Is a Second Stimulus on the Way?
Kiplinger.com tax editor Rocky Mengle chats with hosts Ryan Ermey and Sandy Block about what may or may not be included in a second round of economic stimulus legislation. Plus, the pair fills you in on prepaid stimulus debit cards, new FSA rules and a technical indicator to assess market rallies.
Ryan Ermey: Might another check be on the way? Kiplinger.com senior tax editor Rocky Mengle joins the show to discuss what we'll likely see from a second round of economic stimulus legislation in our main segment. On today's show, Sandy and I warn you not to throw away that stimulus debit card you may have gotten, and a new edition of Fact or Fiction covers healthcare account spending and the tool for assessing market rallies. That's all ahead on this episode of Your Money's Worth. Stick around.
Sandy Block: We got mail, yeah. And this really was a surprise. We got a debit card for our economic stimulus payment and many other people did too. And, unfortunately, maybe we're doing too good a job, because we've been warning so many people about stimulus scams. Some people threw their stimulus away or they thought it was junk mail. And I can totally get that, because it just looks sketchy. It's an envelope, but it says economic . . .
Sandy Block: It comes with an envelope, it says "Economic impact payment card enclosed" or something like that. But it's for real. This is for people for whom the IRS did not have current bank account information. And so instead of sending them a check for their stimulus payment, it sent them a debit card. If you got one, it is for real. We'll attach a better description in the show notes, but basically it will come in a plain envelope from the Money Network Cardholder Services. Does that sound like something you might throw away?
Ryan Ermey: It's it sounds like a . . . they really need to come up with a better name for this thing.
Sandy Block: Yeah, or it sounds like one of those things where you get solicitation for a car. Well, this is for real. If it says Money Network Card Holder Services, do not throw it away. When you open it up, you'll see a card that says "Visa" on the front, and "MetaBank" on the back. And then you need to call a 1-800 number on the back to activate it. At that time, you'll be asked to create a four digit pin. Just a reminder, the stimulus was for $1,200 per person or $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 per child.
Sandy Block: You may get a lower amount depending on how much you made in 2018 or 2019, whichever year they used. You can use this card at any store that accepts Visa debit card, which is pretty much any store, or, as most people are shopping now, you can use it to buy things online. If you actually want cash, you can take it to an ATM and get cash, but if you use an out of network ATM, you'll pay a fee. You should register your card online, I did that. That way you can track your balance, protect yourself if the card is lost or stolen.
Sandy Block: And we'll put a little . . . Rocky, our next guest, has more details on this in a slideshow he did for Kiplinger.com, and we'll put that in the show notes. But I just wanted, you may have already gotten it by now, but I just want to give a heads up. Be on the lookout, if you think you were due a stimulus payment and you haven't got it yet. You may be getting it soon.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. And we talked a little bit, early on in the pandemic, about what you should do with your money. And getting it, because I got mine direct deposit, I actually got a sketchy looking letter this week as well, but it was just one to inform me that a month prior, I had gotten the direct deposit, just in case I did nothing, or just maybe I was just rolling in it . . .
Sandy Block: You had so much fun. You got $1,200 and forgot.
Ryan Ermey: Or I just didn't even notice $1,200, why does it sound like a like a rounding error in my account? Yeah, believe me, I had noticed but about a month, hence I got the letter informing me that I had a deposit. And so that made it easy for me and made it flexible for me to do whatever I wanted with the money.
Ryan Ermey: And I've done a little bit of mixture of bolstering my emergency fund. I've made some investments, paid off a couple of small debts that I had put a hold on when things first broke out, just because I wasn't sure what my financial situation was going to be in the immediate term, but getting it in the form of a debit card means that if you want to, for instance, deposit it, that might be a little bit trickier, right?
Sandy Block: Well, that's interesting, because we did do a slide show and talked about good things to do with your stimulus. To be honest, I was, we didn't get the full amount and I was surprised we got anything. I wasn't sure what tax year they were using and that sort of thing. So this was found money for me, but I do think I have a couple of ideas that I can use the debit card for. We are going to support some local businesses. I think we're going to get takeout maybe from a couple local restaurants that we'd like to support. That's real altruistic on our part.
Sandy Block: But I also do think I'm going to give some of it to charity -- probably a food bank in my hometown where they really need it. And as I said, it's a debit card. So most charities will accept a debit or credit card, certainly restaurants will accept debit or credit cards. So if I wanted to, I'm sure if I wanted to just put it in my emergency fund, I could figure out a way to do that. But I think, since in my case this was found money, I've just registered it, it's there. I'm just going to try and do some good things with it.
Ryan Ermey: And if you want to use it as part of your emergency fund, it's not going to earn anything, but it never hurts to. We tell people, "Don't put cash in the mattress, go ahead and earn some interest on it." But at least if you're someone who sometimes has trouble keeping track of where certain monies are or where you are financially, having something physical like a card is a good way to. It's like the old envelope method with a cash budget. You can have it on your dresser. It's a $1,200 bill. Break glass in case of emergency, that kind of thing.
Ryan Ermey: So if you get one of these things in the mail or if you have a pile of mail somewhere and you haven't received a check or a card that you're expecting, make sure that you open even the sketchy stuff because it may be in there. And if your card did get lost or stolen, or if you did cut it up and throw it in the trash, the good news is that there is a number or a website that you can call for support. That is 1-800-240-8100, or you can go to eipcard.com/support. They should be able to help you out there.
Ryan Ermey: Hopefully you didn't and you can just go ahead and either cash that out or spend it. But if you did lose it, not all is lost. It's not like one of my weekends at the track where you put your money on fire. You can indeed get it back. Coming up, Rocky Mengle breaks down what's likely to be included in the next round of stimulus legislation. Don't go anywhere.
Ryan Ermey: We are back and we're here with Rocky Mengle. He is the senior tax settler at Kiplinger.com and has been working tirelessly, spearheading much of our coverage of COVID-19 and how it affects your finances. So Rocky, thank you so much for coming on.
Rocky Mengle: You're welcome, you're welcome.
Ryan Ermey: So when the pandemic broke out, Congress acted relatively quickly to pass an economic stimulus bill, but plenty of people are still struggling. What does the legislative landscape look like in terms of another stimulus or similar legislation to that effect getting passed?
Rocky Mengle: Well, I think we will get another stimulus bill through Congress and signed by the president. The HEROES Act was passed about two weeks ago in the House, and so that kickstarted the process all over again. But in the Senate, they said, "Well, we're not going to deal with that right now." But just in the last couple of days, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, started saying there probably will be another stimulus bill that could be completed in a month or so.
Rocky Mengle: So we could have something by late June or early July. Now, it won't be that $3 trillion HEROES Act that I mentioned passed in the House. That's really a kitchen sink bill that includes a lot of things that Democrats have been fighting for for a long time before the coronavirus crisis. I cover taxes, so I focus on those most often. So I'm seeing in the HEROES Act, temporary repeal, the SALT deduction cap and increased Child Tax Credit and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, but I don't expect Republicans to let these things find their way into the final bill.
Sandy Block: Rocky, so I guess the big question on everybody's mind is, are we going to get another check? I know that there's this bill. It has more than a thousand pages, but I think what a lot of people are wondering is am I going to get another stimulus check? What do you think are the chances for round two?
Rocky Mengle: I think they're pretty good. I think we'll see another round of stimulus checks. And President Trump has said he's okay with another round, so that's certainly helpful. There's been a lot of different plans thrown around about how much and how often. For instance, one plan that was proposed called for $2,000 checks every month until the pandemic is over, don't expect . . .
Sandy Block: Don't start shopping, it sounds like what you're saying.
Rocky Mengle: I think we'll get something that's pretty close to what we had in the first round . . .
Sandy Block: A one-time check, it sounds like.
Rocky Mengle: A one-time check and probably about that amount. The HEROES Act has stimulus check provisions that the base amount is $1,200, but you get a little bit more for dependants. In the first round, you got $500 extra if you had a child under age 17, in the HEROES Act, if that were to pass, or something like that were to pass, you'd get $1,200 for every dependent. So that's more money and more people getting that extra amount as well.
Ryan Ermey: So Rocky, we had you on early-on in the pandemic to talk about the CARES Act, which was the first round of stimulus legislation. Some things the HEROES Act aims to do are improvements or expansions of existing programs from the CARES Act. So if they enact something similar to the HEROES Act or something that cherry-picks some provisions from the HEROES Act, which sounds more like what's probably going to happen, which programs could be getting facelifts?
Rocky Mengle: I'll give you two: The Employee Retention Credit -- that's a new payroll tax credit that was in the CARES Act and that was for businesses who were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but continue to keep their workers on the payroll. And that credit was for up to $5,000 per paid employee, ran until the end of the year. Smaller businesses under a hundred full-time employees -- based on last year's figures -- could take a credit for pretty much all wages. For larger companies, not all wages qualified for the credit.
Rocky Mengle: So this is a proposal that both Democrats and Republicans really like and want to see expanded. So in the HEROES Act or in some other bills that we're seeing pop up, you see increased amounts for the credit. The HEROES Act would bump it all the way up from a total of a maximum of $5,000 per employee to $36,000. There's a Senate bill that would push that up even to $90,000. They might tinker with this 100-employee rule so that more wages for more companies qualify for the credit, and even expand it to other businesses and state and local governments, as well. So I'd say that has a good chance of happening.
Rocky Mengle: And then the other one is the Paycheck Protection Program. These are the small business loans that you've been hearing a lot about. It's a popular program, ran out of money and, I don't know, like two weeks, and they had to replenish funds for that. This, again, it's to help small businesses. They can get up to $10 million in loans without having any collateral or fees or personal guarantees. And the real good thing is that money doesn't have to be repaid if it's used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll costs, rent utilities and mortgage.
Rocky Mengle: There is a stipulation in there that at least 75% of the forgiven amount has to be used for payroll. But again, we're seeing changes. Actually, the House just passed a separate bill that would make some enhancements to this program. It would change that 75% requirement for payroll costs to knock it down to 60%, and it would increase that eight-week loan use period up to 24 weeks. So I think those types of changes have a really good chance of ultimately becoming law.
Sandy Block: So, Rocky, there's also talk about expanding unemployment benefits. And I know there's tremendous interest in that because with more than 20% of people out of work -- and it's unlikely they're going to be back to work by July -- what are the odds that the unemployment benefits will be extended?
Rocky Mengle: That's a little tricky. But I think Republicans will eventually agree to some extensions of unemployment compensation, but I don't think they'll go too far. The one area where they really have a problem is extending the additional $600 per week benefit that the CARES Act provided. I think they can maybe continue to provide unemployment benefits for people who don't normally get them, like self-employed people and independent contractors -- and maybe extend them out longer.
Rocky Mengle: But that extra $600 per week, I think, is going to be a problem. I think Republicans will keep that sort of thing from getting in the final bill. They see it as a disincentive to go back to work. For some people, anyways, who with that extra $600, might be getting paid more for not working than they would if they did go back to work. So they're throwing out other ideas -- for instance, maybe a bonus for people who do go back to work.
Ryan Ermey: So one of the things I've seen when reading about this bill is expanded money for state and local governments, which may seem like an abstract thing for a lot of people. But what could it mean for people who live in states whose economies have been crushed by the pandemic?
Rocky Mengle: Well, look, when stores and shops are shut down or they're at half capacity, that means that state and local governments lose sales tax revenue. And when people are out of work, they lose income tax revenue or if we have a housing market collapse and cities and counties are going to lose property tax revenue. And then these governments can't pay for the services they normally provide.
Rocky Mengle: They can't pay teachers and police officers and firefighters. They can't build and maintain schools and roads or provide parks and other recreational areas. They're just not able to do all the things that state and local governments normally do. So there's, I guess, a couple bad options, I guess they're all bad options. They can cut services, have fewer teachers and cops and such. They can increase taxes so that they can pull in enough money to continue providing services at the same level they used to -- or they can seek help from the federal government.
Rocky Mengle: And that's what we're seeing in the HEROES Act, and that's what we're seeing Democrats in Congress push for. The HEROES Act calls for a trillion dollars in aid to state and local governments, some Republicans say zero. I think we'll probably see something in the middle. And that's where governors and mayors are looking at. Around $500 million is, I think, what they have asked for, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see something in that range.
Sandy Block: So last question, Rocky. I know Ryan has acute interest in this. Is there anything on the table as far as student loan forgiveness or extending the period in which borrowers don't have to pay and accrue interest? Is there anything like that that's out there for those folks?
Rocky Mengle: First the CARES Act, that deferred student loan payments until end of September without any penalty or interest. That applies to all federally owned loans, which is like 95% of the loans out there. And there were some other relief collection activities against borrowers who were behind on their payments or stopped, that's from the CARES Act. The HEROES Act calls for extending them, but also calls for the federal government to pay your student loans up to $10,000 total, all the way through September of next year.
Ryan Ermey: Oh, let's go.
Rocky Mengle: Now, will that ever happen? I don't think so. So, Ryan, don't get your hopes up. I can't see that getting through Congress. And another thing, student loan relief, that's a campaign issue for Democrats. And I've got to wonder if they would want to risk including that in a stimulus bill now and risk having President Trump take credit for that, instead of holding onto that issue themselves for the November elections. So I just don't see that happen.
Sandy Block: Political intrigue, interesting.
Rocky Mengle: Yeah.
Sandy Block: All right, I won't hold my breath, but Rocky, informative as always. We'll be sure to link all of your coverage of what's going on with this legislation, and, of course, what's going on with people's taxes in the show notes. And once again, thanks for coming on.
Rocky Mengle: Thank you, thank you.
Ryan Ermey: After the break, expanded flex account rules means you can now buy some stuff you weren't allowed to before. And frankly, the old rules are pretty puzzling. Stick with us.
Ryan Ermey: We are back. And before we go, a new edition of Financial Fact or Fiction. Sandy, you're up for first.
Sandy Block: Okay, here's my Fact or Fiction: You can now use money from your health savings account or your flexible spending account to buy nonprescription drugs, even if you don't have a doctor's order. Fact or fiction, Ryan?
Ryan Ermey: That sounds like it used to be fiction, but it now might be a fact.
Sandy Block: That's right. Under the CARES Act, which we discussed earlier, the list of things you can buy -- you can take tax-free withdrawals from your health savings account or your healthcare flexible spending account -- was expanded to include nonprescription drugs such as aspirin and allergy medications. Previously, you had to have a doctor's prescription.
Ryan Ermey: You needed a doctor's note even for Advil.
Sandy Block: Right, exactly. And this is really more relevant for people with flexible spending accounts, because as we've pointed out before, if you have a healthcare FSA, you have to use it up, usually by the end of the year, or if you get a great period, by March or something like that. So this is one more thing that you could, if you have unused money, you could spend it on. Because who doesn't need extra aspirin or whatever?
Sandy Block: And the other thing they expanded, and this has nothing to do, from what I can tell, with the pandemic, but it's something a lot of people have wished for for a long time. You can use money from your FSA or HSA to buy tampons or other feminine care products. And again, if you get to the end of the year and you're a woman, or married to one, and you need to use -- I don't think there's a check -- an ID check or something like, "Sir, why are you buying that?"
Sandy Block: But if you need to use that money in your FSA before it runs out, this is a really valuable thing, because this stuff is expensive. It doesn't go bad. We all need it. And it's interesting because this is almost a political issue. A lot of women have advocated that states should exempt these products from state sales tax, because they are essential, they are expensive, and many states that exclude things like groceries and prescription drugs do not exclude them.
Sandy Block: So it'll be interesting to see if this leads to some States to exempt those two. But in the meantime, this is a very interesting development. Again, particularly if you have an FSA, and we'll remind people of this towards the end of the year, you'll have another way to use money before it goes away. So I think this is a good thing. So what do you got, Ryan?
Ryan Ermey: It's a win.
Sandy Block: Yeah, it's a total win.
Ryan Ermey: So it relates to something that I wrote about this month. So the five largest companies by market cap, which is share price times shares outstanding -- just how we measure how big a company is in terms of its effect on the markets -- so the top five, the biggest companies in the S&P 500 account for 21% of the total market cap of the index.
Sandy Block: I'm thinking Ryan, that that's probably a fact, because I have a feeling that there's a handful of companies that have done very well at a time when many of the other companies are lagging. So what is that?
Ryan Ermey: Yeah, it would be an oddly specific number for me to make up, right? "Actually it's 23." No, it's just 21% as of the last checking. Yes, five companies. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook make up 21% of the S&P 500. And that's big, historically, for the market for that a small cadre of companies to make up such an outsized portion of the index. And what's more, if you look at the performance of the S&P 500 yield to date, those five companies on average have returned 15% in 2020, the next 500 companies, because, Sandy, let's remember the S&P 500 actually has 505 stocks, just to confuse us.
Sandy Block: Just like the Big Ten, I don't understand. I do not understand why there are more than 10 football teams in the Big Ten. And it's like that, right?
Ryan Ermey: It's just like that. The next 500 companies in the index have lost an average of 12.7%.
Sandy Block: Over what period is that, that's year . . .
Ryan Ermey: That's year to date, so in 2020.
Sandy Block: Wow.
Ryan Ermey: And it really speaks to an idea that I wrote about for the July issue called market breadth, which is a measure that market technicians use. When I say technicians, I mean people who use technical analysis, which is based on reading charts and patterns and numbers to assess stocks, rather than going by fundamentals such as corporate earnings. It's a way that they can help investors gauge the staying power of a stock market recovery.
Ryan Ermey: So the idea is that you want to see a broad swath of the stock market moving up, rather than, the popular metaphor, "Maybe it's a rising tide that lifts all boats," that would be good. The popular metaphor for what you don't want to see is, "Generals charging in while the troops are in retreat." And so right now, you get the sense that these market generals, these five biggest stocks have been charging while the rest of the index has been retreating.
Ryan Ermey: Now, it's not quite so stark, but it's just a reminder, the markets slid 34% from the top in late February to the bottom in late March. We're talking about the S&P 500 here as a proxy for the broad stock market. It's bounced back 36% since. These are numbers as of, we're recording on May 28th, so these are numbers through the 27th. So when the market's setting up, like I said, you want to see a lot of stocks participating. And when we're trying to track whether a rally off the bottom or the rally coming out of a bear market or recession is real, we want to see that broad participation.
Ryan Ermey: So I wrote a story about this this month, which I don't think we'll be up in time for the show notes for people listening on Monday when this comes out. But I do want to give people a couple of things that are worth keeping an eye on that they can track themselves to assess the strength of this recovery. One is that, you want a high percentage of stocks in a given index trading above their 200-day moving averages. Currently only about a third trade above the 200-day average, which is considered the longer term average.
Ryan Ermey: Now, we're up into the 80s in terms of percentages of stocks trading above their 50-day moving average, which is a good sign, but that's just more of a short-term signal. We want a nice long-term rise of stocks trading above their averages. I will put a link in the show notes. Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research keeps track of this very well in an easy way for people to digest.
Ryan Ermey: Another thing worth looking at is new highs and new lows. So stocks hitting a new 52-week high or a new 52-week low, you can find lists of these on the Wall Street Journal's site, they're updated every day. If a market is hitting new highs but you're not seeing a lot of stocks hit new highs, it may be a sign that there's a bit of weakness in the rally. Conversely, if a market heads down and finds a recent low without a big expansion in stocks hitting new lows, then you can have some faith that we had found an actual bottom, we're not having a ton of stocks cratering.
Ryan Ermey: What happens is that the market tends to retest. It's called the bottom. So we had a bottom in March, March 23rd was the bottom for the S&P 500, then we've had some short draw downs since, during that recovery. That's all the market retesting the bottom. Luckily for us, they've all been pretty shallow and painless. So that's good news in general, that the recovery is looking pretty good.
Ryan Ermey: And, finally, one that people can keep an eye on, is small companies versus large company stocks. Generally, the small company stocks are more sensitive to swings in the economy and tend to lead large caps coming out of recessions. So you want to keep an eye on the Russell 2000, which is the common benchmark for small cap stocks versus, say, the S&P 500, which is the proxy for large company stocks.
Ryan Ermey: And while small caps have been leading off the bottom so far in 2020, they have a lot of ground to make up is the point I'm trying to make here, because so far this year, looking at year to date numbers, the S&P is down 5.3% while the Russell is still down 13.4%. So you want to see some rotation. Generally, you want small caps leading coming out of recession. You want stocks in some different sectors leading coming out than were leading going in. You generally want to see some rotation.
Ryan Ermey: But things are going to be a little bit funky because tech has is totally different now. Some of these companies like Google and Amazon, they're almost like a utility at this point, they're almost like a . . . the source of this recession in this bear market have been so strange and specific, and not these big Titanic stocks, are still complete necessities, but either way, you want to be . . .
Ryan Ermey: The whole idea behind this story is that you want to be using these technicals at least to give you an idea, a clearer picture of the markets, because we already have a huge portion of stock markets suspending their guidance, not going to tell you what they expect to earn. And we generally, at Kiplinger's, we're fundamental investors. We're generally looking at things like corporate earnings, we're looking at margins, we're looking at the way that businesses are being run on average, but with so little clarity as to what business is going to look like coming out of this pandemic.
Ryan Ermey: It pays to keep an eye on what the numbers are doing and what investors are doing to give yourself a sense of where the market is headed and how you should position yourself. So that was a little longer, I think, maybe than I expected to go on that.
Sandy Block: Good stuff, Ryan. That's okay.
Ryan Ermey: Thank you very much. Keep an eye out for my . . .
Sandy Block: Because people want to know. Last week, we talked about beer, so it's just as well that we talk about . . . just to show we're not frivolous.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah, so eat your peas. Keep an eye out for my story, it's coming out in the July issue of Kiplinger's. And until then, keep an eye on the technicals. That'll wrap it up for this episode of Your Money's Worth. For show notes and more great Kiplinger content on the topics we discussed on today's show, visit Kiplinger.com/links/podcasts. You can stay connected with us on Twitter, Facebook or by e-mailing us at email@example.com. And if you like the show, please remember to rate, review and subscribe to Your Money's Worth wherever you get your podcast. Thanks for listening.
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
- FAQs on Stimulus Payments by Prepaid Debit Card
- Lost Your Card?
- 5 HEROES Act Provisions with a Good Chance of Becoming Law
- IRS Allows Mid-Year Changes to Health Plans, Expands FSAs and More
- Ed Yardeni on Breadth
- Wall Street Journal's New Highs and Lows
- Kiplinger's Contributor Steve Goldberg on Market Breadth