Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insight, gathered from around the web:
Tax status: Happily separate
A growing number of married couples are finding savings through separate tax return filings, said Laura Saunders in The Wall Street Journal. One factor likely boosting the trend is the income-driven loan repayment program for student loans. Borrowers in this program pay a percentage of their monthly income, and the remaining debt may be forgiven after a term of years. This incentivizes couples to "file separately to lower their income." Not all states require filers to use the same status for the state return as the federal one. One couple "reaped substantial savings by having one spouse file separately for Illinois" while the other, who is retired, claimed residence in Florida. "They filed jointly on the federal return." One downside: "Married couples filing separately can't take certain tax breaks," including child- and dependent-care credits.
COVID disability benefits
Social Security disability benefits are now available if you're a COVID "long hauler," said Steven Perrigo in Kiplinger. Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruled that long COVID — when COVID symptoms last for weeks or months after a patient tests negative — is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That entitles some sufferers to claim Social Security insurance if their lingering symptoms are so severe that "full- or even part-time work is no longer an option." But approval is tricky. SSDI is only "designated for disabilities that have lasted" at least 12 months. There's also "no standard process for diagnosing long COVID." Applicants should maintain "a detailed record of symptoms," along with proof of regular doctor visits.
Underwater auto loans
More drivers are at risk of carrying auto debt that exceeds their vehicle's value, said Paige Smith and Michael Sasso in Bloomberg. With car prices still elevated and inventory low, regulators are worrying about consumers spending their depleted savings on auto loans that could quickly put them underwater. "About 2 out of 13" new car buyers are making monthly car payments of $1,000 or more. To make the costs more manageable, "lenders keep extending loan terms." For a pricey used vehicle, that could mean "owing on a car that won't even run." There is short-term risk, too, once used-car prices finally begin to slide back to Earth: "Anyone who bought at the top of the market will fall further into the trap of negative equity."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.