MONEY Viewpoint

Taxpayers Should Stop Subsidizing “Country Club” Colleges

An education policy expert argues that it's time for more elite colleges to open their doors to low-income students.

For years, Washington University in St. Louis has held the dubious distinction of being the least socioeconomically diverse college in the country.

Just 85 members of its freshmen class entering in the fall of 2012 (5%) came from families with incomes low enough (typically below $50,000 a year) to qualify for a federal Pell Grant. (That’s the most recent year with federal data available.)

Washington University’s proportion of low-income students is remarkably tiny, considering more than a third of all full-time undergraduates qualify for the need-based Pell Grants. It’s also low for schools with tough academic standards. Other elite colleges maintain top reputations while providing many more opportunities to the non-rich: About a third of the students at the University of California-Berkeley—generally considered one of the top universities in the world—qualify for Pell Grants, for example. And more than 20% of students at elite schools like Amherst College and Columbia University come from low-income families.

Adding financial injury to this insult: “country club” private colleges that bar the door to the poor—thus reinforcing socioeconomic inequality—are receiving large tax subsidies from you and me, in part because of their tax-exempt status.

But there finally may be a little good college opportunity news on the horizon. Perhaps in response to the growing criticism of taxpayer subsidies of such country club colleges, some schools like Washington University are starting to at least inch towards providing more opportunities.

This January, Washington University announced a plan to double the proportion of Pell Grant recipients that it enrolls by 2020. Under the plan, Wash U. will spend at least $25 million a year for five years to increase the share of students who qualify for Pell Grants.

“Improving the socioeconomic diversity of our student body is not just important; it’s critical to our success as a university,” Holden Thorp, the university’s provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in a news release.

Four other private colleges that currently have low-income populations of only about 10% tell me they are also now working to recruit more low-income students.

Some of the colleges say the problem—and solution—boils down to money.

Officials at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., for example, say one key reason their student body is currently only 10% low-income is that the financial crisis of 2008 reduced their endowment, which is used to fund financial aid. They are now trying to raise more money for scholarships so a more diverse group of students can afford to attend the school. “We have a responsibility to increase access wherever we can,” says school president George Bridges, who is leaving Whitman at the end of the school year to become president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Likewise, Elon University, in North Carolina, is in the middle of a 10-year campaign to double the amount of need-based institutional aid that it awards. “Elon must not become a gated community open only to those of privilege,” the college states on its website, “and our classrooms and campus life will be much richer when we recruit more students from diverse backgrounds who challenge and lead us by sharing their own life stories…” Because of the difficulty of raising the large sums needed, however, Elon is making “slow progress” in increasing the proportion of Pell students it enrolls, says President Leo Lambert. “We are digging hard into this issue of access, because it makes a big difference in the quality of the kind of community we aspire to be,” he says.

Other colleges are combining fundraising with new recruiting efforts. Colorado College is raising more money for financial aid and partnering with nonprofits such as QuestBridge to recruit low-income historically underrepresented students. “We are really diversifying the pool of highly qualified low-income students that we enroll,” says president Jill Tiefenthaler.

And Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, is increasing its diversity in part by changing its application. In 2013, Kenyon simplified its admissions application, removing extra essays that the school found discouraged first-generation students. It seems to be working: For next year’s incoming class, Kenyon admitted 408 minority students, up 9% from last year, and 128 first-generation college students, the second most the college has admitted in the last decade. “It’s clear to us that we can do better than where we are and where we’ve been in recent years,” says Sean Decatur, Kenyon’s president.

But this battle is far from won. There are still plenty of other colleges that aren’t making an effort to provide opportunities to more than a handful of lucky low-income students. “Just trying to increase the number of Pell Grant recipients might be good for PR, but may be bad policy for our college,” says Randy Helm, the outgoing president of Muhlenberg College, a private college in Pennsylvania where only 8% of the students come from low income families.

Part of the reason is financial. Washington University can afford to spend more on financial aid, since its endowment equates to about $500,000 per student. Muhlenberg’s endowment equates to one-tenth of that: $50,000 per student.

Helm, who is retiring in June, doesn’t think it would be healthy for Muhlenberg to make a concerted effort to recruit and finance substantially more Pell-eligible applicants. If it did, the school would have to spend its entire $36 million financial aid budget supporting them, and wouldn’t have any aid left for middle-income students who are also struggling to pay the school’s $55,000 annual cost of attendance.

“We’re not going to be a school that serves the very, very rich and the very, very poor,” he says. “I don’t think that would be fair to middle-income students, the college, or the country.”

Another reason for the lack of college opportunities may be the pursuit of prestige. Muhlenberg, for example, devotes a significant share of its institutional aid to the pursuit of high-achieving students, who often come from well-to-do families.

A page on Muhlenberg’s website, entitled “The Real Deal on Financial Aid,” acknowledges that the college and many of its competitors often use institutional aid as a “recruiting tool.” “It used to be that you could try for that reach school and if you got in, you didn’t have to worry because everybody who got in, who needed money, got money,” the college’s financial aid office states. “Today, however, as colleges are asked to fund more and more of their own operation with less and less assistance from government, foundations, and families, they are increasingly reluctant to part with their money to enroll students who don’t raise their academic profile.”

Muhlenberg provides “merit aid”—which is not based on financial need—to about 32% of its freshmen, with an average award of nearly $12,500 per student, according to data the college reports to magazines that publish college rankings.

Higher education researchers, the news media, and even the White House have been putting colleges on notice that they must do a better job serving low-income students. It’s encouraging to see that this pressure has been pushing some of the biggest laggards to make progress in this area. Those colleges that continue to hold out, however, deserve additional scrutiny. At a time of growing inequality, we can no longer afford to subsidize colleges that cater to the rich at the expense of the poor.

(Here are Money’s lists of the Most Generous Colleges and the 25 Best Colleges You Can Actually Get Into.)

Stephen Burd is a senior policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy Program. This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education.

MONEY Viewpoint

5 Things We Can Do Now to Solve the Student Loan Problem

IOU notes in piggy bank
Anthia Cumming—iStock

The plans currently in place to help student loan borrowers don’t do enough. So how can we really begin to address the problem?

The U.S. Department of Education recently unveiled a new and improved methodology for calculating student-loan payment delinquencies. Where it once figured the late-payment rate of student loans as a whole to be 17%, the department has now determined that when the same data is expressed in terms of individual borrowers, it’s as high as 38%.

However, the new calculations don’t even take into account the borrowers who are currently in default or have had their payment plans modified by loan servicers so that their accounts no longer appear to be past due – even though many technically are. Taking all that into consideration, the number of distressed borrowers approaches 50%.

There are two problems with the ED’s latest effort to convince a skeptical world that it really does know how to manage the more than $1 trillion of directly-originated and government-guaranteed student loans that are on its books.

The first problem is, frighteningly, the ED has demonstrated that it really doesn’t know what it is doing — not with all its restated metrics and loan-administration mishaps. The second is that even this latest parsing of payment-performance data has yet to inspire anything more than a frustratingly incremental approach to solving what is clearly a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Starting with the manner in which performance is evaluated, there are three categories of loans: those that are not in default, those that are and those that are someplace in between because the contracts have been temporarily restructured (granted forbearance) or permanently modified (via the government’s Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn plans).

True, the above three categories combine to make up the aggregate value of student loans currently in repayment, but each of these types must be separately tracked and analyzed, for two reasons: first, so that migrations between delinquency statuses (30-, 60-, 90-days past due, for example) can be monitored and corrective actions (with regard to servicing) taken; second, so that the activities of the loan servicers can be more closely scrutinized than they currently are.

These private-sector companies are compensated for managing payment performances to within predetermined standards. So it’s reasonable to be concerned about the temptation to improve upon the results, such as by temporarily accommodating delinquent borrowers so their loans no longer appear as past due.

These dreadful metrics should inspire lenders and servicers to find a comprehensive solution, but don’t. The plain truth is that the plans to help student loan borrowers — those currently in place (income-based repayment programs) and proposed (such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s reintroduction of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act) — don’t do enough.

Here’s why: PAYE and IBR are helpful but cumbersome. Not only must borrowers re-qualify for the relief they need every year, but as their incomes grow, so will the value of their monthly payments. That makes it harder for households already under pressure to set budgets, let alone plan for the future.

What Can Be Done?

A loan portfolio in which roughly half the borrowers are either in trouble or treading water is one that is in obvious need of restructuring. So let’s stop wasting time pointing fingers about how these loans were first approved or structured, or why borrowers are still struggling as the economy improves, and solve the problem. Here’s how.

  1. Restructure every loan—without regard for origination channel and payment status—for terms of up to 20 years. Longer repayment durations will do more for affordability than monkeying around with interest rates, although these, too, should be reconfigured because the consumer-unfriendly rate-setting mechanism that Congress put into place in 2013 has more to do with politics than it does finance.
  2. Permit partial and full prepayments—without penalty. Just because a loan has a lengthy duration shouldn’t mean that it can’t be settled ahead of time. Penalty-free prepayments—where the additionally remitted amounts are appropriately applied against the principal—will help borrowers to limit the amount of interest they pay overall.
  3. Expunge previous credit histories for loans that are subsequently refinanced. The standard 10-year repayment plan that was originally put into place is to a large extent responsible for the problems many borrowers have had. Creditors should therefore be more concerned about repayment performance after the contracts have been restructured.
  4. Offer student-loan borrowers the same tax relief that has benefitted homeowners. Waive taxation on the value of the debt forgiveness that may be granted on an exception basis, just as it has been for distressed home mortgages that were permanently modified after the crash.
  5. Permit student loan debts to be discharged in bankruptcy. This will motivate recalcitrant owners and servicers of government-guaranteed loans to come to the bargaining table with tangible, sustainable solutions.

The money exists to pay for all this.

It’s no secret that the ED rakes in enormous profits from its student loan programs. Much of that is a result of the risky manner in which the government has chosen to finance this activity (low-rate, short-term borrowing is used to support its high-rate, long-term lending at a time when the Federal Reserve is contemplating raising rates). But even if the ED were to “match fund” its portfolio as lenders often do, it would still earn substantial profits from the combination of fees and interest that are charged.

What’s not so well-known is how these profits end up appropriated by Congress to offset the national debt. Said differently, lawmakers are, in effect, taxing the very same constituents it should be helping.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Viewpoint

Why the Medicare “Doc Fix” Bill Isn’t a Fix for the Rest of Us

The problem it tries to address is real—but this isn't the right solution.

The “doc fix” bill that passed the House last week on a 392-37 vote is a piece of cheese that could smell really, really bad by the time the Senate comes back from its spring break to consider the measure.

If signed into law, the bill would halt a scheduled 21% cut in the fees that doctors get for treating Medicare patients. The fear is that if their pay is reduced—and especially if reduced this drastically—many doctors would simply choose to stop treating Medicare patients.

So who proposed the 21% cut in the first place? It stems from a 1997 law that automatically trims physician reimbursement rates if and when medical costs rise faster than overall economic growth. That’s happened so often in recent years that cuts were scheduled 17 times—but each time Congress voted to override the cut. So when the latest scheduled cuts came around, lots of folks expected Congress to kick the can down the road yet again.

All of sudden, however, Congressional leaders of both parties decided they’d had enough short-term fixes and the “doc fix” bill was born.

Here’s what everyone should know about it:

It’s got a real shot of passing

Before leaving town, a solid majority of Senators seemed to be in favor of the measure, even if some liberals and fiscal hawks are holding their noses. And the Obama White House has already signaled support.

It’s a fix, but a very expensive one

The stated price tag is more than $200 billion over 10 years, $140 million of which would hit the federal budget with no compensating spending offsets.

The 17 earlier short-term fixes were funded with $165 billion in offsetting savings from other parts of Medicare. But the bill approved by the House does not provide such offsets, which is why it will raise federal deficits so much.

How much? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit Washington watchdog group, estimates that it will lead to more than half a trillion dollars of additional debt by 2035.

On top of that, affluent seniors will pay more for Medicare; everyone with a Medicare Supplement policy will get nicked with a higher price tag; and health care providers—other than doctors, of course—would be dinged with higher costs.

It could change everything about the way health care is delivered

This is where Messrs. Limburger and Roquefort enter the room. The bill could become a powerful enabler to drastically change, if not end, the traditional fee-for-service model of Medicare.

That’s because the law would create—get ready for two more healthcare acronyms—MIPS and APM. MIPS stands for the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System, which would reward or penalize doctors based on patient health outcomes compared with performance thresholds. APM is short for Alternative Payment Model programs, which provide different rates and incentives for doctor payments. These programs could trigger big changes in how Medicare works and in how doctors perform medicine.

There’s a better solution

A better approach would be an 18th year-long fix. It wouldn’t cost much and thus won’t worsen federal deficits. Rethinking the way we deliver healthcare to Medicare beneficiaries absolutely needs to be done, but not in such a hurry. Take the next year to do this very important but complicated piece of work, and then come back with a true fix worthy of the name.

Of course, this won’t happen. It’s hard enough to get one Congressional consensus these days, let alone two. And we pick a new President next year, which also argues against expecting Congress to again be in a cooperative mood.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” and a research fellow at the Center for Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

MONEY Viewpoint

The Apple Watch Edition Not Only Tells Time, It Also Tells Plenty About You

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., speaks during the Apple Inc. Spring Forward event in San Francisco, California, U.S.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

With its high-end smartwatch, Apple ingeniously combines the expense of luxury goods with the rapid obsolescence of consumer electronics.

Well, the secret is out. A top-of-the-line Apple Watch Edition will cost $17,000. Yes, that’s a 17 and then three zeroes. A $10,000 version of the 18-karat gold smartwatch is also available, presumably for aristocrats on a budget.

While the price tag has popped a number of eyes on Twitter, the dollar figure alone shouldn’t be very surprising. Watches have always been a popular vehicle for the rich, and particularly rich men, to flaunt their wealth.

You could say the same of a lot of status symbols—cars, clothes, handbags—but it’s especially true of watches, because the most expensive timepieces are delicate mechanical creations and therefore not even very good at keeping time compared with cheaper electronic alternatives. As one watch museum curator explained to the New Yorker, businessmen don’t buy a Piaget Gouverneur so they don’t miss a meeting.

But until now, there was at least one factor limiting watch-related flamboyance: the widely cultivated belief that a watch is more like an heirloom or work of art than your typical luxury extravagance. The image projected by major watch brands is generally, Yes, this product is expensive, but it’s really an investment. You’ll enjoy it for the next however many odd years, and then it will travel through your family forever.

That message is especially clear in the marketing of Patek Philippe, a Swiss watchmaker with products priced in the high six digits. The company’s signature ad campaign pitches its timepieces as a way to “Begin your own tradition.” In fact, you’re not even really buying anything, because “You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” It’s schmaltz, sure, but it’s the kind of schmaltz that makes dropping $100k on a watch seem slightly more redeemable.

Edition owners will have no such excuse. Thanks to Apple, which has ingeniously combined the expense of luxury goods with the rapid obsolescence of consumer electronics, that $17,000 Apple Watch Edition could be an expensive gold brick within about two years. Let no one, for one second, believe an Apple Watch Edition owner has purchased his or her new accessory for the benefit of their offspring. They got it so you know they can afford a $17,000 gadget.

In fact, when you buy an Apple Watch Edition, you’re not just telling the world you have enough money to get a single hyper-expensive watch. You’re saying you have the cash to buy a few of these every decade until Apple goes out of business or Google makes something even more ostentatious (a gold Google Glass, perhaps?).

It’s always possible Cook and company will roll out some kind of trade-in program for certain Apple Watch models, which would partially crank down the pretentiousness of the whole affair. But even so, customers would still be plunking down thousands of dollars on a regular basis.

So thanks, Apple. Thanks for giving us a new way to pick out status-seekers on sight. The gold-colored iPhone, and now a gold-colored laptop, was a good start. But a mini-computer made of actual gold? It’s the best indicator yet.

MONEY Viewpoint

Montel Williams Got Called Out On Twitter For Endorsing Payday Loans—And He Didn’t Handle It Well

Montel Williams
Danny Johnston—AP

You may have heard of Montel Williams, actor, producer, and host of the long-running but now-defunct Montel Williams Show. You may also know that Williams is a spokesperson for Money Mutual, a lead generator for so-called payday lenders.

On Thursday, that side-business got a little awkward for the former host when an education activist named André-Tascha Lammé called out Williams on Twitter for “Support[ing] the *most* predatory of loans in existence, PayDay loans. Designed to prey on the poor.”

Williams denied the charge, which prompted the following exchange:

150227_FF_MontelPayday_Tweet2
@Montel_Williams via Twitter

 

Montel is either being disingenuous—deliberately not addressing Lammé’s point—or he just doesn’t understand the real-world effect of payday lending. The truth is that a large portion of payday customers end up in dire financial straits because of these seemingly innocuous loans.

Here’s what happens. The average payday loan charges a fee of about $15 for every $100 borrowed. That might sound like an interest rate of 15%, but that’s the fee for a two-week loan. On an annualized basis—which is how most people think about interest rates, or should—that translates into a rate of 391%.

Montel apparently thinks it’s unfair to think about it this way, since borrowers are supposed to pay back their loan in two weeks.

But here’s the thing: Four out of five payday loans are rolled over or renewed within 14 days. That’s because borrowers are not able to pay off their debt in such a short time period, so they go back to the payday loan shop and take out another loan to pay off the first one—for an additional fee, of course—and a cycle of debt begins.

In fact, according to the CFPB, the median payday customer is in debt for 199 days a year, taking out new payday loans along the way as they struggle to pay down the initial loan amount. That’s more than 14 times longer than the period Williams was talking about. As a result, more than half of payday loans are made to borrowers who end up paying more in interest than they borrowed in the first place. The median loan recipient ends up paying $458 in fees and an effective interest rate of 130%.

A representative for Williams defended the tweet, telling MONEY by phone that Williams was specifically referring to loans that are paid off within two weeks, and not payday loans in general.

But since that’s a only small fraction of payday loans, we’re wondering if Montel accepts only that portion of the fees he gets for endorsing this dangerous lending practice.

The rep also emailed this statement:

As someone who used short term lending while in College, Mr. Williams understands that a large number of consumers, like he once did, have no access to traditional credit products. His endorsement of Money Mutual – which is not itself a lender – is reflective of the code of conduct it requires the lenders in its network adhere to and its historically low complaint rate. Certainly we believe consumers should make sure they fully understand the terms of any financial product they may be considering and would note Money Mutual encourages consumers to fully review and understand the terms of any loan, including the cost of any renewals, offered to them via its network of lenders.

Update: This post initially suggested four out of five borrowers roll over or renew their payday loan within 14 days. In fact, four in five payday loans are renewed within 14 days.

TIME Sex/Relationships

10 Ways To Sleep Better With Your Partner

bed
Getty Images

Learning to share a bed with a snorer, sheet hogger, or kicker can save your sanity—and your relationship

A good night’s rest can be hard enough to get on your own. Add in the challenge of sleeping with a partner who snores, hogs the covers, or can only nod off to the sound of the nightly news—or has issues with your sleep patterns and needs—and it’s no wonder so many partners are sleep-deprived. In fact, about 25% of American couples retreat to separate sleeping quarters, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That can be an effective solution for some spouses, but it can also take a toll on your bond and intimacy, says Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. If his and hers beds don’t appeal to you, you’ve still got options. Read on for easy, expert-backed ways to navigate your different sleep styles and score the snoozetime you both deserve.

Your partner’s snoring leaves you staring at the ceiling

About 37 million adults snore regularly, according to the National Sleep Foundation, resulting in poor snooze quality for their bedmates and themselves. Men are more likely to saw away, and snoring tends to worsen with age. “The sound comes from vibrations made as you breathe through narrowed airways while sleeping,” says Breus. Congestion is often a trigger; so is drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Even sleeping on your back can be to blame, which is why nonsnoring partners often roll (or push!) the snorer over to get some peace and quiet. If addressing these issues doesn’t help, have your partner check in with a sleep doctor. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious but treatable condition that causes breathing to stop several times per night. In the meantime, Breus suggests the snore-free partner drown out the buzz by surrounding their ears with a wall of pillows. “The sound will bounce back in the other direction, reducing the noise enough so you’re more likely to drift off,” he says.

You can’t agree on room temperature

The optimum temperature for sleep ranges from 68 to 72 degrees fahrenheit, says Breus. But that won’t persuade a partner who craves a toasty-warm bedroom to stop secretly hiking the thermostat, nor will it stop a chill-loving spouse from throwing open the window. Call a compromise: Pick a temperature between your two preferences. The person who likes it warmer has the option of putting on another blanket or thicker pajamas, while the cold-preferring partner can sleep outside the sheets or duvet, suggests Breus. Upgrading to a bigger bed might also help. “A larger bed means more room, so the person who wants it cooler isn’t as affected by the other’s body heat,” says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and sleep specialist in New York City and author of The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby and You.

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Your kids keep interrupting your zzz’s

When spouses don’t agree on how to handle a child who has had a bad dream or has a potty emergency, conflict can ensue—not to mention next-day exhaustion. “Sometimes only one parent ends up taking care of the child’s needs, and that can build resentment,” says Kennedy. “Or one partner is fine with the child coming into their bed for the rest of the night, while the other parent wants the bedroom off-limits.” Kennedy suggests reaching a solution outside of the bedroom, when you and your partner are rested and thinking rationally. “You need to be on the same page about how to handle this situation, so you set boundaries for your kids but also share the responsibility of a middle-of-the-night interruption,” she advises. Otherwise, not only will you both be sleep-deprived, the conflict can potentially shake up your bond.

You have different mattress preferences

Some people love a soft, sink-into-it bed; others require bedding as firm as a board before they can start counting sheep. Luckily, mattress manufacturers have caught on to this, and options that address both preferences exist. “The Sleep Number Bed is popular because you can make one side firmer and the other softer, so spouses don’t have to resort to separate beds,” says Breus. Memory foam mattresses are also couple-friendly because they mold to your weight and body size without affecting the partner lying alongside. You could also look into a split-king bed that features a king-size frame with two side-by-side separate mattresses. These beds can be pricey, but think of it as an investment in your health and relationship, not just another piece of furniture.

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You go to bed or wake up at different times

This one’s tricky: we all have an internal clock that generally determines what time we turn in for the night and wake up in the morning. Yet it’s almost impossible to change your personal pattern, says Breus. Make a deal: the later-to-bed partner promises to be extra quiet and not do anything in the bedroom that can cause the other to wake, then in the morning, the early riser promises to do the same for the partner sleeping in. “If you need to rise first, offer to not hit the snooze button too often, so it goes off a bunch of times and disturbs the other person,” says Kennedy. Similarly, night owls should use headphones to listen to music or watch TV while the other spouse is snoozing, advises Breus. Schedule time in bed to be intimate or to talk at a neutral time, like early in the evening or later in the morning, so one partner isn’t wired while the other is too tired.

You like it dark; your partner needs light

Preferring a dark bedroom makes sense; darkness is a cue to your brain to ramp up production of the hormone melatonin, which helps your body wind down, says Breus. Thing is, some people are conditioned to sleep with a light on. If you and your partner are in opposing camps, compromise by agreeing to keep a very small low-wattage lamp or nightlight plugged in, or use a clip-on booklight that can be directed away from the other partner, says Breus. And eye masks look silly, but don’t discount them—they can be surprisingly good at blocking out light. Breus also recommends a new type of lightbulb for your bedside lamp. Goodnight Bulbs use a special bulb that cuts down on blue light, the kind emitted from TV screens and smartphones that has been implicated in insomnia. Without that blue light, it’s easier for the darkness-wanting spouse to doze off.

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You’re a cuddler, but your partner craves space

Even the closest couples can have different pre-sleep intimacy preferences. “One partner might like snuggling before bed and falling asleep in the other’s arms, while the other feels crowded and can’t relax unless he or she turns away,” says Kennedy. While that might feel like rejection or a reflection that you two aren’t as connected as you thought, Kennedy cautions against viewing it that way. “It’s just a difference in sleep styles,” she says. Here’s a fair middle ground: “Agree to cuddle until the snuggler drifts off, at which point the other person can retreat to their side of the bed and sleep solo for the rest of the night,” she says. Or have a distinct 10 to 15 minute snuggle time, during which you two can touch and talk, and then officially move to opposite sides of the bed once the time has passed. You both have your intimacy needs meet and can easily drift off to dreamland.

He needs the TV to fall asleep; you like quiet

If one of you is conditioned to fall asleep to Jimmy Kimmel’s voice on late-night TV while the other needs silence, you might need to look into headphones, especially the wireless kind. A timer is also a good idea; agree to set it for 15 or 30 minutes, by which time the TV watcher will have sacked out anyway, says Breus. If the noise can’t be totally shut out, agree to keep the TV volume low, then bring a fan into the bedroom next to your side and keep it on all night. It’s a simple white-noise infusion that can drown out the voices on the tube. If you’re out of options, foam earplugs you can buy in a drugstore can be surprisingly effective.

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You’re battling a blanket hog

Ever wake up in the middle of a sleep session to find yourself shivering because the comforter you had cocooned yourself in hours ago is now encased around your partner like a burrito? Sounds like you’re sleeping with a blanket hog—though it’s not necessarily a deliberate move on your bedmate’s part. If the tug of war over covers happens regularly, it’s no surprise you’re fatigued, says Breus. The solution is to have his and hers covers: one top sheet, blanket and/or comforter for you, and another stack for him. It’s harder for one partner to steal the covers from the other if you each have your own layers.

One partner tosses, turns, and thrashes all night

Everyone changes position at least a few times as they cycle through a night of sleep. But women tend to be more sensitive to their partner’s movements, and that means they’re more likely to be woken up by the kicking, jostles, or twitchy motions of a restless sleeper, says Breus. Layering up in separate blankets can help minimize the disruption, since his or her legs and arms will be wrapped under a different comforter and sheet set. Or consider a foam mattress like a Tempur-Pedic—the lack of springs cuts down on excessive bounce and motion, says Kennedy. A larger bed also allows you to maintain an arm’s length of distance, so the other person can thrash all over the place and not make contact with you.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME

Viral Threats

TURKEY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-KURDS
BULENT KILIC—AFP/Getty Images Militants of Islamic State are seen before explosion of air strike on Tilsehir hill near the Turkish border village Yumurtalik in Sanliurfa province, Oct. 23, 2014.

Why combatting the extremists of ISIS is harder than fighting an Ebola outbreak

As images of brutal beheadings and dying plague victims compete for the world’s shrinking attention span, it is instructive to compare the unexpected terrors of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (known as ISIS or ISIL) and Ebola. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out that “the twin plagues of Ebola and ISIL both fomented quietly, neglected by a world that knew they existed but misread their terrible potential, before exploding into the global consciousness.” Seeking more direct connections, various press stories have cited “experts” discussing the potential for ISIS to weaponize Ebola for bioterrorist attacks on the West.

Sensationalist claims aside, questions about similarities and differences are worth considering. Both burst onto the scene this year, capturing imaginations as they spread with surprising speed and severity. About Ebola, the world knows a lot and is doing relatively little. About ISIS, we know relatively little but are doing a lot.

In the case of Ebola, the first U.S.-funded treatment unit opened on Nov. 10—more than eight months after the epidemic came to the world’s attention. The U.S. has committed more than $350 million and 3,000 troops to this challenge to date. To combat ISIS, President Obama announced on Nov. 7 that he would be sending an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq to supplement his initial deployment of 1,500. And he has asked Congress for a down payment of $5.6 billion in this chapter of the global war on terrorism declared by his predecessor 13 years ago and on which the U.S. has spent more than $4 trillion so far.

Over recent centuries, medicine has made more progress than statecraft. It can be useful therefore to examine ISIS through a public-health lens. When confronting a disease, modern medicine begins by asking: What is the pathogen? How does it spread? Who is at risk? And, informed by this understanding, how can it be treated and possibly prevented?

About Ebola, we know the answers to each. But what about ISIS?

Start with identification of the virus itself. In the case of Ebola, scientists know the genetic code of the specific virus that causes an infected human being to bleed and die. Evidence suggests that the virus is animal-borne, and bats appear to be the most likely source. Scientists have traced the current outbreak to a likely animal-to-human transfer in December 2013.

In the case of ISIS, neither the identity of the virus nor the circumstances that gave rise to it are clear. Most see ISIS as a mutation of al-Qaeda, the Osama bin Laden–led terrorist group that killed nearly 3,000 people in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in September 2001. In response to those attacks, President George W. Bush declared the start of a global war on terrorism and sent American troops into direct conflict with the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the years since, the White House has deployed military personnel and intelligence officers to deal with offshoots of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Yemen (AQAP), Syria (al-Nusra) and Somalia (al-Shabab).

But while ISIS has its roots in AQI, it was excommunicated by al-Qaeda leadership in February. Moreover, over the past six months, ISIS has distinguished itself as a remarkably purpose-driven organization, achieving unprecedented success on the battlefield—as well as engaging in indiscriminate violence, mass murders, sexual slavery and apparently even attempted genocide.

Horrifying as the symptoms of both Ebola and ISIS are, from an epidemiological perspective, the mere emergence of a deadly disease is not sufficient cause for global concern. For an outbreak to become truly worrying, it must be highly contagious. So how does the ISIS virus spread?

Ebola is transmitted only through contact with infected bodily fluids. No transfer of fluids, no spread. Not so for ISIS, where online images and words can instantly appear worldwide. ISIS’s leadership has demonstrated extraordinary skill and sophistication in crafting persuasive messages for specific audiences. It has won some followers by offering a sense of community and belonging, others by intimidation and a sense of inevitable victory, and still others by claims to restore the purity of Wahhabi Islam. According to CIA estimates, ISIS’s ranks of fighters tripled from initial estimates of 10,000 to more than 31,000 by mid-September. These militants include over 15,000 foreign volunteers from around the globe, including more than 2,000 from Europe and more than 100 from the U.S.

Individuals at risk of Ebola are relatively easy to identify: all have come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic Ebola patient, and almost all these cases occurred in just a handful of countries in West Africa. Once symptoms begin, those with the virus soon find it difficult to move, much less travel, for very long undetected.

But who is most likely to catch the ISIS virus? The most susceptible appear to be 18- to 35-year-old male Sunni Muslims, among whom there are many Western converts, disaffected or isolated in their local environment. But militants’ individual circumstances vary greatly, with foreign fighters hailing from more than 80 countries. These terrorists’ message can also inspire “lone wolf” sympathizers to engage in deadly behavior thousands of miles from any master planner or jihadist cell.

In sum, if Ebola were judged as a serious threat to the U.S., Americans have the knowledge to stop it in its tracks. Imagine an outbreak in the U.S. or another advanced society. The infected would be immediately quarantined, limiting contact to appropriately protected medical professionals—thus breaking the chain of infection. It is no surprise that all but two of the individuals infected by the virus who have returned to the U.S. have recovered and have not infected others. Countries like Liberia, on the other hand, with no comprehensive modern public-health or medical system, face entirely different challenges. International assistance has come slowly, piecemeal and in a largely uncoordinated fashion.

Of course, if ISIS really were a disease, it would be a nightmare: a deadly, highly contagious killer whose identity, origins, transmission and risk factors are poorly understood. Facing it, we find ourselves more like the Founding Fathers of the U.S., who in the 1790s experienced seasonal outbreaks of yellow fever in Philadelphia (then the capital of the country). Imagining that it was caused by the “putrid” airs of hot summers in the city, President John Adams and his Cabinet simply left the city, not returning until later in the fall when the plague subsided. In one particularly virulent year, Adams remained at his home in Quincy, Mass., for four months.

Not until more than a century later did medical science discover that the disease was transmitted by mosquitoes and its spread could be stopped.

We cannot hope to temporarily escape the ­“putrid” airs of ISIS until our understanding of that scourge improves. Faced with the realities of this threat, how would the medical world suggest we respond?

First, we would begin with humility. Since 9/11, the dominant U.S. strategy to prevent the spread of Islamic extremism has been to kill its hosts. Thirteen years on, having toppled the Taliban in Kabul and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, waged war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, decimated the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan and Afghanistan and conducted 500 drone strikes against al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Pakistan, and now launched over 1,000 air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we should pause and ask: Are the numbers of those currently infected by the disease shrinking—or growing? As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once put it: Are we creating more enemies than we are killing? With our current approach, will we be declaring war on another acronym a decade from now? As we mount a response to ISIS, we must examine honestly past failures and successes and work to improve our limited understanding of what we are facing. We should then proceed with caution, keeping in mind Hippocrates’ wise counsel “to help, or at least, to do no harm.”

Second, we would tailor our treatments to reflect the different theaters of the disease. Health care professionals fighting Ebola in West Africa face quite different challenges of containment, treatment and prevention than do their counterparts dealing with isolated cases in the Western world. Similarly, our strategy to “defeat and ultimately destroy” ISIS in its hotbed of Iraq and Syria must be linked to, but differentiated from, our treatment for foreign fighters likely to “catch” the ISIS virus in Western nations. While continuing to focus on the center of the outbreak, the U.S. must also work to identify, track and—when necessary—isolate infected individuals within its borders.

Just as Ebola quarantines have raised ethical debates, our response to foreign fighters will need to address difficult trade-offs between individual rights and collective security. Should citizens who choose to fight for ISIS be stripped of their citizenship, imprisoned on their return, or denied entry to their home country? Such a response would certainly chill “jihadi tourism.” Should potential foreign fighters be denied passports or have their travel restricted? How closely should security agencies be allowed to monitor individuals who visit the most extremist Salafist websites or espouse ISIS-friendly views? Will punitive measures control the threat or only add fuel to radical beliefs?

Finally, we should acknowledge the fact that for the foreseeable future, there may be no permanent cure for Islamic extremism. Against Ebola, researchers are racing toward a vaccine that could decisively prevent future epidemics. But the past decade has taught us that despite our best efforts, if and when the ISIS outbreak is controlled, another strain of the virus is likely to emerge. In this sense, violent Islamic extremism may be more like the flu than Ebola: a virus for which we have no cure, but for which we can develop a coherent management strategy to minimize the number of annual infections and deaths. And recalling the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed at least 50 million people around the world, we must remain vigilant to the possibility that a new, more virulent and contagious strain of extremism could emerge with even graver consequences.

Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Signs You Should Take a Break From Social Media

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If you can’t rake the leaves or paint your nails without tweeting about it

In a tech-obsessed society where 500 million tweets are sent per day and 1.28 billion people use Facebook on a regular basis, how can you tell when your own love of “checking in” has gone too far? Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, PhD, technology expert and author of The Distraction Addiction, shares some of the most common signs that you should to sign off for a bit.

You make elaborate desserts and projects just to Instagram them

Did you spend extra time making your salad look picture-perfect or recreate a DIY off Pinterest just to appear crafty? If you’re guilty of situations like these, you may be ready for a break. “When you start crafting your life to be more Twitter– or Instagram-friendly, it’s time to step back,” says Pang. “Thinking about where you’ll go or what you’ll do with an eye to how it will appear on social media undermines your ability to be yourself,” he adds.

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You can’t rake the leaves or paint your nails without tweeting about it

We all have that friend on social media who can’t help but share every single detail of her life. Unfortunately, you may also be that friend. “Composing tweets about what you’re doing as you’re doing it or feeling the need to report your thoughts in real-time are all signs that social media is taking over your life,” says Pang. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and the more time we spend sharing with our friends what we’re doing hour-by-hour, the less time we have to discover for ourselves why we enjoy these activities and what our days are adding up to mean,” he explains.

You know way too much about your connections

“The big warning sign to look out for here is when you start becoming compulsive about knowing the statuses of your social media ‘friends,’” Pang says. So if you readily know that the random guy you once met at a party just bought a house, and you’ve already stalked his wife’s Facebook profile, you may want to reevaluate how much time you’re spending online. “The irony of social media is that while it can be great for keeping up with the details of our friend’s lives, too much engagement can obscure the big picture and weaken our ability to make sense of our own lives,” adds Pang.

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You feel like you don’t measure up to your successful/happy/thriving friends

Thumbing through your social feed can quickly lead to an inundation of good—and often envy-inducing—news. Witnessing your friends’ promotions, engagements, and extravagant vacations can stir up feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, whether you realize it or not. In fact, spending too much time on social media can cause feelings of negative body image among women, increase the amount of anxiety a person has on a daily basis, and even lead to damaged friendships and relationships. “When keeping up with your friends’ lives gets in the way of you happily leading your own life, you need a break,” says Pang.

You feel anxious when you don’t have access to your phone

Do you check Facebook at traffic lights or while talking to your friends at the table? Do you refresh your Twitter feed as soon as you wake up or as you’re falling asleep? “The more you’re on social media, the less material you actually have to talk about that’s interesting and worth having other people hear,” says Pang. Think about it: How many conversations or real-life events have you missed out on because you were too wrapped up in your phone? The more time you spend liking, the less likable your own world ends up becoming, Pang explains.

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How to take a step back

Start by setting aside a specific time every day for catching up on social media. “Humans have a schedule for exercising, going to work, eating meals, and sleeping. So if one hour per day, at the same time each day, is good enough for dinner, it’s good enough for your news feed,” says Pang. When you do post status updates, limit yourself to only discussing life stories, instead of off-the-cuff thoughts or irrelevant snapshots of your food or your dog (no matter how cute he may be).

Finally, experiment with temporarily limiting your access. “Challenge yourself to abstaining from social media for a full week, or, if that’s too daunting, just delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from your phone for a week,” Pang suggests. “Does your life get better or worse? You may find that you feel perfectly satisfied without social media in your life,” says Pang.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Benefits of Being Generous

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Giving may give you a longer life

Forget about all the sweet deals you scored on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Today’s the day to put your shopping exploits aside and embrace something a little more warm and fuzzy: generosity.

It’s officially #GivingTuesday, a global day reserved for people to get out and do something nice for others. While some towns might have a specific campaign planned, you can get in on the action yourself just by donating to charity or volunteering at your local shelter. No act of kindness is too small.

It doesn’t hurt either that giving to others can be a big boost for your health. Read on for four awesome perks of being more generous:

It may lower blood pressure

Helping out friends and family could be one way to boost your cardiovascular health this holiday season. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that participants who gave social support to people within their network had lower overall blood pressure and arterial pressure than those who didn’t. Not to mention those in the study who were more likely to give to others also reported they received greater social support in return. Why not bring a homemade meal to a friend who’s caring for someone else this holiday season? Not only will you feel good on the inside, but your friend might just be inclined to return the favor.

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It can help reduce stress

Hoarding money like Scrooge may be good for your wallet, but it’s not so great for your health. A recent study from Queensland University of Technology published in PLOS One found that stingy behavior increases stress. Researchers asked 156 volunteers to play a bargaining game and decide how to divide a sum of money. Using heart rate monitors, they found players who made low offers (below 40% of the total) experienced increased heart rate and stress levels compared to those who made high offers. More proof to consider giving away some money to those less fortunate over the holidays: A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who decided not to donate money to their partner in a bargaining game to felt more shame and had higher levels of stress hormone cortisol afterwards.

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It could help you live longer

Lending a hand for small tasks may end up boosting your longevity. In a 2013 study of 846 people published in the American Journal of Public Health, people who helped others by running errands or doing chores seemed to be protected from the negative impact of stress. While stressful events were not linked to a higher risk of death for those do-gooders, people who didn’t help others did have a 30% higher risk of dying during the study if they reported having a stressful life event. If a member of your family always cooks the holiday dinner, it might not be a bad idea to pitch in this year with the meal.

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It can boost your mood

Research shows that giving money away can feel just as good as receiving it. For a 2007 study in Science, researchers used brain imaging technology on 19 women to see how certain regions were activated when they either kept $100 or gave it to a local food bank. Turns out the same pleasure-related centers in the brain that lit up in those who took the money also went off in those who donated the money—even more so when the decision was voluntary and not required by researchers. Whether you drop some change into a Salvation Army bucket or send a larger sum to your favorite charity, you can’t go wrong this holiday season with a little giving.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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