MONEY office etiquette

Germans Say “Nein!” to Late-Night Work Email. Here’s How You Can, Too

Mariella Ahrens attends the Dresscoded Hippie Wiesn 2014 at Golfclub Gut Thailing on August 28, 2014 in Steinhoering near Ebersberg, Germany.
Turns out Germans may have us beat when it comes to balancing work and play. Gisela Schober—Getty Images

Sick of your boss's 3 a.m. emails? Maybe you should move to Germany—where support is growing for a law banning late-night work communication.

Despite their reputation for industriousness, it turns out Germans have a thing or two to teach us about work-life balance.

The country has shaved nearly 1,000 hours from the annual schedule of its average worker (compared with 200 hours in the U.S.) in the last half-century. And now a movement is growing there to make after-hours work emails verboten.

A newly initiated study on worker stress led by the German labor minister is expected to lead to legislation preventing employers from reaching out to employees outside of normal office hours. (That might surprise those who’d expect such a thing only from the French.)

Though the law wouldn’t come to fruition until 2016, Germans—and Europeans in general—are still slightly better off than Americans in the meantime. While the average work week in major developed countries is 47 hours, that number balloons to about 90 hours per week for U.S. workers (vs. 80 for Europeans) if you include time that people are checking email and staying available outside of the office.

“We have become such an instantaneous society,” says Peggy Post, a director of The Emily Post Institute and expert on business etiquette. “We’re expected to be on call 24/7.”

And all this late-night work isn’t without consequences: Studies have found that staying up checking work emails on smartphones actually makes workers less productive the next day because of effects on sleep. Other downsides include more mistakes and miscommunications.

In lieu of practicing your Deutsch and moving your whole life overseas, take back your “offline” time by doing the following:

1. Become an email whiz while at work.

One major reason we’re forced to take to our phones late at night and on weekends? Because it’s so hard to get actual work done during work these days, due to smaller staffs, long meetings, floods of email, and noisy open floor plans.

At least in some jobs, the more you get done during regular hours, the less you’ll be penalized if you aren’t available during evenings or weekends. Some experts suggest giving yourself a specific window during the day to handle emails. See nine specific tips on more efficient emailing from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt here. With smart rules, like “last in, first out,” you can become a speed demon.

And if you just can’t pack it all in, you might also think about a quick end-of-day meeting (preferably at the scheduled end of day) to check in with whomever you’re most likely to get emails from later on.

2. Make sure you understand the expectations.

You assume your boss wants an immediate response to that late-night brainstorm, but are you sure? It’s worth finding out.

Alison Green, who blogs at AskaManager.org has suggested phrasing your question as follows: “Hey, I’m assuming that it’s fine for me to wait to reply to emails sent over the weekend until I’m back at work on Monday, unless it’s an emergency. Let me know if that’s not the case.”

But what if the boss says that you really are expected to be at the ready? You might need to communicate your dissatisfaction with these terms—rather than succumbing to burnout.

Again, the words you choose are important. Green suggested the following: “I don’t mind responding occasionally if it’s an emergency, but I wonder if there’s a way to save everything else for when I’m back at work. I use the weekends to recharge so that I’m refreshed on Monday, and I’m often somewhere where I can’t easily answer work emails.”

Post agrees that how you speak up goes a long way toward getting the result you want. “Without whining, try to share specific constructive solutions,” says Post. “For example, you could suggest having employees take on separate after-hours times to be on call for different days of the week.”

3. Stop the cycle.

Remember, you’re perpetuating the expectation when you engage in these email chains. Should you write back once at 10 p.m., those above you will likely begin to assume that you’ll be available at that time (even if they didn’t initially expect you to be).

Likewise, if your boss emails you, you might feel that you’re in the clear to contact those below you in their free time. But that’s a no-no, according to many experts.

While you may simply be trying to send something while you remember it, you are actually putting someone else in the same predicament you’re in. Some suggest limiting yourself to answering or writing emails to between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., unless there’s a particularly urgent need or project—though the right window for you probably depends upon your company and office culture.

And if you do have your most brilliant thought at 2 a.m.? Go ahead and write it, but then use a tool like Boomerang that lets you schedule it for a more reasonable post-shower hour.

MONEY Banking

Here’s One Thing You Probably Shouldn’t Get at Walmart

Cracked piggy bank with Walmart logo
MONEY (photo illustration)—Getty Images (photo)

Walmart's new partnership with GoBank may be a decent option for those unable to get a checking account from a traditional bank, but most consumers (even low-income ones) can find a better deal.

When Walmart announced Tuesday that it would soon be offering checking accounts for the masses—so its customers could, ostensibly, conveniently deposit their checks where they purchase all their household goods—we saw an opportunity to compare the new banking option to its competitors.

Thanks to research compiled for MONEY’s annual Best Banks in America story, the latest version of which will be out on newsstands on November 28, we were able to measure up the new account against more than 200 other checking accounts.

But before we jump into our analysis, it’s important to understand what exactly Walmart is doing. First of all, the retailer is not technically its own bank (since its efforts to become an official deposit institution were basically foiled by the banking industry in 2007). The Walmart will simply offer a GoBank account through its partner Green Dot, an FDIC-insured banking platform that currently issues Walmart’s prepaid card.

The GoBank checking account—no savings as of yet—comes with a relatively low $8.95 monthly “membership fee” (essentially a maintenance fee) that can be waived with a $500 monthly direct deposit. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that it has no overdraft fees whatsoever, and virtually anyone—even those with terrible credit or a history of bouncing checks—will be approved for an account.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, says GoBank’s low eligibility requirements are unique in the industry and could be helpful to people who have frequent trouble with overdrafts. But McBride cautions that the people described make up a small subset of most consumers. Just one in seven bank customers have had more than one overdraft in the last year, meaning an even smaller subset of that group would be in dire need of GoBank’s leniency.

As it stands, the vast majority of people—even those with low incomes or mediocre credit scores—are able to qualify for checking accounts with similar or better terms than what GoBank offers, says McBride. Many competitors offer perks GoBank does not, such as interest payments or free use of out-of-network ATMs.

Below, we’ve set the account against some of the better options for standalone checking:

Account Maintenance Fee Minimum Interest Out-of-network ATM fees Overdraft fees? Credit score check to open?
Walmart’s GoBank Checking Account $8.95 (waived with a $500 monthly direct deposit) 0% $2.50 No No
E*Trade’s Max-Rate Checking Account $15 (waived with a $200 monthly direct deposit) 0.01% $0 (and all third-party ATM fees are reimbursed) Yes No, but they do check on past overdraft history.
Capital One’s 360 Checking Account $0 0.20% $0 Yes, but only $0.03 a day for every $100 of overdraft balance Yes
Ally Bank Interest Checking Account $0 0.10% $0 (and all third-party ATM fees are reimbursed) Yes Yes

For our Best Banks feature, MONEY also looked at mobile apps, and from what’s been announced so far, GoBank’s app does sound state of the art. A built-in budgeting program called Fortune Teller asks users to input their various bills and expenses, along with their salary and pay day. And once all the information is entered, users can ask Fortune Teller’s opinion before they buy something by entering in the price.

In theory, this sounds great—most people could use a virtual slap on the hand when they’re about to overspend. But the devil is in the details. It’s unknown how much of a financial buffer Fortune Teller’s algorithm leaves when it tells a person he or she can afford a purchase. And when the advice is coming, however indirectly, from a store that has plenty of things to sell to you, you’d be smart to be skeptical.

In other words, just because you can afford that $1,000 Gollum Halloween party prop doesn’t mean you should buy it. And just because you can get easily approved for this bank account doesn’t mean you should apply.

Related:

MONEY 101: How do I pick a bank?

MONEY Taxes

How Identity Thieves Stole $5.2 Billion from the IRS

Invisible Man at computer
Getty Images

And how to make sure you won't be their next target.

More than $5 billion, with a B: that’s how much the IRS estimates it mistakenly paid to identity thieves last year, according to a new study from the Government Accountability Office. The thieves filed fraudulent tax returns on behalf of unsuspecting citizens, and the IRS didn’t catch the fraud until after long after the refund checks had been sent. The only good news? It could have been a lot more money. The IRS estimates it identified and stopped another $24.2 billion in attempted fraud — but the agency acknowledges it’s hard to calculate the full extent of the problem.

Here’s how thieves get away with it: You usually receive a W-2 from your employer by the end of January, then file your tax return by April 15. During that time, thieves steal your identifying information, file fake returns on your behalf, and collect the refund check. It all happens pretty quickly, since the IRS tries to issue your refund within three weeks of receiving your return.

Employers have until March to send their W-2s to the Social Security Administration, which later forwards the documents to the IRS. The IRS doesn’t begin checking tax returns against employers’ W-2s until July. The GAO has found that it can take a year or longer for the IRS to complete the checks and catch the theft.

The easiest way you can deter this kind of fraud? File early, and file electronically. Once the IRS receives a return with your social security number, the agency will reject any duplicate filings and notify you right away. The IRS is also piloting an initiative to issue single-use identity protection PIN numbers to taxpayers who have verified their identities.

Still, the danger could be growing: As recently as 2010, tax- and wage-related identity theft made up just 16% of all ID-theft complaints at the Federal Trade Commission. Last year that portion rose to 43%. Below are four more common ways ID thieves can strike — and what you can do to protect yourself.

1) Purloined paper.

Have tax documents sent to a P.O. box or delivered electronically so they can’t go missing. Shred extra copies. “Your tax return needs to be treated as an item of extreme privacy,” says Staten Island CPA John Vento.

2) Unsecure networks.

Never file electronically over public Wi-Fi or a network that’s not password-protected. Make sure you have up-to-date antivirus software and a firewall on your home computer.

3) Dodgy emails.

Be leery of any email claiming to be an IRS notice of an outstanding refund or a pending investigation; the IRS will never email you to request sensitive information. Forward suspect messages to phishing@irs.gov. Other electronic traps: fake websites similar to irs.gov, and tweets purporting to be from the IRS (@IRSnews is the verified handle).

4) Phone fakes.

In October of last year, the IRS warned of a sophisticated phone scam in which callers already knew the last four digits of your Social Security number and mimicked the IRS toll-free number on your caller ID. If the IRS calls you out of the blue, hang up and call back (800-829-1040).

This advice was excerpted from MONEY’s 2014 Tax Guide.

MONEY salary

5 Ways Women Can Close the Pay Gap for Themselves

woman standing at bottom of steps with man standing above her
iStock

New Census data found that women earn 78¢ to every $1 men do. These moves can help you get closer to even on your own paycheck.

If you have two X chromosomes and a job, the latest numbers on the wage gap will likely leave you feeling frustrated: Women make only 78¢ for every dollar a man makes, the Census just reported, marking all of a 1¢ improvement over 2012.

Meanwhile, Republican senators blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act this week, which called for greater salary transparency and would have required employers to be able to prove that wage differences were based on factors other than gender.

Overcoming the barriers to equal pay isn’t proving to be easy. And there are some factors we can’t move the needle on as individuals. For example, childbearing counts against us, in what economists have dubbed the “motherhood penalty.” We pay both a per-child wage penalty and also may be dunned for working fewer hours because of our caregiving responsibility. And then there’s straight-up discrimination, which is very hard to prove despite being so palpable to many of us at certain moments in our careers. (Perhaps this explains why one study found that 41% of the pay gap is unexplained!)

Closing the gap a penny at a time is still progress. But for those of you who don’t want to—or can’t—wait around until 2058 to see equal pay, here are five strategies to at least get you closer to even with your XY counterparts.

1. Negotiate smarter…

Working women have heard it all before: We’re not aggressive enough in asking for higher pay; we are bad at negotiating. But if do negotiate aggressively, well, that gets held against us.

But we’ve got to find a way to make it work for us if we want to get paid a fair wage.

So what can we do? Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School who has done research on what makes women successful in negotiations, has found that being collaborative—using “we” and trying to take the perspective of the company and hiring manager—tends to be more effective than other approaches.

She also emphasizes authenticity, so try to come up with language that feels comfortable and natural for you to use.

2. …and from the outset.

A 2011 study by Catalyst tracked 3,300 high-performing students in M.B.A. programs as they began their careers, and found that while 47% of women and 52% of men had countered the initial offer made for their current job, only 31% of women vs. 50% of men had countered the offer for the first job they had out of grad school.

While it’s good that women are catching on to the importance of negotiating, we need to encourage them to do it sooner.

“Failing to negotiate your salary from the start is not only an initial mistake; it is one that will continue to follow you and will be compounded over the years, disadvantaging you throughout the remainder of your career. Every raise you get, every bonus you receive and even the number of stock options you are awarded, will be smaller because these amounts are normally determined as a percentage of your artificially low base salary,” wrote Lee Miller, author of A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating on six-figure job-search site TheLadders.

Say you started out $5,000 behind your male peer, making $40,000 vs. his $45,000. If you each got 3% raises for each of the next five years, you’d be making $46,371 vs. his $52,167, expanding the difference to $5,798 and you’d have given up $26,546 in income differential in those years.

The longer this goes on, the harder it is to catch up.

3. Push for promotions early on.

According to Payscale, “women’s pay growth stops outpacing men’s at around age 30, which is when college-educated women typically start having children.” Furthermore, women’s pay peaks at age 39 at $60,000, vs. $95,000 at age 48 for men.

That suggests that a smart move would be to try to move up the ladder before you decide to raise a family.

“How women negotiate their career paths is arguably a more important determinant of lifetime earnings than negotiating a little extra money,” Hannah Riley Bowles told The New York Times recently.

4. Work in a fairer field.

Part of the problem, according to Sarah Jane Glynn, associate director for women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, is that a large proportion of women are clustered in a relatively few fields: 44% are in 20 occupations. And typically within those professions, the majority of workers are women. As Glynn has written,

“Female-dominated industries pay lower wages than male-dominated industries requiring similar skill levels, and the effect is stronger in jobs that require higher levels of education.”

So just try for a higher-paying male-dominated field, right? That can help. Harvard labor economist Claudia Goldin found that, for college grads, moving into such a profession would eliminate an average 30% to 35% of the wage gap.

But that’s not always a home run. Goldin found that female aircraft pilots and financial advisors earn less on the dollar compared to male peers than the average worker, at 71% and 73% respectively.

Goldin did find that the pay gap is much smaller than the average in certain fields—including ad sales, dental hygiene, HR, chemistry, pharmacy, and computer programming. But she pegs the slim difference to the fact that these fields allow a specific kind of flexibility that allows one worker to easily sub out for another, if, say, someone has to stay home with a sick kid.

5. Toot your own horn.

That Catalyst study of M.B.A. grads found that, of those women who said they made their achievements known to others in the organization, 30% had greater compensation growth than peers who did not promote themselves.

Some of the qualities found in these folks: “ensuring their manager was aware of their accomplishments, seeking feedback and credit as
appropriate, and asking for a promotion when they felt it was deserved.”

Sounds easy enough on paper, but in real life, this kind of self-promotion isn’t always easy for women.

To make it more palatable, Laura Donovan of Levo League suggests being selective about the moments you do this (e.g. yes to scoring the $1 million client, no to pushing through the report that’s expected of you), choosing the right audience for your message (don’t blast the full staff), and focusing on facts rather than self-congratulation (“I just wanted you to know that we’ve signed the contract with Client Y, for $1 million over two years….”).

Also, focus on the upside: The Catalyst study suggested that self-promotion can help you gain sponsorship from important allies who can help you further advance in your career, and hopefully get you closer to closing the pay gap.

MONEY Careers

10 Social Media Blunders That Cost a Millennial a Job — or Worse

Fake Facebook post
Photo illustration by MONEY. Lumi Images—Alamy (inset); Sean Murphy—Getty Images (main)

A generation that lives its life on Facebook and Twitter learns the hard way that the bar for what can get you fired is surprisingly low.

As managers grow savvier (and Facebook privacy settings grow meaningless) it is increasingly foolish to assume that those years-old photos of you double-fisting shots won’t come back to haunt you—and maybe even wreak havoc on your career. A whopping 73% of recruiters check out social media profiles of prospective hires.

“Social media is now so woven into the fabric of young people’s lives that they forget not everything is suitable to put out there,” says former hiring manager Alison Green, who runs askamanager.org. “People are looking.”

So remember your boss, work colleagues, and hiring managers can see your most polarizing tweets, even if they aren’t following you. And even if your public Facebook profile looks like Fort Knox, anyone can see images you’re tagged in by using graph search. Typing “photos of person’s name” into the search window reveals hidden pictures. Test it out to see how creepy it is.

Also note that a social media mistake can ruin your shot at a job without you ever knowing. Green, for example, never told a certain oversharing applicant (let’s call him the “masturblogger”: see #2 below) about why he wasn’t hired for a job at her nonprofit. “To people who don’t lock down their accounts because ‘it’s never been a problem,’ I say, you don’t know whether that’s true,” she says.

If you’re not at least a little worried yet, here are 10 real-life mistakes, ranked from least to most egregious, that could cost you your next job—or worse, make you the next viral cautionary tale.

10. Drinking in a photo—even if you’re over 21. Yes, seriously. A teacher in Georgia was asked to resign because of a Facebook photo of her holding wine and a beer.

9. Complaining about your job. A British teen was let go from a marketing gig after colleagues saw a Facebook post in which she described her job shredding paper as “dull,” even though she didn’t mention the name of the company.

8. Posting while you’re supposed to be working. A city clerk in California’s Bay area was asked to resign this year for allegedly tweeting during council meetings when she was supposed to be taking down meeting minutes. In her resignation letter, she described the job as a “mind-numbingly inane experience I would not wish on anyone.”

7. Making fun of your boss / team. An EMS employee was booted for badmouthing her boss on Facebook (though she ended up with the National Labor Relations Board on her side), and a Pittsburgh Pirates mascot, whose work included racing on the field in a pierogi costume, was briefly fired for a post criticizing the contract extensions of two players—though he was back in his costume a week later.

6. Making fun of clients or donors. While working at a nonprofit, Green nearly fired an employee after the young woman snarkily tweeted a photo of a donation card on which a donor had written eccentric comments. Not only was it in bad taste, says Green, but it revealed the donor’s name. After deleting the tweet (and getting an earful about judgment and boundaries), the woman kept her job.

5. Talking smack about a job before you’ve even accepted it. Technically, the then-22-year-old in question says she had already turned down an internship at Cisco before sending out a tweet saying she’d have to weigh a “fatty paycheck” against “hating the work,” but her subsequent infamy serves as a lesson to other prospective hires.

4. Blowing your own cover. A bank intern who asked to skip work because “something came up at home” became a victim of internet shaming after his boss saw a Facebook photo of him holding a beer, dressed (more or less) like Tinkerbell at what appeared to be a Halloween party. The photo, plus screenshots of his supervisor’s response— “hope everything is ok in New York. (cool wand)” —went viral, though it turns out he was never actually fired.

3. Revealing company secrets. Back in 2011, it was widely reported that an extra on Fox’s award-winning show “Glee” was fired after tweeting spoilers for an upcoming episode. In tweets that are still visible on his feed, a series co-creator told her, “Hope you’re qualified to do something besides work in entertainment” and “Who are you to spoil something talented people have spent months to create?” But according to the extra herself, Nicole Crowther, she hadn’t actually worked on the show that season and the spoilers were just speculation—not inside information. That didn’t stop her story from going viral, complete with online harassment: “I received physical threats of violence, and death threats through social media,” Crowther told MONEY.

2. Sexual oversharing. Green once interviewed a young man whose resume included a link to a private blog—which described personal details about chronic masturbation. “I suspect he’d left that link on there by accident, but it demonstrated very poor judgment,” says Green. Needless to say, he did not get the job.

1. Posting something embarrassing on the corporate Twitter feed. A contracted social media strategist was canned after accidentally posting a tweet on Chrysler’s company feed, instead of his personal feed, insulting local drivers: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f****** drive.” Given the circumstances, Chrysler’s response was surprisingly sanguine.

MONEY Google

10 Ways Google Has Changed the World

Google Earth view
Google

It's been a decade since Google went public. Here are 10 ways the company has transformed the market—and our lives— since.

Back in 2004, investors weren’t entirely sure what to make of Google, and skeptics abounded. Fast-forward to today, when we can look back at how far the company has come, in ways that inspire both awe and concern. Below are 10 examples of its influence.

1. It has changed our language. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, there’s a reason “Bing” never caught on as a verb, let alone as a beleaguered anthropomorphic meme. The phrase “to Google” is so popular that the company is actually worried about losing trademark rights if the term becomes generic, like “escalator” and “zipper,” which were once trademarked.

2. It has changed our brains. Recent research has confirmed suspicions that 24/7 access to (near) limitless information is not only bad for human discourse—it’s also making us worse at remembering things, regardless of whether we try. And even if we aren’t conscious of it, our brains are primed to think about the Internet as soon as we start trying to recall the answer to a tough trivia question. Essentially, Google has become our collective mental crutch.

3. It set the stage for Facebook and Twitter’s sky-high valuations. Yes, lofty valuations based on mere speculation were also common back in the dot-com fervor of the ’90s, says Ed Crotty, chief investment officer for Davidson Investment Advisors. But Google broke new ground by proving that even just the potential for a huge audience could pay off in a big way.

“In the early days, when people were thinking in terms of web portals, the barriers to entry didn’t seem high for search,” Crotty says. That meant Google’s competitive advantage wasn’t clear. But “the tipping point was when Google was able to scale up their audience enough to attract ad agencies, and then further improve their algorithms, since those get better with scale. That’s partly why you see tech companies now willing to forgo profits for a period of time in order to build an audience.” And also why investors are willing to throw money their way.

4. It has taken over our cell phones. Since the first Android phone was sold in 2008, Google’s mobile operating system has bulldozed the competition. Today it claims nearly 85% of market share, nearly doubling its hold over the last three years. Next stop, self-driving cars?

5. It has transformed the way we use e-mail. Gmail was invented a decade ago, before bottomless inboxes were a sine qua non. It’s hard even to remember those dark ages when storage space was sacred—and deleting emails was as tedious-but-necessary as flossing. Today our accounts serve as mausoleums, housing long-forgotten files, links, and even whole relationships. Google itself has touted alternative uses for Gmail, such as setting up a virtual time capsule for your newborn—though in practice accounts can’t be owned by anyone under 13. But even that last point is about to change.

6. It’s changed how we collaborate. Back in 2006, Google acquired the company behind an online word processor named Writely. With that bet, Google created a world where it’s taken for granted that people can collaborate on virtually any type of document, whether for work, play, or (literally) revolution.

7. It has allowed us to travel the globe from our desks. Yes, MapQuest was popular first. But Google Maps (and Earth) has become much more than a tool for measuring travel routes and times. Since Google Street View came onto the scene in 2007, it’s been possible to “visit” distant destinations, give friends a virtual tour of your hometown, plan ahead of trips, and waste even more time on the Internet. Of course, the more popular a tool, the more useful it is to those who’d like to spy on us.

8. It has influenced the news we read. Ranking high in Google search results is serious business and can have a profound effect on the success of companies, media outlets, and even politicians. When I just Googled “how SEO affects journalism,” this link was at the top of my search results. How is that significant? Well, for one, that story itself has been so successfully search engine optimized that it still tops the list despite being four years old.

But most importantly, many of the concerns raised in the piece have not gone away—such as the pressure to “file some pithy blog post about the hot topic of the moment” at the expense of covering stories that would be prioritized based on traditional measures of newsworthiness. What that means for you, the reader: more headlines like this and this.

9. It has turned users into commodities. We all love free stuff, but it’s easy to forget that services offered by companies like Google and Facebook aren’t truly “free,” as data expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out. Remember that all of your data (across ALL of the services you use, and that includes Calendar, Maps, and so on) is a valuable good that Google is packaging and selling to its real customers—advertisers.

10. It’s changed how everyone else sees YOU. Unlike your Facebook profile, the links that turn up when potential employers (or love interests) Google you can be near-impossible to erase. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google uses the fear of embarrassing search results to encourage people to manage their image through Google+ profiles.

Related:
4 Crazy Google Ambitions
The 8 Worst Predictions About Google

MONEY income

The 10 Richest Counties in America

Jackson Hole, WY
A Jackson Hole mansion in Teton County, Wyoming. Jonathan Adams—Getty Images

Newly released IRS data shows where in the U.S. top earners live.

Teton County, Wyoming, tops the list for highest average income in the United States, according to updated Tax Stats data just released by the IRS.

The average income in Teton—known for hiking, skiing, and multimillion dollar Jackson Hole ranches—is nearly $300,000. Compare that with $62,483 for the average American household.

Of course, average income figures don’t give you a good picture of how much a typical resident makes, since super-rich outliers can skew the data (median figures were not released), but this list gives you a good idea of where many of America’s millionaires and billionaires hang out.

Sterling, Texas, places second on the list and carries yet another distinction—the highest average tax liability in the country. Only 600 returns were filed in the county, but the average tax owed was a whopping $97,387.

County State Average Income
Teton Wyo. $296,778
Sterling Texas $266,563
McMullen Texas $211,059
New York N.Y. $191,847
Pitkin Colo. $173,299
Fairfield Conn. $157,601
Glasscock Texas $145,031
Marin Calif. $143,333
San Mateo Calif. $143,203
Westchester N.Y. $137,695

 

Note: Dollar figures represent mean adjusted gross income for 2012, the most recent data available.

MONEY

SEC Halts Trading of Social Networking Stock That Gained 25,000%

A Specialist trader watches his chart while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Brendan McDermid—Reuters

Regulators have halted trading of over-the-counter stock CYNK Technology, a social networking company with no revenue or members that inexplicably gained about 25,000% in recent days — and reached valuations of more than $5 billion.

According to the OTC Bulletin Board, the halt is “SEC related,” and a bulletin from the SEC further explains that it has “temporarily suspended trading in the securities of CYNK because of concerns regarding the accuracy and adequacy of information in the marketplace and potentially manipulative transactions in CYNK’s common stock.” The halt will end at 11:59pm East Coast time on July 24.

Federal securities laws allow the commission to suspend trading in any stock for up to ten days when the SEC “determines that a trading suspension is required in the public interest and for the protection of investors.”

Earlier today Business Insider reported that the OTC Bulletin Board classified the halt as U3, which is when FINRA determines an “extraordinary event” is affecting the market for a security. As of 9:30am, the halt was reclassified as H10, an SEC trading suspension.

Watch the video below to see MONEY editor Pat Regnier explain why you should watch out for stocks like CYNK.

MONEY Taxes

Potato Salad Kickstarter Guy May Have to Swallow $21,000 Tax Bill

potato salad
Let them eat... potato salad? Denise Bush—Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to make some potato salad. It started as an attempt at irony but has now raised more than 70,000-completely-serious-dollars — inspiring awe, anger, less-successful copycats and plenty of jokes.

For those wondering where all that money will go, the Tax Foundation has an (at least partial) answer: The taxman.

According to the think tank’s calculations, project founder Zack Danger Brown should owe federal taxes of $8,632, Columbus city taxes of $1,510, Ohio state taxes of $1,712, plus $9,313 in payroll taxes. That all adds up to a whopping $21,167 — and that assumes donations stop after $70,000. (Spoiler alert, the total figure has already jumped $1,000 in the last couple of hours.)

The reason for this big bill is that funds raised on Kickstarter are considered income and can generally be offset only by expenses directly related to the project.

So unless Brown is adorning his potato salad with Wagyu beef, white truffles, and gold leaf, he could be looking at a 32% effective tax rate.

If he does as many are suggesting and donates any leftover cash to charity, he might be able to offset some of that with a charitable contribution deduction — though the Tax Foundation says he’ll still be liable for payroll taxes.

MONEY Economy

4 Takeaways from the Fed’s Big Meeting

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen arrives for a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen Susan Walsh—AP

This afternoon, the Federal Reserve released minutes from its mid-June meeting, providing a slightly more detailed picture of what chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues are thinking about the future of interest rates and monetary policy.

The June meeting itself had been a big shrug: The economy was getting better but not quickly enough to justify raising short-term interest rates; the Fed also said it would continue slowly tapering “quantitative easing,” the massive program of bond buying that’s meant to ease credit and stoke economic growth.

But here are three new things we’ve learned from the minutes.

1) Look for “quantitative easing” to end in October

We already kind of knew this, since the Fed has been reducing its purchases as a steady rate, but the minutes fill in a detail:

Some committee members had been asked by members of the public whether, if tapering in the pace of purchases continues as expected, the final reduction would come in a single $15 billion per month reduction or in a $10 billion reduction followed by a $5 billion reduction. Most participants viewed this as a technical issue with no substantive macroeconomic consequences…

But:

… participants generally agreed … it would be appropriate to complete asset purchases with a $15 billion reduction in the pace of purchases in order to avoid having the small, remaining level of purchases receive undue focus among investors. If the economy progresses about as the Committee expects, warranting reductions in the pace of purchases at each upcoming meeting, this final reduction would occur following the October meeting.

Bear in mind that this just means the Fed will stop buying bonds. It will still own over $4 trillion worth of them.

2) The Fed is divided about how to read inflation data

In a press conference after the meeting, Yellen said that although inflation seemed to be picking up a bit, the numbers were too “noisy” to conclude that inflation would go above the Fed’s 2% target for long.

The minutes of the meeting suggest that the other Fed governors and regional Fed presidents are divided on this. Some are worried that inflation is still far too low, indicating an economy that’s still too slack. And it looks like the recent strong jobs numbers, released after the meeting, which brought unemployment down to 6.1%, won’t change the minds of the inflation doves.

Some participants expressed concern about the persistence of below-trend inflation, and a couple of them suggested that the Committee may need to allow the unemployment rate to move below its longer-run normal level for a time in order keep inflation expectations anchored and return inflation to its 2 percent target, though one participant emphasized the risks of doing so.

But there’s still a vocal hawk team. Although price increases are very low, their main concern is that the Fed won’t be able to react fast enough when the economy turns.

… other participants expressed concern that economic growth over the medium run might be faster than currently expected or that the rate of growth of potential output might be lower than currently expected, calling for a more rapid move to begin raising the federal funds rate in order to avoid significantly overshooting the Committee’s unemployment and inflation objectives.

3) The Fed is worried that it’s being taken for granted.

…participants also discussed whether some recent trends in financial markets might suggest that investors were not appropriately taking account of risks in their investment decisions… [and] not factoring in sufficient uncertainty about the path of the economy and monetary policy.

What’s the problem with that? There’s always concern that easy policy will stoke an asset bubble. But Yellen has said that while she’s keeping this on her radar, it’s not a major concern yet. One good reason to think so: The housing market, the source of the really dangerous bubbles, is hardly frothy.

Despite attractive mortgage rates, housing demand was seen as being damped by such factors as restrictive credit conditions, particularly for households with low credit scores; high down payments; or low demand among younger homebuyers, due in part to the burden of student loan debt.

4) The labor market still looks weaker than it should be.

Although unemployment is down, some participants in the Fed meeting feel that many workers are still struggling to find work—they note that many workers have dropped out of the labor force altogether—and those with jobs still aren’t in a strong position to demand higher wages.

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