Planning a Vacation is Worth the Cost

planning a vacationA vacation can do a lot to increase your happiness. Planning a vacation, it turns out, can be a lot more fun.

From relaxing on the beach to a hike in the woods or however you enjoy your time off, a vacation can be a great break from work and a time to relax. Part of the fun — as I’ve found in planning my own vacations, and from reading published studies on the topic — is in planning a vacation.

In a study on overall happiness from a vacation and how long the happiness lasts, researchers in the Netherlands found that the biggest boost comes from planning a vacation. Anticipating a vacation increased happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, most travelers reported that their happiness levels dropped back down to baseline levels, according to the study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life in 2010.

Cost of planning a vacation

The study didn’t say if planning a vacation makes it worth the cost of the trip, but in my view, it’s a worthwhile expense.

I don’t think a vacation is worth going into debt over, but with careful planning and saving for it, a great vacation can be done on even a frugal budget. It’s something that the whole family can get involved in — from picking a place to visit to lodging, activities, travel arrangements and people and places to visit during a trip.

Even if planning a vacation does take you a little off your budget, it can be a worthwhile time together as a family that children will remember forever.

A few years ago, my family took a trip to Australia to visit my brother and his family. The trip cost a lot of money, but we pulled money out of our savings because we thought it would be a great experience for all of us. Continue reading Planning a Vacation is Worth the Cost

Door Slams Hard on Morgan Drexen Debt Settlement Company

Surely a bunch of people at Morgan Drexen are blaming the U.S. Government and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today for the utter demise of Walter Ledda’s creation, Morgan Drexen, on Friday.

An insider told me over the weekend, “Just letting you know the court ordered Morgan Drexen’s trustee to seize operations immediately. Morgan Drexen was shut down today at noon and every employee was asked to leave immediately and escorted out.”

But if there ever was a good example of a slow moving train wreck, I think the demise of Morgan Drexen might just qualify. You see the troubles faced by Morgan Drexen have been going on for literally years. Want to read the soap opera, grab a coffee and click here.

But out of humor and patience, it seems the court did not find it remotely possible to take over Morgan Drexen and run it to an orderly shutdown. Court documents say Morgan Drexen was up to no good and need to be terminated post haste.

In a move that impacts good employees with unemployment and trusting consumers who hoped to get debt relief assistance, the actions of Morgan Drexen have led to a lot of people being harmed in one way or another.

The words and finding of the court capture the frustration, alleged facts, and hopelessness of allowing Morgan Drexen to live even for another 90 days.

  • “Since the hearing on June 15, 2015, the business operations of Morgan Drexen have been subjected to obstructionist tactics, interference and threats by the attorneys with whom Morgan Drexen has contracts (the “Attorneys”). The actions by the Attorneys demonstrate that any form of continuing business is unmanageable and impractical, that any potential sale transaction would be unduly expensive and/or infeasible to implement, and that the Attorneys do not intend to cooperate with the Trustee unless it means selling the Morgan Drexen business to them.”
  • “Further, the Trustee believes that the actions of the Attorneys violate this Court’s Freeze Order entered on April 30, 2015, specifically the provisions prohibiting the selling, disbursing, or transferring of assets, and the Permanent Injunction Order entered today, specifically the provisions prohibiting the collection of fees from consumers and continued representations regarding debt settlement services. In addition, the Trustee is concerned that the Attorneys’ actions, under the false heading of allegedly protecting their “clients,” are designed to allow the Attorneys to further manipulate and take advantage of consumers, putting the consumers’ funds currently held in the trust accounts in jeopardy.”
  • “The Trustee believes that substantial claims exist against the Attorneys as well as against insiders of Morgan Drexen; and the Trustee will be pursuing those claims. The Trustee further believes that the Attorneys will continue to obstruct and interfere with an orderly wind down of the business, and that as a result, the business should be closed as soon as possible to allow the Trustee to address the best interests of creditors and consumers through litigation and court orders as necessary.”
  • “The Trustee previously had been informed that approximately 14,000 consumers were on existing debt settlement plans with Morgan Drexen. Upon further investigation, the Trustee has determined that the 14,000 figure included all consumers who ever had been on a debt settlement plan, as opposed to consumers on a current and active debt settlement plan. At this time, the Trustee is informed that the number of consumers on existing debt settlement plans is approximately 9,000, not 14,000. Thus, among other problems, monthly fees may have been charged to a much larger number of consumers who are not on current debt settlement plans than the Trustee previously believed.”
  • “After the joint hearing on June 15, 2015, the Trustee has examined means to make further cuts of expense and personnel. The Trustee initiated the termination of all employees with the exception of a few key personnel,ceasing all operations and services rendered by Morgan Drexen to attorneys and consumers.” – Source
  • The Trustee also had grave concerns over the actions of “Attorneys named Vincent Howard (“Howard”) and Lawrence Williamson (“Williamson”).

    “The Trustee has reason to believe that Howard sent an email to all engagement and local counsel who receive services from Morgan Drexen, calling them to action and instructing them to immediately contact Evan Borges, counsel for the Trustee, and demand “1. that you have clients that are serviced by MD, 2. that any interference with your contracts and relationships with your clients will not be tolerated, and 3. that they consult with you first before canceling the services MD provides for your clients at your direction so that you can arrange for alternative services.” The Trustee also has reason to believe that Howard also instructed the attorneys to contact Morgan Drexen employees David Walker and Deborah Ketsdever and “1. Revoke MD’s authority and access to your client trust accounts. 2. Insist that they invoice you and you decide what bills to pay. 3. Demand an accounting to see if they even did the services. 4. And demand that they send you an electronic copy of all your clients information.” As shown in Exhibit B, many of these attorneys followed Howard’s instructions, resulting in a bombardment of harassing emails to counsel for the Trustee and employees of Morgan Drexen. [The attorneys mentioned in the exhibit included Richard Labarthe, Kimberly Pisinski, Tami Munsch, Robert Beckett, JD Hass, Luis Figueredo, Glenn Romano, and Rochelle Guznack.]

    Exhibit C contains a separate email sent late last week from Williamson alleging breach of his service contracts with Morgan Drexen and demanding an accounting, among other relief.

    The Trustee is informed that Howard, Williamson and their law firms together purport to have attorney-client relationships with approximately 10,000 consumers. Howard and Williamson, along with the other Attorneys acting in concert with them, have made continued operations impossible.”

    The shutdown occurred just one day after Judge Staton said, “The Court is not convinced that any benefit to consumers would result if the Court allows Morgan Drexen to continue to charge Affected Consumers fees, when they are the very same consumers who have already paid Morgan Drexen an illegal upfront fee. Although the Chapter 11 Trustee argues that the consumers will benefit if Morgan Drexen continues to collect a fee and service the accounts for an additional 90 days or so, the Court believes that any such benefit is speculative, at most. It is more likely that no additional benefit will inure to the Affected Consumers in the course of the next few months, and the only effect will be the continued drain on their accounts, and an additional few million dollars in Morgan Drexen’s coffers. Accordingly, the Court finds that the following permanent injunction is warranted.” – Source

    But maybe this isn’t over yet. A couple of people have told me Walter Ledda, the head honcho of Morgan Drexen, has already setup another company. If anyone has details on that company, I’m curious to know more and you can reach me here.

    This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Debt Collector Left Consumers Hanging on Medical Bill Disputes, Says CFPB

A debt collector with ties to one of the nation’s largest private hospital chains spent years violating basic provisions of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, federal regulators say.

Consumers who dispute a debt are entitled to a response within 30 days, according to federal law. Medical debt collector Syndicated Office Systems took, on average, more than 90 days to respond to disputes, and in some cases, took more than a year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Syndicated Office Systems, which does business under the name Central Financial Control, is an “indirect subsidiary” of Conifer Health Solutions, the CFPB said. Conifer provides billing services to hundreds of hospitals nationwide; its parent company is Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which is one of the largest publicly traded hospital operators in the country.

“These violations are particularly egregious given the challenges many consumers already face who are attempting to navigate the medical debt maze,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are putting a stop to these illegal practices and getting consumers the relief they deserve.”

Consumers who complain about credit reports with Central Financial Control entries sometimes describe the firm as Tenet’s debt collection arm.

While the CFPB describes Syndicated/Central Financial as an “indirect subsidiary” of Conifer, reporters who call Central Financial Control are told to call or email Conifer’s senior director of communications, Sharon Lakes.

When asked to further explain the relationship between Syndicated, Conifer and Tenet, Lakes refused, other than to say it was inaccurate to call Central Financial the collection arm of Tenet. She said she wouldn’t answer any other questions, pointing to an emailed statement instead.

“Throughout the investigative process, CFC was forthcoming and responsive to all CFPB requests for access to data and other information relating to the company’s medical debt collection policies, procedures and processes,” the statement read. “The CFPB found no unfair, deceptive, abusive acts or collection practices in its investigation.”

According to the CFPB, Syndicated failed to respond in a timely fashion to 13,713 consumer disputes.

Consumers who believe they are being billed in error, or being dinged on their credit reports in error, have the right to file what’s called a “direct dispute” with the debt holder. Federal Law requires a timely response, including documentation of the debt.

Syndicated also failed to send required debt validation notices after initial contact with consumers more than 10,000 times, the CFPB said.

“Because the company furnishes information related to past-due medical debt, the information consumers seek to dispute or validate has the potential to lower credit scores,” the CFPB said. “Consumers spent time and money attempting to follow up on unresolved disputes and experienced distress and confusion due to the delays. The CFPB found that the company had no policies or procedures in place to investigate these consumer credit report disputes.”

To settle the allegations without admitting wrongdoing, Syndicated will refund consumers $5 million — including the value of every payment made when Syndicated failed to provide notice or answer disputes. It will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty.

Consumers should check their credit reports regularly to spot errors or other issues. You’re entitled to a free credit report every year from the three major credit reporting agencies through, and you can get a free credit report summary on, updated monthly, to watch for important changes.

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

5 Tax Credits That Can Save You a Boatload of Cash

Income taxes can feel like a money-suck on your hard earned cash. Almost no one likes to pay them and many people hire professionals (at a premium cost) for the task of taking care of their taxes for them. There are, however, several tax credits in place that can help you retain more of your earnings. If you are eligible for a tax credit, the amount you owe in income tax is lessened by the total credit amount. Before you file your next income tax return, see if you qualify for any of the below credits and work your way to a bigger tax refund.

1. Earned Income

This credit, also known as EITC, was established in 1975 to help offset the cost of Social Security taxes and to provide an incentive for people to work. The credit is determined by income and other components like marital status and number of dependents. Keep in mind that your investment income is also a factor and you must be between 25 and 65 years old to qualify for the federal program. Some states also have a similar credit. In New York, the state credit is equal to 30% of the federal EITC.

2. Child & Dependent Care

For parents who need to put their children or dependents under 13 in babysitting or daycare to enable them to work, there is the child and dependent care credit. This is also available to those with a spouse or dependent of any age who is incapable either physically or mentally to take care of themselves.

3. Energy

The government encourages people to be energy efficient with some tax incentives. If you have made qualified improvements to your home that will reduce your energy use (like by installing or updating a system), you might be able to get local, state or federal energy tax credits or breaks. Green home improvement can save you money, help you cut back on income tax – and help save the planet in the process. For example, California gives tax credits for installing solar panels on your home.

4. Tuition

The college tuition credit, which is sometimes referred to as the American Opportunity tax credit, helps families fund the costs of higher education. The income limits are higher than other education credits, but you cannot qualify for this credit if you opt to include tuition costs and other fees as a deduction. It’s a good idea to calculate the effectiveness of each option to help you decide which is more beneficial in your specific situation.

5. Saver’s Credit

The government knows how important saving for retirement is and allows you to deduct contributions to retirement plans from your income to lower your tax bill. Low- and moderate-income citizens can also file for the Saver’s Credit for up to 50% of their retirement contributions. You can use this to reduce your income tax or increase your refund.

While not every credit applies to every tax bracket and different states employ different credits, it’s a good idea to do some research to make sure you are getting the credits you deserve.

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

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 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, 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, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.


This article by Howard Dvorkin first appeared on 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 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
  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 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.


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 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 and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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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.

13. Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colo.

12. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.

11. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C.-S.C.

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis.

9. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.

8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

7. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash.

6. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.

5. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.

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

3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.

1. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.

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