Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
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Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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When Actively Managed Funds Are Worth It

It’s hard to beat the market and the index funds that track them.

The numbers don’t lie: Only one-fourth of all actively managed funds in the U.S. topped the average of their index fund counterparts over the 10-year period that ended in June, according to the latest Active/Passive Barometer report by Morningstar.

But in certain pockets of the market, active managers do a better job of beating their benchmarks. Studies show that active funds that invest in small and midsize companies, foreign shares and intermediate-term bonds, for instance, have had more success beating their benchmarks than funds in other market segments, according to Morningstar.

“Areas of the market that are less picked over are more target rich for active fund managers,” says Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar. Why’s that? “There’s less opportunity if you’re coming up with the 12 millionth investment thesis for Apple.”

Indeed, it can be difficult for active managers to stand out in highly trafficked market corners, such as large-company stocks. Most of these firms are as closely followed as your favorite sports team or Netflix TV series. More than 50 analysts track Amazon.com’s (AMZN) every move, for example. That goes some way to explain why only 17% of all U.S. large-company funds outpaced the S&P 500 over the 10-year period ending in June, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Herewith, a guide to where it pays to go active and some funds to consider.

The best portfolios will use index funds for heavily trampled parts of the market and put active funds to work for those asset classes in which an active manager has a better shot of beating the index. “A blend of the two is a good way to go,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and founder of Azoury Financial. (Unless otherwise noted, returns and data are through Nov. 5.)

Find Stocks That are Flying Under the Radar

In general, the smaller the company, the less likely it is to be followed by the Wall Street research machine.

“It’s almost like deep-sea diving,” says Morningstar’s Johnson. The smaller the company’s market value, “the murkier it gets and the fewer predators there are.”

That’s a good environment for active fund managers. It boosts a manager’s odds of identifying a good opportunity ahead of rivals, says Craigh Cepukenas, a comanager for Artisan Small Cap (ARTSX, expense ratio 1.21%) and Artisan Mid Cap (ARTMX, 1.18%) funds. The strategy at both funds is to discover disruptive companies that are driving change, then hold them even after they’ve become larger companies. “We let our winners run,” says Cepukenas.

The Artisan funds also favor under-the-radar companies. Only six Wall Street analysts cover Valmont Industries (VMI), for example. The maker of metal products, such as poles used for traffic lights, is a top-20 holding in Artisan Small Cap. Some of the fund’s other low-profile holdings, such as digital health company OptimizeRx (OPRX) and Advanced Drainage Systems (WMS), a water management company, have even fewer analysts following them.

Active funds are all about exploiting what Wall Street dubs market “inefficiencies,” which occur when securities’ market prices vary from their true fair value, says Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network.

That’s what makes active midsize stock funds appealing: Midsize companies often fall through the cracks. They “lack the excitement of small companies and the name recognition of large names,” says Artisan’s Cepukenas.

In particular, actively managed funds that focus on fast-growing midsize U.S. companies tend to shine brightest against their index fund rivals. Alger Mid Cap Growth (AMGAX, 1.30%) ranks among those index beaters. It has topped its benchmark, the Russell Mid Cap Growth index, and its category peers over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods. The fund typically charges a 5.25% load, but you can buy shares for no fee at Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

Look Overseas to International Stocks

International stock pickers have an edge over their benchmarks in part because they have “boots on the ground” in the countries where they invest, says Dan Genter, CEO and chief investment officer of RNC Genter Capital Management. That allows them to better understand what drives local economies and ferret out companies with growth potential before the competition does.

The managers at Wasatch Emerging Markets Select (WAESX, 1.51%) and Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap (WAEMX, 1.95%), for instance, aren’t afraid to look beyond their foreign-stock benchmarks to find undiscovered opportunities. 

When the managers travel abroad, local brokers who help them set up company meetings often say, “Nobody ever visits this company. Why do you care?” says Ajay Krishnan, a comanager for both funds. But that’s precisely the draw. Both Wasatch funds have outpaced their benchmarks over the past one, three and five years.

Among foreign-stock funds, those that favor bargain-priced shares have tended to fare best against their index fund counterparts, according to Morningstar.

Some foreign large value funds to consider include Causeway International Value (CIVVX, 1.10%), a fund that zeroes in on good companies going through a rough patch. Oakmark International (OAKIX, 1.04%) is a Morningstar gold-rated fund that seeks stocks trading 30% below their business value using what Morningstar analyst Andrew Daniels calls “old-fashioned detective work.”

Being Choosy With Bonds

Active bond fund managers can be nimbler than their index fund counterparts – weeding out or avoiding low-quality issues that might make up sizable parts of many bond indexes or giving more weight to more-opportunistic segments of the market.

The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond index, for example, currently has a large weighting (45.1%) in U.S. Treasuries but smaller helpings of higher-yielding bonds, such as mortgage-backed securities and corporate-issued debt. In recent years, any intermediate-term bond fund managers willing to tilt their portfolio toward higher-yielding bond sectors, such as corporate debt rated triple-B or lower, or asset-backed securities with higher yields, could improve their chances of outpacing the Agg, says Commonwealth Financial Network’s Price.

That’s partly why Fidelity Total Bond ETF (FBND, 0.36%) has topped the Agg index over the past one, three and five years. The fund currently holds more than 10% of its assets in high-yield debt (credit rated double-B to triple-C), which helped boost returns; by contrast, the Agg doesn’t hold any high-yield debt.

Baird Aggregate Bond (BAGSX, 0.55%) stays in investment-grade territory (debt rated triple-A to triple-B) but lately has gained an edge by loading up on more corporate debt than the Agg, particularly in financials. The fund beat the index over the past one, three and five years.

Source: kiplinger.com

Dear Penny: Can My Husband Stop His Brother From Stealing His Inheritance?

Dear Penny,
I should note that some of the assets you mentioned, like IRAs and life insurance policies, pass through beneficiary designation rather than probate. That means whoever is listed as the beneficiary receives them regardless of what the person’s will states.
I’m also a bit confused about what role the accountant played in this situation. Typically, you’d need an attorney to draft legally binding documents, like a will or a trust.
But disputing a will is a long and expensive process. Most people who mount a challenge will lose.
Your husband can try to foster a discussion. He can try to make it as transparent as possible to avoid disputes with his brother. But ultimately, these aren’t your husband’s decisions. This is your mother-in-law’s money, not his. You and your husband will need to live with whatever choices she makes.
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Is my husband’s brother able to keep him from his half of their inheritance? His brother has made himself the executor of the will and power of attorney, or something. 

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I think your husband is most likely to be successful if he doesn’t approach the conversation from a position of entitlement. This isn’t about making sure he gets his half. The discussion should be about making sure they understand their mother’s wishes.
A better option would be for your husband to talk directly with his mother and brother about his concerns. That means your husband will have to re-establish communication with his brother. They don’t have to become best friends, but they will need to be cordial. Sometimes parents avoid discussing estate planning with their children when they know the siblings’ relationship is strained.
It’s possible to contest a will during the probate process after someone dies, but this is an uphill battle. Usually, you’d have to prove that the person lacked the mental capacity to make or change their will, or that they signed the will because of fraud or undue influence. You can also argue that the will wasn’t properly signed or witnessed in some cases.


My husband’s brother took their mother to his accountant to make sure her mutual funds, stocks and banking accounts were being taken care of and that nobody would be able to extort money from her. She is wealthy. The will stated everything was to be split equally, half and half. 
Ready to stop worrying about money?
I feel they should have gone together to the CPA. My husband won’t listen to me. Am I in the wrong? 
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
I’m not sure what you’re asking of your husband, or why you think you might be in the wrong. But I can’t imagine why your mother-in-law would leave everything to one sibling if she wanted both of her children to split things 50/50. And if your husband is counting on his brother’s goodwill to get an inheritance, he’s in for a rude awakening.
But your mother-in-law isn’t required to split everything down the middle. In fact, she doesn’t have to leave your husband anything at all. It certainly sounds like your brother-in-law is being sketchy here. But sometimes parents have good reasons for leaving one sibling a greater share of their estate. For example, if one child cared for them in their later years or one sibling has greater needs than the others, a parent may choose not to distribute things evenly.
Dear C.,
But that will be between your mother-in-law and her attorney. It’s important to understand that any attorney’s ethical obligation in this situation is to your mother-in-law. Their job isn’t to make sure your husband or his brother get the inheritance they think they deserve.
She has two homes. My husband’s brother has taken one of the homes and lets his mother-in-law reside there rent-free. 

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.

These Healthcare Stocks Should Thrive in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, routine doctor and hospital visits, along with deferred medical procedures such as cataract surgery and heart valve replacements, are returning to normal.

The pandemic has been a global tragedy, but if there is one silver lining it is that the miraculous development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is helping to usher in a golden age for the pharmaceutical and health sciences industries.

“We’re seeing a revolution today in vaccine development,” says Andy Acker, manager of Janus Henderson Global Life Sciences.

Before COVID arrived, the fastest vaccine approval had been four years, and the average was 10 years; with COVID, two vaccines were approved in about 10 months. Validation of the mRNA technology used by Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) in their vaccines means that it will now be adopted to treat other medical indications. (The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.)

In truth, the COVID-19 medical challenge and the dramatic success of the vaccines have only served to accelerate a powerful trend of innovation in medicine. For instance, the sharply declining cost of gene sequencing is pushing forward the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor treatments to specific diseases, such as cancer.

“The science is exponentially improving for better outcomes,” says Neal Kaufman, manager of Baron Health Care fund.

Of course, the healthcare sector is also riding the (global) demographic wave of aging populations. At CVS Health drugstores, the number of prescription medicines purchased by people age 65 or older is three to four times that of 20- to 40-year-old people, says Jason Kritzer, co­manager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences.

In rapidly developing countries with expanding middle classes, such as China, quality healthcare is likely to be one of the first things people rising out of poverty will spend money on.

With innovation and some of these secular trends in mind, we identified six intriguing healthcare stocks that literally span the alphabet, from letter A to letter Z. We particularly like companies that address large and growing end markets, especially global ones. We give extra points to businesses that have less exposure to pricing pressure from insurance com­panies or the government. Returns and other data are through Nov. 5.

healthcare stockshealthcare stocks

1 of 7

Align Technology

Share price: $687

Market cap: $54 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 50

Maker of the Invisalign brand of clear, plastic braces for teeth, Align Technology (symbol ALGN) is a disruptive force in the global teeth-correction market, rapidly gobbling market share from traditional wires and brackets. Jeff Mueller, comanager of Polen Global Growth, credits the “Zoom effect” for accelerating the adoption of the aesthetically pleasing aligners: Workers stuck at home during the pandemic were staring at their own teeth every day on Zoom. “Vanity is increasing around the world,” Mueller says, adding that, due to the rise of smartphones, the internet and social media, “more people are taking pictures of themselves than ever before in the history of mankind.”

A lot of technology is used in the Invisalign process. It employs intra-oral scanners and modeling software, plus mass-customization manufacturing using 3D printing at several plants around the globe (each set of teeth is unique, and individuals change their aligners every two weeks). Because braces are generally for cosmetic purposes, they are not subject to pricing pressure from insurance companies or the government.

Align Technology’s revenues are currently growing by 25% to 30% a year as its market penetration rises, and Mueller expects earnings to continue to compound at double digits for quite a while.

2 of 7

Merck

Share price: $82

Market cap: $206 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 11

Dividend yield: 3.2%

CFRA analyst Sel Hardy thinks that Merck’s (MRK) COVID-19 antiviral pill, molnupiravir, is “a game changer.” The drug maker has applied for emergency-authorization use from the government; approval was expected before the end of 2021. Merck projects that global sales of the oral medication, which has demonstrated strong efficacy against multiple variants of COVID, could be $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of 2022.

Apart from this breakthrough drug, Hardy likes the way Merck is positioned. Sales of Keytruda, its versatile oncology drug, topped $14 billion in 2020 and continue to grow; its animal health division is expanding; and the firm’s $12 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma, a biotech firm with strengths in blood and cardiovascular treatments, will augment Merck’s product pipeline.

Hardy thinks Merck, which yields 3.2%, can compound earnings by at least 10% a year for the next three years.

3 of 7

Novo Nordisk

Share price: $113

Market cap: $259 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 31

Dividend yield: 1.3%

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk (NVO) focuses on two global pandemics: diabetes and obesity. The World Health Organization projects that the number of diabetics will expand from 460 million to 580 million by 2030, and it estimates that there are nearly 800 million obese people around the world. Novo pioneered insulin injections a century ago and has remained a global leader in diabetes care ever since. Multibillion-dollar drugs include Ozempic, a once-weekly prescription for adults with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar, and NovoRapid, a fast-acting insulin treatment. Novo’s sales are evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

Investors such as Samantha Pandolfi, comanager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences, are also excited about rapid growth in Novo’s newer weight-management business. Wegovy, prescribed for obese people with another disease, such as diabetes, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. Tests show Wegovy typically delivers a weight loss of 15% to 17%, and Pandolfi says sales are off to a blazing start. The century-old firm plows an impressive 12% of sales back into research and development, which helps it stay ahead of the competition and generate earnings growth in the low double digits.

4 of 7

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Share price: $617

Market cap: $243 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 29

Dividend yield: 0.2%

Eddie Yoon, manager of Fidelity Select Health Care Portfolio, calls Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) “the Walmart of life sciences.” Whether it’s a big pharma, biotech or university lab, customers come to this health sciences supermarket for analytical tools, lab equipment and services, and diagnostic kits and consumables. “They are the partner of choice for any pharma or biotech company of any size,” says Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds. Thermo has benefited from increased demand for its products and services due to COVID-19, and now the firm is poised to benefit from the rise in research and development spending among drug companies around the world.

One thing that distinguishes Thermo, according to health care stock analysts, is the quality of its management. The firm has successfully integrated several strategic acquisitions that helped broaden its menu of products and services. Tommy Sternberg, an analyst at William Blair, notes that Thermo is particularly adroit at staying close to customers and understanding what their scientists are working on. “They do a fantastic job of getting to know customers and their needs, and learning from customers to come up with more solutions more quickly,” says Sternberg.

5 of 7

UnitedHealth Group

Share price: $456

Market cap: $429 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 21

Dividend yield: 1.3%

The U.S. spends a staggering $4 trillion a year on health care. UnitedHealth (UNH)—with annual revenues of nearly $300 billion, a market value of $430 billion and 330,000 employees—is the industry’s largest player. As the top private health care insurance provider, it leads in managed care. Its OptumHealth unit offers pharmacy benefits and owns physician’s practices and surgical centers. Eaton Vance’s Kritzer calls Optum, an industry leader in the digitization of services, “a very large health IT company inside an insurance giant.” United helps the federal government manage costs through its Medicare Advantage plan (the most popular private plan). Plus, it enjoys high customer satisfaction, and it is counting a growing number of seniors as customers (about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day). Despite United’s massive size, William Blair’s Sternberg thinks it can sustain earnings-per-share growth of about 15% annually.

6 of 7

Zoetis

Share price: $217

Market cap: $103 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 42

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Like Align Tech­nology’s Invisalign, Zoetis’s (ZTS) main business—companion-animal health—was already riding a tailwind that picked up force thanks to lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Pet-ownership rates spiked as people grew more isolated and sought the companionship of dogs and cats, according to David Kalis, comanager of The Future Fund Active ETF. Zoetis markets vaccines, prescription drugs and diagnostic equipment directly to veterinarians. The industry is regulated, with FDA approval required for the drugs, but Zoetis benefits from the lack of insurance company price pressures and the fragmented nature of the firm’s customer base, notes Eaton Vance’s Pandolfi.

In fact, companion-animal ownership is growing globally, driven by aging populations and shrinking family sizes. Pet owners are treating their pets better, addressing ailments such as skin irritation and arthritis, and visiting the vet more frequently, says Pandolfi. Zoetis books about half of sales overseas; roughly 60% of revenues come from the companion-animal business and 40% from the less-profitable and slower-growing livestock animal division.

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Invest in a Fund

Given the complexity and diversity of the health care sector, investing in a fund makes a lot of sense for many investors. Here are our favorites (returns and other data are through November 5).

Baron Health Care (symbol BHCFX, expense ratio 1.10%) is a young fund off to a sizzling start. Over the past three years, it returned 29.2% annualized, or nearly twice the return of the S&P 1500 Health Care index. Manager Neal Kaufman and assistant manager Joshua Riegelhaupt look for innovative, fast-growing companies. The largest holding is Natera, a clinical genetic-testing outfit.

Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX, 0.69%) is a member of the Kiplinger 25, the list of our favorite no-load funds. The fund has a 19.8% three-year annualized return, ahead of the 17.0% average annual gain of its peers. Eddie Yoon, who has piloted the fund since 2008, says he’s light on large pharmaceutical companies in the portfolio, preferring makers of devices used to help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments. The fund’s top three holdings are UnitedHealth, Boston Scientific and Danaher.

Ziad Bakri, a former physician, runs T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX, 0.76%), which has returned 21% annualized over the past three years. Nearly one-third of assets are invested in biotechnology, a high-risk, high-return segment of health care. Top positions include Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical.

If you prefer investing through exchange-traded funds, Simplify Health Care (PINK, $26, 0.50%) is an intriguing, actively managed ETF that launched on October 7. Through November 5, just shy of one month, it returned 5.9%. Manager Michael Taylor, a virologist by training who spent 20 years investing in health care stocks at some prominent hedge funds, expresses his views by increasing or decreasing the fund’s weighting of stocks in relation to the MSCI US Health Care Index.

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Become a Mortician and Other Jobs in the Funeral Industry

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There are a lot of reasons for thinking about becoming a funeral director, the funeral industry’s preferred term for mortician.

For one, the unemployment rate is low. For another, there’s always a need.

And, it is one of the careers that does not require a bachelor’s degree that still pays well. Funeral directors make an average of $55,000 a year. That’s the average and some directors with more experience bring in more than $70,000. As far as school, most states require an associate’s degree, an apprenticeship/internship, and passing a licensing exam.

If working with bereaved families and preparing bodies for burial or cremation seem like something you would be good at, consider this well-paying career path. The funeral industry is estimated to be worth $16 billion in the United States in 2021.

Read on to find out how to become a mortician.

The Difference Between a Mortician and Funeral Director

First, let’s clarify some terms. What are the differences between mortician, funeral director, embalmer and undertaker? They have similar roles but slightly different duties.

In 1895, an American publication called The Embalmer’s Monthly put out a call for a new term for undertakers. The winner was mortician, a made-up word and thank goodness for Morticia Addams, right? Now, the industry uses funeral director for the person arranging the funeral service.

Most funeral directors are licensed morticians and embalmers. They have studied mortuary science and prepare bodies, but they also arrange the other aspects of funeral services. Funeral directors help the bereaved plan the memorial service (and might conduct it if there is no clergy) and arrange for cremation and burial. Funeral directors deal directly with the clients.

An embalmer can work for a funeral home, but also elsewhere — medical schools, hospitals, and morgues. They mainly prepare bodies, and don’t work with clients. The term undertaker is the British term for funeral director and is seldom used in the U.S. except when referring to the popular professional wrestler, The Undertaker.

What Does a Funeral Director Do?

Funeral directors deal with both the living and the dead. Funeral directors arrange for moving the body to the funeral home. They file the paperwork for death certificates, obituaries, and other legal matters.

Preparing a body for the funeral service may or may not include embalming (cremation doesn’t require embalming), but it needs to be dressed, cosseted (put in the best and most natural appearance), and casketed (placed in the coffin).

Funeral services are difficult times for people. The funeral director needs to have compassion for people navigating their pain and sorrow. While an interest in science is necessary, an important quality for someone who wants to become a mortician or funeral director is empathy.

The funeral director guides the grieving through the decisions that have to be made for the funeral service. This not only includes choosing the coffin, but placing the obituary, arranging the wake and service and creating a program for it, shipping remains, and more.

The Changing Funeral Business

Most funeral homes are independently owned. While often smaller businesses don’t have the deeper pockets of corporations, their size allows them to be more nimble in evolving their business. Funeral services have transformed from somber and sorrowful times to celebrations of life with some funeral homes even providing spaces for outdoor gathering complete with grills.

In recent years, more women are graduating in mortuary science. Some people might become funeral service workers as a second career instead of inheriting the business, which has been a traditional entry into the industry. The National Funeral Directors Association encourages its members to seek out, hire, and train more women and non-binary people.

You can find mortuary science stars on social media, including the popular YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician. There are funeral directors’ TikTok videos, and mortician AMAs (ask me anything) on Reddit.

Get Started in the Funeral Business

Most states require a two-year associate’s degree in mortuary science or related areas, an apprenticeship or internship, and passing the national or state’s license exam. Ohio and Minnesota are the only two states that require a bachelor’s degree to be a funeral home director. Colorado does not have any education requirements, but licenses funeral homes instead. Kentucky doesn’t license funeral directors but does license embalmers.

The National Funeral Directors Association is your go-to source for state-by-state details of working in the funeral industry.

If you were also thinking about joining the military, the Navy is the only service branch with its own morticians. For that you need a high school diploma or GED, and then you would get training through the Navy as a hospital corpsman-mortician.

Licensure

You usually have to be at least 21 years old to take the exams, though you can start an internship or apprenticeship before that age. There may also be a criminal background check. Having a criminal record doesn’t mean you can’t become a mortician. You also have to submit proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.

You can also study for and take the national funeral service education board exam. The pathways to these two types of exams can be different. It is important to note that not all mortuary science programs are accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE).

You can only take the National Board Exam if you have a degree from an accredited program. Some states allow you to take the state exam even if your program is not accredited. The exams are the same. It is just more difficult to practice in a different state if you haven’t attended an accredited program.

State Licenses

Most states have information about how to become a mortician through their occupational license, public health, or funeral board sections on their website. It is important that you clarify whether the mortuary science programs are accredited for just the state license exam, or for both state and national exams. Some schools also offer Funeral Arts Certificates, which can be used for other jobs in the funeral service industry.

National License

The American Board of Funeral Service Education is the national academic accreditation agency for college and university programs in Funeral Service and Mortuary Science Education. Most states have easier reciprocity requirements to transfer your practice if you have taken the national board exam. If you have taken the state exam only, you may have to meet all of the requirements again if you move to another state.

Classwork for the License

Coursework can be broken down into roughly three categories: art, business, and science. Art? That is for the restorative arts, or visually preparing the body for a funeral service, which includes hair and makeup. There are courses which cover death traditions from many cultures and the history of funerals.

Science classes may cover embalming theory and labs, anatomy, physiology, public health, and pathology. There are chemistry and biology courses, and also usually psychology courses on grief and bereavement training.

Business classes will cover funeral home administration, accounting, requirements for a funeral service license, and some business law. There are usually classes covering legal and ethical issues that a certified funeral service practitioner will face.

Cost of Getting a License

The cost of getting a two-year mortuary science degree varies by state but your best bet will be an in-state community college. Then there will be costs associated with taking exams and getting a license.

School

There is a huge difference in how much you can pay for a mortuary science associate’s degree. In-state public schools may cost between $5,000-$8,500. Private, out of state tuition might be almost $20,000. There are the normal student loans and grants available, but there are also specific grants for students studying mortuary science (even as a second career). It seems like a great investment, since unemployment for funeral directors is extremely low.

Exam

The National Board Exam has two sections, arts and sciences. Each one costs $285. There are practice exams that you can take, which are free. In Florida, the state funeral service examining boards charge $132 for exams. Maine charges $75 plus $21 for a criminal background check. Texas charges $89. Some states have two separate exams — one for funeral services and the other for embalming.

Licenses

This is another area with variation. Using the same three states as above, Florida’s license for a funeral director costs $430 with all the fees. Maine’s is $230, and Texas costs $175 plus $93 for the application. Apparently not everything is bigger in Texas! Licenses need to be renewed periodically, which also requires continuing education credits.

Funeral Director as Entrepreneur

The funeral industry has been changing rapidly over the last few years. Cremations have increased and burials decreased. Funeral homes make less money on cremations, and have responded to this shift by finding new sources of income and new ways to help people.

Green Funerals

There are more environmentally conscious choices that funeral homes can offer, including rental coffins for services (and a plain one after), biodegradable coffins, and natural burials. Green funeral services include sourcing flowers locally, using funeral invitations and programs made of recycled paper embedded with seeds, and biodegradable water urns, which sink and dissipate for at sea services..

Pet Funerals

An estimated 67% of households in the U.S. own pets, and many of them are using funeral home services for their animals. That includes memorials, services, and burials. Despite pet cremation being infinitely (well, 90 vs.10%) more popular than burial, there are over 200 pet cemeteries in the U.S., with Florida having the most.

Other Jobs in the Funeral Industry

Besides being an intern or apprentice, you can work in the funeral industry in many other ways. Florida lists 16 separate individual and business licenses for funeral home-related activities.

Here are the common jobs in the funeral or mortician industry though keep in mind in a smaller business, the funeral director may do some of them:

  • Administrative assistants handle office work.
  • Burial rights brokers arrange for third parties to sell or transfer burial rights.
  • Cemeterians maintain cemetery grounds (think groundskeeper).
  • Ceremonialists conduct the funeral service.
  • Crematory operators/technicians assist in cremation remains.
  • Direct disposers handle cremation when there is no service or embalming.
  • Embalmers prepare the body after death.
  • Funeral arrangers work with clients to set up the funeral.
  • Funeral home manager is the best paying job in the field, the median salary for this position is more than $74,000. The manager oversees all funeral home operations.
  • Funeral service managers are similar to funeral arrangers.
  • Funeral supply sales personnel work for the funeral home-sourcing supplies.
  • Monument agents sell tombstones and other markers for the cemetery.
  • Mortuary transport drivers prepare and transport human remains.
  • Pathology technicians work in hospitals, morgues, or universities with cadavers.
  • Pre-need sales agents help clients plan their services and burials before they die.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Funeral Business Jobs

We’ve rounded up the answers to the most common questions about working in the funeral industry.

What Jobs Can You Do at a Funeral Home?

negotiate supplies, transport bodies, conduct funeral services, and work with clients to place obituaries and arrange the service. They also have sales people working on pre-need arrangements. Some funeral homes feature pet burials and have special jobs related to that.

How Much Do You Make Working at a Funeral Home?

Funeral directors average $55,000 annually. Managing a funeral home pays a median salary of $74,000. Mortuary transport drivers average over $35,000. It is a field with very low unemployment.

How Do I Get a Job in the Funeral Industry?

Most states require two years of school, a (paid) internship, and passing the appropriate license exams to become a funeral director. Other jobs may require less.The mortuary transport driver has to be able to lift 100 pounds or more and have a clean driving record.

What is a Funeral Home Job Called?

There are many. There are funeral directors, embalmers, mortuary transport drivers, and funeral service arrangers. There are also typical office jobs, such as administrative assistant and bookkeepers. There are also related jobs at crematoriums, hospitals, and mortuaries.

The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on lifestyle and culture topics. She is the former owner of a coffee shop in St.Petersburg, Florida, and has hosted an arts show on WMNF community radio for nearly 30 years.

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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but you live in an area that doesn’t get any snow, you can use spray snow to make your winter wonderland dreams come true. You can spray artificial snow on your windows to create a frosted look or spray your front door wreath to make it appear to be covered with snowflakes. A can of spray snow costs less than on Amazon.
Dress up your dining table to bring out the joy of the holiday season. Drape your table with a red, green or white tablecloth and fill a vase or tray with seasonal elements, such as pine cones, holly leaves, cranberries, sprigs of pine needles, jingle bells, candy canes or candles.
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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

1. Wall Christmas Trees

Turn empty flower pots into outdoor Christmas decor with just a little paint. You’ll need at least three pots of varying sizes. Paint them white if you want to create a snowman out of your flower pots or green to make a flower pot Christmas tree. Once dried, stack the pots on top of each other upside down and paint additional embellishments, like a face and buttons on your snowman or ornaments and tinsel on your Christmas tree.

2. Get an Artificial Christmas Tree

You can buy boxes of candy canes for cheap at grocery stores or dollar stores around this time of the year. Fill candy dishes full of these red and white striped treats to go on your tablescape, coffee table or end tables. Or hang one or two candy canes on your Christmas tree in place of buying more pricy ornaments.

A woman decorates a tiny Christmas tree.
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3. Get a Tiny Tree

The weather’s getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Before you know it, Christmas will be here.

4. Garland

Transform your doors into the biggest presents ever by covering them in wrapping paper. You can use wrapping paper to decorate your interior doors as well as your front door. Add ribbon or a big bow for extra embellishment.

5. DIY Ornaments

Talk about easy Christmas decorations that make your home merry. You can also stack your wrapped present props in an empty corner, by the base of your staircase or on your front porch.

6. Twinkling Lights

Rather than buying an advent calendar this year, make your own. This post from Country Living has several ideas. Come up with whatever little treat, token or message you want to open each day.

7. Window Stickers

Whether you use a kit or make your own gingerbread from scratch, a gingerbread house is a fun holiday project that can double as Christmas decor. Just know it probably won’t last long — so consider this a temporary decoration!

8. Candles

Bundling up on a snowy day to go to the Christmas tree farm and chop down the perfect tree may be a sweet holiday outing, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by opting for an artificial Christmas tree. Now, artificial trees can get pricy themselves, depending on what size and type you choose. However, you can reuse the tree for years to come, rather than having to put it out to the curb when the new year rolls around.

A front door is wrapped in wrapping paper.
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9. Decorate Your Doors

Candles are a simple and low-cost way to add a bit of Christmas spirit to a room. You can create a tablescape with red, green, white or gold candles — or set them on the mantle or a wide window ledge. Set battery-operated votive candles inside Mason jars painted in holiday colors for a flame-free decor option.

10. Bells Around Door Knobs

This winter craft doubles as a cheap Christmas decoration. You may be able to make it with items you already have at home: white tube socks, rice, buttons, pins and a scrap of fabric. This post from Darkroom and Dearly tells you exactly how to create them.

11. Decorate With Ribbon

Instead of buying an expensive 7-foot tree, you can save money by getting a much smaller tree that’ll fit on your tabletop. In addition to spending less on the tree, you’ll save on the amount of lights and ornaments you’ll need to decorate it.

12. Wrap Empty Boxes

Dress up your windows with seasonal decals. You can find window stickers of snowflakes, ornaments, gingerbread men and more at the dollar store, craft store and major retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If stored properly, you can even reuse them for next year.

13. Holiday Cards Display

An easy way to light up the outside of your house without needing yards of string lights and a ladder is to use a light projector. You can buy one on Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and similar retailers for under .

14. Make your Own Advent Calendar

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A boy eats a gingerbread house he made.
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15. Gingerbread House

Deck the halls without wrecking your finances. Here are 23 festive ideas for cheap Christmas decorations.

16. Display Your Kids’ Holiday Artwork

A flat Christmas tree hung on the wall is a great space saver and money saver. You can make wall Christmas trees out of a string of lights, garland, a large piece of felt or even Washi tape. Check out this article from Apartment Therapy for ideas. It looks festive with or without a tree topper!

17. Create a Holiday Tablescape

Make your home not only look but sound festive by tying jingle bells to some red or green ribbon and then wrapping them around your door knobs. Whenever someone opens a door, the kiddos in the house will be looking over their shoulders to see if Santa’s coming.

18. Sock Snowmen

While you’re out shopping for gifts, it can be very tempting to add a bunch of holiday decorations to your cart to help get your home looking merry and bright. But the cost of Christmas decorations often gets overlooked when making your holiday budget — and you end up spending way more than you thought you would.

A person decorates their Christmas tree with candy canes.
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19. Candy Canes

To avoid that post-holiday regret, consider these low-budget suggestions for decorating for Christmas.

21. Fake Snow in Windows

Forget the store-bought ornaments, and pick up your hot glue gun. Create wonderful holiday memories while crafting ornaments you can hang on your tree or use as decor around the house. See this Good Housekeeping post for over 75 ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments.

22. Flower Pot Decorations

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

23. Light Projector

A string of lights can really spread holiday cheer. To save money, opt for shorter strings of light to cover smaller areas — such as a window or mantle piece, rather than along your gutters or around a 7 foot tree. You can also use a string of lights on a blank stretch of wall in the shape of a star or to spell out “Merry Christmas” in cursive.
You can use ribbon for more than just wrapping presents. Take some thick ribbon in Christmas colors like red, green or gold and use it to make bows to hang on your Christmas tree, your mantle and even on door knobs or drawer pulls. Tie them around a glass vase with a candle inside for a simple Christmas centerpiece. <!–

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Garland is a low-budget Christmas decoration that instantly adds holiday spirit to a room. In addition to stringing garland around your Christmas tree, you can hang strings of garland above your mantle, over your doorways, around your window frames or wrapped around the banister of your staircase. Instead of buying your garland, you can make your own using natural elements like dried citrus and pine cones, construction paper, popcorn or cheap ball ornaments.

Using Income Share Agreements to Pay for School

Many students end up taking out loans to finance the cost of college. As of the first quarter of 2021, Americans collectively held $1.57 trillion in student debt, up $29 billion from the previous quarter. And a significant share of borrowers were struggling with their debt burdens: Just under 6% of total student debt was 90 days or more past due or in default.

Students looking for alternatives to student loans can apply for grants and scholarships, take on work-study jobs or other part-time work, or find ways to save on expenses.

Recently, another alternative has appeared on the table for students at certain institutions: income share agreements. An income share agreement is a type of college financing in which repayment is a fixed percentage of the borrower’s future income over a specified period of time.

As this financing option grows in popularity, here are some key things to know about how these agreements operate and to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

How Income Share Agreements Work

Unlike student loans, an income share agreement, also known as an income sharing agreement or ISA, doesn’t involve a contract with the government or a private lender. Rather, it’s a contract between the student and their college or university.

In exchange for receiving educational funds from the school, the student promises to pay a share of his or her future earnings to the institution for a fixed amount of time after graduation.

ISAs don’t typically charge interest, and the amount students pay usually fluctuates according to their income. Students don’t necessarily have to pay back the entire amount they borrow, as long as they make the agreed-upon payments over a set period. Though, they also may end up paying more than the amount they received.

Income share agreements only appeared on the scene in the last few years, but they are quickly expanding. Since 2016, ISA programs have launched at places like Purdue University in Indiana, Clarkson University in New York, and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. Each school decides on its own terms and eligibility guidelines for the programs. The school itself or outside investors may provide funds for ISAs.

Purdue University was one of the first schools to create a modern ISA program. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who meet certain criteria, including full-time enrollment and satisfactory academic progress, are eligible to apply.

Students may have a six-month grace period after graduation to start making payments, similar to the six-month grace period for student loans, and the repayment term at Purdue is typically 10 years. For some schools, however, the repayment term ranges from two to 10 years.

The exact amount students can expect to pay depends on the amount they took out and their income. The university estimates that a junior who graduates in 2023 with a marketing major will have a starting salary of $51,000 and will see their income grow an average of 4.7% a year.

If that student borrowed $10,000 in ISA funds, he or she would be required to pay 3.39% of his or her income for a little over eight years. The total amount that student would pay back is $17,971. The repayment cap for the 2021-2022 school year is $23,100.

Again, every ISA is different and may have different requirements, so be sure to check with your college or university for all the details.

The Advantages of Income Share Agreements

ISAs aren’t for everyone, but they can be beneficial for some students. For example, students who don’t qualify for other forms of financial aid, such as undocumented immigrants, may have few other options for funding school.

For students who have already maxed out their federal loans, ISAs can be a more affordable option than Parent PLUS loans or private student loans, both of which sometimes come with relatively high interest rates and fees.

Compared to student loans, many ISAs also protect students by preventing monthly payments from becoming unaffordable. Since the amount paid is always tied to income, students should never end up owing more than a set percentage for a fixed period of time. However, a student’s field of study may impact this. Students who are high earners after college may end up paying more to repay an ISA than they would have under other financing options.

If a student has trouble finding a well-paying job, or finding one at all, payments typically shrink accordingly. For example, Purdue sets a minimum income amount below which students don’t pay anything.

In Purdue’s case, the student won’t owe anything else once the repayment period is over, compared to student loans that can multiply exponentially over time due to accrued interest.

Purdue and several other universities also set the amount and length of repayment based on a student’s major, meaning monthly payments can be more tailored to graduates’ fields and salaries than student loans are. For fortunate students who see their income rise beyond expectations, many schools ensure the student won’t pay beyond a certain cap.

Potential Pitfalls of Income Share Agreements

ISAs come with some risks and drawbacks, as well. Firstly, since the repayment amount is based on income, a student who earns a lot after graduation might end up paying more than they would have with some student loans. This is because if a student earns a high income after graduating, they’d pay more to the fund. Second, the terms of repayment can vary widely, and some programs require graduates to give up a huge chunk of their paychecks.

For example, Lambda School , an online program that trains students to be software engineers, requires alums who earn at least $50,000 to pay 17% of their income for two years (up to $30,000). This can be a burden for recent graduates, especially compared to other options like income-driven repayment, which determines the percentage of income going towards student loans based on discretionary income.

Currently, there is very little regulation of ISAs, so students should read ISA terms carefully to understand what they’re signing up for.

No matter what, income share agreements are still funding that needs to be repaid, often at a higher amount than the principal.

So you’re still paying more overall for your education compared to finding sources of income like scholarships, a part-time job, gifts from family, or reducing expenses through lifestyle changes or going to a less expensive school.

How Do Income Share Agreements Impact You?

Many schools’ ISA programs are designed to fill in gaps in funding when students do not receive enough from other sources, such as financial aid, federal or private student loans, scholarships or savings. Thus, it’s important to understand how an ISA will impact both your long-term finances and other methods to pay for college.

ISAs do not impact need-based aid like grants or scholarships. Students with loans, however, could have a more complicated repayment plan with multiple payments due each month.

With ISAs, there is less clarity as to how much you’ll end up repaying from up to 10 years of income. As your income changes, your payment will remain the same percentage unless it falls below the minimum income threshold ($1,666.67 at Purdue) or reaches a repayment cap.

Whereas students may pay more than the loan principal to reduce interest, ISAs often require reaching a repayment cap of roughly double the borrowed amount to be paid off early.

Depending on your future income and career path, an ISA could cut into potential savings and investments or serve as a safety net for a less stable occupation.

Who Should Consider An ISA?

As previously mentioned, income share agreements are an option for students who have maxed out on federal loans and scholarships. There are other circumstances when an ISA may or may not be worth considering.

Colleges may require a minimum GPA to be eligible for an ISA. For instance, Robert Morris University requires incoming students to have a 3.0 high school GPA and maintain a 2.75 GPA during their studies for continued funding eligibility. Taking stock of how an ISA aligns with your academic performance before accepting funding could reduce stress later on.

Since ISA programs structure repayment as a percentage of income, graduates who secure high-paying jobs can end up paying a significant sum compared to the borrowed amount. An ISA term could be more favorable to students planning to enter sectors with more gradual salary growth, such as civil service.

Repayment plans at income sharing agreement colleges are not uniform. Students at schools with lower payment caps and early repayment options may find ISAs more advantageous.

Considering Private Loans

Students should generally exhaust all their federal options for grants and loans before considering other types of debt. But for some students looking to fill gaps in their educational funding, private student loans may make more sense for their needs than ISAs.

Recommended: Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

In particular, students who expect to have high salaries after graduation may end up paying less based on interest for a private student loan than they would for an ISA. Some private loans can also allow you to reduce what you owe overall by repaying your debt ahead of schedule.

SoFi doesn’t charge any fees, including origination fees or late fees. Nor are there prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early. You can also qualify for a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate when you sign up for automated payments.

The Takeaway

As mentioned, an income share agreement is an alternate financing option for college. An ISA is generally used to fill in gaps in college funding. Generally, it’s an agreement between the borrower and the school that states the borrower will repay the funds based on their future salary for a set amount of time.

One alternative to an ISA could be private student loans. Keep in mind that private loans are generally only considered as an option after all other sources of federal aid, including federal student loans, have been exhausted.

If you’ve exhausted your federal loan options and need help paying for school, consider a SoFi private student loan.


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SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

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