The Social Security Administration will happily forecast your future monthly retirement check. Trouble is, it’s often off the mark. Understanding the sometimes-flawed assumptions underlying the estimate can help you make smarter decisions about when to claim your benefit.

First, of course, you should know how to access those estimates. You can find yours online by creating a “My Social Security” account at the Social Security Administration’s site, or you can call 800-772-1213 to request a paper version. (The agency automatically sends paper copies to people 60 and over if they haven’t yet started benefits or created an online account.)

Social Security projects how much you’ll receive if you start benefits at the earliest age, 62, as well as what you’ll get if you start instead at your full retirement age — currently 66 and rising to 67 for people born in 1960 or later — or at 70, when benefits max out.



When you apply for benefits, Social Security uses your 35 highest-earning years to calculate your check. Each of these years is “indexed,” or adjusted to reflect wage and price inflation over time. The dollar amount you earned in 1995, for instance, would be roughly doubled to reflect what the same wage would be worth today.

When estimating your future benefit, however, the agency assumes no future growth in wages or prices, says economist Laurence Kotlikoff, creator of the Maximize My Social Security claiming-strategies site. That often creates “lowball” estimates for younger workers, he says.

“If you are, say, 40, this can produce a 20% underestimate of the actual benefit you’ll receive,” Kotlikoff says.

On the other hand, the agency could be overestimating your benefit if your income has peaked, since the assumption is that you will continue earning roughly the same amount until you apply for Social Security. Many people in midlife lose their jobs and never make as much again. Illness or disability could knock you out of the workforce prematurely, or you could stop working years before claiming Social Security. Any of those circumstances could result in smaller-than-projected checks.

“You can see why Americans are confused and surprised when they go into the Social Security office with an old statement and learn their benefits will be lower than they thought,” says William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions, another claiming-strategies site.

Other circumstances can upend the estimates. Some people will qualify for spousal or survivor benefits that are larger than what they earn on their own record. Retirees with minor children can get child benefits that boost their checks.

Nastier surprises may await people who worked for certain government agencies or were employed abroad. If they get pensions from jobs that didn’t pay into Social Security, the “windfall elimination provision” could reduce their Social Security checks significantly. Lawmakers intended the provision, and the related “government pension offset,” to keep people who didn’t pay much into Social Security from getting more than those who did. But the reductions aren’t always well publicized or explained, and can come as a shock to affected people who were counting on the amounts Social Security promised.

Speaking of promises, Social Security’s trustees say the system will have enough revenue to pay only 77% of promised benefits starting in 2035, unless Congress intervenes.

Lawmakers are unlikely to allow benefits to be cut for people in or near retirement. If you’re decades away, though, Social Security’s lowball estimate could turn out to be on target. To be safe, you might want to assume you’ll get even less.

If you’re within 10 years of retirement, on the other hand, getting a more accurate estimate of your benefits can help you plan when to retire. You can start with your My Social Security account, which includes a link to a retirement calculator that allows you to adjust your average future earnings.

The site also has a page of free calculators , including a downloadable detailed calculator that the site accurately describes as “somewhat unwieldy” and “difficult to use.” You can pay for a more user-friendly option at Maximize My Social Security ($40) or Social Security Solutions ($49.95).

Or consider a session with a fee-only financial planner who has access to similar robust software. This advisor can help you fine-tune your Social Security estimates, advise you on claiming strategies and make sure your retirement isn’t based on false promises.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

In one study, more than 80% of the employees at a Fortune 100 company picked the wrong plans, often choosing low-deductible options that ultimately cost them more. Another study found that inertia — sticking with the same plan, rather than evaluating the options each year and choosing a better one — cost workers an average $2,032 annually.

These findings shouldn’t surprise anyone who has tried to compare multiple health insurance plans offered by an employer, an Affordable Care Act marketplace or insurers with coverage that supplements Medicare.

There are simply too many moving parts: what you pay each month (your premium), how much you have to pay before insurance picks up a larger share of the cost (your deductible), and the limit on how much you’ll pay in a year (your maximum out-of-pocket), for starters. There’s also how much you’ll owe for each doctor’s visit, test or prescription, which could be a flat amount (your co-pay) or a percentage (your co-insurance), or both. These amounts can vary not just by insurance plan, but also by the types of medical service you get, with different amounts for hospital stays, lab work, preventive care and so on. Which prescription drugs are covered varies from plan to plan and from year to year. So does the list of medical providers who are considered “in-network.”

But we owe it to our health and wallets to make the best choices we can during open enrollment. The following steps won’t guarantee you’ll pick the best plan, but they may help you avoid the worst.

Many experts recommend high-deductible plans for healthy people who rarely visit the doctor, since premiums for these plans are lower. But high-deductible plans also can be a good fit for people who need a lot of health care, says Carolyn McClanahan, a physician and certified financial planner in Jacksonville, Florida.

Parents of young children or people who have chronic health conditions often spend so much on care that they can easily meet a higher deductible, McClanahan says. Many high-deductible plans (those with deductibles in 2020 of at least $1,400 for individuals or $2,800 for families) qualify for tax-advantaged health savings accounts, as well.

These plans aren’t a good fit, however, for people who would put off necessary care rather than pay out of pocket. If you don’t have enough savings to cover medical costs until the deductible is satisfied, consider spending more for a lower-deductible plan.

Just don’t pay an extra $500 to lower your deductible by $250, as many people did in that first study. If you’re allowed to choose different deductibles for the same plan, multiply the difference in premiums by 12 to get your yearly cost and compare that to the difference in deductibles.

If you have physicians and specialists you prefer, call their offices to ask if they are in the network of the plans you’re considering. It’s important to ask “Are you in network?” rather than “Do you take this insurance?” A provider who’s not in the network may be willing to bill your insurer, but you’ll typically pay a (much) larger share of the cost.

Some employers offer software that allows workers to upload their claims history from the past year and uses that to recommend a health care plan. I wish that were available to everyone. The closest I’ve seen is HealthSherpa, which helps people winnow their ACA marketplace options based on how they generally use health care.

The plan that may have been a good fit for your past claims, though, may not be the best choice for the future — especially if you become seriously ill or injured. To protect against worst-case scenarios, you also need to consider the “out-of-pocket” limits. These are the maximum amounts you’d have to pay in addition to your premiums. Out-of-pocket limits typically range from $2,000 to $6,000, although there may be different maximums for in-network versus out-of-network costs, and not all policies have these caps.

Some plans give you only a small break in premiums while exposing you to much larger potential costs, says Alan Silver, senior director of benefits delivery and administration at Willis Towers Watson, a benefits consultant.

Before signing up for any policy, add your annual premiums to the out-of-pocket limit to see the potential costs you could face. If the total scares you, look for a plan with a limit that lets you sleep at night.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

The brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera, available in as a convertible or a coupe, was unveiled at Porsche Wyoming Valley on Tuesday night.

Porsche and car enthusiasts all across the Valley gathered at the dealership to watch as general manager Courtney McFarlane and his staff pulled the cover off of two brand-new automobiles one in guards red and the other an agate gray.

Onlookers applauded and whistled as the new cars were shown to the public, and a big grin spread across McFarlane’s face as he made the unveiling.

“You never think it could get any better, but they [Porsche] have really outdone themselves,” McFarland said. “911s have always been great for how they handle, how they look, and the nostalgia behind it.”

The new Porsches are on sale now, and yes, they’ll run you a pretty penny: the 911 Carrera coupe is valued at around $113,000.

Still, that didn’t seem to deter a large crowd of car owners from fantasizing about themselves behind the wheel.

“I was actually over looking at the BMW dealership across the way, and I wandered over here to check out the new cars,” said Jim Lambert, a local car enthusiast. When asked if he could see himself behind the wheel of one of the new 911s, he laughed and said, “Sure, but I’ve got two kids in college.”

For some, the new Porsches remind them of what they used to have, while for others, the car represents the latest in a long line of excellence.

“I like that this model’s a little bit different,” Becker said. “The lines are a little different, a little sleeker … the fin is different.”

The cars were organized in a way so that an older model, the 1994 Porsche RS America, was set facing the new 911 Carrera, as the past and future collided.

NEW YORK — Slime, the bedazzled, stretchy sensation that has spawned its own social media influencers and fans of all ages, is taking up residence in New York City.

An immersive, 8,000-square-foot museum dedicated to all things slime opened Friday for a nearly six-month celebration complete with a sticky barefoot lake walk and DIY bar. There’s also the opportunity to don goggles and a poncho and get doused in the stuff that has a big following but a questionable impact when it comes to disposal and the environment.

The brainchild of Karen Robinovitz, Sara Schiller and Toni Ko, the so-called Sloomoo Institute is the latest in Instagram-friendly pop-ups (hello “Friends” 25th anniversary and Museum of Ice Cream) to hit New York and then travel to other locales. Why Sloomoo? There’s a thing in the slime community where you replace the vowels in your name with “oo,” so slime = sloomoo.

The idea, the co-founders said during a pre-opening tour, is simple: To spread slime’s powers of rejuvenation and relaxation. Skeptical? There’s a nook with an EEG machine to actually show your brain on slime.

There’s also a glow-in-the-dark cove and an ASMR tunnel for slime’s visual and auditory qualities, further ballyhooing the restful and spine-tingly autonomous sensory meridian response that has exploded in no-talking videos on YouTube.

“The social media aspect of slime has really shown community,” Robinovitz said. “There’s a lot of sensibility in the world that social media can isolate people. What we’ve seen in the slime world is that people are coming together.”

There are slime conventions, online shops and meet-and-greets with top influencers that draw thousands of fans at a time.

Nichole Jackylne, 23, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a top slimer enlisted by Sloomoo. She’s been on YouTube since 2013, taking on fashion and other content before she settled on slime nearly three years ago.

“I found out how to make slime on Pinterest and just went from there,” Jackylne said as she sat in the museum’s front window with a huge tub of pink slime on her lap, rows of Elmer’s glue gallon jugs on shelves behind her. “I never thought, even for a million years, that I would be making a living off slime.”

Jackylne brings in between $5,000 and $10,000 a month from merchandise and slime-making supplies she sells online. That doesn’t take into account her YouTube ad income and partnerships. She has nearly a million followers on YouTube.

“I consider myself more of a slime lifestyle personality,” Jackylne said. “I don’t just post slime. I try to keep it about my personality, so I’ll film blogs of myself shopping for slime supplies or just out in the public making slime content.”

Not exclusively solid or liquid, slime is often made — to the bane of germophobes and neatnik parents — by mixing the mineral-based cleaning product Borax, glue and water, along with liquid scents, coloring and “toppings” that are all the rage, including tiny toys and plastic-based glitter. Some variations are made with clay.

The varieties and scents are endless. Noting glitter and other potential eco-foes were deliberately left out of Sloomoo’s slime, Robinovitz showed off varieties that pull like weightless clouds (fake snow is mixed in), crackle because of plastic beads inside or shine with a high gloss and a tough pull.

At the DIY bar, where 8 ounces of slime is included in the $38 base ticket price, scents include banana cream pie, Froot Loops and prickly pear. The get-slimed experience is $30 extra.

Hand wipes are liberally distributed throughout Sloomoo with the plea that people use them before and after touching the huge bowls of slime placed along a walking route. The slime will be changed throughout each day.

Michelle Diaz, 36, the mother of two girls — 16 and 11 — regularly makes slime at home. Does she mind the mess?

“I do but it’s inevitable sometimes,” she laughed as she and her oldest daughter, Iyanna, peaked into Sloomoo’s window as Jackylne stretched and twirled her creation. “We make it different ways, with stuff out of your cupboard, from flour to Vaseline. But I don’t do Play-Doh, because Play-Doh gets stuck. The slime doesn’t really get stuck on anything.”

Technically speaking, slime is a cross-linked polymer scientifically known as a “non-Newtonian fluid.” Its history stretches back to the 1830s, when polymer science originated and Nathaniel Hayward and Friedrich Ludersdorf concluded that adding sulfur to raw, natural rubber prevented it from getting sticky.

As toys, and in TV and film, slime has been a part of the cultural landscape for decades. Silly Putty went to the moon on Apollo 8 in 1968. The 1962 movie “Son of Flubber” starred goopy slime that could fly and spawned a toy product called Flubber, but it made people sick and was yanked from the market, according to a timeline on two walls at Sloomoo.

Nickelodeon has been all in on slime for years, since it rebroadcast a Canadian show, “You Can’t Do that On Television,” starting in the 1980s. The show slimed participants who answered questions with “I don’t know.” The network launched its own slimy show, “Double Dare,” in 1986 and has been sliming celebrity winners of its Kids’ Choice Awards since 1987.

In 2014, slime videos from Thailand spread around the globe and the DIY slime phenomenon took off, particularly among young girls.

“When Nichole Jackylne does events there are girls lined up to meet her,” Robinovitz said, “because they love her slime and they love what she stands for, which is truly representing joy.”

The Social Security Administration will happily forecast your future monthly retirement check. Trouble is, it’s often off the mark. Understanding the sometimes-flawed assumptions underlying the estimate can help you make smarter decisions about when to claim your benefit.

First, of course, you should know how to access those estimates. You can find yours online by creating a “My Social Security” account at the Social Security Administration’s site, or you can call 800-772-1213 to request a paper version. (The agency automatically sends paper copies to people 60 and over if they haven’t yet started benefits or created an online account.)

Social Security projects how much you’ll receive if you start benefits at the earliest age, 62, as well as what you’ll get if you start instead at your full retirement age — currently 66 and rising to 67 for people born in 1960 or later — or at 70, when benefits max out.

When you apply for benefits, Social Security uses your 35 highest-earning years to calculate your check. Each of these years is “indexed,” or adjusted to reflect wage and price inflation over time. The dollar amount you earned in 1995, for instance, would be roughly doubled to reflect what the same wage would be worth today.

When estimating your future benefit, however, the agency assumes no future growth in wages or prices, says economist Laurence Kotlikoff, creator of the Maximize My Social Security claiming-strategies site. That often creates “lowball” estimates for younger workers, he says.

“If you are, say, 40, this can produce a 20% underestimate of the actual benefit you’ll receive,” Kotlikoff says.

On the other hand, the agency could be overestimating your benefit if your income has peaked, since the assumption is that you will continue earning roughly the same amount until you apply for Social Security. Many people in midlife lose their jobs and never make as much again. Illness or disability could knock you out of the workforce prematurely, or you could stop working years before claiming Social Security. Any of those circumstances could result in smaller-than-projected checks.

“You can see why Americans are confused and surprised when they go into the Social Security office with an old statement and learn their benefits will be lower than they thought,” says William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions, another claiming-strategies site.

Other circumstances can upend the estimates. Some people will qualify for spousal or survivor benefits that are larger than what they earn on their own record. Retirees with minor children can get child benefits that boost their checks.

Nastier surprises may await people who worked for certain government agencies or were employed abroad. If they get pensions from jobs that didn’t pay into Social Security, the “windfall elimination provision” could reduce their Social Security checks significantly. Lawmakers intended the provision, and the related “government pension offset,” to keep people who didn’t pay much into Social Security from getting more than those who did. But the reductions aren’t always well publicized or explained, and can come as a shock to affected people who were counting on the amounts Social Security promised.

Speaking of promises, Social Security’s trustees say the system will have enough revenue to pay only 77% of promised benefits starting in 2035, unless Congress intervenes.

Lawmakers are unlikely to allow benefits to be cut for people in or near retirement. If you’re decades away, though, Social Security’s lowball estimate could turn out to be on target. To be safe, you might want to assume you’ll get even less.

If you’re within 10 years of retirement, on the other hand, getting a more accurate estimate of your benefits can help you plan when to retire. You can start with your My Social Security account, which includes a link to a retirement calculator that allows you to adjust your average future earnings.

The site also has a page of free calculators , including a downloadable detailed calculator that the site accurately describes as “somewhat unwieldy” and “difficult to use.” You can pay for a more user-friendly option at Maximize My Social Security ($40) or Social Security Solutions ($49.95).

Or consider a session with a fee-only financial planner who has access to similar robust software. This advisor can help you fine-tune your Social Security estimates, advise you on claiming strategies and make sure your retirement isn’t based on false promises.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

This scam, also known as port-out or SIM splitting fraud, allows criminals to hijack your cell phone number. Once they have your number, the bad guys can clean out your financial accounts, confiscate your email, delete your data and take over your social media profiles.

Fraudsters can do all this because many companies — including banks, brokerages, email providers and social media platforms — verify your identity by texting a code to your cell phone. Intercepting those codes can give a criminal an all-access pass to your financial and digital life.

This kind of identify fraud has been around for years, but it’s getting more attention after a wave of cryptocurrency thefts and attacks on high profile victims, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who briefly lost control of his Twitter account.

The potential damage is so great that security expert Avivah Litan, vice president at research firm Gartner Inc., fears losing her phone number far more than having her Social Security number compromised.

“I’d rather they took my social, to tell you the truth,” Litan says, “because I care about my retirement money and I know some of it’s protected through phone number access.”

What’s more, you can’t prevent this fraud — only your carrier can. And right now, criminals are finding it’s pretty easy to fool the phone companies.

Sometimes the scam artists bribe or blackmail carrier employees; sometimes, the employees are the criminals. Other times, the fraudsters use identifying data they’ve stolen, bought on the dark web or gleaned from social media to convince carriers that they’re you. They pretend they want to change carriers or say they need a new SIM card, the module that identifies a phone’s owner and allows it to connect to a network. Once they persuade the carrier to transfer your number to a phone they control, they can attack your other accounts.

Even getting your cell phone carrier to recognize what’s happening, and help you stop it, can be a challenge, says security expert Bob Sullivan, host of the “So, Bob” technology podcast. Victims report being forced to educate phone company employees about the fraud and having their numbers stolen more than once, even after protections were supposedly in place.

“The real problem is when you call, are you going to get a person that you can talk to about this quickly and are they going to recognize what’s happening?” Sullivan asks. “Or are you going to be in voicemail hell for three hours while a criminal raids all your accounts?”

Phone companies protest they’re doing all they can, and solutions that would make this theft harder also would inconvenience people who legitimately want to switch carriers or need their numbers transferred to new SIM cards because their phones have been lost or stolen.

While you can’t prevent this fraud if you have a cell phone, you may be able to reduce the chances of being victimized or at least limit the damage.

First, ask your phone company to put a personal identification number on your account. Hopefully the carrier will require that to be produced before your phone number is “ported out” to a new carrier or assigned to a different SIM card.

Then, investigate whether you can switch to more secure authentication on your sensitive accounts. Being texted a code is better than nothing, since this “two factor” authentication is harder to beat than just using a password. Better options would be to get the codes through a call to a landline or by using an authenticator app such as Authy, Google Authenticator or Duo Security on your smartphone.

If your phone stops working or you can’t send or receive texts, don’t assume it’s a glitch. Call using an alternate method or visit your carrier immediately to report phone takeover fraud. Sullivan recommends knowing a few alternate ways to contact your carrier, such as Wi-Fi calling, Skype or an easily accessed backup phone.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

EXETER — For nearly a century, Barber Ford of Exeter has been a fixture of the Pittston-area business community.

Closing in on the 100-year mark, the dealership is making a new name for itself as one of the premier commercial truck centers in a large area of the state, a move designed to take advantage of a strong economy in which there is growing need for heavy equipment.

“Ford’s motto is we own work, and we’re trying to do the same thing,” Sales Manager Dustin Iacovazzi said during an interview at the Wyoming Avenue business last week.

Barber Ford began ramping up its commercial vehicle business about three years ago, Iacovazzi said, and now has one of the largest inventories between Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia region.

Formally designated a Ford Commercial Vehicle Center, Barber added a truck facility in 2017, together with more technicians and specialized equipment, to service the new lines they are now carrying.

“Our economy is good, people are building again, people are working on their houses, people are doing yardwork, landscaping, people are spending money again,” Iacovazzi said. “All these contractors who are coming in are guys who haven’t bought a truck in 10 years, five years, they’ve been making due.”

“But the past year was good for them, this year is good for them,” he added. “They’re able to upgrade their equipment.”

Customers range from small contractors and handymen to large fleet operators, including municipalities, government agencies and schools, Iacovazzi said, and Barber is a supplier for COSTARS, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s cooperative purchasing program.

While its roots are firmly planted in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Barber is finding sales sales success well beyond the region and the state.

As Iacovazzi explained, the average consumer will search in a 50-mile radius of their home when buying a vehicle, but the average commercial customer will search in a 500-mile radius — or sometimes beyond.

“We’re shipping trucks to Texas, we’re working on a deal right now with a guy in Wyoming,” he said.

What is now Barber Ford began in Pittston in 1920 as a dealership for Willys and Dort vehicles, General Manager Matt DePrimo said.

Many may remember the Willys name for its later assocation with Jeep production during World War II. Dort Motor Cars, on the other hand, enjoyed a brief heyday around World War I before the company faded from the scene in the 1920s.

Barber became a Ford dealership in 1932, DePrimo said, and has remained so ever since. The company relocated to its current location in Exeter in 1950.

DePrimo, who is one of the owners, said he has been with the company, founded by his wife’s uncle, for 36 years.

Between its Exeter and Hazleton locations — the latter opened in 1999 — Barber employs about 80 people, DePrimo said.

“The commercial trucks are a whole new business direction that we’ve taken,” DePrimo said. “It’s been very successful for us.”

While the average motorist might not notice the difference, commercial trucks come in a wide variety of types, sizes and designs, and Barber prides itself on carrying the spectrum.

“We’re stocking a little bit of everything so that the customer can come in and buy a vehicle right now. They don’t have to wait four months, six months,” Iacovazzi said. “We have the truck in stock, ready to go. And if we don’t have it, we have the vehicles that we are able to upfit them and get them on the road in a short period of time.”

Barber’s offerings cover trucks with plows, dump trucks, hook lifts, trucks with interchangeable bodies, even a selection of used trucks.

They have over 120 chassis cab and super duty trucks in stock, Iacovazzi said, as well as medium-duty trucks, 650s/750s, transit vans and cargo vans.

“We deal with probably over a dozen different vendors to supply us with bodies, and like I said, we have a lot of bodies and different trucks in stock. There’s probably 15 different dump trucks you can choose from. We’re your one-stop shop,” he added.

For this story, Iacovazzi posed with a flashy black and chrome dump truck outside the dealership. The shiny vehicle helps illustrate just how specialized — and different — commercial trucks can be, he explained.

“That is an F650, a medium-duty truck. It would be something a township, municipality, or construction excavator would have. That’s a highly optioned one,” Iacovazzi said.

“Everybody thinks of a dump truck just being a dump truck, but it’s so much more,” he added. “We are able to customize the truck and build exactly what you want. And there is a truck that was built exactly to what that person’s specs were.”

As Barber prepares to mark its 100th anniversary in 2020, Iacovazzi is himself closing in on 20 years in the car business.

“This started to roll, and as it started to get going, we transitioned me into this position,” he said. “I’m a truck guy. So it was just a natural transition.”

Iacovazzi started as the sole commercial truck person, with Melinda Christison added to the team and a third person possibly coming in the near future.

With a few strategic changes, even a small laundry room can become a space that’s appealing to be in and can double as a room for other activities too.

“Laundry rooms don’t need to be a space that we apologize for anymore,” says New York-based interior designer Deborah Martin.

Here, Martin and two other designers — HGTV’s Brian Patrick Flynn and Miami-based Raquel Mothe, of Mothe Design — offer advice on turning a basic laundry room into a space you love.

Especially in older homes, one of the least convenient things about the laundry room is where it is — often far from where laundry gets generated.

If you’re remodeling, Flynn says, consider relocating your laundry room as close to the master bedroom as possible. In fact, make it part of your master bedroom closet, if there’s enough space.

“This makes it way easier for homeowners to tackle their laundry without having to then bring it back and forth across the house,” he says.

And though it’s a splurge, it’s worth considering having more than one space where laundry gets done.

When working on new luxury home projects, Mothe says, she often includes one laundry room on the house’s main level for cleaning things like small rugs, pet toys, pool towels and other household items. She puts another laundry space with similar design and the same machines on the second floor near the bedrooms.

If there are colors you love but think are too bright for other rooms, Flynn suggests using them in your laundry room. It’s also a great place for patterns that seem too much for a living room or bedroom. Wallpaper’s a good way to do that.

“Nine times out of 10,” Flynn says, “I find that simply adding wallpaper to a laundry room or laundry closet instantly makes it feel more inviting.”

If you’re updating the floor, Martin suggests creating a cheerful space with an interesting tile design.

Martin and Mothe both advise including a really large sink in a laundry room. And Martin suggests adding a drain in the floor.

Also: Have plenty of space for drying items that you won’t be putting in the dryer. “Let’s say you are washing a silk blouse that you are not sending to the dry cleaners,” Mothe says. Install a bar with hangers or a retractable hanging rack.

Laundry rooms need plenty of light, and that can include what designers call “statement lighting” — something gorgeous that brightens the room and adds a dose of style.

Recessed ceiling lighting is also helpful, Martin says, especially over areas where you’ll be trying to get out a stain or sorting clothes.

And if you’re doing new construction or remodeling, Martin says, give your laundry room plenty of windows. Even if we’re just doing laundry, she says, “We can enjoy a little light. We can enjoy a view.”

Don’t forget to add a few tall cabinets for things like brooms or ironing boards, Mothe says. And she thinks it’s worth investing in high-quality countertops.

A detail like that, she says, can “make a difference between the regular laundry and the luxury one.”

If your laundry room also includes open shelving, Martin suggests storing items in apothecary jars or large Mason jars. “They’re a nice option to store stray things like collar stays, misplaced buttons or even detergent pods,” she says. “There’s no reason we can’t put our detergent in something pretty.”

But do add plenty of closed storage, since much of what you may be storing probably isn’t especially attractive, Flynn says.

“Concealed storage is super important, especially counter-to-ceiling when possible. There are so many essential supplies involved with laundry and not many are aesthetically pleasing,” Flynn says. “Keeping everything behind cabinet doors is key.”

Martin has one client who uses her laundry room to cut and arrange fresh flowers. So the room was designed with extra storage space related to that hobby.

If you’re building or remodeling, consider expanding your laundry area’s size and purpose, perhaps combining your mudroom and laundry room.

“I’ve found that the more space allotted to a laundry room,” he says, “the less of a task space it becomes and the more of a social space it begins to feel like.”

Melissa Rayworth writes lifestyles stories for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mrayworth

The college admissions scandal — which recently led to a 14-day prison sentence for actress Felicity Huffman — exposed a group of wealthy parents’ obsession with getting their kids into the “right” school. Prosecutors say the families paid bribes, faked test results and pretended their kids were athletes to get them into selective colleges.

Unfortunately, many less affluent families also fall for the delusion that some schools offer golden tickets for their children’s futures, says Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of “The College Solution.” Whether it’s an Ivy League college or a high-priced “dream school,” too many people believe certain educations are worth endless effort, stress — and debt.

“Because somehow these are magical schools,” O’Shaughnessy says, describing the fantasy. “If your child gets in, their lives will be paved with gold.”

In reality, the colleges your kids attend matter far less than the majors they choose, and multiple studies have shown elite schools don’t offer any extra payoff for most graduates. Inflated expectations can even lead to worse outcomes, including higher dropout rates.

Here are the most important facts to know as you navigate the college admissions process and decide how much to spend .

The frenzy around college admission — and the notion that it’s hard to get into a “good” school — focuses mostly on deeply flawed ratings systems and a handful of institutions that admit a fraction of their applicants, such as those involved in the college admissions scandal: Stanford University, which accepted less than 5% of applicants last year, Yale University (6%), University of Southern California (11% ) and Georgetown University (14% ).

Looking at 2017 data, Pew Research Center counted just 46 schools with admission rates under 20%. Only 17 schools had single-digit admission rates. By contrast, 80% of the 1,364 colleges and universities Pew studied admitted half or more of those who applied. And 53% admitted at least two-thirds of their applicants.

Kids who don’t get into one of the 46 highly selective schools typically have plenty of other good options.

Elite schools don’t produce happier or more successful people. A 2014 study of nearly 30,000 college graduates found no correlation between a college’s admissions rate and future job satisfaction or well-being. Earlier studies by the late Alan Krueger of Princeton and Stacy D ale at Mathematica Policy Research found students who were admitted to highly selective colleges but who attended schools elsewhere usually did just as well financially.

Elite schools did increase incomes significantly for black, Hispanic and low-income students, and those whose parents didn’t graduate from college, Krueger and Dale found. Another group of researchers, however, discovered that highly selective schools didn’t have a lock on helping disadvantaged students. Many of the schools that increased opportunities the most for low-income students were much lower cost public universities such as the California State University and City University of New York systems.

Parents mistakenly believe brand-name schools impress employers and lead to more opportunities. Researcher Paul Hill, who analyzed millions of admissions and salary records for student loan lenders, didn’t find that to be true. Consistently, a graduate’s major had a far bigger impact, says Hill, president of Job Search Intelligence in Los Angeles.

“A kid with a degree in cybersecurity . is going to come in at three times the salary of someone who graduated from Harvard with a soft degree, you know, liberal arts, humanities, whatever,” says Hill, who also heads the nonprofit Educate to Career , which offers college admission and outcome data to families. “The skillset is what matters, not the name (of the school) on the diploma.”

Counselors and parents often encourage seniors to apply to “reach” schools, colleges where a student’s test scores, class rank, grades or other qualifications are below the school’s average. The idea is that even though the odds are against admission, students might get lucky.

Getting into one of these schools may not be a blessing, however. Hill found that students in the bottom 25% of those admitted typically get less generous financial aid packages and are more likely to drop out or flunk out. At most colleges, he says, scrambling for a place at a school that doesn’t really want your kid can backfire into a higher bill and a discouraged student.

“Parents get fixated on getting their kid into the best school possible,” Hill says. “They’re setting themselves up for frustration.”

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

DETROIT — Contract talks aimed at ending a 21-day strike by the United Auto Workers against General Motors have taken a turn for the worse, hitting a big snag over product commitments for U.S. factories, a union official wrote in an email to members.

The letter from UAW Vice President Terry Dittes casts doubt on whether there will be a quick settlement in the contract dispute, which sent 49,000 workers to the picket lines on Sept. 16, crippling GM’s factories.

Dittes’ letter says the union presented a proposal to the company Saturday. He said GM responded Sunday morning by reverting back to an offer that had been rejected and made few changes.

The company’s proposal did nothing to address a host of items, Dittes wrote, specifying job security for members during the term of the four-year contract.

Normally in contract talks, the union bargains for commitments from the company to build new vehicles, engines, transmissions and other items at U.S. factories represented by the union.

“It did nothing to provide job security during the term of this agreement,” Dittes wrote. “We, in this union, could not be more disappointed with General Motors who refuse to recognize the experience and talent of our membership.”

In a statement, GM said it continues to negotiate in good faith “with very good proposals that benefit employees today and builds a stronger future for all of us.”

But Dittes wrote that while both sides had made progress on important issues two days ago, the talks now “have taken a turn for the worse.”

Dittes also sent a sharp letter to GM’s vice president for labor relations Sunday, saying: “You didn’t even have a professional courtesy to explain why you could not accept or why you rejected our package proposal for each item we addressed.”

A person briefed on the talks said Sunday that the union voiced concerns about GM increasing production in Mexico, where it now builds pickup trucks, small cars and two SUVs. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private, said both sides are far apart on guarantees of new products in U.S. factories.

GM leads all companies in automobiles produced in Mexico at just over 833,000 last year, according to LMC and the Center for Automotive Research, a think-tank based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Of GM vehicles sold in the U.S., 22% are produced in Mexico.

GM’s U.S. factories have been shut down since the workers walked out Sept. 16. Parts shortages also have forced the company to close plants in Mexico and Canada.

Industry analysts say GM is losing more than $80 million a day as the strike continues. Workers earn $250 per week in strike pay while they’re on the picket lines, about one-fifth of what they normally make.

Striking workers have said they want a bigger share of the more than $30 billion in profits that GM has made during the past five years. But the company wants to cut its labor costs so they are closer to those at U.S. factories run by foreign automakers, mainly in the South.

No longer are furniture companies content to offer you staples like a sofa, easy chair and bed. Now they have those items for your pet, too, designed not to clash with the rest of your decor.

Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Ikea, Casper mattresses and other popular furniture purveyors have lines for pets, often in styles that complement their human-size living room furniture.

Elegant furniture for pets is hardly new. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an 18th century dog kennel in its holdings that was made for Marie Antoinette for her royal dog Coco. The “niche de chien,” of gilded beech and pine covered in velvet, features a swank interior lined in silk. Other pet furniture of the period resembled canopied beds or tabouret-shaped chairs. (Coco is said to have gone with the queen to prison during the French Revolution.)

“Dogs and cats are no longer sleeping in mud rooms or outside. They’re in the family den and they’re full-fledged family members,” says Martha Stewart Living’s Editor in Chief, Elizabeth Graves. “People refer to themselves as pet ‘parents,’ not ‘owners,’ and they treat their pets accordingly.”

Casper says its dog bed offers “the perfect sleep environment designed and engineered around dog behavior,” and is made of “supportive and comforting foam.” Its decor-friendly outer covers run in gray, blue and sand — and in a range of sizes suited for dogs from tiny up to 90 pounds.

More in the spirit of Marie Antoinette’s bed for Coco, Pottery Barn offers a “Chesterfield Pet Bed” with a handcrafted wood frame, button-tufted back, nail-head trim, and a removable velvet cushion that’s waterproof and washable.

The Ombre Cat Cave, made in Nepal by Dharma Dog and Karma Cat and sold by Crate and Barrel, is billed as an “artisanal cat cave” designed to “provide a comfortable getaway for your favorite feline.”

With a more contemporary aesthetic, Crate and Barrel’s cone-shaped Nooee Toby Pet Cave, in pale gray felt, is designed to look “sophisticated and understated in the modern home.”

Ikea has recently introduced a line of pet furniture and accessories — Lurvig — made to coordinate with the company’s furniture lines for humans.

Says Ikea Designer Inma Bermudez: “I feel that my pets are the ones who can really take me to the present moment. When we share our time together, my head is more free and other worries and stress fall away. They teach us respect, and their unconditional love is priceless.”

The trick, designers say, is coming up with designs that look good to humans while meeting the comfort needs of pets.

“The biggest challenge is not to humanize pet products,” says Barbara Schäfer, a veterinarian who works in product risk assessment at IKEA. “It’s really important to use animal’s natural needs and behaviors like how they sleep, eat or play as starting points. Then we can design a product that fits in with our ‘human needs’ such as style and form.”

And pet furniture doesn’t stop at pieces meant for lounging. There’s an array of food and water dish pedestals and stands on the market.

“Especially for older pets, it can sometimes be hard for them to bend down,” says Graves, of Martha Stewart, which offers several DIY projects for cat beds and raised dishes.

Elevated dishes can also look more, well, elevated in a home setting than food and water dishes set on the floor.

You know you should have a will, but you keep stalling. No one likes to think about dying or about someone else raising their children. But if you get no further than scribbling notes or thinking about which lawyer to hire, you risk dying “intestate” — without a will that could guide your loved ones, head off family feuds and potentially save your family thousands of dollars.

Financial planners say getting people to stop procrastinating on this important money chore can be tough. I asked several advisors to offer their best strategies for getting clients to get this done. Maybe one of these will help you.

Certified financial planner Katrina Soelter of Los Angeles suggests thinking of an estate plan as “the best love letter you can write to those you love.” Providing guidance on what you want to happen after your death — and who you want to care for minor children or pets — can be a huge gift to those you leave behind. You’re also saving them the potentially large costs and delays of hiring attorneys to sort out your estate later.

Soelter says she procrastinated on her own estate planning and finds the positive approach works better than browbeating.

“It doesn’t help to heap more shame on them, but rather focus on the reasons why it is wonderful to get it done,” Soelter says.

Then again, some people need to hear worst-case scenarios before they’ll act. Financial planners often point out, for example, that without an estate plan a court could end up deciding who takes care of your kids. State law determines who inherits your stuff, and the distribution may not be as you would want.

CFP Janice Cackowski of Rocky River, Ohio, says one of her clients recently died after ignoring her advice to create a trust. His will bequeathed his estate to his financially irresponsible son, with no restrictions.

“The money my client saved over his 63-year lifetime will be gone within 18 months of his death,” Cackowski says.

CFP Kevin Gahagan of San Francisco notes that getting a basic estate plan in place may not be as complicated or expensive as you fear.

“It is the attorney who does the work,” Gahagan says. “They’ll guide you in identifying the questions you need to answer so a plan can be developed.”

Also, think about what you’d want to happen if you died in the next five years, rather than trying to create an estate plan that covers all eventualities, says CFP Karen E. Van Voorhis of Norwell, Massachusetts. You can always update and change things.

Many big companies offer their employees access to attorneys through prepaid legal services, says CFP Amy Shepard of Mesa, Arizona. That’s how she and her husband, Michael, created their estate plan. They met with an attorney affiliated with the service, which cost less than $10 per biweekly pay period when he was employed by Wells Fargo.

“For most people, the biggest thing stopping them is money,” Shepard says. “If their employer offers a legal benefit, it can make the process of doing an estate plan very affordable and very simple.”

Given that attorneys often charge $300 and up for a will, while a living trust can cost $1,200 or more, prepaid legal services can be a cost-effective option for many people, Shepard says.

Affordable options for those who aren’t offered coverage through their employer may include online services such as Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom, which are best for people with simple situations, such as those who don’t have a lot of assets and who don’t need trusts, Shepard says. But users need to answer the sites’ questions carefully and get the resulting documents notarized, or the paperwork won’t be valid.

Van Voorhis also suggests making an appointment with an attorney now but scheduling it for a few months down the road.

“That way it’s on the books and they’ll feel like they’ve accomplished something, but they also don’t have to face it for a while,” she says.

“By Oct. 1, have the conversation about guardians, charities and other estate intentions. By Nov. 1, have the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney. By Dec. 1, clarify and confirm the documents and have them signed before the holidays,” Giefer suggests. “On Jan. 1, 2020, they are done!”

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwestonnerdwallet.com. Twitter: lizweston.

Timing is everything when it comes to saving for the holidays. The longer you have to build up cash reserves, plan your budget and buy gifts at the right price, the better you can cover these seasonal costs without going into debt.

Avoiding debt around the holidays can save you from a spending hangover in the new year: Shoppers who used credit cards to fund the holidays in 2018 anticipated it would take them over three months to pay off their debt, according to a NerdWallet survey of over 2,000 adults conducted by The Harris Poll.

Starting a couple of months before peak holiday season might be cutting it a little close for grand savings schemes this year, but you do have options. Here’s how you can plan your spending this year — and start saving for next year’s holidays.

Say you’re planning to kick off shopping in earnest around Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 29 this year. You still have two months for saving and planning. Start with these steps:

SET YOUR HOLIDAY BUDGET: If you don’t have much savings, you’ll likely have to use your discretionary income — what’s left over after regular bills — to fund your holidays. Get a solid understanding of how much that is and try to keep expenses, including gifts and food, within that amount.

Being mindful of what you can afford can keep you from overspending, says Los Angeles-based financial coach Dominique’ Reese.

“I say think about your future self,” Reese says. “How would your future financial self — yourself in January, February, March — feel about the expenses that you made over the holidays?”

To build your holiday budget, trim discretionary expenses over the next couple of months. Cut back on dining out or going to the movies, or temporarily cancel a couple of monthly subscription services.

SPEND SMART: Create a gift list that fits your budget, find good deals, and consider reducing holiday spending on food and gifts across the board to avoid going into debt.

Use your budget to guide your gift list. If your budget is tight, consider whether you can buy for fewer people; maybe you can suggest a get-together instead of a gift exchange with some friends.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can offer big savings, but you might find better deals at other times. Start checking prices now so you know what’s a good deal — and what to skip.

Being frugal with holiday meal shopping can go far, says Summer Red, professional development manager at the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education.

“Food is central to most holiday celebrations, and there are a lot of foods people will buy even though people don’t like it,” Red says. If no one in your family likes the dark meat of a turkey, for example, consider getting specific cuts rather than a whole bird.

“I encourage people to let go of some traditions and focus on what they really enjoy,” she says. “That means you also have less food waste and less money waste.”

Track your spending to help inform what you’ll need, Reese advises. “If you went over your budget, set aside more for next year,” she says.

• The 52-week savings challenge: One of Red’s preferred methods, with this “challenge,” you start by saving $1 the first week of December, then $2 the next week, $3 the following week, and so on, adding one dollar each week for a year. At the end, you’ll have nearly $1,400 to spend for the holidays.

• Holiday savings accounts: Typically offered by credit unions, these savings accounts are generally locked so you can’t access what you’re putting into savings until the holiday season. Putting just $25 a month into one of these gives you $300 saved for the holidays after a year.

• Set aside part of your income: Reese suggests socking away a percentage of your income and automating transfers to build the habit of saving. Having some of your paycheck deposited directly into a savings account by your employer is an easy way to set money aside without thinking about it, too.

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