2015 Auto Financing Report

2015-Auto-Financing-New-BadgeIs it a good time to buy a car? Well, July witnessed over 5 percent year-over-year increase in U.S. light vehicle sales, bringing annualized projections to 17.35 million –more than last year’s output. Both General Motors and Ford enjoyed strong showings, particularly from SUVs, with the former posting a 13.4 percent annual increase in its utility vehicle category and the latter enjoying the growth of sub-brands like Buick, whose Encore model recently posted its 19th consecutive year-over-year sales increase and topped July2014 numbers by 68 percent.

Domestic lenders also seem to be accommodating the evolving needs of car buyers, with the average loan term approaching six years as the average sale price continues to rise – up 2.5 percent in June to $33,340, according to theKelly Blue Book.

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2015’s Strictest And Most Lenient States on High Risk Drivers

STRICTEST STATES HIGH RISK DRIVERSAmerica is a nation of big, wide-open spaces, and for the last century, it has also been a nation of the automobile as the most common way to get across those spaces. Whether we’re commuting to and from work, taking the kids to school or heading to the beach for a summer vacation, cars play a big role in the lives of most Americans. In fact, according to an Arbitron study , Americans spend on average more than 15 hours per week in a car – that’s nearly 14 percent of their total waking hours.

With cars and driving such a big part of our lives, it’s important for everyone on the road to drive safely and to avoid risky behaviors. In light of that, WalletHub has been looking into what states are doing to encourage safe driving behavior and to penalize high risk drivers. In the last few months:

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2014’s Best and Worst States to Have a Baby

2014-Best-and-Worst-States-to-Have-a-Baby-BadgeHaving a baby is expensive. Between one-time expenses such as a crib and stroller and ongoing costs that include diapers and formula, prospective parents must evaluate not only their life situations but also their finances before jumping at the deep end.

Moreover, families in the United States pay the highest birthing costs in the world, according to a report from the International Federation of Health Plans. The average cost of a conventional delivery at an American hospital is $9,775. For a C-Section, it’s $15,041. In France, the price tag for normal delivery pales in comparison at $3,541 and dips to an even more modest $2,641 in the U.K.

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2015’s Best & Worst Community Colleges

Best-Worst-Community-Colleges-BadgeLong perceived as the bottom rung of the higher-education ladder, community colleges are often made the butt of jokes by just about everyone — from university loyalists to cable TV to some of the very students who attend them. But guess who isn’t laughing: Community-college graduates out-earning bachelor’s degree holders. Indeed, the “junior colleges,” as they’re sometimes referred to, are finally garnering the respect they deserve, proving they’re more than just “halfway schools for losers”.

Much of their “second-rate college” stigma stems from three factors: price, demographics and graduation times. Although their relatively cheaper tuition rates are a clear incentive, affordability also signals subpar educational quality to skeptics. And with an average student age of 28, the nontraditional profile of the typical community-college attendee perpetuates a misconception — one that assumes these students flunked out of high school and consequently failed admissions standards at “real” universities. But in their defense, a vast majority of these students balance their studies with jobs, family or both — commitments that often limit their enrollment to one or two classes per semester and force them to delay graduation.

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2015’s States with the Best & Worst Community College Systems

States-with-Best-Worst-Community-College-Systems-BadgeCommunity colleges want to remind Americans that the road less traveled is not always the worst path. Once disparaged as inferior to four-year institutions, these two-year colleges are finally stepping up their game — at times even outperforming their traditional university counterparts.

In 22 states, community colleges have expanded to include four-year bachelor’s degree programs in high-demand fields. And soon the federal government also may be granting free rides to community college through the America’s College Promise Act of 2015 — or what the media peddle as President Barack Obama’s “GI Bill.” If passed, the new legislation would allow up to nine million first-time enrollees to earn associates degrees every year at no charge.

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Cashier’s Checks: Where To Get One, Cost & More

Cashiers Check

A cashier’s check is a type of check issued by a bank or credit union and signed by a cashier or teller. Because the funds are drawn directly against the issuing bank’s cash reserves — not a customer’s personal account — the checks cannot bounce. The cashier’s signature, or “endorsement,” on the checks represents this payment guarantee.

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2015’s Healthiest Housing Markets

Healthiest-Housing-Markets-BadgeHousing’s back. Indeed, the very same industry that sent the U.S. economy into freefall during the not-so-distant past is on its feet again — and expectedly has Americans worried that an overheating market will escort us back into recession. It’s hard to blame us for our trust issues, though, especially now that we’re finally getting a taste of normalcy again. But steady economic recovery is exactly the reason some experts dismiss our fears as unfounded.

One such harbinger of good news is insurance company Nationwide, which has been tracking the health of real estate on a quarterly basis. At the beginning of the year, Nationwide reported that “the overall housing market is healthier than at any time since 2001.” With such promise, the insurance company claims the chances of a housing downturn in the near future are slim.

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2015’s Best and Worst Cities to Retire

2014-Best-and-Worst-Places-to-Retire-BadgesAfter toiling in the workplace for decades, it seems natural to expect financial security in our golden years. But not everyone can look forward to a cushy retirement. Relative to previous generations, many of us are working more years only to grow further from financial freedom. In 2014, 23 percent of workers expected to retire at age 65, but only 11 percent actually were able to, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s latest Retirement Confidence Survey.

Why postpone retirement? Many blame the economy. Others point to “inadequate finances” as the other primary hurdle to retiring on schedule. For 51 percent of workers and 31 percent of retirees, their debt levels keep them on their hamster wheels.

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2015 Checking Account Cost Comparison Report

CHECKING ACCOUNT COST With certain checking accounts charging close to 50 different fees, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the growing structural complexity of this supposedly basic banking tool. As a result, checking account costs can vary by hundreds of dollars per year based what account you have and the way in which you use it.

In order to more accurately assess the extent of the problem, WalletHub compared the annual cost of each traditional checking account offered by 35 of the largest consumer-facing U.S. banks and credit unions, using five theoretical consumer profiles as our test cases. This report, together with WalletHub’s corresponding Checking Account Transparency Report, will therefore help provide consumers with a holistic view of both the good and bad aspects of the checking market.

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Checking Account Transparency Report: How Easily Can Consumers Shop for a Checking Account Online?

CHECKING-ACCOUNT-TRANSPARENCY Checking accounts have become a staple in the average consumer’s financial arsenal. Today, more than 100 million checking accounts are active in the United States, according to the FDIC. That’s unsurprising, given the versatility of this banking version of a Swiss Army knife, which allows consumers to make everyday purchases, directly deposit their earnings, withdraw cash as needed as well as pay bills and perform account management online – all with one account.

While one might expect a healthy dose of parity in the market for such a ubiquitous financial instrument – particularly when it comes to account disclosures or something as simple as the way fees are listed – that’s unfortunately not the case. In fact, the opposite is true, as consumers face disclosure practices that resemble the Wild West. The result: the industry rakes in more than $30 billion in overdraft-fee revenue annually, and 80% percent of overdrafters think financial institutions need stricter regulations in this regard.

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2015’s Best and Worst States for Women’s Equality

States-with-the-Highest-and-Lowest-Gender-Inequality-BadgeWomen’s rights in the U.S. have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet many women still struggle to crack the proverbial glass ceiling. And it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2014, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Latvia, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in health and political empowerment.

Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the workplace. Despite women’s advances toward social equality, they continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. According to the Center for American Progress, women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And even though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, not a single woman in these fields is head honcho of her company.

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2015’s Most and Least Educated Cities

WH-Best-Education-Badges-150x150They may not always be the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but the college-educated third of Americans often have a leg up on their degree-less peers. With more schooling, they not only have access to better job opportunities and bigger salaries, but educated workers also fill their cities’ coffers with the most tax dollars over time, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

One way to strengthen an economy, the EPI suggests, is to attract well-paying employers “by investing in education and increasing the number of well-educated workers.” In states with the least schooled workforces, the median wage is $15 an hour compared with $19 to $20 an hour in states where 40 percent or more of the working population holds at least a bachelor’s degree. Local governments appear to be catching on and maximizing the appeal of their cities to college graduates.

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2015’s Best and Worst Cities for Pet Lovers

2014-Best-and-Worst-Cities-for-Pet-Lovers-BadgesFor most of us, pets are part of the family — only furrier or slimier than the relatives we’re used to. This year, more of our animal companions — especially dogs and cats — will probably make it into the holiday greeting card. A record 65 percent, or 79.7 million, American households now own a pet, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association.

But adding a pet to the family roster can strike a hard blow to the wallet. A litany of expenses — including licenses, grooming and medical care — can cost between $235 to nearly $2,000 annually, depending on the type of animal you adopt, which is generally a cheaper option than buying a pet. Health insurance alone can cost more than $200 a year for a dog, and it may not even be worth it.

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2015′s Best and Worst States for Underprivileged Children

States-with-the-Most-and-Least-Underprivileged-Children-BadgesIn an ideal world, children live carefree and have access to their basic needs: nutritious food, a good education, quality health care, adequate safety as well as the love and support of caring adults. When all of these needs are met, children have a strong chance of growing up to become productive members of society. But such fundamental rights are privileges for many children in the U.S. Despite its position as one of the world’s most powerful and prosperous countries, the U.S. disappointingly has the second highest rate of child poverty among economically developed nations.

To put that in perspective, about a fifth, or 14.7 million, of all children in America live under poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Consider these other facts: In the U.S., a baby is born into poverty every 32 seconds. And by the end of the day, 1,837 children will have been confirmed as being either abused or neglected.

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529 College Savings Plan: Pros, Cons, Features & Rules

529 College Savings Plan

A 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged investment designed to ease saving for higher-education expenses. Also known as a qualified tuition “savings” program, the plan is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which spells out the tax rules of the investment.

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Prepaid Tuition Plans: Pros, Cons, How They Work & More

529 Plans What's The Difference

A 529 prepaid tuition plan is a tax-advantaged college savings program that allows you to purchase, or “lock in,” tuition amounts at current rates to cover higher-education expenses when your child is of college age. States operating the plans guarantee that funds will rise in value as college tuition costs inflate. In other words, a semester’s worth of tuition purchased today will still be worth a semester’s tuition when your child enters college in 18 years, even if the stock market crashes or if tuition expenses have doubled or tripled by then.

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Free Returned Check Letter Template

The first step in collecting funds from a bounced check is to contact the person who wrote it. You can use the following templates — you may only need the first — to notify the bounced-check writer and demand payment.

Send each letter via certified mail with “return receipt requested,” and make sure to keep a copy for your records. Sending the notices via certified mail gives you legal grounds to sue in small claims court if you are not able to clear up the issue informally.

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Free Template: Letter To Close Bank Account

Most banks allow their customers to close their bank accounts through the mail as long as the account is in good standing. You can use WalletHub’s free template below to send closing instructions to your bank and to request a check for your remaining balance, if any. 

Please note that your bank may require you to use its own account closure letter template. You may want to consult with your bank before using the one below.

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2015’s Best and Worst States for Student Debt

WH Best and Worst States for Student Debt BadgeLocation, location, location. Where you live doesn’t just affect the value of your home; it also reflects the worth of your college degree. With nearly 11.1 percent of all student-loan debt in delinquency or default, graduates need to be selective with where they apply their degrees. Although a location such as New York City might boast a high average salary for a certain profession, for instance, the high cost of living might still outweigh one’s gains, leaving little to pay off student debt.

Save for mortgages, student loans constitute the largest component of household debt for Americans. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, total outstanding student loan balances disclosed on credit reports stood at $1.19 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The latest figure represents an increase of $32 billion from the previous quarter and $78 billion from a year ago.

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2015’s Best & Worst Large Cities to Live in

Best-Worst-Large-Cities-to-Live-in-BadgeEveryone has a natural habitat. Some of us prefer the slow pace and bucolic setting of the countryside. Others are drawn to the part-rural, part-urban charm of suburbs. But more and more clusters of people are falling in love with the energetic pulse of the large metropolis.

“Big cities continue to grow considerably faster than in the previous decade and earlier,” according to a recent Brookings Institute analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2011, the rate of urban population growth actually outpaced that within suburbs for the first time in nearly a century. Large cities owe this growing interest to several major trends: downtown areas are becoming increasingly livable, lifestyle preferences are changing and demographics are shifting.

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Our content is intended for general educational purposes and should not be relied upon as the sole basis for managing your finances. Furthermore, the materials on this website do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any legal questions, please consult an attorney. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.