By Jill Schlesinger
Tribune Content Agency
This is a time of year when we count our blessings. I'd like to thank a variety of organizations, agencies and companies that have improved our financial lives.
The Financial Planning Coalition, a collaboration of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the Financial Planning Association, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, has provided a strong and unified voice promoting the recognition and regulation of financial planners and increased investor protection. The big task that the coalition has been trying to tackle is educating policymakers and consumers about the importance of advice that is in the best interest of the client - the so-called fiduciary standard.
The coalition's tireless efforts may soon pay off.
Next on my list is the United States Department of Labor, which is expected to finalize rules that would require advisers of all retirement accounts to put customers' interests first. Although the financial industry has fought hard to thwart the initiative, most believe that it will survive. Its enactment would amount to the biggest changes to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) since that law was drafted more than 40 years ago.
Thanks, too, must go to developers of financial technology, which has greatly enhanced the ability to better manage personal finances. Mint and You Need A Budget (YNAB) are among the many free apps that help you keep track of your money, while Acorns and Level Money help you budget and then find even the smallest dollars that you can save or invest.
And a tip of the hat goes to Betterment, Wealthfront, Motif Investing and MarketRiders, who have introduced a cost efficient way for investors to better allocate and manage their investments and retirement accounts.
There are also plenty of terrific tools available to help people with their financial lives. The EBRI Choose to Save Ballpark Estimate is an easy to use calculator to help quantify retirement savings needs. FinAid is the go-to site for students and their families to help understand the various ways to pay for college. And LifeHappens helps families understand their life and disability insurance needs.
I am often asked about which financial blogs that I use to augment the multitude of publications that I need to do my job. I am thankful for the terrific work of Bill McBride of the Calculated Risk blog. In addition to his wise insights about the housing market, Bill has a wonderful way of providing much need context to a world of economic numbers. I am also grateful for Barry Ritholtz' blog The Big Picture, with its great mix of information, humor and a healthy dose of skepticism. Although a bit wonkier, I always learn from economics professors James D. Hamilton and Menzie Chinn, who are the brains behind Econbrowser and Mark Thoma of Economist's View.
Other great resources of useful economic enlightenment are the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis's FRED blog, with its nifty charting features; the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's research on household credit; the Bureau of Labor Statistics' historic databases; the Bureau of Economic Analysis' interactive data; and the IRS' rich website?
On the research front, the folks at Pew Research Center, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce are producing some of the most interesting and useful publications, which help me in my job every day.
And finally, the greatest thanks goes to you - the readers, listeners and viewers, who take time out of your days to absorb my content and who generously provide commentary, both and good and bad. To quote Alice Walker, the words thank you "expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding."
Contact Jill Schlesinger, senior business analyst for CBS News, at askjill@JillonMoney.com.
This article was printed in the January 24, 2016 - February 6, 2016 edition.