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4 Big Legal Changes That Will Hit Your Wallet in 2018

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With all eyes on the GOP’s sweeping plans for tax reform, it’s easy to lose sight of other policy changes that could have an impact on your wallet.

In 2018, there are at least three key policy changes to keep tabs on — adjustments to Social Security benefits, 401(k) contribution limit changes, and the preservation of one of the year’s most controversial financial rules.

Here’s what you need to know:

More Social Security benefits

For Social Security beneficiaries, there is a lot to be excited about in 2018.

The cost-of living-adjustment, which determines the amount of money people receive from the system, is rising by 2 percent, the largest increase in five years. This means a growth in benefits for the more than 61 million recipients currently who currently utilize Social Security in America.

Additionally, the maximum payout—which is the amount you can receive once you’re eligible for 100 percent of your benefits—is also increasing, with the figure growing from $2,687 per month to $2,788 per month.

Greater 401(k) contributions

Saving for retirement will also be a little easier in the coming years, as the Internal Revenue Service announced that the annual limit for 401(k) contributors will increase by $500 in 2018.

Previously, anyone participating in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, the majority of 457 plans, or the  Thrift Savings Plan could set aside $18,000 per year, but the number will grow to $18,500. To see how much this change might affect your retirement funds, you can use this calculator to track how your 401(k) funds will grow over time.

Mandatory arbitration contracts

Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a regulation banning mandatory arbitration clauses, the often-controversial sections of consumer contracts that effectively prevent customers from filing class-action suits against a company they are doing business with, such as a bank.

However, this law, which was set to come into effect in 2018, has been overturned by Congress, meaning the rule will remain in effect.

Martin Lynch, the compliance manager and director of education for Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. in Agawam, Mass., says the repeal of the CFPB’s rule is a major defeat for consumers because forced arbitration is often used to scare customers out of taking action against the corporate world.

“That’s not fair, almost by definition,” says Lynch, who is also a member of the board of directors for the Financial Counseling Association of America. “It’s why the concept of consumer protection exists in the first place.”

Still to be determined: The GOP tax bill

It seemed as though 2017 might be yet another slow year for tax legislation. Then earlier this month Republican lawmakers moved to pass what is could be the biggest American tax overhaul since the 1980s. (Update: President Donald Trump signed the bill into law Dec. 22. Here’s our roundup of all the changes you can expect.)

While the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate still have to agree on a singular version of the new bill, which likely include close to $1.5 trillion in total tax cuts — $900 billion of which will be for businesses alone — they’re rushing to meet President Donald Trump’s Christmas deadline.

“If any or all of the proposed changes get enacted, we will have a lot to be concerned with,” says Cindy Hockenberry, director of tax research and government relations for the National Association of Tax Professionals.

So how will the Republican tax bill—in its current form—most affect consumers? Next year, not very much. The plan’s changes, which technically go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, will be mostly marginal until 2019 because Americans will mostly be able to file their taxes in April under the current rules.

Being aware of these changes can help you plan in advance because filing taxes in the coming years might be extremely different, depending on your income bracket and your usual deductions. While the bill—officially named the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—is not yet finalized, here are the parts of the bill’s current form that consumers are likely to feel the most:

  • Your income tax bracket could change: The House version of new law would reduce the number of standard tax brackets from seven to four, meaning many Americans would pay a new percentage of their income in 2019. You can check out this chart of the proposed percentages to see how your taxes might change.
  • Your state and local tax deductions will probably go away: The Senate plan would eliminate the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction. This means that if you typically itemize your taxes—instead of just taking the standard deduction— you will be unable to write off taxes paid to state and local governments on your federal filing.
  • You will no longer be able to deduct a personal exemption: Currently, you can take a $4,050 “personal exemption” from your return that doesn’t count toward your taxable income. Under both the House and Senate bills, this option would disappear, however the standard deduction you can take each year would almost double—increasing from $6,350 to $12,200 under the House bill.

Hockenberry, who is based in Appleton, Wis., says the most important part of the plan is its proposed elimination of the personal exemption and a number of itemized deductions. Some Americans might have to pay more each year, she added, because the increase in the standard deduction might not be enough to make up for these changes, causing some consumers’ taxable income to grow.

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7 Foods That Are Getting More Expensive in 2018

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The new year can bring a tightening of budgets after the holidays, so the last thing many consumers want to hear is that food staples may cost more.

But retail food prices are forecasted in 2018 to rise between 1 percent to 2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Be prepared to see a possible difference on your grocery receipts and restaurant bills for these items:

  • Eggs: Expected to increase 4 percent to 5 percent in 2018, following a drop in 2017 and 2016.
  • Cereal and bakery products: Expected to increase 3 percent to 4 percent.
  • Fresh fruit: Expected to increase 3 percent to 4 percent.
  • Dairy products: Expected to increase 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent.
  • Beef and veal: Expected to increase 1.5 to 2.5 percent in 2018, following a drop in 2017.
  • Pork: Expected to increase 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent.
  • Poultry: Expected to increase 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent, potentially impacting popular bar fare like chicken wings.

The price increases can be particularly alarming considering an average family spends approximately 6.6 percent of their household income on food and 43 percent of those expenditures on food away from the home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rising food prices can affect families from all demographics but especially those in low-income situations.

Why food prices rise

There are many reasons behind price changes that may not seem obvious.

“The biggest drivers of rapid increases in prices tends to be weather-related events,” says Greg Colson, associate professor of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Georgia. “So it’s droughts, it’s floods, particularly droughts recently, that tend to drive very rapid increases.”

Another important thing to note is that food prices on average, including the price of eggs and poultry, actually dropped back in 2016, by an average of 1.3 percent. Also in 2016, retail egg prices declined 21.1 percent as egg-laying flocks recovered from the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak.

The number of animals in both dairy and poultry sectors also increased, leading to decreasing prices in 2016. These trends continued into 2017, which makes the rising food prices of 2018 seem surprising. But it may just be the market leveling out.

“There’s a seasonality, a cycle to all this, it’s tough (to forecast) because in general forecasting we’re looking at averages, or we’ve got trends or cycles, it’s easy, but forecasting shocks is very hard,” says Colson. “Nor can you predict, is it going to be a minor or a major drought next year?”

When experts forecast prices, they look at averages and use trends or cycles, but forecasting shocks is tough to do, Colson said. Experts can’t predict if there will be a drought next year, and if there is a drought, they also can’t predict how severe it would be.

Food-at-home prices are typically more volatile than food-away-from-home prices, according to the USDA, because the cost of dining out reflects more than the price of food. In fact, food-away-from-home prices rose an average of 2.6 percent in 2016, while food-at-home prices fell 1.3 percent — the first time such prices have declined since 1967. While eating at home has long been considered a more affordable choice, that was especially true in 2016.

Costs associated with food service, wages and benefits have been increasing and are potentially partially responsible for the percentage differences in rising costs. For example, when Dunkin’ Donuts’ store prices rose in 2016, Dunkin’ CEO Nigel Travis told investors this was due more to changes in minimum wage requirements than commodity pricing.

How outside factors affect food prices

Being aware of what and how external factors affect food prices can help you make sense of how and when you’ll see these changes.

For example, fuel prices and commodity costs can affect what you see on the price tag. Lower fuel prices don’t just affect your gas tank, they also make food prices lower, as transportation costs for commodity goods as well as for distribution make it cheaper for producers. And in 2017, the USDA said there were more egg-laying birds, which helped drive down the cost of eggs.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Colson says. “And so even if there’s no magical events in the U.S. if there’s positive/negative shocks elsewhere around the world, it can leave a big impact on the market.”

In the third quarter of 2017, spending at restaurants and other eateries increased 2 percent from the same time last year, according to NDP Group, a market research company. NDP Group attributed most of that increase to rising menu prices.

Although food prices are expected to rise in 2018 because of numerous variables, there’s no need to panic when planning out the monthly grocery budget. Due to the deflation in 2016 and the first half of 2017, 2018 prices are expected to stay below 2015 prices, according to the USDA.

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The Supreme Court Made it Much Harder to Sue Your Employer as a Group

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This week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that private-sector employees may no longer unite to bring class or collective actions against an employer has shaken the historical ground that workers’ rights stand on.

Some of the nation’s 126 million private-sector workers fear what they see as a reversion to 1920’s and ‘30s “yellow dog” contracts that offered take-it-or-leave-it arbitration agreements during one of our nation’s toughest times for the working class.

Differing views on decision

The decision came on Monday, the vote 5-4, with Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the Supreme Court last year, writing for the majority.

While some view the decision as a victory for employers, others see it as a further weakening of the ability to fight for fair employment standards in an economic climate where many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong.”

This ruling comes a year after the 10 largest settlements in employment-related categories reached a record high $2.72 billion, according to the 14th annual edition of the Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a Chicago-based law firm. The aggregate settlements of the top 10 are almost $1 billion more than they were in 2016, despite 2017 being a more favorable year overall for employer rather than employee victories, the 2018 report notes.

“I think it’s going to potentially reduce a lot of very costly litigation for employers,” said

Suzanne Boy, an employment law attorney with Henderson Franklin Attorneys at Law in Fort Myers, Fla. “While it certainly does not erase the employees right to bring a claim, it just limits the potential for them to bring them as a group essentially.”

Attorney Benjamin Yormak, who represents employees and is a board-certified expert in labor and employment law, noted that the point of a class or collective action is to streamline the litigation for consistency in the results and to save on costs.

“But the ruling from the Supreme Court does the exact opposite,” said Yormak, an attorney based in Bonita Springs, Fla., who often represents employees with wage and hour disputes.

While Yormak said he believes wage and hour litigation will be the hardest hit, other workplace conditions could become more difficult to fight as well.

Some members of Congress and candidates for office voiced their concerns this week on social media.

What’s changed?

The Federal Arbitration Act, enacted in 1925, specifies that agreed-upon individual arbitration contracts must be enforced, unless that agreement violates another federal law, which, according to those on the dissenting side, is the National Labor Relations Act, which was enacted 10 years later.

The NLRA provides “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

In what Yormak calls an “epic case,” the problem is that the NLRA and the FAA “are not in harmony with one another on this issue.”

Both sides were looking for direction from the Supreme Court, but the outcome was not what he and employees such as those he represents had hoped for, Yomak says.

Who’s affected by the ruling?

Expect a dramatic increase in the number of employers who require arbitration agreements to be signed by their employees, both Boy and Yomak said.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit think tank, notes: “For over eighty years, the National Labor Relations Act has guaranteed workers’ right to stand together for ‘mutual aid and protection’ when seeking to improve their wages and working conditions. However, today’s decision clears the way for employers to require workers to waive that right as a condition of employment.”

According to the EPI, 56.2 percent of private sector employees are already subject to arbitration proceedings that are laid out by their employer, and of those employers, 30 percent include a class-action waiver.

With this new ruling and the number of employers who require such agreements projected to rise sharply, the ways they might implement them could be less-than-transparent, such as the blanket take-it-or-leave-it policies emailed to employees that sparked the three cases that were consolidated by the Court and that served as the basis for the decision.

What you can do

The EPI is asking Congress to ban mandatory arbitration agreements and class and collective action waivers.

“Workers depend on collective and class actions to combat race and sex discrimination and enforce wage and hour standards,”Celine McNicholas, Director of Labor Law and Policy for the EPI said in a statement. “It is essential to both our democracy and a fair economy that workers have the right to engage in collective action.”

For employees, attorneys recommend having awareness and taking a few steps, such as these:

  • Watch out for class-action waiver. “If an employee is presented with an arbitration agreement, he or she should certainly look closely as to whether or not one of these waivers is in there, because they may not be,” said Boy. She adds that if an employee refuses to sign it, an employer can rescind the job offer.
  • Find out the financial ramifications. Boy advises employees to look at the ramifications from a cost perspective, such as how the cost shifting is defined and if it’s split in half between employer and employee.
  • Pay attention to other provisions. Determine if there is a jury trial waiver or what kind of confidentiality is included in the arbitration agreement.

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Survey: Nearly 40 Percent of Students with Loans Consider Dropping Out of College

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What To Do if a Student Loan Refinancer Rejects You

Today’s college student bears the weight of trying to succeed academically as well as his growing debt from student loans.

According to a new MagnifyMoney.com survey, nearly 40% of current students with loans have considered dropping out to avoid racking up more student loan debt. And of the students who thought about leaving before earning their degree, over half were more than $20,000 in debt.

It’s no secret that student debt is causing many individuals to consider whether their degree is even worth the financial stress. An analysis by The Hechinger Report revealed that 3.9 million people with student loan debt dropped out of college during the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years alone.

For fall 2017, total undergraduate enrollment dropped by nearly 224,000 students from a year ago, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The center said it’s the sixth consecutive year of total enrollment declines and does not cite reasons, but our survey found financial concerns seem to play a role in student enrollments and dropouts.

The survey was conducted via Google Consumer Surveys’ online student panel from April 23-May 7, 2018. It included responses from 3,069 college students. Approximately 2,000 of respondents had at least some student loan debt.

Key findings: Work, kids add to financial strain

In our survey, 39% of our respondents with student debt said they have considered stopping college before graduating so their financial situation wouldn’t get worse. For those students, balancing school with part-time work was also a major worry, with more than half citing the juggling act as a main reason they considered quitting.

Nearly 45% of those who contemplated dropping out said they worked 20 hours or more per week, with 20% saying they worked more than 40.

Still, 35% of the students in our study who had thought about leaving weren’t working at all, signifying that loan debt is still a major stress for those who don’t earn extra money while in college.

Concerns such as children and expected income seemed to play a large role in these anxieties as well: 30% of students listed balancing work and family as a main reason they had thought about quitting, while 26% said they considered quitting because they were worried about not making enough in their chosen career field.

Debt amounts hit $50,000 and up

In addition to the 52% of our in-debt respondents who owed $20,000 or more, nearly 25% were facing at least $50,000 in total loans. Additionally, almost 10% owed $100,000 or more.

Loan structure varies widely among these students. Based on our survey, 48% of our respondents said they had at least some private loans, while 52% were exclusively using federal aid.

No one-size-fits-all plan for paying off debt

There was no clear favorite strategy for paying off debt. While 39% of people said they would use an income-based plan to manage their loans, 25% said they would use a standard repayment plan. Still, another 26% weren’t yet sure how they would deal with the debt.

Despite the stress caused by student loans, most of our respondents were generally positive about their job prospects after school.

Nearly half said they thought they would make at least $20,000 extra per year as a result of their degree, with 34% of them saying they expected to earn at least $30,000 extra.

Tips for dealing with student debt

Student loans don’t have to be such a headache, though. With the proper planning and preparation, students can work around the overwhelming costs of loan debt and keep the stress of repayment at bay from their daily lives.

Jeremy Wine, supervisor of student loan counseling services for Take Charge America, a Phoenix-based nonprofit credit consulting agency, shared tips for approaching the repayment process.

    • Think ahead. As our survey shows, worrying about loans during college can be a major source of anxiety among students. Still, Wine said it’s best to set up a plan of action long before you put on your cap and gown. “Realize that it’s there and that it’s something you have to pay back,” he said. He added that a nonprofit loan counselor can help you lay out a set of repayment goals and a budget that fits your financial situation.
    • Look at repayment options. If you have federal student loans, there are a number of flexible repayment options available to you. Contact your loan servicer to enroll.
    • Don’t waste money. It may be tempting to use the loan funds on items such as a new computer or a car payment. Wine said it’s best to only use the money for tuition and fees, even if that means getting a part-time job to pay for the rest.
    • Consider consolidation carefully. Student loan consolidation or refinance involves paying off each of your loans with a new loan. Refinancing your debt can help lower your interest payments and make your loans easier to manage. Typically, you’d take out the new loan with a private lender. Just know that if you refinance federal student debt with a private loan, you’ll lose access to flexible repayment programs offered to federal borrowers. There is a consolidation program available for federal loans specifically, however, which is another option.

 

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3 Online Alternatives to Warehouse Clubs

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With a 2-year-old daughter and a full-time job, life is hectic for Dallas mom and marketing professional Amanda Tavackoli. Often, there’s not enough time to think about or run to the store to pick up a pack of diapers, baby wipes or paper towels.

“Both my husband and I work full time, so it’s sometimes difficult for us to schedule everything that needs to happen,” says Tavackoli, 37.

Instead of squeezing a grocery run into her busy schedule, Tavackoli opens the Amazon Prime app on her phone, orders her household supplies, and within two days, they arrive at her doorstep.

Convenience, especially for families, is a factor in the popularity of purchasing household goods through subscriptions like Amazon Prime, says Paul Farris, a marketing professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Amazon Prime reached 90 million U.S. subscribers, according to 2017 data from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a Chicago-based research firm. Almost 95 percent of these members said they will “definitely” or “probably” renew their subscription, according to a July to September 2017 survey by the firm.

At the same time, some of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar competitors are struggling to keep up.

Although Costco Wholesale has about 91.5 million cardholders as of November 2017 — 1.5 million more than Amazon Prime subscribers — the membership warehouse had only a 90 percent renewal rate in 2017, according to its annual report.

And Sam’s Club, the membership warehouse owned by Walmart, recently announced plans to close 63 of its clubs throughout the country and is converting as many as 12 of these facilities into e-commerce fulfillment centers. These closures reduced the company’s number of clubs to 597.

In recent years, Sam’s Club has also experienced low membership renewals. At the beginning of 2016, the renewal rate for its Plus members was only about 35 percent, from 2015 to 2016.

Farris says in addition to Amazon’s convenience factor, its free two-day shipping has helped the company dominate the playing field.

“Everybody in the world is trying to figure out how to handle free shipping,” he said. “Amazon has the (sales) volumes to make that work in a way that is much more difficult for other operations to generate.”

And Farris says Amazon’s ability to transcend local supply shortages has also made it and other e-commerce options more popular in comparison with traditional wholesale clubs.

One factor that favors brick-and-mortar Costco is price. In two separate price comparison studies conducted by investing news magazine Barrons in June 2017 and the San Francisco Chronicle in May 2017, Costco’s prices for a basket of top common household items were often cheaper than on Amazon.

However, the price difference doesn’t bother Tavackoli.

“It’s probably a little bit more expensive to go with something like Amazon, as opposed to running over to Sam’s Club,” she said. “But the convenience outweighs the cost for us, hands down.”

These online options for buying bulk are three alternatives to shopping at brick-and-mortar warehouse clubs.

1. Amazon Prime Pantry

One of the most popular perks of Amazon’s Prime membership ($99 a year) is its free two-day shipping. Amazon Prime also offers members in select cities free same-day delivery and same-day delivery for orders $35 and over. For some household essentials, subscription holders can have orders delivered within one to two hours.

Members have access to Prime Pantry, which ships bulky items like paper goods, trash bags, and oversized boxes and bags of snacks, such as chips and granola bars, that people traditionally purchase at warehouse clubs. Delivery boxes hold up to 45 pounds, and there’s a flat $5.99 fee per box.

“My own family’s use of Prime is that it’s so much more convenient,” Farris said. “You don’t have to worry about hauling it back home.”

Prime also gives its members much more than just fast delivery. Prime members can stream music, movies, and TV shows and gain access to Audible channels. There are also deals and exclusive opportunities for Prime members when shopping.

2. Boxed.com

Boxed.com was founded in 2013 by a group of tech entrepreneurs.

Boxed.com gives consumers another way to buy a large variety of brands in bulk online. In addition to simply buying in bulk, Boxed.com customers are offered curated boxes of products. For example, Boxed.com packages a wide range of snack options, like Cheez-Its, peanuts and Pop-Tarts, and ships them together in one box to customers.

With each order, Boxed.com users can choose to receive free samples, much like when shoppers walk down the aisle of a wholesale store like Costco.

And unlike Amazon, Boxed does not charge customers a subscription fee. Orders that meet a minimum price of $19.99 are shipped for free and ship within one business day.

3. Jet.com

Jet.com is another online one-stop shop that offers everything from household essentials to jewelry and patio furniture.

But Jet’s standout perk is its “real-time savings engine.” This tool allows Jet.com to pack specially marked items in boxes with other products, which the company says lowers the shipping costs for Jet.com and, in turn, lowers the price tag for its customers.

Farris says options like Jet.com could provide specific goods that local stores may not carry or have in stock when shoppers are there in person.

Jet.com, which does not charge a subscription fee, also gives users who know they won’t be returning an item the option to save money by opting out of the ability to return that item for free. Also, for orders over $35, Jet.com ships for free with delivery within two to five days.

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Buy, Sell, Wait? Solving the Move-up Home Dilemma

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Jeff Neal, 33, of Lancaster, Pa., bought a bigger house last year when his wife was pregnant with their third child.

They planned to sell their two-bedroom home first, but the buyer backed out of the deal after the couple made an offer on a four-bedroom house in the same city. Fortunately, Neal’s relatives pooled money and lent him the cash so he could pay off the 30-year mortgage on the first home. As a result, the Neals were able to buy their next home before selling the old one.

Neal, who runs an e-commerce website, eventually became the landlord of his first house for a painful eight months, during which time he drove 35 minutes most weeks between his new house and his old one to make sure things were running properly. The  total cost of maintenance, taxes, insurance and utilities for his old house amounted to more than $9,000. Owing not just money, but gratitude, to generous relatives left Neal feeling even more unsettled.

“It was challenging, nerve-wracking, and stressful,” Neal told MagnifyMoney.

This spring, Neal sold the old house and paid back his relatives. Although he liked the perks of buying before selling — namely a (relatively) relaxing moving experience — he said next time he would try to sell a house before buying anything new.

Second time’s a charm? Buying a home the second time around sounds easier — you’ve gone through the process before and understand the ups and downs — but the process of juggling two transactions at once can be daunting. You’re both buyer and seller now. The seller in you might want to take advantage of a standout spring real estate market, but the experts we talked to have said that personal circumstances matter more.

May is the best month for home-selling, according to real estate research firm ATTOM Data Solutions. A recent report found that homeowners who cashed out in May received, on average, 5.9% above asking price. June was a close second, with sellers taking home a 5.8% premium. On the flip side, the housing market cools down in the fall and colder months (though homeowners in steamy Miami are reportedly better off selling in January). ATTOM data suggest that October and December are the best months to buy, when sellers received a 1.6% premium on average.

So, buy first or sell first? When is the best time to start the process? MagnifyMoney spoke with real estate experts who analyzed four common scenarios for move-up buyers and listed pros and cons of each.

Selling before buying, timing the market

From a pure economic standpoint, experts said it would be ideal for move-up buyers to sell their homes in the spring, and wait until fall to buy their next house. But real life is often far more complicated. Other factors go into the process of buying besides price, and the stress that comes with two moves may not be worth a better bottom line.

However, for those who can time the market this way, experts said this strategy does work to a homeowner’s advantage. When the two separate transactions are not contingent upon each other, you may enjoy much more freedom and peace of mind than if you sell and buy almost simultaneously.

“When you’re selling and you’re not contingent on the front end, it’s a pretty clean sale and you’re not worried about this other purchase,” said Daren Blomquist, ATTOM’s senior vice president. “On the back end, when you’re actually buying a property, you’re a non-contingent offer, which will put you ahead of the line of a lot of other buyers who are continuing on their home-selling.”

George Ratiu, who leads research for the National Association of Realtors, told MagnifyMoney that those who are in a position to sell in the warmer months and then purchase in the fall months may be working professionals without children. They have a lot more flexibility in timing, as they are not tied to the school calendar.

But there’s an inconvenience factor in delaying the time between when you sell and when you buy. You will have to factor in the housing costs during the gap, as well as the pain of moving more than once.

While such a delay could save you some money, Ratiu cautioned that trying to time the real estate market is about as fruitful as trying to time the financial market — both are unpredictable. Plus, local market conditions can vary from regional or national trends.

“I think trying to time the market is a difficult proposition and one which should take a backseat to a buyer’s circumstances,” Ratiu said.

Selling before buying, but almost simultaneously

In most cases, Blomquist said, move-up home buyers sell their old home first and take the profit from that sale and roll it into the purchase of another home later, but not that much later. The processes happens almost simultaneously because people don’t want to have an interruption in moving, he said.

But because these purchases are typically contingent upon the selling of the old home, three parties are involved in the process, which adds a layer of complication.

“It’s not just you as a buyer qualifying for a loan,” Blomquist said. “It’s another buyer qualifying for a loan on your home. That just multiplies the number of things that could go wrong, that would trip up the sale of the home.”

In hot markets, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, sellers fearful of not being able to find that new house wait longer, exacerbating an already tight inventory. And they have good reason to worry: If it takes longer than you thought to find another home, you risk paying more on intermediary housing expenses.

“You are sitting there without a permanent place to live and that is a risk in and of itself, although I would say that’s a lower risk then taking on two 30-year mortgages at the same time,” Blomquist said.

Buying before selling

This could indeed be a risky proposition for those who buy a new home before selling the old one. Upside: You can take your time moving, which offers a certain level of freedom.

“If the market tanks, you may not get as much profit out of that sale later on,” Blomquist said. “Or if you lose your job, you may not be in a position where you’d want to be owning a home” — much less two homes.

But for those who are close to paying off or have already paid off the mortgage on their first home, the circumstances change pretty dramatically: It’s a lot easier to see that old property as an income generator even if you are not able to sell it right away.

Experts say that people who have this flexibility in their timing and finances are most likely to be retirees. (More on them in a second.)

A bridge loan may tide you over. Younger families like the Neals who buy a house before selling the first, but perhaps lack interest-free financial assistance from relatives, may want to consider a bridge loan. A bridge loan provides the short-term funding required to purchase the new home, buying you time to get your current home ready for sale. Ideally, you would move into your new home, sell your old property, then pay off the loan quickly.

The strategy is not for every real estate buyer because it comes with risks. Plus, bridge loans are not easy to obtain for many. Borrowers in general need to have excellent credit, a low debt-to-income ratio and home equity of 20% or more.

Blomquist said bridge loans work best in tight housing markets where sellers are confident that their first home will sell easily. Read more about bridge loans in this guide.

Hold onto that first home as a rental instead of selling

Retirees who have paid off their first house, and therefore wouldn’t shoulder two mortgages when they buy their next home, may want to hold onto the first home as a rental instead of selling. Or, young professionals moving for a new job where home prices are significantly lower might be able to swing two house payments.

“If you’re able to hold on to that first home, it can become a rental that can generate positive income for you potentially if the numbers work out,” Blomquist said. “And over time, if you own it for another 20 or 30 years, it will likely appreciate in value as well.”

To be sure, not everyone can afford to do this. But if you are able to manage it, a lender will likely count your rental earnings as income, which will also help you to cover the mortgage payment.

However, as we learned in the last recession, home prices don’t always appreciate — sometimes they slide. Maintaining two properties is also no easy task. Ratiu suggested you check your financial goals and time horizon, and think through whether it’s realistic for you to manage all the headaches that may come with renting a residence before deciding to become a landlord.

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2018 Summer Flight Delay Study: Best and Worst Airports Ranked

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With the start of the summer travel season weeks away, a record number of travelers are again expected to flood airports from coast to coast. U.S. airlines enplaned 201.8 million passengers between June and August 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

As airline activity heats up so does the potential for flight delays, which can ruin even the best laid travel plans. In a new study, the MagnifyMoney research team took a look at which airlines have the worst summer delays to help travelers prepare for what’s to come.

To see which airports suffered the most delays during the summer travel season, MagnifyMoney.com analyzed Department of Transportation airport arrival data for the 50 busiest U.S. airports between 2008 and 2017.

Key findings include:

  • Summer is worse than winter for delays. More than half (52%) of airports have more summer than winter delays, although both seasons averaged an on-time rate of 77.1% for the airports we reviewed.
  • Don’t fly in June (if you can help it). June is the worst month for summer airport delays. Three-quarters (76%) of airports reviewed had the most summer delays in June. And the overall on-time rate for June was 76%, compared with the summer average of 77.1%.
  • Summer delays are getting worse. Some 54% of airports had worse summer arrival rates in 2017 than they did in 2016, with an average on-time rate across all airports of 76.1%, versus 76.5%.
  • Expect 3 out of 4 flights to be on time. The average on-time rate across all 50  airports in 2017 was 76.1%, versus 76.6% over the 10-year period between 2007 and 2016.
  • Delays are getting worse at the biggest airports. More than half (56%) of airports had worse on-time arrival rates in 2017 than they did over the previous 10 years.
  • It’s rough on the coasts. The numbers showed that Newark-Liberty, LaGuardia and San Francisco had the worst summer delays of all airports reviewed, while Honolulu, Salt Lake City, and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., had the least.

 

The worst airports for summer delays

Newark-Liberty International Airport (Newark, N.J.)

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 67%, down 2.3% from its 10-year average

A major United Airlines hub, an international U.S. gateway airport and an entry into New York City.

LaGuardia (New York City)

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 68%, up 0.7% from its 10-year average

A popular airport for those living in Manhattan.

San Francisco

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 69.2%, up 0.4% from its 10-year average

A United Airlines hub, an international U.S. gateway airport and a popular origin-and-destination market.

JFK

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 70.5%, down 0.2% from its 10-year average

A hub for JetBlue, a major U.S. international gateway airport and a popular origin-and-destination market.

Boston Logan

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 72.5%, down 3.5% from its 10-year average

A focus city for Delta Air Lines and JetBlue and a U.S. international gateway airport.

Chicago O’Hare

Rate of on-time arrivals over 10 years: 73.3%, up 3.4% from its 10-year average

A United Airlines hub and a major U.S. international gateway airport.

Airports with the fewest delays

Honolulu International, a popular origin-and-destination airport, again has the best summertime arrival rate, at 86.7%. It was followed closely by Delta’s Salt Lake City hub, at 86%. Both airports also have the best year-round arrival rates, at 85.9% and 85.7%, respectively. Out of all four seasons, Salt Lake City outperformed Honolulu in spring and fall.

The winner for most-improved: Los Angeles International Airport had the biggest improvement in summer flights landing on time, up 5.5% between 2016 and 2017, according to MagnifyMoney’s study. The airport is in the middle of a major construction project that included a major relocation of 21 airlines between May 1 and May 17, 2017, as Delta Air Lines moved from terminals 5 and 6 to terminals 2 and 3. These moves helped cut congestion on the airport’s taxiways and runways, leading to the improvement at LAX.

Other airports making the cut for the fewest summer delays include Detroit Metro, California’s Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Oregon’s Portland International, Seattle-Tacoma and Phoenix Sky Harbor.

What’s driving delays?

Struggle in Newark

Only two of three planes landed on time last summer at Newark-Liberty International Airport. The airport had the lowest on-time arrival rate for all seasons of any of the 50 airports we reviewed, and, on average, 30.5% of its arrivals were late in 2017.

It doesn’t help that delays at Newark and LaGuardia, along with JFK, are exacerbated by them being located in one of the most congested airspace corridors in the world  — the Northeast. They’re also hurt by an antiquated air traffic control system that struggles to manage that airspace. Congestion in the New York airspace is responsible for nearly 75% of all air traffic delays in the country every day, according to New York-based advocacy group Global Gateway Alliance.

This could be a problem for travelers this summer, since Newark is one of United Airlines’ busiest hub airports, serving 14.6 million passengers in 2017. When there are delays at Newark, they tend to ripple across the U.S., which could cause inconveniences for passengers this summer.

West Coast woes in San Francisco

San Francisco International Airport is plagued by fog during the summer. When this happens, arriving aircraft can’t do parallel landings on the airport’s two runways due to reduced-visibility conditions. That means one runway is closed, causing delays.

The hurricane effect

The airport where on-time arrivals declined by the most was Houston Hobby, which saw a 6.8% year-over-year drop in summer on-time arrivals. That was likely driven by the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in August 2017 and snarled air traffic in the area. For the month of August alone, Hobby’s on-time arrivals dropped 22% year over year, the study found.

How to handle flight delays like a pro

Flight delays have become a normal part of air travel, but there are things you can do mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Be prepared. This is key is when booking your flights. Try to take early-morning flights because these are much less likely to be delayed or even canceled because the plane is usually already parked at the gate.

Know your rights. Every airline is required by the DOT to have a contract of carriage that outlines what they will and won’t do for passengers in case of flight delays or cancellations. In a nutshell, if the flight is delayed by weather or other acts of God, airlines don’t accept liability, as outlined in Delta’s contract of carriage. Similar clauses are followed by the major U.S. airlines.

Check the numbers. You can also check an airline’s on-time statistics and delay causes at the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics or look at the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, a summary of causes of delay numbers reported by each carrier. The FAA also has flight delay information on its air traffic control System Command Center website. The website has a map of the United States that shows airport delays by color code. It also allows you to search for delays by region, airport or major airport.

There’s an app for that. The FlightView app is a must-have for your travels. The free version offers the following: the ability to track flights by flight number or route; see a real-time map showing an inbound plane’s current position and national radar weather; get notifications on flight status, delays or cancellations; view a map showing a red-yellow-green delay status of airports in the U.S. and in Canada; check the percentage of current arrivals and departures that are on time, late and very late, as well as active FAA delay programs to foresee the direct or trickle-down effect that an airport delay will have on your own flight; and share your flight status via email, text or social media.

Get notified. Sign up for airline flight status notifications on your smartphone. You’ll get flight updates that can sometimes be more accurate that those given at the gate. And these notifications can give you a leg up on being reaccommodated during long delays or cancellations.

Canceled. Now what? If the worst happens, don’t go to a long line at an airline’s customer service desk for reaccommodation. Instead, either go online to a website or a smartphone app and reschedule your own flight. If you need help, call an airline’s customer service desk.

Use your status. One of the many perks of having elite status on an airline is access to a dedicated phone number you can call for flight issues. Airlines put their best agents on these lines because they want to accommodate their best customers.

Whip out your card. If you have a luxury credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you have extra protection when things go wrong. If you book a flight with the card and it’s canceled or cut short by things like severe weather, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares. Or if your air travel is delayed more than six hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket. Other cards with trip delay/cancellation insurance are here.

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Student Loan Interest Rates Are Going up Again

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Interest rates on federal student loans will go up for the second year in a row, with borrowers for the 2018-19 school year paying 0.55 to 0.6 percentage points more than last year to take out loans from the Education Department.

  • Direct subsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 5.00%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 5.00%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for graduate or professional student borrowers: 6.60%
  • Direct PLUS loans for parent, graduate and professional student borrowers: 7.60%

Why loan rates are going up

Federal student loan interest rates reset every year. Per legislation signed into law in 2013, the rates are based on the high yield of the 10-year treasury note during the last auction held before June 1. The rates remain in effect for all loans disbursed in a 12-month period between July and June of the following year. On May 9, the 10-year note had a high yield of 2.995%.

Once the auction occurs, the rates are calculated by adding several percentage points to the 10-year treasury note yield, to cover the “administrative costs” of issuing the loans, according to the 2013 legislation that enacted this system. For undergraduate loans, the rate is calculated by adding 2.05 percentage points. For direct unsubsidized graduate loans, add 3.6 percentage points, and for PLUS loans, add 4.6 percentage points.

Interest rates, in general, have been on the rise over the last few years, so the bump in cost of borrowing isn’t a surprise. The good news is that Congress set a cap on student loan interest rates when it came up with the new formula. The bad news is those caps are pretty high, so student loan interest rates are likely to continue rising, as long as we remain in this rising-rate environment.

Interest rates cannot exceed 8.25% for undergraduate borrowers, 9.5% for graduate borrowers with direct unsubsidized loans and 10.5% for PLUS loan borrowers. Even though rates increased significantly this year, they have much more room to grow, which we may see if rates continue along the path they’ve been on recently.

What this rate change means

For the most part, borrowers with existing federal student loans will not see their rates change, as all federal student loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 carry fixed interest rates.

Students and parent borrowers taking out federal education loans between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019 will pay the new interest rates listed above. The rates will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

How to lower your student loan interest rates

Student loan borrowers have few options for lowering their interest rates. You could either combine all or most of your federal student loans with a direct consolidation loan once you leave school, but that may or may not save you money (more on that in a minute). You could also refinance your student loans with a private lender, but in exchange for potentially lower interest rates, you give up the benefits exclusive to federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness. Private lenders may or may not offer loan deferment or forbearance (as federal loans do), which allow you to suspend payments if you go back to school, fulfill military service orders or experience financial hardship, among other qualifying circumstances.

You can preserve those benefits with a direct consolidation loan. Your interest rate on that loan will be the weighted average of the interest rates on the combined loans, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent. The weighted average is what makes this a tricky decision: If your loans with the highest unpaid balance have the lowest interest rate, you may end up with a lower interest rate when everything’s combined. But if your largest balances have the highest rates, you could actually receive a higher interest rate.

If you’re comfortable refinancing with a private lender, keep in mind you’ll need good credit to qualify for the best rates. You can check out our list of the best student loan refinance offers to get a sense of your potential savings.

How to reduce the amount of interest you pay on student loans

Refinancing and consolidating aren’t the only ways you can reduce how much you fork over to the Education Department. Consider committing to one or both of these strategies:

Pay the interest as you go

Unless you have a direct subsidized undergraduate loan, you will be responsible for paying the interest your loan accrues while you are enrolled in school at least half-time, in your grace period (the time between leaving school and entering repayment) or in deferment. When you enter repayment, that interest will be added to your principal loan balance, meaning you will end up paying interest on that interest. By paying the interest as you accrue it, you can avoid this situation, called interest capitalization.

Of course, many students may not have the means to make such payments while in school, but if you can, you may save yourself a lot of money in the long run. This generally only applies to borrowers of direct unsubsidized loans and graduate PLUS loans, as the Education Department pays the interest on subsidized student loans while the borrower is in school, grace period or deferment, and parent PLUS borrowers generally enter repayment once the loan is disbursed.

Pay more than the minimum

Once you enter repayment, your loan servicer will send you a statement saying how much you owe each month. You can pay more than that, and by making extra payments toward your principal balance, you can reduce the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan. This is a nice alternative to refinancing your student loans to a shorter term, if you’re worried about taking on a higher, required monthly payment.

Make sure you tell your loan servicer that you’re making an additional payment and you’d like it to apply to your principal balance. Otherwise, the servicer may hold onto the money as a future payment. While that means you may not have to pay the next month, you’re also not saving anything by sending over your money early. It’s a good idea to check our account after making such a payment, to ensure the servicer processed it properly.

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I’m Always the Broke Friend in My Group — Here’s What I Do to Cope

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At some point or another most of us have had — or will have to —  miss out on dinners, nights out and events with our peers simply because we can’t afford to participate. In other words, we’ve all been the “broke” friend.

Whitney Griffin said she’s used to being the broke friend in her social circles. Griffin, 32, is college educated —  she earned a bachelor’s in art from Florida State University in 2009 — yet has never earned more than $19,000 in a given year. It’s not for lack of trying, she told MagnifyMoney, however, she purposefully chose a career path that is fulfilling yet not exactly lucrative.

“There’s something to be said for enjoying your life,” said Griffin, who lives in Asheville, N.C. and has worked various jobs in both art and business. “I’ve chosen jobs that I’ve enjoyed more so than I would make money at.”

It’s when she runs into friends who have more cash to burn that she’s reminded of the financial consequences of her professional decisions.

“When people say ‘oh you should visit Ireland’ or ‘you should take this cruise,’ I’m just sitting there in my head thinking, ‘I should really get health insurance.’”

Financial inequities can be difficult to deal with at any age, as evidenced by Michael Little. Little, a 71-year-old retiree in West Linn, Ore., told MagnifyMoney in his early days of marriage and starting a family, he realized how different his lifestyle was compared with friends who earned more and did not have children.

At a time when everyone’s lifestyles are made public on social media, it can be even more difficult to stay on a path of frugality when it feels as if your peers are doing exactly the opposite.

MagnifyMoney spoke to Little, Griffin and other self-professed “broke friends” to compile a list of strategies and tips they use to cope.

Stick to your values

Little, now retired from a career as a software developer and systems analyst, lived frugally from the start.

“I grew up pretty poor in Indiana,” Little said. “We had a roof, we had good food. I never felt any less than any of my friends. That influenced me — that you could enjoy yourself and be frugal when you have to.”

As a teenager, he hung with a group of friends he described as more well-to-do.

“They [would] just go out and do stuff, and I didn’t have any money,” he said. “I would say I’m not really hungry and go out and get a soft drink or something like that. I was a little uncomfortable with it as a kid.”

When he married his wife Debbie at 30, they had children right away and a lot of expenses. He was in school and again didn’t have as much money as his peers who didn’t have children.

“I learned a lot of financial discipline from my wife,” said Little. “She’s really good about saying ‘well, I can’t afford that.’”

Make the most of what you can get for free

Hunter Jamison, 19, said a scholarship is the only way he’s able to attend New York University, which can cost up to $72,900 per year, according to The College Board.

He learned to find ways to socialize with peers who have more disposable income than he does.

When a friend suggests they grab a bite to eat, he doesn’t waste an opportunity to use his prepaid campus meal plan.

“If someone wants to meet up and has the meal plan, I’d be like ‘hey do you just want to go to the dining hall,’” he said. “If they don’t, I suggest we cook something because it’s a lot cheaper to buy groceries and cook than to always eat out.”

He also takes advantage of school events where there will be free food and discounts all over the city for NYU students like free access to some museums.

Be the planner

When Heidi McBain, a licensed professional counselor in Flower Mound, Texas, was in graduate school, she had to make her dollars stretch. She decided to take the lead, planning ways to spend time with her friends so they wouldn’t have a chance to propose a super expensive activity.

She said she often suggested they do something outside, like bike riding or hanging out at the beach. If she wanted to have friends over, she’d cook at home or invite them to bring a dish and make it a potluck.

“I was in a very expensive area and I didn’t have any money but I’m also pretty extroverted so I like to be around people,” said McBain. “I had to be really creative in how I would spend time with people.”

Look for free or inexpensive family outings

Little and his wife would look for things to do around town that were free or inexpensive for their family. They had picnics instead of going out to eat at a restaurant and went to the movies on Tuesday afternoons as opposed to Saturday nights.

“Every vacation I ever went on as a kid … we went camping,” said Little. He did the same with his children and continues to pass his love for the outdoors down generations.

He often took his family on camping trips to the mountains. There, his children could get filthy playing in the sand and enjoy roasted marshmallows.

“Tomorrow, I’m taking my grandson up on the mountains and we are going to take him sledding.

It’ll cost me the price of a tank of gas and some snack food,” said Little in an interview with MagnifyMoney.

Don’t fall into the ‘drinks’ trap

“One of the easiest ways to kind of blow through money is dining out” and meeting up with friends at bars, said Griffin. “It’s really easy to blow through a tab without noticing.”

So she limits herself to having only one drink — and not finishing it so she’s not obligated to get the next round — and the cheapest thing on the menu. She says it’s often a salad or something else inexpensive.

While in graduate school, McBain realized if she signed up to be the designated driver, she wouldn’t have to deal with pressure to spend money on drinks.

“If I didn’t have money, I would always drive,” said McBain. “People always love having a DD, so that worked out really well.”

Going out? Eat and drink ahead of time

When Griffin wants to go out to eat or out on the town with her friends, she plans to eat and drink a bit ahead of time, so she doesn’t spend as much money when she’s out.

“If I’m really wanting to go out and party, then I’ll bring my flask on the side,” she told MagnifyMoney. “I tend to pack my lunch box every day that I go to work anyway, so I have no problem filling up on snacks.”

Focus on the bigger picture — your goals

You may need to sacrifice going out to dinner once or twice to join your friends at another time at an event or on a vacation, and that’s OK.

“It’s about choices,” said McBain. “People get invited to stuff all of the time, regardless of how much money you have, it’s about being really choosy.”

During her graduate school days, she would cook at home or pack her lunches to save money so if something big came up, she could still go.

“If there was a new restaurant and everybody was going, I had saved money very rarely eating out so that I would have it for the bigger things,” said McBain.

Find your frugal tribe

“Find friends that are sympathetic to your situation,” said Jamison. In any environment, there definitely are people that are frugal like you.”

He said this makes it so that not spending money doesn’t mean you’re not socializing.

“There are definitely a lot of people — even if they have money — that don’t spend money left and right,” said Jamison.

You can even make frugality social. For example, Griffin suggests hosting clothing swaps when you need new wardrobe pieces in the name of environmental conservation. Everyone would clean out their closets before the event. During the event, the clothing is displayed and people can browse and take what they want, with no money involved.

There are also many online Facebook groups, like Frugal Homemaking and Living and Frugal Family Life where affordable-minded folks get together to share tips and support one another.

Be frank with friends who don’t understand your situation

There will always be that friend who just doesn’t understand when you have to constantly turn them down.

“I had one friend and he was one that didn’t get it,” Little told MagnifyMoney. “He came from a family with a lot of money.”

He would invite Little and his wife to go on couple’s vacations and out to $200 dinners.

If Little balked, his friend would respond with something like, “You guys have really nice jobs you should have the money.” But he was putting his money into retirement, something he knew his friend didn’t need to do because he inherited close to a million dollars. After an invite to Costa Rica, Little finally broke it to his friend.

“I told him if I’d inherited $700,000, a new car and a condo in Florida and had no kids, I would retire today,” Little said. “I think it finally woke him up.”

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re always playing the “sorry, I’m broke” card, but it shouldn’t be an issue for your real friends.

“If you have a good friendship, you should be able to say ‘I really would like to go but I just don’t have the funds to do that,’” said McBain.

“People need to give themselves permission when friendships change to not have to feel like they need to stick with it,” she added.  “Really, the heart of most friendships is spending time together.”

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What to Know Before You Sublet Your Apartment This Summer

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We’ve all been there. You landed a summer internship or a new job in a different city, or you have to move into a new house before your lease is up.

Rather than doubling up on rent or losing your deposit, consider a sublease. Leasing your apartment to another tenant allows you to get out of Dodge and keep some cash, but you could find yourself in unwanted — and expensive — legal battles if done improperly.

Here’s how you can manage a sublet legally to avoid unnecessary stress and hassle.

Create a sublease agreement

Even if you find a reliable subtenant, it’s a good idea to get your agreement in writing. You can find sublease samples online. The samples are basic boilerplates where you can put in the amount of rent, due dates and what the security deposit is.

Some people are able to make a profit off a sublease. Some have to take a loss, such as renting for a price lower than the rent they pay, if they are in a rush to find a subtenant. And others take the same amount of rent to break even. It all depends on the specific sublease situation, said John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization in Chicago, a tenant advocacy group.

“It is best to rent the unit to a trustworthy person,” Bartlett said. “And if that means suffering a small loss, then that is better rather than holding out to get the full rent or renting to someone with a less than stellar rental record.”

To avoid unexpected costs while you’re away, you can add additional clauses to the agreement to make sure your subletter complies with the terms of the lease. A few common examples:

  • Require the subtenant to take responsibility for any damage to the apartment during the stay.
  • The subtenant should keep furniture in good condition, assuming you plan to leave personal items.
  • If you live in a city that has specific recycling requirements, you can ask your subletter to follow those rules to avoid fines.

Ask for a security deposit

If you are subletting your apartment, experts suggested you take at least one month’s rent as a security deposit. You can request more if you think it’s appropriate, but for tenants of rent-stabilized apartments in New York, you can only take one month’s rent as a security deposit by law.

Remove yourself from the lease, if you can

Bartlett said in many leases, the tenant and subletter appear on the same lease contract. As a result, they will be jointly liable for damages or missed payments. That means that the landlord can go after one tenant or both if things go wrong.

If you don’t plan to return to the apartment, Bartlett recommended you try to convince the landlord to take you off the lease and sign a new lease with your subtenant. That would be the ideal situation for you, but the landlord has little incentive to sign a new lease if they can get you, the tenant on record, to pay rent should things go awry with the subtenant, Rozen said. Your landlord may refuse, but it’s worth a try. Sweetening the deal by paying a negotiated fee to your landlord may be worth it, Bartlett said.

Things you should do before subletting your apartment

Subletting means you become the landlord to the subletter, and there’s no contractual relationship between the subletter and your actual landlord, Jennifer Rozen, a New York City tenant lawyer, told MagnifyMoney.

If a subletter fails to pay rent, or damages the apartment, as long as the lease is still in effect, you could still be on the hook for the full rent amount or the damages, tenants’ rights experts said.

Given the potential risks involved in subletting, here’s some homework you need to do before giving your apartment key to your subtenant:

Before you do anything, review your state’s landlord-tenant laws and regulations. Every state has its own sublet laws, so it’s a good idea to understand your rights and obligations as a tenant.

In some places, like Illinois and New York, you have the legal right to sublet as long as the landlord doesn’t reasonably deny it. In New York, requests must be in writing and sent by certified mail with an attached proposed sublease that includes the subletter’s information. The landlord has 10 days to look over your request and ask additional questions, but Rozen says the entire approval process could take as long as two months. In other states, including Iowa and Kansas, you cannot sublet unless your lease permits it.

No laws prohibit subletting, but the subletting procedure may vary greatly based on specific leases. You should see if your lease has restrictions on subletting. If the lease or the state law requires you to contact the landlord and go through a formal process, then you need to abide.

In many states, landlords cannot unreasonably deny a subtenant, but they do want to be involved in a sublease, according to Bartlett.

“They’re not going to want some person that they don’t even know who it is to live in their unit,” Bartlett said.

Once you are clear on your obligations and responsibilities, you can start looking for a subtenant. Experts interviewed by MagnifyMoney strongly advised that you interview your candidate(s) and do your due diligence.

One way to protect yourself as a tenant is to call your potential subletter’s previous landlords to inquire about his/her rent payment history, Bartlett said. Rozen said it’s legal for you to request W-2s, recent pay stubs and credit reports from the prospective subtenant, or recent bank statements if this person is a freelancer or unemployed.

“You definitely shouldn’t get yourself in a situation where you no longer have the right to be in the apartment because you find the sublease, [but] you don’t know whether the person is financially viable,” said Rozen, who has represented hundreds of residential and commercial tenants.

If you want to go forward with a subtenant whose financials are questionable, you could ask him or her to pay upfront the partial or full rent amount for the sublease. “That’s the safest thing to do because the only thing you can do as the tenant of record is pay the rent to avoid getting sued by the landlord, then you have to go after the subtenant,” Rozen said.

What’s the risk of subletting without asking your landlord?

Although it’s best to inform your landlord of the sublease and follow the rules, in reality, many people don’t do that. It’s fine if you don’t get caught, but the consequences could be severe if you do.

In many leases, Bartlett said, there’s a clause stating that the unit is only for the person named on the lease. If the landlord finds out that a tenant has sublet their property while keeping it in the dark, the landlord could terminate the lease and demand that you leave the property. You could be liable for any damages or unpaid rent, experts said.

In New York, if your landlord finds out about a subtenant he or she didn’t approve, or simply doesn’t want the subtenant, the landlord may send you a legal notice requiring you to remove your subletter in 10 days. The landlord cannot directly evict the subtenant without getting you involved. Miss the deadline and your landlord could terminate your lease and try to evict you in housing court, which in turn, removes the subtenant. Or worse: “If you have a legal fee provision in your lease, then the landlord would be entitled to collect their legal fees from you if you go to court … and lose,” Rozen said.

What to do when things go wrong?

When she was in law school, Rozen sublet her apartment, but her subtenant wouldn’t leave the apartment when the lease was up and stopped paying rent.

In that situation, Rozen said the tenant would have to file a claim in court against the subtenant. Such cases often takes months, unless your subtenant voluntarily moves out after the case is filed. In Rozen’s case, her subletter finally left the apartment willingly, but he skipped on two months’ rent and left town. It was too late for Rozen to sue at that point.

“I will never make that mistake again,” Rozen said. “I was a poor law student.”

If your subletter doesn’t pay rent or damages your apartment, Rozen said the first step is to write a demand letter explaining the situation and threatening to sue if they don’t repay the rent or the costs.

If a demand letter doesn’t work, an easy and inexpensive way to handle the situation is to file a small claims lawsuit, which typically doesn’t require hiring an attorney, Rozen said. You could collect up to a few thousand dollars, depending on your state. In New York, for instance, the maximum is $5,000.

Resources for tenants

There are many housing advocacy groups across the country dedicated to helping tenants. When involved in disputes with your landlord or your subletter, you can turn to local organizations for legal advice and assistance. To find your local tenant advocacy groups, check out this Tenant Rights page on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

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Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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