Americans of all income levels face some tricky times ahead when it comes to their personal finances. What steps would the men and women vying to be the next President take to help bolster your bottom line? Below, in alphabetical order, we lay out some of the stances the current candidates have taken on investing, saving, and other "pocketbook" issues.
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) would automatically sign up U.S. workers for 401(k)-like plans, which she would call American Retirement Accounts. The government would provide tax incentives to encourage more saving, matching the investment of low- and middle-income workers in those accounts.
As senator, she proposed a "New Savers Act" in August, 2007, with a number of low-cost ways to encourage saving. Ideas included savings accounts for children, an expansion of a saver's tax credit, and promotion of U.S. savings bonds. "Too many families are living paycheck to paycheck without saving for their futures, and too many Americans have not been brought into the financial mainstream," she has said.
On Social Security, Clinton opposed the Bush Administration's reform proposal. To solve Social Security's long-term financial problems, Clinton supports "fiscal responsibility" and a bipartisan commission to study the issue. But she suggests she would resist cuts to benefits. "I am not going to balance Social Security on the backs of seniors and hardworking middle-class Americans," she said in October.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R) supports the "FairTax," a proposal to replace income taxes and most other taxes with a sales tax of 23%. Among the advantages, Huckabee argues, is that Americans would be taxed on what they spend, not on what they save or the interest on savings. That would encourage more investing, he says.
On Social Security, Huckabee has said: "The President needs to sit down with members of Congress and agree that we've got this incredible train wreck coming, and talk about how we can empower individuals, not through privatization, but through personalization."
"The answer is that we find ways in which people have a greater level of control on projecting their future," he told the Des Moines Register editorial board last year.
Huckabee says he favors efforts to increase financial literacy. "There should be a public-private partnership to help bring financial literacy to communities across America, to give people the opportunity to understand about investing," he said at a candidates forum in October.
So far, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn't spelled out a position on proposals to help Americans save more, such as automatic saving or expanded tax credits.
On Social Security, McCain has sent mixed messages. His Web site says he supports "supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts." That suggests he is sidestepping the debate over President Bush's plans to replace much of the current Social Security system with private accounts, a measure Democrats said would undermine and "privatize" the retirement benefit. However, McCain recently told The Wall Street Journal he supports Bush's plan and disavowed the Web site's statement.
On taxes, McCain is clear. He would leave in place the Bush Administration's tax cuts, two of which directly affect investors—the lowered rates on stock dividends and capital gains. "Low taxes on dividends and capital gains promoting saving, channel investment dollars to innovative, high-value uses and not wasteful financial planning," McCain says in his proposal.
Although he opposed some of the tax cuts passed by Republicans during the Bush Administration, he now says he will oppose Democrats' efforts to let the cuts expire in 2010. McCain would also continue Bush's tax-cutting by lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate. Cutting corporations' taxes would make them better global competitors, he argues, and would also lead to higher wages.
Ralph Nader only launched his campaign for the Presidency on Feb. 24, and it's not clear how many state ballots the consumer advocate's name will appear on. But Nader, who also ran in 2000 and 2004, argues he brings financial issues to the table that Democrats and Republicans can't because they're dominated by corporations.
Nader's campaign Web site discusses "a Wall street securities speculation tax" and an "aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare." He favors cutting taxes on wages and instead taxing "pollution, stock speculation, addictive industries, and energy guzzling technologies." Nader also supports more union organizing, and giving workers a "living wage instead of a minimum wage."
"As Wall Street has prospered, most Americans have been running in place because the deck has been stacked against them," Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) says in a TV ad that premiered shortly before the Mar. 4 primaries.
Obama says he opposes privatizing Social Security, and, to shore up its finances, proposes raising the amount of income that is subject to the Social Security payroll tax. To reduce high levels of credit-card debt, Obama has proposed a credit-card rating system and "credit-card bill of rights." Obama has embraced automatic IRA and 401(k) programs for all workers as well as tax incentives to encourage low- and middle-income workers to save.
Although Obama would let many of President Bush's tax cuts expire, he has proposed other tax cuts for less wealthy Americans. He would eliminate income taxes for seniors earning less than $50,000 per year, provide tax credits for college education, and allow taxpayers to deduct mortgage interest even if they don't itemize their taxes. He also pledges to find ways to simplify the filing of tax returns, cutting it to a five-minute process for many Americans.
Representative Ron Paul (R-Tex.) favors slashing government spending and taxes, including all taxes on Social Security benefits.
"We can encourage retirement saving simply by allowing employees to put more of their paychecks into IRAs and pension funds, instead of sending taxes to the federal government," Paul has written.