Communications curfew

An increasing number of companies are trying to encourage employees to stop using their BlackBerrys, smartphones and laptops for work-related communications once they’ve clocked out.

“No after-hours e-mail” is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn, reports The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang.

One in four companies has created rules to limit after-hours e-mails, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

“For the vast majority of companies and federal offices, the muddying of work and personal time has had financial advantages,” Kang writes. “Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.”

But Catherine Ruckelshaus, the legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, says more people are having problems balancing their work expectations with their personal lives.

Labor advocacy groups say that more often, employees work evenings and weekends beyond their normal hours and do not record that time with their employers.

Not everyone might be on board for a change in a culture that has encouraged people to work during family meals, on vacations, at the movies, at children’s sporting events, etc. When employees are on call all the time it allows companies to get more work done with less staff, critics say.

Some employees see the all-access pass they give their employers as a potential bargaining tool for promotions.

Still, Kang says, “the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.”

I know I feel fried most of the time.

This week’s Color of Money Question: What do you think of employers encouraging workers to stop sending e-mails after work hours? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Communications Curfew” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

A Fee-For-All

Bankrate.com said in its 2012 Checking Survey that almost every checking fee it watches went up, with some fees jumping more than 25 percent.

The survey also found that only 39 percent of banks offered a checking account with no minimum balance requirement and no monthly fee, the standard definition of a “free” checking account. That’s down from 45 percent in 2011 and down substantially from its peak of 76 percent in 2009.

Greg McBride, CFA and senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com, said: “We continue to see a decline in the availability of free checking. I don’t expect it to reverse anytime soon.”

Overall banking fees have increased.

The average monthly maintenance fee for a non-interest checking account is now at a record high of $5.48; the average nonsufficient funds fee is $31.26, up from $30.83 last year. And expect to pay an average fee of $2.50 to the owner of the ATM, a new record and up 4 percent from last year. Plus, your bank will charge you another $1.57, on average, at that ATM, an increase of 11 percent, reports Herb Weisbaum, NBC News contributor.

Bankrate.com says if your bank eliminates your free checking and starts imposing fees you can’t stand, shop around for a new banking relationship.

“There are plenty of smaller community banks and credit unions that still offer free checking,” McBride says. “Our recent survey showed that 72 percent of the largest credit unions still offered free checking.”

Just Say No

There comes a time when we have to be true to our budgets and ourselves, and just say, “No, I can’t afford that.”

Really, it’s okay to be honest about what you can and can’t afford because that can reduce financial stress and boost your financial health, writes Veronica Dagher of the Wall Street Journal, who then offers tips to help you say no.

Chief among the strategies is setting boundaries, says Carl Sword, a New York-based psychoanalyst.

“There’s a lot of peer pressure in our society to spend,” Sword tells Dagher. “When presented with an offer, folks can alleviate some of that pressure by using a phrase such as ‘Let me think about that and check my budget,’” he says. “Doing so may help them avoid a snap spending decision, weigh the offer in light of their finances and feel less on the spot with their friend.”

Responses to “The Mooching Class”

For last week’s Color of Money question, I wanted to know what you thought of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comments during a fundraising event in which he characterized 47 percent of Americans as freeloaders and said they were “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

You can watch the full clip here.

Here are some of your responses:

“It is so disheartening to hear things like what Romany said. And it makes me angry,” wrote Jen Johnson of Silver Spring, Md. “My husband and I live pretty much paycheck to paycheck. We have a tiny bit of cash that we managed to save, but if either one of us lost our jobs that little pile would disappear so fast. We paid taxes last year, but if we were to get a home this year, and with the addition of our second child, it is likely that we would not owe taxes next year. That would put us in the mooching class, according to Romney. And that’s when I get really angry. My husband is a manager at a big retail store and works a 60-hour workweek. I have been a Federal employee for nine years, so we are very lucky to have the benefits and stability of my job. Except for my remaining student loan debt, we have no credit card debt, we have no car debt, and we certainly do not live outside of our means. Our take-home, after all taxes are taken out, reflects our contributions. But Romney does not care about us.”

Donna Brown of Tivoli, N.Y., said: “My husband and I are registered Republicans but we are probably going to vote for Obama… It’s just scary.”

From Tricia Dunlap of Chester, Va.: “My biggest issue with Romney’s comment is that it assumes people’s lives are static -- if you don’t pay income taxes now, you never will, because you are permanently a ‘moocher.’”

Dunlap added: “In my 25 years of adulthood, my income has run the gamut from married and comfortably middle class to barely making it as a single mom with three jobs (I thank God for the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2004. It really saved me.), to a single mom and full-time student on food stamps, to today when I am an attorney earning in the low six figures. I am 43 years old and still have a long way to go before I’m as financially secure as I intend to be. But I have been working really hard for four years now to build a new career and get it launched. Of the past four years, I didn’t pay income taxes in three of them, but that doesn’t mean I was slacking. I graduated cum laude in the top 13 percent of my class, with law review and moot court honors. I had a pretty sizeable income tax bill last year and expect to have another such bill this year. That’s okay, I’m on my way and my kids are very proud of me. I think this is the truth for many Americans and Romney was both intellectually lazy to say what he said and grossly out of touch with the dips and valleys that most people navigate.”

Dave Youngers of Rochester, Minn., wrote: “Personally, I think there should be a safety net and that we need to care for those truly in need, but I also think that we’d be further ahead if we cut back on the things that make people dependent on the government. The expectation that the government is going to fix any problem you face only takes away from the human spirit.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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