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Americans in These States Are Most Stressed About Their Finances

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Personal finance can be stressful, but not every American is dealing with the same hurdles. That’s why MagnifyMoney, a subsidiary of LendingTree, analyzed Google Trends data to see which states expressed the most interest in the following nine areas: credit card debt, student loan debt, credit score, loan refinance, payday loan, debt relief, bankruptcy, debt collection and debt consolidation.

Researchers rated which states were most and least stressed based on how many locals were searching nine personal finance terms on Google. Data was measured between 0 and 100 to represent the popularity of a search. The state with the highest number of searches represents the top of the popularity scale, ranking at 100. Other states were then given a percentage number based on how they compared to the top state.

Key findings

  • New York took the top spot as the most financially stressed state with a final score of 80.7 across the nine Googled terms. Payday loans were the least searched term; in New York, it scored just 16 in relative interest.
  • Louisiana came in second. In contrast to New York, payday loans were a popular search.
  • Nevada takes third. This state scored highest in debt relief and debt collection.
  • Southern states featured prominently in the top 10. Apart from Louisiana in second place, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia also claimed top 10 spots. Aside from Virginia, states in the southeast tend to lag behind the rest of the country in terms of income, although their cost of living also tends to be lower. Mississippi and Alabama also have elevated poverty rates.
  • The bottom spots of the list, which represent the least financially stressed states, were filled by Northeastern states: Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey.
  • Alaska and Hawaii also both scored well; they searched stressful financial topics significantly less often than other states. Neither Googled payday loans very often.
  • Payday loans had the lowest search popularity with an average of 32 across the states. That means the average state searched it on the web 32% as often as the top state, which is Louisiana in this case.
  • Although Wyoming had the highest relative search frequency for debt collection and debt consolidation, it scored a zero for student loan debt and loan refinance. This pushed the state into the middle of the pack.

What financial stressors are weighing on your state?

In the below map, hover over each state to view its ranking (with a score of 1 being the state with the most Google searches related to financial stress) and its average score. This average score accounts for how frequently residents Googled the nine analyzed search terms.

Below that, you’ll see a more in-depth chart that breaks down each state’s scoring across the nine terms. The higher the score, the more frequently the term was searched.

5 most financially stressed states

1. New York

New York state scored highly across almost all keywords searched, especially topics regarding credit card debt (100), loan refinancing (99) and debt relief (99). The only category it placed lowly was payday loans (16). This is something worth celebrating when you consider the notoriously high interest and fees on payday loans.

New Yorkers appear to be struggling across the board, at least in New York City. The Big Apple is the second-worst metro for a balanced lifestyle, according to another MagnifyMoney study. Income and housing prices were two of the main issues that lead to such a low lifestyle score.

2. Louisiana

Louisiana is the second-most financially stressed state, thanks to high search frequency for payday loans (100), credit scores (89), and debt relief (88). Debt and the fear residents may have surrounding it seem to be a primary concern. A desire to pay off debt may be why so many Louisiana residents are investigating payday loan options.

In a separate study on the happiest U.S. states, Louisiana came in as one of the unhappiest states. While their financial troubles may be weighing down residents, other factors like health and lifestyle pulled the state down in rankings.

3. Nevada

Nevada’s luck may be running out. At least for those who are financially stressed about debt relief (100), debt collection (91) and bankruptcy (78). Nevada residents appear to be searching for help to pay off debt and avoid bankruptcy. Their financial stress may be taking a toll on their happiness; like Louisiana, Nevada was among the 10 unhappiest states.

One financial area Nevada residents doesn’t appear to be as concerned with is student loans. The state holds a ranking of 51 out of 100 when it comes to Googling student loans.

4. Virginia

Virginia is one of four southern states that had the misfortune of making into the 10 states most stressed about personal finance. They scored fairly high across all topics analyzed, except for payday loans (ranked at 36). Their No. 1 concern appears to be bankruptcy (90), followed closely by debt relief (89).

That being said, not all of Virginia appears to be struggling due to financial issues. Virginia Beach in particular was found to be one of the top 10 metro areas (out of the 50 largest in the U.S.) that live a balanced lifestyle.

5. Mississippi

Mississippi’s top concerns were related to credit scores (100), bankruptcy (89) and payday loans (90) — all important financial issues that could signal financial struggles.

Mississippi residents may be struggling with credit card debt in particular. MagnifyMoney found that Mississippi households had an average credit card debt of $6,217.60. The state was also the fifth-least happy state in the U.S., which is another potential sign of financial struggles.

5 least financially stressed states

51. Vermont

Vermont, everyone’s favorite spot for a cozy weekend at a bed-and-breakfast, is pretty relaxed when it comes to personal finance. The state landed the coveted least-stressed state on the list.

The state ranked very low for searches on issues like payday loans (6). Needing a payday loan can be a sign of larger financial issues, so scoring low for this term can be a positive indicator of good financial health among Vermont residents.

50. Connecticut

Similar to Vermont, Connecticut has a low interest in payday loans (11). There was a large disparity between the second-lowest state on this list (Connecticut) compared to the second highest; Louisiana had a ranking of 100 when it came to payday loan issues.

Connecticut also fared well when it came to searching for debt relief (40). The area residents seem to struggle with most is credit card debt (70).

49. New Jersey

Things are looking up for the Garden State. New Jersey was the third least-stress state when it came to personal finance. Their top concern, bankruptcy, ranked at 71. But the top three states with the most financial stress, New York, Louisiana, and Nevada all had scores of 77 or higher when it came to this particular issue.

48. Alaska

Aside from payday loans (21), Alaska residents worry about specific financial topics pretty evenly. Their scores across the eight other terms range from 49 to 69, with a total average of 56.

But the one financial topic they really aren’t happy about is credit card debt. Their highest ranking concern checks out, when you consider the average Alaskan household has over $11,400 in debt, according to another MagnifyMoney study.

47. Hawaii

It seems like living the island lifestyle is paying off. Hawaii residents have fairly low concerns about personal finance compared with other states. They ranked fairly low when it came to taking an interest in payday loans (24).

But similar to Alaska, Hawaiians expressed some concerns over credit card debt. Households in Hawaii also have over $10,000 in credit card debt on average. While they’re doing well compared to most other states when it comes to stress, Hawaiians have some progress to make when it comes to financial wellness.

Methodology

In order to rank the most financially stressed states, researchers analyzed Google trends data for nine terms: Credit card debt, student loan debt, credit score, loan refinance, payday loan, debt relief, bankruptcy, debt collection and debt consolidation. Google trends data covers the July 26, 2016 to July 26, 2019 time period.

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The Most (And Least) Charitable Places in the U.S.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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In order to find the most charitable places in America, researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas.

Giving to charity is a good thing, generally speaking. Not only may you support a cause you care about, but it could help lower your tax burden if you itemize deductions.

However, despite these benefits, our researchers found that certain places in the U.S. are more charitable than others. They compared 2017 itemized tax returns and analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas to determine which places in the U.S. were the most charitable.

Key findings

  • Ogden, Utah, is the most charitable place in the U.S., followed by Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis.
  • In Birmingham, more than 89% of tax returns itemized deduction donations to charity.
  • Southern metro areas tended to be the most charitable. Seven of the top 10 most charitable places are in the South.
  • Religious centers tended to be more charitable than non-religious. The religious South and Utah tended to be the more charitable, while the less-religious Northeast tended to score the worst in our metrics. One obvious explanation for this is that church donations are tax-deductible for people who itemize.
  • Springfield, Massachusetts was the least charitable metro area in the study. People itemizing their tax returns there gave just 2% of their income.
  • Springfield’s neighbors were also stingy when it came to giving to charity. Worcester came in second-to-last. Here, tax returns with itemized deductions showed an average of 1.8% of income donated to charity.
  • The poorest who gave to charity tended to be the most generous, although the poorest tended to donate the least often, a fact that has not changed over time. According to 2016 data, Americans who earned at least $1 but less than $10,000 donated 14% of their income on average, though just 58.5% of them had charitable deductions.
  • The rich are more likely to have charitable deductions but tend to give a smaller portion of their income.

Rankings: The most charitable U.S. metro areas

This map shows how the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. ranked according to the percentage of people who took charitable donation deductions on their tax returns in 2017. Areas represented by a blue dot are the most charitable, while those represented with orange dots are the least charitable. Purple and red dots represent areas that fall in the middle of our rankings.

The most charitable metro areas are located in states that are known for being heavily religious — Utah and the Bible Belt in the Southeast. The Northeast tends to be less religious and is blanketed with metro areas that have low donation rates.

Utah is a standout state when it comes to charitable giving, with two metro areas in the top 10. Ogden claims the top spot, and Salt Lake City comes in sixth place. Most of the rest of the top 10 is made up of metro areas in the Southeast: Birmingham, Ala. (second), Memphis, Tenn. (third), Atlanta (fourth), and Augusta, Ga. (fifth).
Springfield, Mass., is at the very bottom of our list rankings, with Worcester, Mass., following in the 99th slot. The rest of the bottom five includes: Scranton, Penn. (98th), Allentown, Pa. (96th), and Providence, R.I. (95th). Portland, Ore., represents the west coast as the 97th least charitable metro area on the list.

How charitable Americans are at different income levels

The following graphic shows how rates of charitable giving differ at various income levels. Each blue bar shows the percentage of tax returns on which itemized charitable donations were claimed at each income level. Each purple bar shows the average percentage of one’s income those charitable donations make up in each income bracket.


Overall, 81.9% of people itemized charitable deductions on their tax returns, and those donations make up an average of 3.4% of their income. Those who make more money tend to give to charity more often. Of people making $200,000 or more per year, 91% claim charitable deductions, while only 58.5% of those making less than $10,000 do so.

It’s not those who make the most who give the biggest portion of their income to charity, though. Those who make less than $10,000 a year give the biggest portion of their earnings (14%). Americans who make $100,000 to $199,000 give the smallest proportion of their income at just 2.7%.

Changes in charitable giving by year

In order to determine how charitable Americans are over time, we looked at charitable donations over a 12-year span. The following graphic reveals charitable giving as a percentage of income across various income levels.


Overall, the average percentage of income that’s claimed as a charitable donation has remained at fairly consistent levels between the years of 2004 (3.6%) and 2016 (3.5%). It dipped to a low of 3% in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.

Lower income brackets tend to have more ups and downs in charitable giving. In 2004, those making $5,000 or less donated an average 19.4% of their income to charity. But in 2007 and 2012, that average dropped to 14.6%.

Those in the highest income bracket on the graph ($10 million or more) made a significant jump in charitable donations in the last two years we analyzed, with their charitable donations going from 7% to 9.1% of their income.

5 tips if you’re donating to charity

While your intentions to donate to charity may be purely altruistic, if you’re making them, you may as well get credit for them if you can. Here are five things to keep in mind when making charitable contributions:

  • Research charities before donating. Sites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar provide information about charity missions, as well as how they operate and spend money.
  • Ask for verification of an organization’s tax status before donating. In order for your donation to be tax deductible, it must be made to an organization that qualifies under IRS guidelines as tax-exempt.
  • Remember: You can only claim charitable donations if you itemize your taxes. You won’t qualify for a deduction if you take the standard deduction. If your deductible expenses including charitable donations are greater than the standard exemption ($24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for single taxpayers in 2019) then itemizing can save you money. (If you’re unsure whether itemizing your taxes makes sense, you may need to seek out a pro.)
  • Request and keep your receipts. While you don’t need to submit them with your tax return, if you ever get audited, you want to have them on hand.
  • Keep these two dates in mind. Remember that even though taxes must be filed by April 15 each year, charitable deductions must be made by the end of the calendar year (December 31) in order to be claimed on your taxes for that year.

Methodology

In order to find the most charitable places in the U.S., researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas. Specifically, we compared them across the following three categories:

  • Percent of itemized returns with charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
  • Percent of adjusted gross income given to charity. This is the total deducted amount from charitable donations divided by total adjusted gross income for itemized returns. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
  • Average itemized charitable donation. This is the total amount donated to charity divided by the number of returns deducting charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.

We then created a score averaging the three percentile ranks each metro scored in each metric. Each metric was given the same weight. For the over-time data, we looked at the percent of adjusted gross income given to charity for each income bracket from 2004 to 2016.

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9 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Going Into Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

A marriage proposal can lead to much happiness, but it also can mean having to purchase an expensive engagement ring and, subsequently, getting into debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from one to three months’ salary on a diamond engagement ring. On average, couples spend a whopping $5,900 on engagement rings, according to a 2019 report by The Knot.

However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and even a debt-free engagement ring. Think of it this way: It can be far more romantic to propose with a paid-for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage. Here’s how you can purchase that ring without breaking your bank.

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#1 Set a budget

The first step you should take in the ring-buying process is setting a realistic budget for yourself. Don’t just go shopping with no maximum price in mind, as that may lead to you making a purchase you can’t really afford. If you know what you want to spend beforehand, and make sure you stick to that, you are already showing the kind of discipline that can help you avoid serious debt.

#2 Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend

Jewelry passed from generation to generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your family, or your future spouse’s family, if they have any heirlooms they would like to pass on. Keep in mind: Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades can run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you do obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.

2. Leave the ring intact (except for resizing and repair).

3. Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.

4. Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.

#3 Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish

Real diamonds are never truly inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.

Shop in the summertime. Because winter proposals are very popular (think Valentine’s Day), it can make a lot more financial sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months can offer stable pricing at a discount.

Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full-carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.

Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various areas of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less-expensive option. Also, be sure to comparison shop at different retailers; don’t just go with the first ring you love, as you may find something very similar, for less, at another shop.

#4 Replace the diamond, save the difference

Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.

Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.

Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is the hardest gemstone used in jewelry next to diamonds, and it ranks high on clarity and color scales, too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful and easily could pass for the real thing. (Pro tip: Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people do prefer authenticity.)

Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be aware that some gemstones are actually even more expensive than diamonds.

Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip traditional gemstones. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.

#5 Forgo tradition

Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings involve breaking tradition, and some couples are more open to an alternative ring style than others. These are a few ring choices that definitely buck tradition.

Wooden rings: Wooden engagement rings occupy a large niche in the market, and can be a cost-effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.

Tattooed rings: Some couples chose to get tattoos instead of rings, citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo. Keep in mind that this may be a dangerous option, as you will have a much harder time removing a tattoo than a ring if your relationship ends (either before or after the marriage).

Leather rings: Leather rings can include braiding, engraving and colored beads, among other stylings, and will certainly save you a bundle compared to a diamond. If you don’t want to go with real leather, faux leather can work as well.

Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. As you’ll be combining finances after you’re married, this may actually lead to some great money-focused conversations.

#6 Save money now, upgrade later

If your partner has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget, then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.

Propose with costume jewelry. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be just right for the proposal.

Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones, or upgrade when you can afford it.

#7 Buy used

Consider buying a ring that already has a history. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty and make it “yours.”

Visit pawn shops. You may be buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible.

Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.

Shop on eBay. Pre-owned rings from eBay can represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.

#8 Creative ways to get cash

Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.

Sell your memorabilia. Your partner may not be too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to help pay for an engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.

Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. While some people may find this a strange thing to do, there is no harm in being over-prepared. If you don’t end up using the money to buy a ring, it will be on-hand for other potential purchases (think a wonderful vacation, or a luxury item you really want).

Get a side hustle. People are increasingly taking on side hustles to earn extra cash, even if they have full-time jobs. This can include selling your artistic creations on Etsy, becoming an Uber or Lyft driver or writing freelance articles. Then you can put all the extra money you earn into an account for a ring.

#9 Consider a personal loan

It is definitely ideal to be able to purchase an engagement ring without going into debt at all. However, if you simply have to finance at least part of the ring’s purchase, you might consider a personal loan, as you may be able to get a better interest rate than with a credit card, depending on your own credit and where you are able to obtain your loan.

Bottom line

Getting married can be an expensive undertaking, and you don’t want to put yourself in a difficult financial place just by purchasing the engagement ring. Keep in mind the alternatives to the traditional pricey diamond, and also remember that the love you share with your partner should be far more important than buying a ring with a sky-high price tag. Avoiding debt as much as you can also means you’ll be starting off your new marriage on a financially healthy note.

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.