Dvorkin On Debt: What You Don’t Know Can Cost You

If you need a $20,000 car loan for 60 months, do you know how much extra you’ll pay if your credit score is lousy?

$1,000? $2,000? Even $3,000?

Try $5,000.

If you didn’t know that, you’re in good company — 80 percent of those surveyed didn’t, either.

The Consumer Federation of America works with VantageScore to conduct an annual credit score quiz. One of this year’s most intriguing questions was the one above. Only 20 percent knew (or guessed) the right answer, while “41 percent incorrectly think that the additional charges would be less than $3,000.”

This doesn’t depress me, however.

Credit scores come out of the shadows

That survey shows that even if most Americans are unsure about the details of credit scores, they grasp their overall importance. For instance, when the same survey was conducted last year, 70 percent understood “the importance of checking the accuracy of your scores at the three main credit bureaus.”

This year? It ticked up to 72 percent. If that happens every year, I’ll be one happy CPA.

The survey is most concerned with “knowledge gaps” like the example I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I believe that knowledge will come, as sites like Debt.com and TV commercials for Credit Karma keep pushing the importance of credit scores.

How to get more out of your score

If you want to become a credit score power user, Debt.com has assembled what I believe are the easiest-to-read, easiest-to-understand explanations that can literally save you hundreds of dollars…

It might seem odd, but in today’s information society, saving one dollar might not be as important as raising your credit score one point. Don’t neglect this very important number.

Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.

 

This article by Howard Dvorkin first appeared on www.debt.com and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


3 Ways Military Members Can Protect Their Identity

As one of our nation’s military service members, you understand the importance of a good defense. It’s probably a big part of the reason you signed up.

That’s why it’s important to know that while you’re putting your life on the line for your country, your financial defenses at home can be left vulnerable if you don’t do a few key things before you leave.

It’s a sad reality: When military personnel are away for long periods, criminals often target their identities. In fact, compared with the rest of consumers, military personnel experience “28% higher rates of new-account fraud and 18% higher rates of familiar fraud,” according to Javelin Strategy and Research. New-account fraud happens when someone obtains new credit using your personal information. And familiar fraud is when someone you know, such as a friend, fellow service member or family member uses your information for personal gain.

The reason it’s important to understand that identity fraud among military personnel happens is because if thieves are successful, you may encounter big financial and time-related headaches when you get home and try to resolve it. And that’s the last thing you need while you are trying to readjust to civilian life and buy a car or house or open new accounts.

Before you ship off, take these three steps:

  1. Place an active duty alert. Adding an active duty alert to your credit files indicates that businesses need to be extra careful about verifying your identity before granting credit in your name. You only need to contact one of the major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion or Equifax — and the agency you contact will alert the other two. The alert lasts for one year.
  2. Review your credit report. Understanding where your credit stands before you leave will make it much easier to spot fraud when you get back. That’s why experts recommend visiting Annualcreditreport.com for free copies of your current credit report from each credit reporting agency. You can get a free credit report summary, which updates every 30 days, from Credit.com.
  3. Carefully consider your power of attorney (POA). While you may need to assign a POA to handle personal or business affairs while you are deployed, use extreme caution because your POA is legally allowed to make decisions on your behalf for whatever is stipulated in the POA agreement. So ensure you can fully trust the person. And only give them power over things that cannot be left until you return.

If you take these three steps, your identity will be much safer while you are away. To learn about other key identity protection steps check out these additional military identity theft prevention tips.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Matt Cullina was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Why Living in a Different State Could Increase Your Tax Bill

It can be painful to look at the income tax deductions on your pay stubs, especially if you hear about a friend or family member who doesn’t seem as burdened by them. That’s because, as you may have realized by now, taxes are charged by several different entities: federal, state and local governments. So you will pay a different amount of income, payroll, property, estate, sales and capital gains taxes depending on where you live. To learn more about the different income tax systems by state, you can look into the main characteristics that distinguish the costs.

Progressive vs. Flat Taxes

Most states apply taxes progressively, as the federal government does. This means your tax rate increases as your income increases. However, some states, like Colorado, use a flat tax system where all citizens pay the same percentage of income tax to the state regardless of income. Some states don’t collect any income tax and charge a flat tax rate for interest and dividend income.

Marginal vs. Effective Rates

Understanding your tax rate goes behind whether it is progressive and flat. Effective rates are your total tax obligation relative to income. You can figure this out by dividing how much you pay in income taxes by your income. Marginal tax rates measure the percentage of tax applied to your income for each tax bracket. For example, when it comes to federal taxes, if you file as a single person you will pay 10% on the first $9,225 you make but 15% on the next $28,225.

Assessing your effective rate can show you how much you will have to pay in taxes and you can use this to compare to other people, whereas marginal rates can help you choose filing strategies that will best suit your situation and needs.

Credits

Different states also allow for different credits that will reduce your income taxes by the full amount of the credit. For example, New York offers a college tuition credit and California has a credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Depending on your saving and spending behavior as well as lifestyle factors, you can receive different incentives to subtract from the total you owe. You may be able to save big by looking into which credits you qualify not only federally, but also with your state.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What Elizabeth Warren’s College Affordability Plan Gets Right

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently gave a speech about the affordability of higher education: a matter that is as personal to her, having put herself through school, as it is for those of us who’ve done the same for ourselves and our children.

Her focus is on finding ways to make it possible for graduating students to be free of debt (or, at worst, manageably indebted) through a combination of increased federal and state funding, and other measures that center on the public education system.

The states’ role is indeed critically important in this regard because of public education’s traditionally lower tuition prices for roughly three-quarters of all students who attend these schools. Lately, though, the funding for that has come under increasing pressure because of budgetary constraints.

To be clear, this is not to say that state schools should be the exclusive providers of higher-educational content. There will always be a market for concierge-level education, just as there is for concierge-level health care, and the consumers who are willing and able to pay extra for that.

State-Run Student Loan Programs

Apart from delivering lower-cost education, though, the states have another responsibility as well, which until now has escaped much notice.

A number of states have set up education-financing authorities that offer low-cost loans that rival the Federal Direct program. To the extent that the state-run authorities fund these programs in the same manner as the federal government (through direct borrowing) the authorities should be able to comparably restructure troubled debts. But when a state chooses to guarantee the loans that are then transacted by private-sector lenders, financially distressed borrowers often suffer because the contracts are controlled by nongovernmental entities (FFEL borrowers routinely encounter this problem).

Differences such as this that exist between the two programs need to be made clearer to prospective borrowers.

Rethinking the Business of Higher Education

In her speech, Senator Warren goes on to chide schools that engage in infrastructural warfare (my term, not hers), where costly state-of-the art sports, entertainment, dining and residential facilities are constructed for competitive advantage. Couple that with the fact that nearly half of all students fail to graduate and it’s reasonable to question whether these colleges are admitting applicants who are unprepared for the rigorous study and/or unable to sustain multiple years of tuition payments. Either way, there appear to be too many chairs and not enough students to fill them, which undermines the justification for that increased spending.

So that raises another question: Why is there practically no discussion about ramping up investments in vocational education and developing viable apprenticeship programs as there are in other countries? Not every high school graduate belongs in college, whether because of lack of readiness, or for aptitudinal or financial reasons. Yet there is strong demand for machinists, craftsmen, electricians and plumbers — all of whom can look forward to comfortable livelihoods without undertaking enormous financial obligation by comparison.

Financial Accountability

Speaking of debt, the senator adds her voice to others who want the colleges to have “skin in the game” with regard to defaulting student borrowers who leave school overly indebted and without the requisite skills to qualify for adequately paying employment.

Although the specifics for holding these institutions financially accountable is yet to be detailed (I have long advocated using cohort default rates for this purpose), I hope the plan that emerges will address three important considerations: debts that have been successfully charged back to the schools are discharged for the defaulting borrowers, taxes that would otherwise become due on the value of these forgiven debts are waived, and prior credit histories are expunged. I support this idea because I believe that improper loan structuring at the start (too short a repayment duration) and incompetent administration of the loans after the fact are the fundamental causes for the high rate of payment delinquency and default.

Counting the Dollars

Senator Warren also calls for an accounting of the $164 billion spent annually on federally sponsored student aid. Specifically, she wants to know how much goes to delivering educational content vs. funding increasingly bloated administrative costs.

A better idea would be to divide that same $164 billion by the approximately 18 million undergraduate students who are currently enrolled in the nation’s colleges and universities. Doing so would allocate to each student a little more than $9,000, which, coincidentally, is enough to cover the average annual tuition for in-state residents attending public schools.

As for the senator’s third proposal for colleges to “share in the savings” they can achieve by increasing operational efficiency and accelerating outcomes (i.e., have students graduate students in three to four years instead of five to six), another better idea would be to capitate funding just as insurers and the federal government do with reimbursements for health care costs: a specific procedure (undergraduate education, in this instance) is paid a specified amount and no more.

Dealing With the Loans Already On the Books

With regard to the status of the existing student-loan portfolio, Senator Warren wants a wholesale refinancing of that, a notion that is as obvious as is the severity of the underlying problem and yet inexplicably unable to garner meaningful support. Although the Department of Education is attempting to accomplish this in its own way, it’s doing that on the cheap. The relief programs are administratively cumbersome, and they are not universally available for reasons that include obfuscation on the part of loan-servicing intermediaries acting on behalf of note-holder investors.

Refinancing, however, is not enough. These debts need to be restructured at rates that fairly reflect the true costs the government incurs to provide this service, and the durations of the loans should be extended so that the repayments become more affordable. Doing so will reduce delinquency and, consequently, defaults. It will also lessen administrative expenditures because when handled properly, restructuring should be a once-and-done proposition.

The sticking point on that, I suspect, will be the unacknowledged truth that lurks behind the student loan program’s enormous profits: Because cash is fungible, these excesses end up offsetting budgetary deficits. Coming clean about that won’t be easy for our elected officials.

Building a Better Program

Finally, there is the matter of the ED’s poor stewardship of the student loan program. Senator Warren is right to hold the department to account for that and also in her call for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to oversee the management of our nation’s second largest consumer finance program.

But let’s also make this lending activity subject to all the protections that are currently afforded to consumers for their non-education-related debts, including eligibility for discharge in bankruptcy. And let’s also hold the note-holders (including private-sector lenders, securitization investors and the federal government) equally responsible for the improper actions of their loan-servicing agents.

At that point, not only will we have made good progress to making higher education more affordable, but we will also have put things right for the millions of consumers who’ve been left holding the bag.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Mitchell D. Weiss was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Homeowners Can Spend Over $9K a Year in Hidden Costs

Buying a home is so much more than finding the perfect place, applying for a home loan and budgeting for a monthly mortgage payment — it’s thousands of dollars more than many homeowners expect. American homeowners pay about $9,500 annually in unexpected home expenses, according to an analysis by real estate company Zillow and Thumbtack, a company that helps consumers find service providers.

The bulk of those expenses come from necessary bills like property taxes and insurance — things all homeowners need to deal with but many forget to factor into their expenses when determining what they can afford in a new home. On top of that, many consumers find themselves unprepared for the cost of home maintenance, particularly if the home is very different from where they’ve previously lived, either in structure or location.

“Homebuyers too often fixate on the sticker price or monthly mortgage payment on a house, and don’t budget for the other expenses associated with ownership — which can add up quickly,” said Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow chief marketing officer, in a news release about the analysis. “For example, new buyers can get really excited about having a backyard of their own for the first time, without budgeting for how they plan to maintain that space.”

These so-called hidden costs vary by location, but nationally, they average $9,477 annually. To arrive at that figure, Zillow analyzed data like property taxes and insurance, and Thumbtack assessed service costs for five common maintenance costs homeowners hire professionals to complete, like carpet cleaning and yard work. The companies also looked at the costs in 15 large metropolitan statistical areas. Here’s how the costs vary in some of the most populated areas of the country.

15. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz.
Annual unexpected homeowner expenses: $7,550

14. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga.
$8,043

13. Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colo.
$8,146

12. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.
$8,789

11. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C.-S.C.
$8,865

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis.
$9,782

9. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.
$10,100

8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
$10,647

7. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash.
$10,672

6. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.
$11,333

5. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.
$11,549

4. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md.
$11,953

3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.
$12,236

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
$13,287

1. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.
$13,930

Determining how much house you can afford is only one of many things you need to figure out financially when buying a house. A large down payment and high credit score will help you access the best interest rates on a home loan, but don’t forget to shop around for estimates on other expenses as well, so you are prepared to handle the full cost of your new place. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Without proper planning, you may find yourself in a challenging financial situation that could jeopardize your ability to pay for your house or make other important payments, which could cause credit damage and long-term harm to your finances.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Help! I’m Worrried My Ex Won’t Pay for Her Share of Our Kids’ College

Q. I’ve had an ugly divorce and I think my wife will refuse to pay her part of college costs for our kids. The oldest kid starts in September, and I can’t afford to pay the whole thing. I’m also not sure I want to go through another fight and go back to court. Plus, I can’t really afford an attorney again. What are my options?

A. What you need to do is act quickly.

Failure to take immediate action may be interpreted by the court, in the future, as you having waived your right — and your child’s right — to seek financial contribution from your ex-wife toward the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses, said Kenneth White, a divorce attorney with Shane and White in Edison, N.J..

White said for starters, he makes it a point never to convince anyone that they need an attorney to appear in Family Court, and nearly 50% of those who appear before the court in New Jersey do it without an attorney. (And while this is specific to New Jersey, no matter where you live, it’s important to find out what the rules and deadlines are so that you can advocate for your child.)

Whether to hire an attorney or not often rests upon just how comfortable the non-attorney individual is appearing before a judge, coupled with how competent that individual is. However, you often only get one chance to correctly present an issue before the Family Court, he said.

“After the fact, if you did something wrong or otherwise failed to raise a specific point it will be 10 times harder and more costly for an attorney to try to undo something you did wrong and that attorney, after the fact, may not be able to undo something done wrong,” White said.

So back to acting quickly.

Specifically, White said, there is case law in New Jersey allows a judge to deny an application by one party against his/her ex-spouse for contribution toward the satisfaction of their child’s college costs and expenses if that application is made after the actual costs and expenses were incurred.

“Therefore, it is essential that you file your application with the court to compel your ex-wife to contribute to the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses before the same are incurred — this fall,” White said.

He said another reason to file your application sooner rather than later is that it will likely protect you from many additional defenses that your ex-wife could raise.

“For example, she will be unable to claim that she was unaware and otherwise kept in the dark about your child’s intentions, such as wanting to attend college and where, and perhaps that she was denied an opportunity to have a say in the matter,” he said.

Moving sooner will allow everyone involved — your ex-spouse, you and your child — to look at all the relevant financial considerations, such as if it’s practical for your child to attend his/her first choice of college, he said.

Unlike divorce litigation that can take a year or perhaps longer depending upon what county your case was heard in, White said a post-judgment application to address an issue such as satisfaction of college costs and expenses may be filed, argued and resolved by the court in as quick as a 24-day cycle. Post-judgment motions must be filed 24 days before the return date, i.e. the date the judge is to have a hearing regarding the issue. Therefore, White said, you shouldn’t be intimidated by the potential of additional litigation because it will not be as complex as your entire divorce was.

“Unfortunately, absent confirming an amicable resolution directly with your ex-wife, your only option is to file an application with the court as soon as possible,” he said. “Alternatively, you — and more importantly, your child — may lose the opportunity to have your child secure a college education that he/she may be entitled to.”

So you should consider consulting with an attorney who can review all the circumstances of your case and offer you an opinion, even if it’s just a consultation.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Karin Price Mueller was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What Are the Data Breach Notification Laws in Your State?

As prospects of passing consumer-privacy legislation in Congress remain bleak, state lawmakers are picking up the ball and running with it.

At least 32 states have data-breach notification laws on the docket this legislative session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those bills are tightening and expanding existing laws.

“As we’ve seen now how breaches work, a lot of the states are realizing it’s time to update what for some of them are decade-old statutes,” says Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer at IDT911.

The Connecticut General Assembly is one of the latest examples. Earlier this month, it changed its breach-notification laws to require businesses to notify victims within 90 days and to provide them with at least a year of identity-theft protection.

“Everyone would be happy if there was a federal law because it would be so much simpler,” says Tom Patterson, a security and privacy expert and vice president of global security solutions at Unisys, a global information-technology company. “But in the absence of that, states are taking matters into their own hands and trying to do things to better protect their citizens.”

Since California enacted the first breach-notification law in the country in 2002, all but three states — Alabama, New Mexico and South Dakota — eventually followed suit. (Alabama and New Mexico have unsuccessfully tried to pass related legislation several times in the past few years.)

Lawmakers Aware of News

The media is one of the drivers behind the momentum. As breaches dominate the news, state lawmakers are taking notice—especially if the news hits close to home.

In Washington state, for example, breaches in recent years have included the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and the state’s own Public Disclosure Commission.

“Legislators often react to what’s in the news, and we try to solve that problem,” says state Rep. Zach Hudgins, who sponsored a recently passed bill in the Washington Legislature that expands the state’s breach-notification laws, including to paper records.

“There’s momentum because legislators are getting better educated on the issues, and some of the issues are very complex,” says Hudgins, who has worked at Amazon and Microsoft, and is one of few tech industry professionals in the Legislature.

Wider Definition of Personal Information

Many of the state bills during the current legislative session are expanding the definition of personal information to include things such as biometric and health data. Many states also are requiring notification of the state attorney general, and several are delving into K-12 student data protection.

“These are reactive laws, they’re good in terms of notification, but we also want to see the states setting baseline security standards that companies have to follow,” says Caitriona Fitzgerald, chief technology officer and state policy coordinator for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Only a minority of states have included proactive requirements in their bills. While in some cases that includes a provision for basic encryption, it also could entail something as simple as having a response plan and practicing it several times a year.

One of the challenges is the complexity of the technology, which leads to disagreements over seemingly benign aspects like the definition of cybersecurity.

“It’s a technical issue and legislators struggle to understand it,” Fitzgerald says.

Another challenge — and the reason other privacy and security bills are a much tougher sell than breach notifications — is the idea of the government telling companies how to run themselves. Especially when it involves ever-changing technology and lack of standards.

“To get into prescribing security, you have to have some benchmarks, and everything changes so quickly. It’s a slippery slope and a difficult thing to peg down,” Goodman says.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Although many state lawmakers are modeling their bills after other states, the laws still vary widely around the country. As one example, Florida is the only one requiring notification to consumers within 30 days of breach discovery, while other states have much longer deadlines or no deadlines at all.

But Patterson says it’s not a real loss of protection, based on what state you live in, but more of a perception.

“The reality is that most companies, if they have to do something for one state, it’s easier to do it for all 50 states than follow individual rules,” he says.

And some of the changes may not be for the best. Goodman says he’s seeing the response by companies become driven by compliance rather than a desire to do something meaningful for consumers.

People are getting overnotified to a point where they don’t give it a second thought,” he says. “They’re getting desensitized. It’s a double-edge sword.”

Capitol Hill Not on Bandwagon

The momentum in the state legislatures to tackle data-related bills is not likely to spill over to the federal government, however.

“Congress is much more beholden to special interests and influence,” Goodman says.

And the topic of privacy, in general, is much more sensitive than breach notification. Patterson notes that there’s big business built around personal data because consumers are willing to trade their information for free things like mobile apps, search engines and social networks.

“You’re paying for it by giving up some of your privacy,” he says. “There’s a lot of big money lobbying against privacy.”

Even at the state level, many privacy-related bills die without making it out of committee — as was the case this session in Washington state. Hudgins says if simple bills die in the state senate, it’s easy to see how Congress would stall.

Another challenge is that federal legislation often pre-empts state laws — with the current White House privacy bill as a prime example.

“The pressure the feds get is to water down the increasingly robust laws by passing something federally that’s more predictable and easier to comply with,” Goodman says. “For the most part, that weakens the consumer protection pretty substantially.”

Fitzgerald notes that 432 million online accounts were hacked last year and says the problem should be addressed at both state and federal levels.

“As a baseline, the federal government should pass something,” she says. “But anything that the federal government passes should not pre-empt state laws.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Rodika Tollefson was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


How to Make Improvements That Add Value to Your Home

Homeowners can sometimes talk themselves into spending money on their house by assuring themselves it will add value at resale time. However, it turns out that there are many improvements that do not add the value you may be banking on. To ensure you stick to projects that successfully increase your home’s value, check out the details below and get inspired.

Little Investment, Big Reward

The best improvements are the ones that pay off big time with little capital and effort. The difference may not always be that obvious to you, but adding luxury attractions does not usually boost value as much as functional changes. In general, the more personal a home improvement is, the smaller the chance it will make a substantial difference in resale value. It’s a good idea to look for solutions that everyone can use, like improving the kitchen or bathroom vs. adding a man cave. Remember, the actual cost and payback for each project depends on real estate market values in your area, as well as your home’s overall condition.

Appliance Upgrade

From the kitchen and bathroom to the laundry room, energy efficiency and updated appliances seem to be more important than ever to potential buyers. If something doesn’t match or looks old, you may be able to just add new doors or face panels. But if something is truly old and inefficient, you might want to consider purchasing a newer model. Adding new hardware can be a great way to spruce up these rooms if you can’t afford all new things. You don’t need to make things too fancy (this can sometimes even work against you), but remodeling a kitchen and keeping up-to-date on appliances can really pay off because these spaces are generally the real heart of a home.

New Rooms on the Cheap

Adding a bedroom can add tens of thousands of dollars in value to your home. The difference between a bedroom and any other type of den, living room, or office is simple: a closet. Adding a closet to any room with a door can turn it into a bedroom just like that. You will just need to put up some framework and add drywall, which can often be done for less than $2,000. A local real estate agent can advise you on any other local regulations or specs you’re required to meet to be able to add the extra bedroom to an official listing.

You might want to consider finishing your attic or basement to make it livable space because homebuyers are often on the lookout for versatile spaces. Reinventing your existing space can be much more efficient and effective even than adding square footage. If your home only has one bathroom, you might also consider turning underutilized areas into another bathroom.

Paint & Packaging

The least expensive and most cost-effective value booster for your home will likely be painting it. A fresh coat of neutral colors inside and out will brighten your house and make everything look more attractive. Curb appeal is important, so you also might consider investing in some low-maintenance landscaping like shrubs and colorful plants that are native to your region and so require less maintenance.

When someone is getting ready to shell out a lump sum as a down payment to buy a new home, they are generally looking to get the best bang for their buck. Do your best to discern between improvements that are worthwhile and those that just won’t help you sell, but don’t forget that you can always call in an expert who knows the conditions in your local market to help you decide. It’s a good idea not to let TV shows and your personal desires or unique needs guide your home improvement decisions if your goals are solely improving resale value and recouping your remodeling costs.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


You Can’t Inherit Robocalls When You Get a New Phone Number, FCC Rules

Among all the things that Washington D.C. has done in the past few decades, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more popular than the Do Not Call List. It had a rocky beginning —  birthing took about a decade — but it worked remarkably well, as federal programs go, and consumers lined up by the millions to join.

You’ve probably noticed that unwanted phone calls are making a bit of a comeback lately, which is partly why the Federal Communications Commission acted Thursday to clarify some provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Technological advances like robotexting, along with creative legal interpretations, had begun to chip away at America’s popular right-to-be-left-alone law.

For example, believe it or not, telemarketers had claimed that they could call reassigned phone numbers if they had received permission from the previous owner of the number. True story.

“We close a number of potential loopholes,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last month in a blog post explaining his proposals, which were approved Thursday. “For example, we clarify the definition of ‘autodialers’ to include any technology with the potential to dial random or sequential numbers. This ruling is true to Congress’s intent when passing the law, and would ensure that robocallers cannot skirt consent requirements through changes in technology design. We also close the ‘reassigned number’ loophole, making clear that consumers who inherit a phone number will not be subject to a barrage of unwanted robocalls OK’d by the previous owner of the number.”

So a bunch of things are newly, clearly illegal. Naturally, there are those who oppose the new telemarketing limitations (well, the re-iteration of what’s considered the original intent of the law, and the will of the people.) Banks, for example.

“(Consumer Banking Association) member banks are committed to the spirit of the TCPA and go to great lengths to comply, but they are still facing stifling lawsuits,” said Richard Hunt, CBA president. “We are disappointed with today’s FCC vote and are concerned about the inevitable chilling of beneficial consumer communications. Class-action attorneys appear to be today’s winners at the expense of consumers and well-meaning American businesses.”

While TCPA lawsuits may be considered to be a pain, they are the reason this law works. Unlike so many other consumer protections, the TCPA includes a private right of action, which creates real financial incentive to obey the law.

The FCC also cleared the way for telephone companies to create products that help consumers avoid unwanted calls and texts, so look for them soon.

“We applaud the FCC for holding the line to keep the plague of unwanted robocalls from becoming even worse,” added Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America. “Since the FCC has now clarified that telephone companies can block these types of calls, we expect the companies to act quickly to implement blocking options for their customers.”

Thursday’s vote is tangentially related to the PayPal / eBay robocalling controversy that began a few weeks ago with a story I wrote. Because the issue was already at the forefront for consumer groups and the FCC, it was a little easier to get their attention, which had something to do with the quick action by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Bob Sullivan was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


6 Credit Cards That Can Get You Into a New Car

It’s an exciting time to be a car buyer as many new vehicles are equipped with amazing features to enhance both safety and efficiency. At the same time, a new generation of muscle cars have reached unprecedented levels of performance.

One way to get yourself into a new car and pay for its maintenance is through a rewards credit card offered by your car’s manufacturer. In fact, many of the leading car manufacturers now offer either a charge card or a credit card.

If you have a particular car in mind, you may want to see if there’s a card specifically tailored to that brand. To give you an idea of what’s out there, here are six credit cards from car makers that can help you get behind the wheel.

1. The BuyPower Card From General Motors & Capital One

This card offers 5% earnings on a cardholder’s first $5,000 spent each year and 2% unlimited earnings after that. Earnings don’t expire and can be applied toward a new Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac. This card also offers new applicants 0% APR promotional financing on new purchases for 12 months. Finally, this card is part of the World Elite MasterCard program, which offers numerous discounts on shopping, entertainment and travel. There is no annual fee for this card.

2. The Ford Service Credit Card

This is a store charge card that can be used to finance service, parts, accessories and other products sold by dealers. Nevertheless, this card cannot be used to finance a vehicle purchase and is not part of a larger payment network. Customers can finance their purchase for either six or 12 months and special financing for six months is available on purchases of $199 or and for 12 months on purchases of $499 or more. Interest is charged if the balance is not paid in full by the end of the promotional financing period. In addition, customers receive a $25 prepaid card when they spend $250 or or more on their Ford Service Credit Card. There is no annual fee for this card.

3. Lexus Pursuits Visa

Cardholders earn five points per dollar spent at participating Lexus dealerships, and 1.5 points per dollar everywhere else that Visa is accepted. Points can then be redeemed towards the purchase parts, service or accessories at a Lexus dealership, or up to 10% of the price of the purchase or lease of a new Lexus. There is no annual fee for this card.

4. & 5. The Mercedes-Benz Credit Card & the Platinum Card From American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

This German automaker offers two credit cards from American Express. The first card offers 5x points for Mercedes-Benz purchases, 3x points for purchases from U.S. gas stations, 2x points at restaurants and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Each year that you charge at least $5,000 to your card, you get a $500 certificate that can be used for the purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz vehicle. Cardholders also receive 1,000 excess miles waived at the end of their lease, and a $50 certificate toward Mercedes-Benz accessories each year when they renew their card. There is a $95 annual fee for this card.

The Mercedes-Benz Platinum card offers all of the regular features of the Amex Platinum card, including airport business lounge access, a $200 annual airline fee credit, as well as numerous travel insurance and shopping protection policies. In addition, cardholders also receive 2,000 excess miles on their lease and a $100 certificate for Mercedes-Benz Accessories when they renew their card. There is a $475 annual fee for this card.

6. Mopar Rewards MasterCard

Mopar is the parts, service and customer care organization for the Chrysler family of vehicles. Its credit card offers three points per dollar spent at Chrysler group dealerships on parts, repairs, maintenance and accessories. On qualifying travel purchases you get 2x points, and one point per dollar spent everywhere else. Points are valid for seven years before they expire and can be used for any parts, service or vehicle purchase. In fact, you can use an unlimited number of points to pay for your entire new car purchase. Finally, new applicants receive six months of 0% APR financing on new purchases, and there is no annual fee for this card.

When it comes to rewards credit cards, the best way to maximize your rewards is to not carry a balance on the cards if you’re going to incur a finance charge. However, if you do carry a balance on your credit card, you can use this free calculator to see how long it will take you to pay it off. Finally, before you apply for any credit card, it can be helpful to know what your credit score is so that you target your search to cards that cater to your credit standing. You can get your credit scores for free from many sources — including Credit.com, where you can see two of your credit scores for free every 30 days.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Jason Steele was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.