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Meet Brandon Copeland: NFL Linebacker, New Kiplinger Contributor

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Photograph by Sonya Revell

David Muhlbaum: What’s a linebacker got to teach you about personal finance? You’re going to find out over the next year as Kiplinger joins forces with Brandon Copeland: an NFL veteran and graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Our collaboration with Cope kicks off with his appearance on this episode, in which we’ll also talk about a number that’s really, really important to Social Security. All coming up on Your Money’s Worth stick around.

David Muhlbaum: Welcome to Your Money’s Worth. I’m Kiplinger.com senior editor David Muhlbaum, joined as always by senior editor, Sandy Block. Sandy, how are you?

Sandy Block: I’m doing good David.

David Muhlbaum: Great. This week I had a little flashback to a job that we both had. So here’s a bit of biographical background for you all. Some time ago, perhaps maybe a long time ago, Sandy and I each worked for Dow Jones> Not at the same time, but we held down the same role. And a big part of that was writing, very quickly, these short stories, that went out on what was then called the ticker.

Sandy Block: That was pre-internet. Yes.

David Muhlbaum: Pre-internet. These were about economic numbers, stock registrations and the like. I mean, I’d barely call it writing, but these numbers matter to investors and others. And so the reason I had a flashback is because this week again, I was dealing with a number. The number this week was the 2021 cost-of-living adjustment. And this number matters a lot to anyone receiving Social Security or similar government benefits, because it lets you know how much more — or if you’ll be getting more — next year. So I banged out a story quickly on that and mashed down on "send." It felt like the old days. The number is 1.3%. 1.3%

Sandy Block: That’s right. You never wanted to get that number wrong or you could be responsible for a stock market crash. So it was very important. And this number, 1.3%, isn’t much, particularly if you’re a senior living on Social Security? Because that’s about how much of a raise you’re going to get and the average increase in Social Security checks next year works out to about $20 a month. And that’s not enough to keep up with what a lot of people are paying for their healthcare. But it could have been worse as in zero, no pay raise. Because earlier this year when the pandemic hit, prices went a bit crazy. Ryan and I talked about how oil prices even briefly went negative, which was a really weird thing.

David Muhlbaum: Right.

Sandy Block: And in April consumer prices fell almost 1%.

David Muhlbaum: We had deflation for a moment there.

Sandy Block: Right. And there have been periods in recent years where the COLA has been flat. So I guess, seniors aren’t celebrating this 1.3% increase. But I guess, as you said, it could have been worse.

David Muhlbaum: There was no increase in 2016 and none in 2011, 2010-- Great Recession times. But what are the ways it could be worse? We can have deflation, but you can’t have a negative COLA. The COLA will be zero.

Sandy Block: Right. Your benefits won’t go down. But the other thing that’s important about this, this isn’t just an issue to people who get Social Security. It’s one of the values that private companies look to when they’re considering giving out raises because the cost-of-living is supposedly a measure of how much you’re paying. So if you’re figuring out raises that are supposed to keep up with inflation, that’s what the raise is going to be if you get one at all.

David Muhlbaum: Am I getting a raise?

Sandy Block: You’re a journalist, David. So don’t spend that money. I’d give you one. I think you’re worth it. But it’s complicated because some companies give raises based on merit, but we’re also in the middle of a pandemic. So this will certainly be an excuse for modest raises next year.

David Muhlbaum: I’ll put in for a 15% bump for you.

Sandy Block: Oh, okay.

David Muhlbaum: I think we should come back to raises in the next few weeks or so.

Sandy Block: Yeah, I think it’s something important to talk about because we are in a period of widespread unemployment, but there’s also certain sectors of the economy where there’s a great demand. So it’d be interesting to look and see what companies are going to be doing.

David Muhlbaum: Next, we’ll introduce you to our newest contributing editor. I promise you that’s more exciting than it sounds.

David Muhlbaum: We’re honored to have joining us now someone with whom Kiplinger is planning to do big things this year. Brandon Copeland is an outside linebacker for the New England Patriots. At age 29, he’s now in his eighth season in the league. That’s the football side of things. He’s also taught financial literacy at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania and operates several real-estate ventures. To quote his Instagram feed, "I got six jobs. I don’t get tired." His latest title is contributing editor for Kiplinger. Welcome, Brandon.

Brandon Copeland: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

David Muhlbaum: So what's the main thing you hope to accomplish through our collaboration?

Brandon Copeland: I think one, when you have an opportunity to collaborate with a premier leader in terms of personal finance information... one, it allows a different audience to hear it in a different way than ever before. Hear my, I guess, spiels and information in a way than they've ever heard it before. But then two, for me, it's just about providing access to information and opportunity and education. And so to be able to partner with you all, who've had such a long-standing track record of success added, this selfishly, is an opportunity for me to learn, but then two is also an opportunity for me to execute my passion and share as much as I can while I have not only this platform, but while I'm walking this earth. So it's just another opportunity to share.

David Muhlbaum: Okay. I know Sandy wants to ask a question, but let me say a few more things about the how of our collaboration. We're looking to create videos to introduce audiences new and old, to fresh perspectives, Brandon's doing them, on valuable personal finance topics that people can act on. For example, our first feature coming up in November, we'll introduce service members and their military families to special personal finance benefits they may not be taking advantage of.

Sandy Block: And Brandon, I was listening to a recording or an interview you did earlier, and you were involved in a lot of projects, particularly in your hometown of Baltimore. But I'm curious why financial literacy? Of all the worthy goals and projects, why'd you pick this one?

Brandon Copeland: I think like the old adage says, "If you catch a fish for someone, they eat for a day, but if you teach them how to fish and they eat for a lifetime." And so my wife and I we cofounded our nonprofit organization, Beyond The Basics Inc., which is aimed at helping youth realize their full potential and exposing them to different opportunities and people that they otherwise would not have had. But that only goes so but far. And when I can help teach their parents or themselves how to be stronger financially, that has ultimately a ripple effect long beyond the days that I am there and able to physically speak to them or provide them some holiday-shopping spree, cleats, et cetera.

Brandon Copeland: So for me, financial literacy is just helping people feel more confident in their makeup. I think when you look at a lot of the issues going on in our lives and a lot of those stress-related issues, or the mental-health related issues, not all, but some of them do stem from not being where you want to be financially. And so it's not that we all need to have mansions and be millionaires. Some of these things are just literally having a plan and just understanding where your money is, where the hole, the leak in your boat is, all of those types of things. So that to me is what got me involved and that's why I continue to push so hard to help shine light on this.

David Muhlbaum: I want to ask a question though, maybe you can give us a little bit more about how you got to where you are and what you're doing. And one of those is, playing in the NFL is of course the dream of plenty of young athletes and not many make it. You did. And as you moved forward in your high school, then college career, how are you making choices to hedge your bets in case football didn't work out?

Brandon Copeland: I think for me, one, I had the fortune of seeing my grandfather, Roy Hilton. He played for 11 years in the NFL. So I had the opportunity of seeing his life after football. And I also just had an understanding of... Personally I did not want to ever be completely devastated and thrown off track if football did not work out for me. And for a lot of us, football not only falls short in a lot of........

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