What a strange year for the United States. We certainly can’t say this was the best financial year for news now can we? Truth be told all of the financial news wasn’t bad, and some interesting financial things that did happen didn’t make the top 5:

Sapphire Skies over DC
SP8254 via Compfight

* Many payday lenders started getting major smackdowns, including banks that propped many of these companies up. It’s no wonder, with some interest rates as high as 400%. It’s too bad that sometimes the government needs to protect people from themselves.

* Large data breaches of our financial information from major companies. The latest company was Target but during the year Marshall’s and many other companies had information hacked. We could add Twitter, Amazon and Facebook to this list but we’ve never been told if any of that cost us money or just some of our data being stolen.

* J.P. Morgan agreed to pay a $13 billion dollar fine to the federal government for mortgage fraud and to pay a large number of lawsuits off.

* The housing market started its rebound, foreclosures dropped, and cities that were in major trouble like Las Vegas and Scottsdale actually saw home building start up and become robust again.

* Unemployment dropped under 8%, although that figure has always been dicey throughout history. Still, since it’s always been dicey we’ll take what we can get.

Those stories didn’t make the list. The stories below did:

1. Affordable Care Act goes into effect – Of course this has to be the top story of the year for more reasons than one, the last one being now many states had problems when it was launched. People are now signing up at a furious pace but something most people weren’t told was that the earlier you signed up for a plan, the better deal you could get. Something else most people didn’t know is that the types of plans and number of plans one got to choose from depended upon how much competition there was in those areas. So, while in some areas in states like New York had 7 or 8 competitors to choose from, other areas in states like Arkansas might have had only 2; guess who got the better deals.

It’s still ugly as many people, myself included, now have to get used to deductible plans that we never had to deal with before. This teaches us two things: one, just how much employers were paying for insurance coverage that we didn’t know about; two, now many have been living before this came about, as many of those folks actually have lower deductible plans now because of this Act. Still, I’m not sure all of us were mentally ready for it, and are coming along kicking and screaming.

2. Stock Market records – In May, the Dow Jones closed at a record high of 15,409.39 and decided to keep going up. Just yesterday the Dow closed at another record high of 16,479.88. Think about this; in just under 5 years the Dow has gone from 6,500 all the way up to where it is now. When it first hit 11,000 I wondered what was going on; now I’m just going with the flow like pretty much everyone else, hoping it’s not all speculation without any foundation (then again, how is anyone valuing Twitter, which still hasn’t figured out how to generate any income?).

3. Sequestration – This is the result of the next point, but what happened is that on March 1st dramatic cuts in defense and social programs kicked in based off a deal that went into effect in 2011. It immediately hurt military personnel and their families and VA benefits, shut down programs that fed children at school, and a host of other nasty things. Yet, the big financial meltdown that was predicted didn’t quite happen. Spending didn’t drop, unemployment still went down, and the stock market continued to go up.

4. Debt Ceiling fight – No one ever thought the day would come when Congress wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling without a fight but it came, and it was ugly. In essence, our government went into credit default and many government employees got sent home. The Republicans learned just how powerful the Tea Party had in shutting down their ability to negotiate, but the Tea Party learned just how hard it is to repel crushing public opinion when you have to shoulder the blame for causing a “do-nothing” Congress at the polls in November.

5. Passing a budget bill without a major battle – On December 18th, Congress passed a bipartisan balanced budget deal without a major fight; how the heck did that happen? Sure, some Tea Party folks hated the deal and screamed bloody murder but the powers that be for the Republican party and quite a few Democrats realized that, finally, for the good of the country there had to be some cooperation and agreement on something. Spending gets to increase, the Pentagon gets more money, and it’s all good… that is, until around January 15th when, if a new spending authority bill isn’t passed, the government will shut down once again; ugh.

The more things change… well, you know.

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