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America’s Most ‘Hygge’ Cities

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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In Denmark, the term “hygge” refers to a quality of coziness or sense of comfort. Around the rest of the world, hygge has become a lifestyle trend in the way people approach relaxation and everyday indulgences.

Hygge, pronounced “hoo-guh,” can be a focus on the atmosphere you create at home with candles or a plush throw blanket, the yoga pants you lounge around in when you’re decompressing after a long workweek or even the most comforting dishes or homemade sweet treats you indulge in with friends and family. However you translate it, hygge is certainly not staring at your phone all day or binge-watching Netflix alone all afternoon.

That’s why MagnifyMoney decided to take a look at major cities in the U.S. to find out which ones offer the best chance to build a truly “hygge lifestyle.”

We scraped Instagram for 17 different hygge-themed hashtags (like #cozy, #content and #hygge itself) across a total of 1.7 million posts. Then we surveyed Danish residents to find out how closely they think each of the above terms related to their idea of hygge lifestyle on a scale of 1 to 7. The averages of these ratings were used to weigh each term’s influence.

Our analysis revealed the top 15 cities across the U.S. embracing the hygge lifestyle. With results scattered all across the country, this list proves that cozy, comfortable living isn’t dependent on a particular climate or scenery and can be achieved virtually anywhere.

Key Findings

  1. Santa Monica, Calif., (a generally warm state) was the most hygge city in America.
  2. Overall, states that stood as the most hygge were generally found in colder northern regions lead by Vermont, Washington, D.C. and Montana.
  3. Based on more than 28,000 hashtags, hygge was more commonly linked to home decor and interior design than anything else.
  4. Cities like Miami, Orlando and Atlanta ranked among the most prevalent for feelings and words associated with hygge, indicating traveling to warm climates could be a popular way to channel hygge in colder months.

Leading the way with the highest value of weighted tags we searched for was Santa Monica, Calif. This oceanside city proves you don’t need freezing temperatures to channel the hygge mood and ranked at the top of our list for hashtags like #comfortable, #content and #cozy. With several hygge-friendly beach boutique hotels and plenty of choices for dining out or eating in, you can savor the hygge atmosphere whether you live in Santa Monica or are just passing through.

Head north for a truly hygge lifestyle

While sunny beach paradises across the country — like Santa Monica and Miami Beach, Fla., (related hashtags included #happy, #love and #relaxed) — made the cut for our most hygge cities in America, many of the coziest environments were actually found in states known for more frigid climates.

Perhaps because comfy sweaters, crackling fireplaces and low-lit candles can be such an easy way to evoke the Danish concept, hygge can be a powerful tool in warding off the winter blues in cities like Missoula, Mont. and Minneapolis.

The state of Montana ranked second overall in Google search queries related to “hygge” and Missoula ranked fourth overall. With more than a few picture-perfect ways to spend the winter, from scenic nature trails to adventurous ski slopes, you can stay peaceful and relaxed while still embracing the cold weather in the Treasure State.

In Washington, with a similar fondness for both indoor and outdoor activities in the cooler winter months, we found Seattle ranked among the top 10 cities for #hygge, #autumn and #sweaterweather. According to the Danish, food (and especially eating with friends) is an integral part of hygge culture, and Seattle has locals and visitors alike covered on that front, whether you’re looking for a warm drink or a comforting bite.

A nationwide trend

Every state has a little bit of hygge in it, even if the cities there didn’t necessarily rank among our most definitive places to soak in the relaxed energy and contentment associated with the concept.

At least one city in every state earned the highest marks for the number of hashtags used in that area, including #hygge, #snug, #comfortable and #content (among others). While some of these cities (including Austin, Texas, New Orleans and Seattle) may be well-known locales, others may be embracing hygge under the radar. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is known for its scenic lakefront mountain views and comfortable balance between warm summer months and colder winter temperatures.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., there is a similarly elevated climate and mountainous landscape abound. With the second highest altitude among metropolitan areas, the typical desert heat is lost on people enjoying the hygge vibe in this small mountain city.

Ranking each state

While some warmer cities may have stood out among our most popular destinations for that comforting, intimate energy, the states specializing in hygge were largely clustered in regions that typically endure a more frigid winter season.

The cold winter months may look inviting on a postcard or a TV holiday special, but finding that glowing sentiment can take a bit of work when the temperatures start to fall. The physical sensation of putting on a comfy sweater or cuddling up with someone under a warm blanket does more than keep the harsh cool air away; it can help create a more balanced mental state and sense of well-being. The Danish know a thing or two about the cold, and even just sitting by the open fire with a warm drink or enjoying home-baked goods with pleasant company can do the trick.

As we learned, the states that have the best hygge energy may also have the most practice with these winter weather techniques. Vermont, Washington, D.C., Montana, New York and Maine ranked as the top five regions for their hygge status on social media.

Conclusion

Denmark isn’t just known for bracing the bitter cold in the winter months — it has also been called one of the happiest countries on the planet. Hygge may not be the answer to all of life’s problems, but if Denmark is any indication, it probably couldn’t hurt. Americans in both cool and warm climates are finding ways to bring that picture-perfect, cozy vibe out of magazines and into real life. While search trends for hygge were higher in northern regions, we found no limit to the types of cities and states that might be trying to take a slightly more comfortable and mild approach.

Methodology

We scraped Instagram for 17 different hashtags. We surveyed Danish residents on how closely each of the above terms relates to hygge on a scale of 1 to 7. The averages of these ratings were used to weight each term’s influence. Terms directly related (like “hygge”) were excluded and automatically given a 7. The weights, number of posts and dates collected for each are outlined below.

Data was cleaned and geocoded using shape files of the U.S. We pulled the populations of incorporated areas, with populations over 50,000 from the U.S. Census to calculate per capita numbers for each term and city. Each per capita ranking per term was then again normalized to a scale of 0 to 1.

The weights were applied to the normalized per capita for the related term and added together to get an overall ranking of hygge-related posts on Instagram.

We pulled the search interest for hygge from Google Trends over a 12-month span on Nov. 30, 2017. We then normalized the search trends on a scale of 0 to 1. The normalized trends were added to the Instagram posts score to get a meta ranking to represent hygge across the U.S. We used the search trends across the entire state for each city as city trends were limited to only 13 of the most populated areas. For more information on the methodology behind Google Trends, see here.

Cities in Vermont are notably missing from these rankings because the most populated city, Burlington, only has a population of just over 42,000, which excludes it from the census population set.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kali McFadden
Kali McFadden |

Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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How Credit Report Disputes Can Sabotage Your Chance for a Mortgage

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Mortgage underwriting can feel like it’s taking a lifetime when it’s standing between you and your dream home. But your lender wants to make sure that you’ll be able to repay the loan, so they’ll take the time to go over your credit history with a proverbial magnifying glass.

Before you get to underwriting, you’ll want to make sure you’re a creditworthy borrower. This means maintaining a good payment history, paying down debt and disputing any errors on your credit report.

However, credit report disputes can impact your ability to get a mortgage if they’re still pending when you’re applying for a loan. This guide will explain how and why.

Why your credit reports and scores matter

One of the first things lenders look at is your credit report, which provides information about your credit history. It details whether you’ve made on-time payments on credit cards, loans and other accounts.

The information included in this report is summed up by a credit score that generally ranges between 300 and 850. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are perceived to be.

Although credit scores aren’t the only factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a mortgage, your credit score heavily influences the mortgage interest rate you receive. The highest scores qualify borrowers for the best mortgage rates.

Before you begin the homebuying process, it’s smart to review your credit report and have a copy handy. You can request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, at AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s critical to arm yourself with this information in advance. That gives you the opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies you’ve discovered and clean up your report.

What is a credit report dispute?

Credit report inaccuracies are relatively common. Inaccurate information can happen for a variety of reasons — a credit card payment being applied to the wrong account or duplicate accounts in your report giving the impression that you carry more debt than you actually do, for example.

Not only can errors harm your credit score, but they can prevent you from qualifying for a new credit account, such as an auto or home loan. That’s why it’s important to regularly keep track of the information found in your credit reports.

When you review your credit report and find an error, you have the opportunity to formally dispute it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act This is the first step to take to get the error corrected or removed.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to file a credit dispute with all three credit reporting agencies online.

How to file a credit report dispute

If you’ve found an error on your credit report, take the following steps to dispute it:

  1. Provide your contact information.
  2. Identify the items in your credit report that are inaccurate.
  3. Explain why you’re disputing the info and include documentation to support your dispute.
  4. Request a correction or deletion.

You’ll also want to reach out to the creditor that is reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. Let them know you’re disputing the information and provide them the same documentation you’re giving to the bureaus.

In many cases, the credit bureaus investigate disputes within 30 days, according to myFICO.com.

However, many disputes can go unresolved for long periods of time, which can be troublesome for consumers applying for a mortgage. Many loan applicants don’t realize an open credit report dispute can raise a red flag to lenders and may even prevent mortgage approval.

When to file a credit report dispute

You’ll want to file a dispute as soon as you spot an error on any of your credit reports, but if you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s best to exercise caution when filing disputes, especially right before you apply for a mortgage.

Although the dispute investigation can wrap up in 30 days, it could last as long as 90 days, so it’s best to avoid filing new disputes a few months prior to starting the homebuying process.

How mortgage lenders view credit disputes

When a dispute is filed, credit reporting agencies are required to label the item as “in dispute.” The dispute itself doesn’t impact your FICO Score. However, your score may temporarily deflate or inflate while the disputed items are being investigated.

Mortgage lenders know credit reports with disputed items don’t paint the most accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness and many require this status be removed before approving a mortgage application. This leaves some consumers with a difficult decision to make — accept costly credit report errors or delay applying for a loan until disputes have been resolved.

Here’s how lenders who provide conventional and FHA loans consider credit report disputes when determining whether a consumer qualifies for a mortgage.

Conventional loans

Both government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have automated underwriting systems that alert lenders to existing credit report disputes. These entities don’t issue loans, but buy mortgages from lenders that follow their rules.

Fannie Mae’s system initially reviews all accounts on a borrower’s credit report, even those that are being disputed. If the borrower would be approved for the loan even with the account in question, the loan moves forward. But if the disputed account would push the borrower into the “rejection” category, the system will direct the lender to investigate whether the dispute is valid.

Lenders using Freddie Mac’s system are required to confirm the accuracy of disputed accounts. The borrower would need to have the accounts corrected before the loan can move forward.

FHA loans

FHA-approved lenders require borrowers with disputed delinquent accounts on their credit report to provide an explanation and supporting documentation about their dispute. If the account has an outstanding balance of more than $1,000, the loan must be manually underwritten, which means the loan officer has to review the loan application and supporting documents outside of the automated system.

The loan officer goes over the paperwork included in the borrower’s file very closely to determine their risk of mortgage default and whether they qualify for the loan program that they’re applying.

Disputed medical accounts are excluded from consideration, but disputed accounts that are paid on time must be factored into the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio.

How to remove a lingering credit report dispute

Gaining access to a new credit report with updated information is not an option for the borrower if the creditor won’t correct the information. And when a consumer files a complaint with the credit reporting agencies, the agencies will often defer to the creditor.

Just as you’ve reached out to your creditor and the credit reporting bureaus to file your dispute, you’ll want to take the same action to remove it. Contact the creditor directly and request that they update the account information to show that it’s no longer being disputed.

You may also want to reach out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to request dispute removal, but keep in mind they may also reach out to the creditor who is reporting the disputed account. See the FICO website for more information about contacting each bureau’s dispute department.

The bottom line

Dealing with an unresolved credit report dispute can turn into a consumer nightmare. Even if you’ve followed best practices, you may still be unhappy with the results.

Fortunately, you can still submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will forward your complaint directly to the company in dispute and work to get a response from them. Another option is to seek guidance from a consumer advocate or an attorney. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling may be a helpful place to start.

Credit reports and scores have such a strong influence on lifelong financial health, so the most effective defense is to be proactive about making sure yours are in the best shape possible. Regularly monitoring your credit profile and working to fix inaccuracies before applying for a mortgage is a good game plan to prevent major problems as you embark on the homebuying process.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
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Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Places Where You Can Earn Six Figures and Still Be Broke in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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A household bringing in $100,000 each year should be on firm financial footing. But depending on where you live, that amount might be barely enough to scrape by — or might not even be enough to cover the basics. Taxes, housing, transportation and other typical expenses can easily eat up six figures a year in certain cities, leaving families strapped for cash, according to a recent analysis by MagnifyMoney.

For this study, we looked at data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Location Affordability Index (updated in March 2019), which also uses data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey, to see which cities would leave a dual-professional households earning $100,000 with little to no disposable income. We considered the average cost of housing (e.g. insurance and taxes), transportation (e.g. car payments, parking, tolls, bus fare, etc.), childcare, food, retirement contributions, utilities and other line items in a typical family’s budget.

After tallying up all of the expenses, we were able to calculate the disposable income of families living a typical six-figure lifestyle in various metro areas around the United States. Then, we ranked the top cities where families earning $100,000 a year would have the least (and most) amount of money leftover at the end of the month. Here’s what we learned.

Key takeaways

  • In San Jose, Calif., considered the capital of Silicon Valley, a joint income of $100,000 with a preschool-aged child means a couple may have to run up their credit cards $1,046 a month just to cover what the typical two-earner household spends on the basics (not including compounded interest on that credit card debt).
  • In seven of the 100 metro areas we reviewed, the average professional couple spends more than $100,000 on the basics.
  • In McAllen, Texas, a couple earning $100,000 can expect to have around $1,795 left over every month after paying the typical bills for a local dual professional household.
  • Seven of the 10 places where couples can expect the most disposable income are in Texas, Florida and Tennessee, where there’s no state income tax.
  • More than half of married couples have six-figure incomes in 19 of the 100 metros we reviewed.

Worst places in the U.S. to make six figures

Although rising incomes are outpacing housing cost increases, according to one of our previous studies, families in certain metros are continuing to struggle to make ends meet — even after pulling six figures. In seven of the 10 worst cities in the U.S. to make six figures, a household income of $100,000 isn’t enough to cover basic expenses.

For example, in Oxnard, Calif., a coastal city in Southern California, families need to scrounge up another $195 to break even each month. Meanwhile, those in the northern California city of San Jose have a whopping total of $1,046 in unmet expenses each month.

Things get slightly better as families head east. Those in the Big Apple have about $65 in disposable income each month (not even enough for the average Broadway show ticket). But families making $100,000 a year in Minneapolis have an extra $149 to play with after expenses, so at least not all Minnesota families are doomed after making six figures.

Breaking down the expenses by line item can give you a sense of what’s costing families the most in these metros.

The majority of household budgets is devoted to housing, transportation and childcare. Housing was the single largest expense in the top 10 places where you can earn six figures and still be broke, with families in San Jose, Calif., paying the most ($2,760 each month) and families in Worcester, Mass., paying the least ($1,779). Transportation ate up the second largest portion of the budget, ranging from $1,082 to $1,532 depending on the city, with childcare costing slightly less.

Best places in our rankings to make six figures

Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the amount of disposable monthly income for families making $100,000 a year. In McAllen, a city along the state’s southern border, households have $1,795 left in their bank accounts after covering basic expenses; meanwhile, families in the western city of El Paso have just slightly less ($1,679) to spend at the end of the month.

Cities in Florida took third and fourth place, followed by Tennessee metros in fifth, sixth and eighth place. No city in our list of the top 10 places where you can earn six figures and still be flush left families with a surplus of less than $1,400.

A relatively low cost of housing helps families keep more money in their pockets in the best places to make six figures; none of the average households in the top 10 metros spent more than $1,299 to keep a roof over their heads. Families in McAllen, Texas, barely pay more than four figures for housing, which costs $1,004 a month on average.

Seven of the top cities are in places with no state income tax, giving families another roughly $200 to $400 to play with each month, compared with those in the worst cities for families earning $100,000. Childcare was also significantly less in these cities, ranging from $514 to $694 a month, roughly half (or less) of what families making $100,000 pay in the most expensive city, San Jose, Calif.

Our full rankings

Check out the full rankings of the 100 places where you can earn six figures and still be broke (or flush).

For the most part, the percentage of the population that makes over $100,000 in these cities inversely correlates with the average amount of disposable income those families have. None of the average families making $100,000 in these 100 cities saw housing or transportation fall below four figures, making those categories the most significant line items in everyone’s budgets.

Overall, families on the East Coast and West Coast tended to have less disposable income than households in other parts of the country.

Understanding the metrics

There are a few changes to the methodology in our 2019 study. We focused on the largest 100 metros this time around as opposed to some 381 metros last year. We also took a more detailed approach to calculating variables that impact a family’s disposable income.

We based our case study on a family earning a gross income of $8,333 per month. Then we subtracted their monthly expenses, debt obligations and savings to come up with an estimate of how much cash they’d have left over at the end of the month.

These are the assumptions we made for this study:

Savings. We assumed the family contributed $500 monthly to their 401(k). In previous years, we assumed the family set aside 5% of their savings in a regular savings account. This year, we changed the savings to 401(k) contributions because it’s something of a bastion of corporate middle-class personal finance, and it offers a tax benefit.

Tax assumptions. Our study assumes the couple will file jointly for 2019. They took the standard federal deduction and received a federal $2,000 credit for their one child. They also took the standard deductions and credits offered by their state, and took advantage of the pretax Dependent Care FSA child savings plan to deduct the $5,000 maximum from their taxable income by their employer. The couple had insurance premiums paid from their pretax income by their employer and their 401(k) contributions paid from their pretax income by their employer.

Debt. We assume the family had a monthly student loan payment of $393 — the median student loan payment according to the Federal Reserve — in order to be consistent with the other metrics (which also look at the mean). Housing and auto debt are bundled in with the housing and transportation cost budget line items in monthly expenses.

Monthly expenses. We based monthly expenses — housing, transportation, food, utilities, household operations, child care and entertainment — for each location on data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Care.com, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Federal Reserve. We calculated an average for these expenses taking into account the lifestyle costs of a six-figure earner. We also removed entertainment and combined household expenses with housekeeping supplies and apparel. The cost of apparel is the average amount for a woman, man and child under the age of 2 in each metro.

Compared with last year, we beefed up the monthly necessity expenses — although by no means hit them all — by adding costs like household operations costs and utilities to get a more realistic sense of how much people would have left over after paying their basic bills.

Unfortunately, we haven’t located updated childcare costs compared to last year, so that remains the same in our numbers, but is likely to have increased. We’ve also added the average (mean) income for married couples in each metro, as well as the percentage of married couples in each metro with incomes over $100K.

Further, while the median cost of each expense would have painted a more accurate picture of what half the population experiences, this data only included the average, or mean, of the metrics, so the results may overstate what typical people earn and pay, especially for housing and transportation. With that being said, we recognize we may be lowballing some expenses a typical family faces. For example, our data on health insurance includes monthly premiums, but not copays for visits to the doctor and the cost of prescription drugs.

Methodology

The hypothetical family we created is a typical one that earns a combined income of $100,000 (the average income for a married-couple family in 2017 was $110,786 (the median was $85,031), and 41% of such couples earned at least $100,000 that same year).

We were conservative about the couple’s financial and debt obligations by making the following assumptions:

  • Both have corporate-style employers who offer typical benefits.
  • They have one child currently in day care.
  • Between them, they contribute 6% of their income to their 401(k)’s to maximize typical matching, which is considerably less than the median rate of 10% from an employee in a matching plan (page 7).
  • Only one of them has student loans and is making the average payment of $393 a month. (Student Loan Hero and MagnifyMoney are both owned by LendingTree.)
  • The entire household is on one person’s group insurance plan.
  • The family has average spending habits and expenses for where they live.

To calculate federal and state taxes, we assumed the following:

  • The couple will file jointly for 2019;
  • Took the standard federal deduction;
  • Received a federal $2,000 credit for their one child
  • Took the standard deductions and credits offered by their state;
  • Took advantage of the pre-tax DCFSA child savings plan to deduct the $5,000 maximum from their taxable income by their employer;
  • Had insurance premiums paid from their pre-tax income by their employer;
  • Had their 401(k) contributions paid from their pre-tax income by their employer.

The following variables were used to create their hypothetical expenses (each is the average cost for the geography indicated in parentheses):

  • Federal tax contribution (national, but adjusted for state average health care premiums)
  • State tax contribution (state)
  • FICA contribution (national)
  • 401(k) contribution (national; see notes on assumptions)
  • Insurance premiums for family coverage (state)
  • Housing costs for dual professional families (MSA)
  • Transportation costs for dual professional families (MSA)
  • Food costs (regional)
  • Utilities cost (regional)
  • Household operations, housekeeping supply, and apparel costs (regional)
  • Child care costs (MSAs where available (half of the MSAs), and state averages where not)
  • Student loan payments (national)

Sources include the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Tax Foundation; Care.com; the Kaiser Family Foundation; the U.S. Federal Reserve; and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Joni Sweet
Joni Sweet |

Joni Sweet is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Joni here

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