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PERSONAL FINANCE/JOHN NINFO: It’s not a dollar anymore –

I hope that you had a enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve, and that 2022 will be a year full of positive memories and accomplishments. I also hope that each of us will find a way to improve our finances in the New Year, notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic, inflation, and continuing supply chain issues. Also, as I write this, I hope that Alabama wins Friday night.

Speaking of supply chain issues, President Biden has told us that the supply chain issues are resolved, so I know that he doesn’t own a finicky cat, and, like me, often can’t find the food that the cat likes the most. I know that I am not the only one, because as I stand in front of the shelves with other cat owners, they are complaining about the same thing.

One of my philosophies in life has always been that “all good things come to an end, so enjoy them fully while you can.” This time I am especially saddened because most of the prices at Dollar Tree have now finally gone up from a dollar to $1.25. It was announced a while ago that this was coming, but it still hurts. There are still a few things that are a dollar, and there are still many great bargains, so visit them. It’s just not the same.

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I am going to make an exception for 2022. After this and the next column, no matter what happens, I will not write about a Flat Tax or a Goods and Services (consumption) Tax, about what is a “Fair Share” of taxes for any given American to have to pay, or the taxes that others around the world pay, as compared to in the U.S. That will be true, even if someone brings up any of those issues in connection with the 2022 elections. I know that many of you are probably saying “can’t you add student loans and student loan debt to that list?” but I am not ready for that yet, because I think it will be a hot “topic of conversation” in 2022.

As you know by now, despite having promised that there would be no further extensions, the Biden Administration has extended the government student loans payment pause from Jan. 31 to May 1, 2022. It leaves me with these thoughts:

First, The Biden Administration had announced that there would be no further extensions, so isn’t this just another example of why many Americans distrust government and politicians, which contributes to many of our divisions on so many issues?

Second, this new extension didn’t come with any data as to how many of the roughly 42 million borrowers who can take advantage of the pause have actually experienced any significant economic loss as the result of the pandemic. You might think that there would have been something put in place by now to collect this data, since the series of pauses has been in place since March, 2020.

Third, with all the talk by the Administration on finding ways to pay for its Build Back Better Bill, why hasn’t it looked at and talked about the roughly $5 billion, (yes billion), in monthly unpaid interest payments the government has not collected due to the pauses? If my math is correct that’s $130 billion?

Fourth, I didn’t know this until recently, but those borrowers in the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program are getting credit on their 10-year repayment period, regardless of whether they are making payments or not during the moratorium.

Fifth, the prior pause was through Jan. 31 2022, so is May 1, 2022 different than April 30, 2022? So, for example, are payments due May 1 also paused?

Sixth, since the effects of the pandemic seem to be the only reason given for the latest extension, without that data on actual borrowers affected, will that be the criteria for any further extensions — the pandemic is continuing, whatever that means?

Last, is the Administration just stalling into the new year when it might finally keep its promise to forgive some student loan debt for certain borrowers, by legislation or executive order — and, yes, there is a difference — for purposes of the 2022 elections?

Before we start to bid farewell to discussions about a flat tax, in this and the next column, I can’t say that I was surprised to learn that, from July to July, for the second year in a row, New York state lost more population that any other state. It was more than 319,000 people, about 1.6% of the population, and the largest loss in New York State’s history. The pandemic no doubt had some affect, but it affected every other state too, and the loss of the SALT tax deduction may have also played a part. Nevertheless, I am sure that the news will make a lot more New Yorkers rethink why they live here, so it will be interesting to see next year’s numbers.

As for a flat tax, one of the objections is that it eliminates deductions. A problem that I could see with that is that the tax code has frequently been used to incentivize or discourage behavior. For example, in the past the government has believed that having children, owning homes, donating to charity, and saving for retirement are all good behaviors, so the tax code is written to allow deductions or credits for those behaviors.

But if we eliminate all deductions and credits, we have lost a valuable tool in incentivizing behavior, so we’re forced to either quit encouraging things like retirement savings, charitable donation, or college education, or else we have to use regulation to force people to do these things. People like tax deductions, but as we have learned from the pandemic, many Americans don’t like regulations, so keeping the current tax system may make more sense.

More on a Flat Tax next time.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at

John Ninfo