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Game Changer

Puzzle Game - MoneyPhoto from Pixabay

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It’s been a lifetime of twists and turns for the Rubik’s Cube, which holds 42% market share* in the brain teaser category after 50 years. The iconic 3-by-3 grid allows for 43 quintillion combinations and squared up $75.3 million in global sales in 2022.

Outside the box (or cube), people are puzzling together what it means to “make it” in America: Contributing to a 401(k) (42%), reaching a certain net worth (44%), and not needing money from family and friends (47%).

More money headlines ahead – one piece at a time.

— The Editors


♟ Your move: What’s your favorite board game?

  • Monopoly
  • Chess
  • Scrabble
  • Clue
  • Trivial Pursuit

Last week’s poll reveals vacation plans look sunny for a majority in 2024, with 39% headed to the beach and 27% planning a road trip.



Stock market soars: Tipping the scales into a bull market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently finished above 38,000 points* for the first time on record. The S&P 500 also notched a recent high, topping 4,900.* Now’s a good time to check in on your portfolio mix and review your diversification. Empower’s capital markets perspective outlines what this milestone means across the economy.

The ghost of buy now, pay later: The holiday spending season saw the use of installment payments climb 14%* year-over-year. “Buy now, pay later” loans aren’t monitored or tracked by credit reporting agencies, which can make it tricky for consumers to see their real debt balance – something professionals are calling “phantom debt.” A third of Americans say getting their debt under control is their top money goal for the year ahead: learn more about how to prioritize your payoff plan.

The overdraft fees freeze: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed changes to overdraft fees that banks and credit unions charge a customer if their account balance falls below zero. With around 23 million* households paying these type of fees in any given year, the new rule could save consumers as much as $3.5 billion annually. Yearly overdraft fee revenue in 2019 was estimated around $12.6 billion.

Buckle up, drivers: Motor vehicle insurance premiums rose by 20.3%* in December year-over-year, which marks the largest increase since the mid-1970s, according to Labor Department data. Last year, electric car sales zoomed to the 1.2 million* mark (amounting to a 7.6% share of all new car sales), though some drivers have experienced challenges with their EV performance in the wake of this winter’s subzero temperatures.*


Uncharted waters

Demand for cruises has risen across the travel industry: In September, Carnival reported record booking levels as part of its third-quarter 2023 earnings report, surging nearly 20%* above what it saw in 2019.

It’s full steam ahead as cruise lines innovate to meet this new demand: Royal Caribbean’s 9-month long Ultimate World Cruise recently set sail with plans to port in 65 countries. Fares for the full 274-night itinerary can range from around $54,000 to $117,000* per person, excluding taxes and fees.

Traveling the world is the top goal for how Americans want to spend time in their retirement (41%), according to recent Empower research. So if you want to leave some financial cushion for seeing new sights, make sure to account for those expenses in your retirement income strategy.


The elusive state of jobs

Resilience is the name of the game for American workers, as U.S. employers added 2.7 million jobs* for all of 2023, according to the Labor Department. The year ended with the unemployment rate steady at 3.7%.

The money that workers are taking home reflects both sides of the coin: Average wages in December were up 4.1% from a year ago, though the average cash bonus paid to employees that month was $2,145,* down 21% from the previous year.

Empower research found that 17% of Americans think receiving a $5,000 payout would make a meaningful impact in their lives, boosting their feeling of financial happiness for six months. If you’re on the receiving end of some extra pay, don’t forget that bonuses are withheld differently.


The home stretch

Low housing inventory and high interest rates have been taking a toll on house hunters, as existing-home sales fell 19%* in 2023 from the year prior to 4.09 million. That marks the lowest level of home sales in almost 30 years.

Analysts expect mortgage rates to dip below 6%* at the end of this year, though they also caution that the housing market has not yet reached full stabilization. Despite the ongoing ups and downs, there’s still room at the top for luxury homebuyers: In Boston’s upscale Back Bay neighborhood residents can pay upwards of $4,000 per square foot* – some of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

If you’re anxious about what it takes to qualify these days, see if a mortgage buydown is right for you.

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As of January 25, 2024, EAG does not hold shares of Royal Caribbean Group (RCL), Carnival Corp. (CCL), or Spin Master (SNMSF) in advisory client accounts.

* Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness, or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement, responsibility, or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites.

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