10 States With the Highest Foreclosure Rates

The national foreclosure rate increased 1% in May from April and increased 16% from May 2014, reaching a 19-month high, according to RealtyTrac, a housing-data company. One in every 1,041 housing units in the U.S. had a foreclosure filing in May, which includes notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. For the third month in a row, Florida had the highest foreclosure rate of any state, including the District of Columbia.

The rising foreclosure rate was driven by annual increases in bank repossessions, as states continue to work through a glut of distressed properties.

“May foreclosure numbers are a classic good news-bad news scenario, with the number of homeowners starting the foreclosure process stabilizing at pre-housing crisis levels but the number of homeowners actually losing their homes to foreclosure still well above pre-crisis levels and on the rise,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a news release about the data. “Lenders and courts are pushing through stubborn foreclosure cases that have been languishing in foreclosure limbo for years as options to prevent foreclosure are exhausted or left untapped.”

Foreclosure starts (the first foreclosure filing on a property) increased 4% from last year but are below the pre-crisis levels seen in 2005 and 2006. Only 13 states had foreclosure rates higher than the national average, many of which are in the South and Midwest. Here are the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates in May.

10. South Carolina
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 987 housing units in foreclosure

Even as foreclosure activity fell in South Carolina, it moved up in the rankings from last month, from 11th to 10th. In April, one in every 917 properties in the state had a foreclosure filing.

9. Indiana
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 963 housing units in foreclosure

The foreclosure rate was consistent from April to May, but with shifts in other states, Indiana went from 12th in April to 9th in this most recent report. Foreclosure completions increased about 28% from May 2014 to May 2015.

8. Illinois
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 765 housing units in foreclosure

The Illinois foreclosure rate dropped slightly from April, reflected in the move from the 6th- to the 8th-highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Foreclosure completions dropped about 29% from April to May.

7. Ohio
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 763 housing units in foreclosure

It seems Ohio is picking up the pace in moving through its foreclosure inventory, because foreclosure completions increased about 25% from April and 114% from May 2014. In April the Ohio foreclosure rate was one in every 847 properties.

6. New Mexico
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 726 housing units in foreclosure

RealtyTrac noted some changes to its data collection in some states, including New Mexico. The state ranked 41st with last month’s recorded rate at one in every 2,542 properties in foreclosure. The sharp increase may be attributed to methodology changes, rather than a flood of foreclosures, RealtyTrac notes.

5. Nevada
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 590 housing units in foreclosure

Nevada fell a few spots from April, when the foreclosure rate was one in every 555. Still, the May figures were up about 22% from 2014, driven by an increase in foreclosure completions. Foreclosure starts fell from April and compared to last May.

4. Maryland
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 531 housing units in foreclosure

In the previous month, Maryland was No. 3, even though the foreclosure rate was lower than in May, at one in every 594. Changes in other states’ foreclosure inventories bumped Maryland down, despite the consistently high foreclosure rate.

3. Tennessee
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 485 housing units in foreclosure

Tennessee is also among the states in which RealtyTrac updated its data-collection methods. The data shows Tennessee’s foreclosure rate increased about 658% from May 2014, though RealtyTrac says the most recent data is more accurate. In April, Tennessee had the fifth highest foreclosure rate.

2. New Jersey
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 483 housing units in foreclosure

After a few months out of the top two spots, New Jersey is back on the high end of the nation’s foreclosure activity. April’s foreclosure rate was one in 594 — a lot of new foreclosure filings were reported in May.

1. Florida
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 409 housing units in foreclosure

Foreclosure starts fell in May, but an increase in completed foreclosures outweighed that fact and kept Florida atop the foreclosure-rate standings for a third month in a row.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners across the country continue to struggle to make mortgage payments, thrusting them into a long and often complicated process of fighting or completing a foreclosure. They can suffer credit damage as a result, jeopardizing their ability to access affordable credit or rent an apartment in the future, if need be. You can gain a better understanding of the relationship between your payment history and your credit score by getting your free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

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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! Someone Took Out a Student Loan in My Name

Some students worry about whether they’ll get the financial aid they need to pay for the next semester of college. Others wonder why there is a record of them taking out student loans when they didn’t apply — and now they can’t get the loans they need. Consider these scary scenarios readers have told us about recently:

  • Trey: I just checked my credit score and [someone] has taking a student loan out in my name what can I do?
  • Felecia: My tax refund was taken away because they said I [attended] school and I have never been enrolled in school. I don’t even have a GED or high school diploma so how can I get them to refund me my tax refund back?
  • Theresa: I’m just tired of all the craziness. Someone [has] been able to hack my identity some kind of way and follow my mother’s address and another address that I had and they got student loans in my name, I called the company and they just gave me the runaround, so now I have to figure out what else is there for me to do…

Most victims of student financial aid fraud find out when they apply for a federal loan that they are denied because they already have a loan — only they don’t have it. Instead, someone using their name and birthdate has the loan money, and it’s then the victim’s battle to restore their own credit.

How does somebody who isn’t you apply for a loan that you would be entitled to? We asked Brett Montgomery, fraud operations manager for identity theft and data risk services provider IDT911, and this is how he explains it: “Applicants and enrollees are not required to have their identities confirmed, and because institutions do not always otherwise verify students’ identities. With a valid date of birth, name and Social Security number, anyone can get a loan — especially online — since the system is designed to encourage electronic access to student loan assistance.”

Worse, you may not know that someone has taken a loan out in your name until something bad happens, like the Internal Revenue Service seizing your tax refund to pay the defaulted student loan you knew nothing about, or finding a student loan on your credit report. And sadly, it was probably a lot easier for the identity thief to access the money than it is going to be for you to be able to get a student loan or the tax refund that was rightfully yours. “The amount of documentation needed to prove your innocence is more than what was used or verified to establish the fraudulent loan,” Montgomery said in an email.

But you can’t even begin to try to untangle the mess unless you know it exists. For that, he recommends checking your credit often — though he cautions that not all government loans report to the credit bureaus. “Typically people are made aware through collection notices through the mail or by phone. Another way is when they have to apply for the same type of government student loan and they are informed they already have a loan out.”

The other question is why someone would take a student loan out in someone else’s name. Presumably it’s not to get an education. After all, a degree in someone else’s name isn’t likely to be valuable long-term. But cash is. While the proceeds of these loans are supposed to only be used for qualified educational expenses, the reality is people use them for just about anything.

How Long Can It Take to Unravel?

If, like Felecia, your tax refund is taken, it can take at least eight months, and possibly much longer, to get your money back, Montgomery said. And if you are refused a student loan because you supposedly already have one? “The government tends to not loan money out when there may already be the same type of loan in the person’s name,” Montgomery said. “All you can do is supply the requested documentation and hope they remove the fraudulent loan from your name and credit.” So if the loan refusal happens shortly before you need the money, you are going to need a Plan B.

If you’re a parent helping a student apply for aid, explain what personally identifiable information (PII) is and how to protect it, Montgomery said. Educate your student to ask why someone is requesting their Social Security number and how it will be protected if they give it to them. (And don’t give your child’s number out yourself unless you are satisfied the person requesting it actually needs it and will protect it.) If you hire a professional to help you fill out the FAFSA and apply for aid, make sure the personal identification number (PIN) is known only to you. While there is not yet a way to be absolutely certain you won’t be a victim, you can reduce the opportunities for a thief to access the data that make it easier to take federal student loans out in your name.

If, despite your best efforts, you become a victim, your best bet is to report it as soon as you discover it. The U.S. Department of Education recommends contacting these offices, as well as the three major credit reporting agencies, depending on your situation:

  • U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Hotline
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Social Security Administration

Also understand that a fraudulent student loan may not be the end of the story. It clearly indicates that someone was able to access enough of your personal information to get a loan. That information could be re-used at some point to get a credit card, etc. It’s important to regularly monitor your credit and to investigate major changes in credit score (you can get two of your credit scores on Credit.com, updated every month) that you can’t account for as well as credit inquiries or new accounts you don’t recognize. You may want to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports as well.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


5 Credit Cards for Sports Fans

It’s been a big week in sports. The Stanley Cup, NBA Finals and FIFA Woman’s World Cup have everyone talking … and spending.

Indeed, this is the time of year when it’s hard not to be a sports fan. Thankfully, there are plenty of credit cards designed with sports fans in mind.

Here are five credit cards that let you cash in on your sports mania.

1. The NHL Card From Discover

The first co-branded version of the Discover it card features the logo of your favorite National Hockey League team, as well as 10% off official NHL gear purchases. Other benefits include 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on select categories of merchants. For example, during the third quarter of 2015 (July through September), the featured categories are restaurants and movies. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. And if you apply before July 31, Discover will double your cash back earned on all purchases in your first year. Other benefits include a free monthly FICO score, and the ability to use the “Freeze It” feature to temporarily pause your account. There is no annual fee for this card, as well as no penalty interest rate or foreign transaction fees.

2. The NFL Extra Points Card From Barclaycard

This card offers new applicants 10,000 bonus points after they make $500 in purchases within their first 90 days of card membership. In addition, cardholders earn double points per dollar spent on game tickets, at team pro shops and in the stadiums on game days. One point per dollar spent is earned on all other purchases.

Points can be used for cash back, merchandise and travel, but the most unusual benefit is the ability to redeem points for team experiences and game tickets, including the Super Bowl. For example, you could redeem points for a pass to the sidelines before the game, or to the post-game press conference. Other benefits include a 20% discount on merchandise purchased at NFLShop.com and six months of 0% APR financing on game tickets. Finally, new cardholders receive 15 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers completed within 45 days of account opening — that’s a competitive balance transfer offer. (You can check out the best balance transfer credit cards in America here.) There is no annual fee for this card.

3. The NBA American Express Card From BBVA Compass Bank

This card offers 10,000 bonus points after new applicants spend $500 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. In addition, quintuple points on all purchases during the NBA All-Star Weekend and the two weeks of the NBA Finals, and triple points on qualifying NBA tickets, NBA in-stadium transactions and NBAStore.com purchases. Double points are earned at supermarkets and gas stations, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for NBA merchandise and experiences, cash back, gift cards, travel and much more. There is no annual fee for life for those who apply before June 30, and otherwise there is a $50 annual fee that is waived the first year.

4. The MLB Extra Bases Card From Bank of America

Baseball fans receive $100 in cash back after making $500 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. All purchases earn 1% cash back with 2% earned at grocery stores and 3% earned on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery store and gas purchases each quarter. Featured rewards include exclusive experiences unique to each team. There is no annual fee for this card.

5. PGA Tour BankAmericard Cash Rewards 

Golf fans can sign up for this credit card that offers premier access to Tournament Players Club (TPC) golf courses, discounted greens fees, merchandise savings, private Club previews, as well as VIP benefits and amenities. In addition, cardholders receive two tickets to the PGA Tour event of their choice. New applicants also receive $100 cash back after making $500 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. Finally, this card offers 3% cash back on gas, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% cash back everywhere else. This card also offers 12 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. There is no annual fee for this card.

Your credit score plays a major role in whether you’ll be approved for a credit card and the interest rate you’ll be granted. Before you apply, it’s a good idea to check your credit to see where you stand. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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.


How to Refinance a Jumbo Mortgage for Less

If rising mortgage rates have spooked you into refinancing but your loan size is more than $417,000, pay particularly close attention. Traditionally, these loans cost homeowners more, but there are new investors in the marketplace offering better rates and deals on larger mortgages.

The Big Question to Ask

It doesn’t matter where you apply to refinance a mortgage — whether it’s a bank, credit union, mortgage broker or even a direct lender — the investor determines whether your loan will cost more or not.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase loans up to the maximum conforming loan limit, designated by county – it’s often $417,000, but can be as high as $625,000 in high-cost markets. For example, in Sonoma County, Calif., it’s $520,950.

In terms of pricing, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans are ideal if your loan is $417,000 or lower. However, any loan of $417,001 or more that goes to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will likely cost more than if it were going through a different investor. So make sure to ask your lender: “Where’s my loan going?”

Up until recently, Fannie and Freddie have been the main players for loans above the maximum loan limit. Just this year additional jumbo investors have entered the market — including Wells Fargo, Chase and many others, and they’re buying loans made by banks, credit unions, brokers and direct lenders.

Jumbo Investors Offering an Alternative

Ask your mortgage company about its “jumbo” mortgage offering. This would be especially beneficial if you’re trying to refinance a loan size bigger than $417,000 because jumbo investors specifically cater to this market.

This means that jumbos may even be lower-priced than loans $417,000 or under — which are the ones that are normally considered the best-priced mortgages in the marketplace. Working with a jumbo investor may help you avoid being subject to the pricing adjustments (a big driver of cost on mortgages) that Fannie and Freddie impose, which could help you refinance for a lower interest rate and payment.

Let’s compare Fannie/Freddie to a Jumbo Investor:

fannie-freddie-jumbo

Other Times the Jumbo Option May Make Sense

There are some other potential advantages to working with a jumbo investor. Let’s say you have a first mortgage on your home at $400,000 and an $80,000 home equity line of credit that you would like to consolidate into one. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would consider this scenario to be a “cash out refinance” because the added HELOC debt wasn’t used to acquire the home, and your mortgage company will charge you more for the loan being over $417,000 and for “cash out.” You could expect as high as .5% of the loan amount being absorbed either in the interest rate or paid for by you (based on whatever interest rate you choose) at close of escrow or paying in cold hard cash at closing.

A jumbo investor, however, will likely consider the loan in this scenario to be “rate and term,” which offers better pricing.

It’s important to remember that some jumbo investors recognize a jumbo mortgage loan to be anything bigger than $417,000. Other jumbo investors characterize a jumbo mortgage to be anything bigger than the maximum county conforming loan limit. So be sure to talk to your mortgage company when discussing jumbo loans.

Jumbo Credit Still Tight

While pursuing a jumbo mortgage refinance, credit requirements for these loan types are still relatively tight. These programs want strong borrowers with good credit, a low debt-to-income ratio and equity in the home. For example, if you’re trying to roll HELOC debt into the refinance, there can be no draws on the home equity line of credit in the past 12 months. (Before you begin your refinancing process, it helps to have an idea of your credit standing — you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

If you’re completing a refinance on a home that you owned for less than 12 months, some jumbo financing investors may also require you to refinance using a different loan, such as a loan issued by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  Furthermore, some jumbo investors have a requirement that specifically states if you’re refinancing a home that you’ve owned for less than 12 months, the original purchase price needs to be used as consideration for the value no matter what the current market supports.

Still if you plan to refinance this year, you would be well served to ask your mortgage company to qualify you on their jumbo programs, if they offer any, as well as the traditional Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loan so you can determine which mortgage loan program will align with your payment, cash flow and equity objectives.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Scott Sheldon was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


3 Smart Habits That Can Help Build Your Credit

When it comes to credit scores, a true quick fix is all too rare. While that might be disconcerting to hear, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Improving your score basically boils down to two things: following good credit practices and time. While you don’t have any control over time, you can control the credit practices you choose to employ. Incorporating these three smart credit habits into your life can help build your credit.

1. Pay Your Bills On Time

Your payment history is the most important factor in your credit score – which means it’s hugely important to pay on time. Even if you can’t pay the balance on your credit cards in full every month, for example, being punctual with at least the minimum due shows that you’re making an effort to pay back your debt. (This calculator can help you figure out how long it’ll take to pay off that credit card.) Late payments can do serious damage to your credit score, so if you find yourself struggling to remember due dates, try setting up automatic payments online. Most credit card companies offer a variety of payment options to help fit your particular needs.

2. Keep a Low Balance on Your Credit Cards

Another major factor of your credit score is your debt amount — including your credit utilization, which is a metric that determines how much of your available credit you’re using. This is determined by dividing your total credit card balances by your total open credit card limits. Creditors use this as a benchmark to determine lender risk; someone who consistently maxes out their credit cards or uses too much of their available credit will typically have greater difficulty paying it back. Optimally, try to never use more than 30% of your available credit at any one time and avoid maxing out your cards altogether.

3. Know What’s on Your Credit Report

There’s always a chance that a poor score could be the result of an error on your credit report. Your report shows what lines of credit are currently out under your name, how many credit inquiries you’ve had, and information regarding your public record and collections. Checking your report every several months can help you catch those mistakes so you can take steps to correct them and protect your credit. You can get your credit reports for free every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com to watch for important changes.

Remember, building credit is going to take a lot of time and diligence. While it might be a bit of a struggle though, the impact it will have on your financial life is huge. Try to keep the end result in mind when curbing your poor credit habits and the process should be a whole lot easier to handle.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Leslie Tayne was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Can I Punt This Student Loan Back to My Ex-Wife?

Question:

Dear Steve,

My parents are signer and co-signer for a huge private student loan over $100,000 which was used to cover expenses for my ex-wife over 10 years ago. We since divorced and as part of our divorce agreement, we divided liabilities on her student debt and removed her name from some of the loans (the loan company then allowed us to do this). So the end result was that a loan amount of >$100,000 was the sole responsibility of my parents; we agreed at that time that I would help with the monthly payments which exceeded $1,000/month.

Shortly thereafter, I had employment problems and was unable to contribute much to the payments. My parents are retired (over 80 years old) and cannot contribute anything to the payments. So we went through a series of deferments but eventually we fell so far behind that the loan is now in default and the principle has increased to over $140,000. I’ve tried to negotiate a lower payment schedule many times but with no luck. I am not legally tied to this loan but, as mentioned above, I had agreed to pay the loan on behalf of my parents who are the only legally bound individuals to this debt.

I was wondering if there was any type of escape clause in our situation where the actual student who borrowed the money is no longer affiliated with the loan and the signer and co-signer are elderly with no means to pay the loan. Thanks in advance.

Gene

Answer:

Dear Gene,

I don’t see how you could just toss them back like a hot potato. It appears you removed your ex-wife’s name from the loan and your parents either were left as co-signers or accepted full responsibility for the loan.

However, as you have learned, deferment is not a solution and just explodes the balances.

I’m not sure what the asset situation is for your parents but if they are struggling, have little assets, and are living off public benefits or a pension, then you might want to read Top 10 Reasons You Should Stop Paying Your Unaffordable Private Student Loan.

If you can’t afford to repay the loans at this point, what you need is a strategy and not just a close them in the closet approach. That just makes things worse.

You also mentioned that the loans were used to cover expenses but I wonder if some of those were unqualified educational expenses. If so, that part of the debt could be discharged in a consumer bankruptcy by your parents. See this article for more on how and why.

While there might not be a magic “hand it back” wand, there are some options worth pursuing to ultimately deal with this.

Before I go I wanted to leave you with three easy action items you can jump on right now to address your situation. Just click here.

“Steve

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If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

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


Life Insurance: A Versatile, Yet Underutilized Tax Strategy


With April 15 only weeks away, too many Americans are positioned to hand over a large chunk of their earnings to Uncle Sam. The current tax code is as complex as ever, and it highlights the importance of exploring all options in order to protect your household income. One of the most overlooked tax saving strategies comes from utilizing life insurance. While many only think of the death benefit component of life insurance, if utilized properly, it creates a savvy tax strategy that fits perfectly into many financial plans.

Before exploring the tax advantages of life insurance, it is important to understand the various tax categories of popular savings vehicles.

Taxed now. Money allocated to these accounts are not taxed later. Interest earned and capital gains are subject to tax. These include CDs, money market and brokerage accounts.

Tax later. Assets are contributed to these accounts pre-tax, and the principle along with interest is only taxed when money is taken out of the account. These include 401(k)s, IRAs and certain other retirement plans.

Taxed never. These savings vehicles are either not taxed or taxed up front, with no additional taxes on interest, gains or certain withdrawals. These include Roth IRAs, 529 plans and life insurance.

With a basic understanding of the various tax categories and where each savings vehicle falls, let’s now shift the focus specifically to life insurance.

For wealthy Americans, I consider life insurance as an essential component of a tax diversified portfolio. Many high-income earners do not qualify for a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, so their tax saving options are limited from the start. When you consider their additional tax exposures, such as capital gains, life insurance stands out as an ideal vehicle to limit such exposures.

Last year I began working with a doctor who was earning over $300K a year (on paper). After getting walloped by taxes, he was only keeping about half of those earnings. Keep in mind that this is a person who racked up colossal debt and countless hours of intense schooling to get through medical school, now works 80 hours a week and yet he’s only left with a proportionately small portion of his earnings. The situation just wasn’t right, so we made alleviating his tax burden a top priority. As a result, one of the first things we did was introduce life insurance into his financial plan. That action protected his earnings significantly by reducing his tax exposure.

One common misconception is that this strategy only works for the rich, but life insurance can be an excellent tool for the middle class as well. One of the reasons it’s underutilized on Main Street is that many of these families and individuals have less access to reliable financial planning information. They think about it strictly as a tool for protecting loved ones if something were to happen to them, not realizing its tax advantages as a savings tool.

Another reason is that it can be uncomfortable to consider and discuss our own mortality, so these options are dismissed before receiving proper consideration.
The taxes on life insurance are very low – ranging from about half a percent to one percent. There is also a wide range of life insurance products to choose from. There are common term and whole life options. There are also tax value life insurance policies that fit well into this strategy. With these, it is like there is a mutual fund within the life insurance policy. The growth is not taxed, and there’s no limit on how much you contribute (unlike 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, or traditional IRAs where contributions are limited).

Lastly there’s the inheritance component. Life insurance gives you firm method of determining where the payout will go if something were to happen to you. It doesn’t go to probate, as could be the case for retirement funds that aren’t accounted for in your will. Instead, you have complete control over where this portion of your legacy goes.

As you can see, a tax planning and diversification strategy including life insurance can provide a unique set of advantages along with versatility. The taxman is unforgiving to those who are underprepared, so make sure you consult with your adviser to see if life insurance can help you keep more of what you earn.

Mark Tan is a Chicago-based financial advisor with Thrivent Financial, a financial services organization that helps Christians be wise with money and live generously. Learn more about Mark at www.mark-tan.com.

This article by Mark Tan first appeared on Mark Tan and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What I Want to Give My Daughter for Father’s Day

via stockmonkeys.com
via stockmonkeys.com

I’m going to a baseball game with my family and some friends on Father’s Day, so my 10-year-old daughter is essentially off the hook for getting me a gift since I’ll be happy enough if she can sit through a game. She’s not a fan.

And while I’m not shelling out $50 to the Oakland A’s so I can play catch with her on the field after the game — a Father’s Day ripoff I’ve already written about — there’s some financial advice I want to give her on this day in June to remind her how important she is to me and some of my hopes for her.

College fund

My wife and I set up a college education fund within a month of her birth that we contribute to monthly.

When she does go to college, I hope she uses the money well, works summers to supplement it, and doesn’t have to take out student loans or work much while in college. Years of debt shouldn’t be the price of an education. Hopefully, we’ve helped make her financial life during and after college a bit easier.

A savings account

She also has a savings account where most of the money she receives for birthdays, Christmas and other events is kept. I hope she becomes a saver and always has an emergency fund and travel fund moving in the right directions.

A well-paying, fun job

I don’t know what career path she’ll eventually choose, but I hope it’s one she chooses because she’s great at it and enjoys it. I didn’t choose journalism for the high pay, but it’s a job I fully enjoy.

A college education is likely to help her more than anything to get there. And a job in the public sector may be even better, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Continue reading What I Want to Give My Daughter for Father’s Day

4 Mattress-Shopping Gotchas

Buying a mattress fits somewhere in between buying a car and buying a home on the dreaded “babe in the woods” scale. As a big-ticket, infrequent purchase, consumers who go looking for a better night’s sleep find themselves navigating a hazy world full of intentional brand confusion and seemingly meaningless price tags. Buying a mattress can feel like buying a car, as sales staff are often pushy. And it can feel like buying a home because you have to live with the choice for a decade or more — heck, many folks buy mattresses less often than homes, as anyone who has ever moved a bed can tell you.

The rarity of the purchase means consumers are a “babe in the woods,” knowing little about what they should buy or how they should buy it. In other words, they are easy marks for less-than-scrupulous sales staff. We’re going to try to change that equation today.

1. Brand Confusion

There are a few overriding principles that mattress shoppers should understand. First, while comparison-shopping is a great idea, stores and manufacturers make this intentionally difficult by slapping different brand names on what is essentially the same mattress. That makes it harder, but not impossible, to engage in showrooming: trying out a model in a store, then buying it online for a lower price.

2. Meaningless Price Tags

Speaking of price, get ready to negotiate. Price tags on bedding mean even less than price tags on cars. Ignore the percent of MSRP claims, or the “sales.” All that matters is the price. Most stores will match whatever price you can find somewhere else (assuming you can match models), so try to work that way. If you can’t agree on a direct-model comparison in a store, you are probably shopping in the wrong store.

3. No Real Test Drive

Remember, it’s also nearly impossible to try out a mattress in a store by lying on it for five minutes in street clothes while people stare at you. The mattress isn’t “broken in.” You aren’t asleep and turning. You aren’t even sleepy — your heart is probably racing. So it’s a good idea to try out different models at a friend’s house if possible. One reader suggested an excellent idea: If you have a great night’s sleep at a hotel, find out what brand of mattress it was, and try to buy that.

4. Problems After the Purchase

That leads to the fourth principle: it’s all about the returns. Mattress sales folks I’ve chatted with say that, in the end, prices and delivery costs have a way of flattening out, as long as you do due diligence and bargain reasonably well. The real gotchas of mattress shopping happen after the sale.

Because you won’t know if the purchase is right for at least two weeks, the retailer’s return policy is absolutely critical. Equally important is the manufacturer’s warranty policy. Not all 10-year warranties are the same, as Constance Brinkley-Badgett found out.

“Our mattress failed after about two months. Giant sink holes where we sleep. The retailer replaced it with a different model, but it was a major hassle and took numerous calls to the manufacturer and the store owner,” she said.

“Jack” is a former mattress salesman who maintains an excellent website called The Mattress Nerd — he asked that we not publish his last name. He offered several warnings about mattress purchases gone bad.

First, “returns” to the retailer often aren’t possible.

“Most places don’t let you return a mattress. You can only exchange, and then you can only exchange for something the same price or higher. Also, everybody has a different policy on how long you have to exchange, and sometimes the fees can be pretty high,” he said.

Second, invoking the warranty can come with a series of problems.

“If the mattress starts sagging, it might not be covered under the warranty,” he said. “Most innerspring mattresses have a ‘tolerance’ of 1.5 inches, which means if there’s a dip in your mattress 1.4 inches deep, the company will say that’s a normal impression and there’s nothing to be done. Foam mattresses usually have a tolerance of under an inch. Also, if there’s a stain on the mattress — even a little one — or if the frame you have doesn’t have enough legs, they’ll deny your warranty claim even if it has nothing to do with the sag.

“Speaking of warranty, be careful of ‘prorated’ warranties. Some manufacturers will have a warranty of ’10 years prorated,’ sometimes written as 1/10. Meaning, it’s one year of a full warranty, but in years two through 10, you only get a portion of your money back towards a new mattress if it sags,” he said. “Some unscrupulous salesmen will say it ‘has a 10-year warranty’ but then will neglect to mention that it’s prorated.”

Add-ons can often be costly, too. Many stores will try to sell buyers a mattress cover. Buying one isn’t a bad idea, Jack said, as it will help protect the purchase and might make warranty claims easier. But buy a cover elsewhere — a cover that sells for $100 at a mattress retailer can cost only $50 elsewhere.

Finally, there is some good news in the mysterious world of mattress stores — internet disruption strikes again. In the past 24 months, there’s been a small explosion of online dealers offering clear pricing and easy shipping, thanks to innovations that allow shipping of tightly compressed foam mattresses. Brands including Casper, Leesa and Tuft & Needle are catering to millennials who like buying everything online, but anyone shopping for a new bed should consider them. Buyers lose the ability to test out a bed in a store, but these brands come with liberal return policies to compensate. They aren’t cheap, but each has several mid-priced models. And, as standard shipping, delivery can be free and easy.

Keep in mind that mattress sellers often offer financing to interested shoppers — here’s a good read on why you should check your credit before buying a mattress. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


2.2 Million ‘Boomerang’ Homebuyers Will Re-Enter the Market in the Next 5 Years

Millions of homeowners who had difficulties paying their mortgages after the housing bubble burst are nearing a point at which they could once again qualify for a home loan, according to new analysis from TransUnion. In 2015, 700,000 U.S. consumers will be capable of re-entering the housing market, and within the next five years, that population (called “Boomerang Buyers”) is expected to grow to 2.2 million.

TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, studied the population of credit-active U.S. adults over the course of several years — the end of 2006 (the end of the bubble, when prices began to decline), the end of 2009 (when the bubble burst) and the end of 2014 — to determine the figures. Between 2006 and 2014, TransUnion was able to track 180 million consumers, and in 2006, 48% (78 million) of that population had a mortgage, and 8% (7 million) of that group had trouble repaying that loan between 2006 and 2009. By December 2014, 18% (about 1.3 million) had rebuilt their credit to meet Fannie Mae underwriting guidelines, and TransUnion estimates 2.2 million of the remaining 5.7 million former homeowners will rebuild their credit to that point within the next five years.

To be considered eligible to re-enter the mortgage market, consumers have to have no unpaid judgments, garnishments or outstanding liens; no accounts past due; a FICO credit score of at least 620; and enough time elapsed between the negative event occurred and when they wish to re-enter the mortgage market (i.e. four years after a short sale and seven years after a foreclosure), according to TransUnion. Even among the 18% of consumers who have rebounded from the credit damage they sustained during the financial crisis, the majority (58%) have yet to re-enter the mortgage market.

“As boomerang buyers who experienced foreclosures or other negative impacts become eligible to re-enter the mortgage market, they may not immediately do so if they are not aware they are eligible again, or feel daunted by their prior experience,” said Joe Mellman, vice president and head of TransUnion’s mortgage group, in a news release about the data.

Rehabilitating your credit after missing payments on your mortgage or losing your home to foreclosure can certainly be intimidating, and it requires a lot of patience. That doesn’t mean you should stay away from the mortgage market if you desire to own a home. When working toward your goal of becoming a homeowner again, regularly monitor your credit (you can do that for free on Credit.com) to track your progress and understand how your financial behaviors affect your credit scores. The foundation of a good credit score is making loan and credit card payments on time, paying other bills so they aren’t sent to collections and keeping your balances of revolving lines of credit (such as credit cards) as low as possible.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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