car purchases don’t qualify for cash back with an executive membership. So if you’re hoping to snag that $1,000, you might really need to buy a lot of cereal and toilet paper.An executive membership at Costco can be very worthwhile despite not earning cash back on the items above. And remember, if you’re not sure whether the upgrade is right for you, you may want to just take the chance. Costco will allow you to downgrade your membership after a year if you find that it’s not worth it, and you’ll also be refunded whatever portion of your upgrade fee you don’t make back in cash back form.So if your executive membership only gives you $40 back after a year, you can downgrade to a basic membership and get reimbursed $20. Given that lack of risk, it may be worth giving an executive membership a shot.
Your SNAP Benefits Could Be Delayed if the Government Shuts Down
By: Emma Newbery |
– First published on Sept. 27, 2023
Many SNAP recipients are looking forward to October. It marks the start of the new fiscal year and brings a slight increase to people’s monthly food benefits. But now there’s a catch. Before the start of each fiscal year, lawmakers in Washington need to pass certain spending bills. So far, that hasn’t happened. And sadly, the political wrangling could have an impact on your SNAP and WIC payments.How a shutdown could impact your food benefitsIf Congress can’t pass the necessary funding bills or some kind of stopgap measure before September 30, the government will shut down. A government shutdown would mean that many non-essential federal services would stop. Many federal workers will be sent home or work without pay.Some benefits, such as Social Security, Medicaid, and veterans benefits, will still be paid during a shutdown. However, it would have a knock-on effect on all kinds of federal services, including the administration and payment of food benefits.Here’s what you need to know about WIC and SNAP:WIC: Women, infants, and children who receive extra assistance in buying nutritious food would be the first to feel the impact. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters that in some states, WIC funding would run out “within a matter of days.”SNAP: Vilsack says SNAP recipients should receive their increased October payment, but after that it could get sticky. “Now, if the shutdown were to extend longer than that, there would be some serious consequences to SNAP,” he said.According to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, the USDA is generally only allowed to make SNAP payments for 30 days after a shutdown begins. That’s why people are worried about a prolonged shutdown. However, there are still ways authorities can keep the money flowing. For example, the Food Research & Action Center says there is a $6 billion contingency fund that could be used to fund SNAP in November.How likely is a lengthy shutdown?Before we get into the likelihood of a prolonged shutdown, it’s worth pointing out that the government is still open. Lawmakers still have a few days to find a temporary solution or pass the necessary funding bills. Unfortunately, political analysts say this is unlikely to happen, but it really would be the best scenario.Shutdowns have happened before. Sometimes they only last a day or two, which has limited impact. But others have dragged on for weeks, and that is when ordinary Americans start to feel the bite. The longest was in 2018, when the country went 34 days without a number of federal services.For SNAP recipients worried about a lengthy shutdown, there are no easy answers. If the government does shut down next week, it’s almost impossible to predict when it might reopen. Lawmakers will need to reach some agreements, and in the current political climate, consensus has been hard to come by.That said, cooler heads may prevail. It hasn’t been very long since I wrote articles on another potential political disaster — the failure to raise the debt ceiling. That didn’t happen. This shutdown may also yet be averted, or may prove to be short lived. The trick, as we navigate these uncertain waters, is to know what storms could be on the horizon and prepare for them as best we can.How SNAP recipients can prepare for a government shutdownIt has been a difficult few years for low-income households. Inflation hit a lot of families hard. And the end of the pandemic-related extra food payments was yet another blow to people’s bank account balances. I know it’s hard, but if you are able to put even a small amount of money aside in October, it could ease the impact of any payment delays.Here are some steps SNAP recipients might take:Get up to date with any admin: In the event of a shutdown, your local SNAP office may close or operate with fewer staff members. Act now if you have any queries or paperwork that needs processing.Prepare for a possible delay in your November SNAP payment: See if you can stretch your October SNAP dollars a little further and save some for November. If you’re able to make some extra cash by working extra hours, that could also make a difference.Check for unused cash back rewards: If you’ve been using a cash back app to get rewards for your grocery shopping, November might be the time to cash out those rewards.Look for extra assistance: If you can’t feed your family, find out what help you can get from local food pantries or soup kitchens. Anti-hunger NGOs are already gearing up for increased demand. Call United Way at 211 to find out about available support in your area.Key takeawayIf you rely on SNAP benefits to keep food on the table, the idea of stretching your cash to accommodate yet another financial bump in the road may fill you with dread. It’s beyond stressful and frustrating to feel like you have no financial wiggle room, especially if you’re already struggling to keep on top of your bill payments.The good news is that a government shutdown, even a prolonged one, won’t last forever. Your November SNAP payment may be delayed, but it will arrive eventually. You should also receive slightly more SNAP money in October. If you can carry that extra cash (and perhaps a little more) over, it might be enough to see you through.