Number of the Week: 156,000
That’s how many jobs were added to the labor market in December for an official unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. But count missing workers who have given up on the job hunt, and the rate would be a still-improved, but less-impressive 6.1 percent.
Obama’s Farewell Jobs Report
December marked President Obama’s final full month in office. By the numbers, he’s leaving us—and his successor—with a better job market. On top of low unemployment rate (down from the 7.8 percent rate he inherited in January 2009), average hourly earnings grew by 2.9 percent last year, the fastest annual growth rate since 2009.
So, what? Because they’re a good indicator of the state of the union, jobs reports are a big deal, helping to dictate market movements and shape economic policy. This one may be particularly notable because it seals Obama’s labor-market legacy.
Bottom line: The December report was good, not great. While the overall numbers were positive, they fell short of expectations—and we know the market doesn’t like surprises. Economists anticipated 178,000 new jobs, so stocks slipped a bit the morning the news broke.
The numbers did align with the U.S. central bank’s outlook, though, so the plans for gradually raising interest rates this year are likely on track.
Could a Credit Bureau Owe You Money?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just charged two of the three main credit bureaus—Equifax and TransUnion—with deceiving consumers about the usefulness of the credit scores they’re selling and unfairly luring consumers into costly products. The punishment? More than $17.6 million in restitutions and $5.5 million in fines.
Lenders typically use credit scores and history to determine whether to approve us for loans and interest rates. Equifax and TransUnion generate credit reports and scores, which you can purchase. But it’s not necessarily the same score your potential lender sees—despite what the ads may have said.
So, what? The situation highlights the fact that the info and assessments each bureau has can vary greatly—and we never really know exactly what they’re telling lenders about us. Still, it’s in our best interests to keep tabs on our scores, which many credit card companies include for free on statements now. Even ballpark figures can be helpful in predicting our rates.
Bottom line: We may be getting a letter—and a check—if we purchased a score or anything else from TransUnion or Equifax in the last few years.
And we should keep regularly checking our credit reports, which can protect us from fraud and identity theft. (Plus, we can get those for free once every 12 months from each bureau at annualcreditreport.com.)
Tax Refund Delays
It’s tax time! (Sorry.) We can officially start filing returns on January 23—but this year, early birds may not be getting refunds so quickly.
While we typically hear that filing early helps prevent fraud and theft—mainly because it takes away criminals’ shot at filing in your name—the IRS is using delays to curb crime. A new law requires it to hold off on processing refunds to people claiming the earned income tax credit and a child tax credit until February 15—so the money may not hit bank accounts until February 27.
So, what? It sucks to wait, but this is a good thing. Tax fraud has been a growing problem, and this allows the IRS more time to verify information and ensure refunds go to the right place. State tax agencies may also delay refunds and take other precautions to combat fraud.
Bottom line: Patience… Also, don’t mentally (or literally) spend the extra cash before March.