MONEY Debt

4 of the Weirdest Reasons People Have Gone Into Debt

Girl surrounded by stuffed animals
Maarten Wouters—Getty Images

These cautionary tales show how NOT to handle your finances.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked in the field of debt resolution, helping thousands of people overcome their debt issues. Most clients come to me in debt due to what I would call “typical” reasons for falling into debt. This includes loss of income or unexpected medical issues in the family, which become difficult to manage when there are bills to pay. However, sometimes we see some unusual situations that led to debt, which I call “doozies.” Here are some doozies that top the list.

1. The Child Spoiler Client

A few years ago, I had a client with a large amount of credit card debt. So as we usually do with clients, we discussed the reasons for the debt. He put his chin down, looked away and said, “Really, this is because of my child, she’s my only child and I just can’t say no.” These expenses included private school at 5 years old, and horseback riding lessons at almost $2,000 a month. The compulsiveness – or, really, obsession – with his only child had put him into debt. He was spending more money on her every month than his mortgage and car payments combined.

My Advice: Stop the horses! Overspending will put you in debt, whether for you or others. Learning to say no, instilling good spending habits and limits will keep you off that pony ride.

2. The Dream Wedding Client

A couple came to me shortly after their wedding. They said they had a lot of credit card debt, and had expected to be able to pay it off after the wedding. When they told me they had $75,000 of debt, I asked how the amount got to be so high. They said they felt that their wedding was important to them and they never budgeted the expenses and just assumed they would rely on gifts to pay off those expenses from the wedding. They told me that they didn’t expect some of their relatives to be so “cheap” with gifts and as a result they received less money than they expected. They then fell short on paying the bills.

Furthermore, falling behind on your payments will also hurt your credit score, which causes a number of issues, including making the cost of debt more expensive for you over time. (You can see how your debt is affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

My Advice: Take a tier off of the cake! Make a budget and stick to it. Never rely on future money to pay off bills.

3. The “Don’t Tell My Spouse I Have Debt” Client

I was a bit surprised when one client came to me and said, “My husband doesn’t know about this debt so you cannot call my house or send any paperwork there.” This scenario really isn’t that uncommon. One partner has debt and the other has no idea about the debt or if they do know, they don’t know how much is really owed. These clients have even given me lists of times we can call and alternate addresses to send paperwork to. For these clients, the trend to keep secret debt often starts early on in the relationship where one has a credit card outside the relationship and begins to spend and not tell the other. This infidelity continues until the one partner simply doesn’t have the funds anymore to pay the bills and they are forced to come to us to resolve it for them secretly.

My Advice: Avoid financial infidelity at all costs. Communication is a key element in any good relationship, and talking to your partner openly and honestly about finances is no exception and can actually keep you out of debt.

4. The House Flipper Client

A few years ago I had a steady stream of clients who came to me after they lost money in attempts to flip houses in places like Florida and Vegas. They told me that their friends made money doing this so they thought they’d try it, too. My flippers believed that they could purchase a cheap house in a short sale and invest in improvements and then sell the property for a profit. While this is a great idea if you’ve budgeted for time post-construction if the house doesn’t sell, it can jam you financially if you don’t have the money to pay the bills until the house is sold. Which is exactly what happened to them when the market fell out. They couldn’t sell the house in a short time and they were left with a house they couldn’t afford and mounting debt.

My Advice: There are lots of good ideas to make money, but before making any attempts, make sure you’ve done your homework and are prepared to handle the worst-case scenario.

Remember, maintaining good financial health can come down to good old-fashioned common sense. So many of these “doozies” could have been avoided had many of these people simply taken the time to stop, think about what they were doing, and focus on the reality of spending and budgeting.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Investing

6 Ways Newbie Landlords Can Protect Against Bad Tenants

Hoarder apartment
Alamy

Skip the hassle of dealing with deadbeat renters by adding these steps to your screening process.

One of the main components of being a successful real estate investor is finding good, qualified renters for your properties. There are few things more frustrating and cash flow draining than a renter who is always late on paying their bills or worse, a renter who never makes their payments.

Here are six easy tips for you to follow to protect yourself against deadbeat renters.

1. Before you rent your property, come up with a “perfect renter” profile.

To do this, first list the main selling points of your house from a renter’s point of view. What does the perfect renter do for a living? Do they have children? What would be the renter’s interests? Once you have your avatar built, then you can actively start marketing your property to the perfect client.

For example, if the main selling point of your house its school district, then you might want to let the local PTA group of the grade school, middle school, and high school know that your house is on the rental market. You might also want to put up flyers of your house on the school’s community board.

2. Perform background checks.

This might seem like a very logical thing to do, but you would be surprised at how many landlords never ask the prospective tenant for a background check. The one I use is Tenant Background Search. This service provides me with an eviction report, FICA score, and nationwide criminal background report — and the best part is that it costs around $25 per report.

3. Have a real estate attorney provide you with all legal documents.

Don’t be cheap and buy your rental agreements off the internet at one of these do it yourself websites. Many of these agreements have loopholes that allow the renter too much wiggle room. As my father always told me, “Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.”

Related: 6 Reasons Landlords Should Thank Their Tenants This Holiday Season

To prepare for the worse, you should go into the agreement with the understanding that you might have to take legal action against the renter — so wouldn’t you feel more at ease knowing that your attorney provided the legal agreement?

4. Be upfront and honest with the renters before they rent.

I have one rental property here in Orlando that has joust windows. Now, these windows give the house a lot of character, and it does give the house a lot of appeal; however, these windows are not air tight, and the electricity bill can be quite expensive, especially in the summer months. I have always been very upfront with all the renters, and I even put this warning in the contractual agreement.

What is interesting is that I have had only one person who decided not to rent the house because of this language, and not one renter in the past 8 years has tried to get out of the rental agreement early due to the high monthly upkeep. On the flip side, the house next door has the same joust windows, and that house always seems to have a “for rent” sign in the yard. As a landlord it is always the best practice to be fair and upfront when dealing with your tenants.

5. Include routine maintenance in the monthly rental amount.

I had to learn this the hard way by having to re-sod the front yard to one of my houses because the tenants never cut the grass, and the yard was overrun with weeds. There is nothing that will hurt the value of a house more than poor curb appeal.

Related: Rent Payment Plans Can Benefit Both Tenant & Landlord: Here’s Why

To protect your investment, include the upkeep of the yard, spraying of weeds, trash removal service, etc. in the monthly amount. This way, you can pay to have someone other than the renter provide these services, and you can make sure they are done properly.

6. Make sure the renters provide their own insurance.

It is always a good idea to put in the agreement that the renters must provide their own renter’s insurance. This way, if something unfortunate happens, it does not back up on you. I also think it is a good idea to have the rental property or properties set up in an LLC; this way, your personal assets are protected should something happen unexpectedly at your rental property. If your accountant tells you an LLC is not advantageous for you, then I would get a million or two million dollar umbrella policy for extra protection.

Being a landlord is really not that hard — just be careful and treat people fairly. Word of mouth is the best marketing, and people want to rent from good landlords.

Read more from The Bigger Pockets Blog:
-7 Smart Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Property Inspection
-Offering Rent Specials to Tenants Can Be a Costly Mistake: Here’s Why
-11 Things Landlords Should Be Doing Every Year…But Probably Aren’t

TIME Startups

This Startup Wants to Make Your Next Move Less of a Nightmare

Moving
Man moving boxes Alistair Berg—Getty Images

Updater helps you manage all those address changes and utility switches

Moving to a new home can fill homebuyers with excitement—and dread.

The laundry list of companies that a person needs to inform about a move can feel daunting. Forgetting just a couple can mean your magazine subscriptions are lost in the mail, your bank statements wind up in a stranger’s mailbox or your lights won’t turn on the day you arrive in the new house. A new startup is aiming to help avoid these headaches by streamlining the entire process.

Updater, based in New York, allows people to quickly inform magazines, charities, alumni associations and other types of businesses of their change of address all at once from a single Web interface. Users can quickly see what utility companies offer services in their new neighborhood. The website can also help people find moving companies to make the physical move easier. Overall, the company claims it can save users five hours worth of paperwork during the moving process.

Company founder David Greenberg got the idea for Updater, unsurprisingly, when he was moving within Manhattan. “The process was just incredibly inefficient,” says Greenberg, who was a merger-and-acquisition lawyer before becoming a CEO. “I was literally making a list of the 20 businesses I need to reach out to.”

Founded in 2011, the company initially marketed its services to individual movers, but failed to gain much traction. But Greenberg had a breakthrough in 2013 when he instead decided to sell the service to real estate brokerages, which could in turn get their agents to offer it to all of their customers whenever they moved.

Updater partnered with the National Association of Realtors, which placed the startup in its tech incubator and eventually participated in an $8 million funding round as well. Courting realtors has proven to be a winning strategy: Updater is now being used at 150 real estate brokerages across the country by more than 15,000 real estate agents. In total, about 50,000 moves are now being aided with Updater each month, which the company says comprises about 5% of the total moves in the United States.

The company is still unprofitable, but Greenberg says he expects to close another funding round in the first half of 2015 and double the company’s market share by the end of the year.

Updater is one of a growing number of tech startups aimed at bringing more efficiency to the world of real estate, which can seem oddly archaic to young homebuyers used to used to making all kinds of purchases via the Internet.

“The new homebuyers who are young are really expecting a great client experience and they’re expecting great technology to help them through the transaction,” Greenberg says.

For now, the range of businesses that can be used through Updater is limited. You can’t transfer your power bill with Con Edison, for instance, or change the address on your American Express card. The startup also doesn’t handle especially sensitive info, like bank account numbers or social security numbers, which means some updates still have to be made the old-fashioned way. But the company has 10,000 businesses on board so far and expects to lure in more big fish as its user base grows. It’s also beginning to work with property managers so apartment renters can start having more seamless moves as well.

Agents say the tool is useful for keeping homebuyers happy even after signing on the dotted line, which can help boost referrals.

“Buying a home is so exciting, but once the reality sets in that you have to move all your stuff, it completely kills the joy,” says Anne Marie Gianutsos, the digital director for the real estate brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, which uses Updater to help movers in the suburbs north of New York City. “It’s stressful. Anything that’s going to make life easier for our clients, we are thrilled to offer to them.”

MONEY mortgages

Here Come Cheap Mortgages for Millennials. Should We Worry?

young couple admiring their new home
Justin Horrocks—Getty Images

The federal agencies that guarantee most mortgages are launching new loan programs that require only 3% down payments for first-time buyers. Is this the start of financial crisis redux?  

According to new research from Trulia, in metro areas teeming with millennials, such as Austin, Honolulu, New York, and San Diego, more than two-thirds of the homes for sale are out of reach for the typical millennial household.

That goes a long way to explaining why first-time homebuyers have recently accounted for about one-third of homes sales, according to the National Association of Realtors, down from a historic norm of about 40%. And it should concern you even if you’re not a millennial or related to one: A shortage of first-time buyers makes it harder for households that want to trade up to find potential buyers; and spending by homeowners for homes and housing-related services accounts for about 15% of GDP.

Now the federal government appears intent on reversing the trend — or at least on easing the pain of the still-sluggish housing industry.

Trulia’s dire analysis assumes that buyers need to make a 20% down payment — a high hurdle for anyone, let along a younger adult. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government agencies that guarantee the vast majority of mortgages, this week launched new loan options that will require down payments of as little as 3% for first-time buyers (and, in limited instances, refinancers as well). Fannie’s program will be live next week; Freddie’s, which will be available to repeat buyers as well, will launch in early spring.

Before you get all “Isn’t that the sort of lax standard that fueled the financial crisis!?”, it’s important to realize significant differences between now and then.

The only deals that will qualify for the 3%-down programs are plain-vanilla 30-year fixed-rate loans. No adjustable-rate deals, no teaser-rate come-ons, and, lordy, no interest-only payment options. And flippers are not welcome; the home must be the borrower’s principal residence.

Both Fannie Mae’s MyCommunityMortgage and Freddie Mac’s Home Possible Mortgage program are aimed at moderate-income households. For example, to qualify for Fannie Mae’s program, household income must typically be below the area median. Income limits are relaxed a bit in some high cost areas, such as the State of California (up to 140% of the local median) and pricey counties in New York (165% of the median).

That said, lenders will be allowed to extend these loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 620. That’s even lower than the average 661 FICO credit score for Federal Housing Administration-insured loan applications that were turned down in October, according to mortgage data firm Ellie Mae. (The average FICO credit score for FHA approved loans was 683.)

Like FHA-insured loans, the new 3% mortgages offered by Fannie and Freddie will require home buyers have private mortgage insurance (PMI). That can add significantly to mortgage costs.

For example, a $300,000 home purchased with a 3.5% fixed rate loan and a 3% down payment would have monthly principal and interest charges of about $1,300 a month. The PMI adds another $240 or so to the monthly cost; that’s nearly 20% of the base monthly mortgage amount. (You can estimate the bite of PMI using Zillow’s Mortgage Calculator.)

But one significant advantage the new Fannie/Freddie loan programs have over the FHA program is that they will allow homeowners to cancel their PMI once their home equity reaches at least 20%. Beginning in 2013, the annual insurance charge on FHA-insured loans, currently 1.35% of the loan balance, can never be cancelled regardless of whether the borrower has more than 20% equity.

 

MONEY home prices

Brooklyn Is Now the Least Affordable Housing Market in the Country

Brooklyn brownstones
Jay Lazarin—Getty Images

Big surprise.

GENTRIFICATION, noun.

The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

- Merriam-Webster

Poor hipsters. In the process of turning Brooklyn into a hive of artisanal mustache boutiques and fixie-bike shops, they may have priced themselves out of the neighborhood. According to a recent study by RealtyTrac, which analyzed the affordability of 475 counties through October 2014, Kings County—also known as Brooklyn—was the least affordable in the nation.

The study gauges affordability by measuring the percentage of the locality’s median monthly household income that is required to make monthly payments on a median-priced home in the area.

When RealtyTrac ran the nation-wide numbers in October, payments on a median-priced home required 26% of the average household income. In Brooklyn, by contrast, where the median home costs $615,000 and the median household brings in only $46,960, home payments take up about 98% of a regular family’s wages. That’s less affordable than Manhattan — and even than San Francisco, where half of all homes sell for $1 million or more.

In fact, the typical homebuyer has been priced out of the borough’s real estate for longer than you might have thought. RealtyTrac’s report also measures affordability between January 2000 and October 2014. Over that 14-year period, home payments on a median-priced house still would have cost the typical family 95% of their income. Earlier this year, RealtyTrac found Brooklyn was also one of the most expensive places for young people looking to rent.

Why has BKLN gotten so expensive? The answer is probably a mixture of stagnant wages, investor interest, and an influx of more affluent residents. “Incomes have not grown nearly as fast as home prices” in the regions where affordability declined, said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in an interview with Bloomberg. “That disconnected home-price growth has been driven by investors and other cash buyers who aren’t as constrained by income.”

MONEY real estate

103-Year-Old Texas Woman Fights to Keep Her House

Man in suit holding foreclosure signs
Pamela Moore—Getty Images

An elderly woman is battling a bank that's trying to foreclosure on her.

A 103-year-old Texas woman is fighting to keep her home after she let her insurance lapse, a CBS affiliate in the Dallas/Fort Worth area reports. Myrtle Lewis told CBS she accidentally let her insurance expire and renewed it after noticing the mistake, but the gap in coverage apparently violated the loan agreement for her reverse mortgage. Now, OneWest Bank, which holds the loan, is attempting to foreclose on Lewis.

It’s unclear if it was mortgage or homeowner’s insurance, and when contacted by Credit.com, a public relations representative for OneWest said the bank declined to comment on Lewis’s case. One thing is clear: Lewis is worried about losing her home. In the interview with CBS, she said it “would break my heart.”

Lewis took out a reverse mortgage on the home in 2003, when she was 92. Reverse mortgages are a type of loan for homeowners ages 62 and older, allowing senior citizens to use the equity they’ve built in their properties without making monthly payments. Repayment is deferred until the borrower dies, moves or sells the home, but the homeowner is still responsible for paying taxes, insurance and any other fees associated with maintaining their home. A 2012 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said 10% of reverse mortgage borrowers face foreclosure because they fail to pay taxes or insurance.

Missing insurance payments may not seem like a huge deal, especially if you correct the mistake, but it is. It’s not unheard of for homeowners to face foreclosure because of something seemingly small, like unpaid homeowners’ association fees, but there are serious consequences for not upholding your end of a loan agreement. Foreclosure will also negatively affect your credit for years.

A focal point of the CFPB’s 2012 reverse mortgage report is that these loans need to be better explained to and understood by borrowers, and it found that many lenders were deceptively marketing reverse mortgages to senior citizens. Lewis’s case may be in the process of unfolding, but no matter what happens, her story is a good reminder to consumers that there’s often not room for error with large loans. It’s crucial to understand your responsibilities before putting your financial future and well-being on the line.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY buying a home

How to Beat Newly Hot Real Estate Markets

Buying in a hot market can be tough. These tips can help beat the competition.

How much house will $2 million get you in the United States these days?

You could buy 25 pretty nice four-bedroom, two-bath homes in Cleveland, Ohio. Or, you could get just one modest ranch house in Los Altos, California, the most expensive real estate market in the country, according to a new survey by Coldwell Banker.

But, then again, you would probably get beat out by an all-cash buyer offering a higher bid.

Competition is fierce in today’s emerging hot real estate markets because the inventory of available properties is still extremely low. In areas like Silicon Valley, though, the economy is humming and buyers have plenty of money.

Los Altos is in the middle of the action, surrounded by the corporate headquarters for Google, Facebook and dozens of other major tech companies, as are other California cities: Newport Beach, Saratoga, Redwood City and Los Gatos, the rest of the top five on Coldwell’s list.

As other markets heat up around the country, buyers can learn a few things from what’s happening in some of the hottest places.

NEW MATH

If there is one thing Silicon Valley’s techies know, it’s algorithms. You’re going to need one in today’s top markets to figure out how far above asking you need to bid.

Sumi Kim Hachmann, a 32-year-old researcher at Quora.com, snagged her three-bedroom, one-bath house in Menlo Park last year after six months of trying. Each time she found a house she liked, she crunched the square footage and comparable sales to figure out how much to bid, refining her math each time she lost out.

She liked a fixer-upper listed at $1.1 million, and was willing to bid $100,000 over asking. Her agent told her to double that, at least. She did, but the sellers countered. The house sold for $1.4 million to somebody else

“That was definitely discouraging,” Hachman says. “But it was a learning experience.”

Next time, she went in with a strong offer that amounted to $1,000 per square foot, and won. Now, a year later, she’s incredulous that houses in the neighborhood are going for double that.

While price is largely controlled by location and size, you need to add a premium to your offer if you need a mortgage, says Joe Brown, managing broker of a Coldwell branch in Los Altos. Bids being equal, sellers prefer all-cash because there is less risk. Price will still prevail, though, so a higher bid from a qualified buyer with a mortgage should win.

Another caveat: Keep contigencies out of the purchase agreement. Doing this is difficult for mortgage-seekers because banks typically require that the purchase price match the appraised value of the house. With prices going so far above asking, that can get tricky.

“You either ask them to put a lot more down or have them sign something that they will waive the appraisal contingency,” says Ducky Grabill, a founding agent of Sereno Group realty, who is based in Los Gatos.

Grabill also suggests having the lender call the listing agent and let them know they will guarantee the financing.

LOWER EXPECTATIONS

Another strategy is to buy below your price point, says Brown. If you have the resources for a $2 million house but cannot compete with stronger buyers, then aim for $1.5 million and turn it into the house you want.

This is a modification of the old “buy the worst house in the best neighborhood” adage. But you cannot just sit on this kind of property and hope it will appreciate; you’ve got to renovate.

That’s what Amy Bohutinsky, chief marketing officer of real estate site Zillow.com, did with her own purchase of a fixer-upper in the Seattle area two years ago.

“If you buy it with the intent of fixing it up, it can be an easier way” into a house than engaging in a bidding war, Bohutinsky says.

She also recommends expanding the boundaries of your search: considering for-sale-by-owner properties, preview listings like Zillow’s “Make Me Move” section and “coming attractions” on listing sites.

BE READY

It is not enough anymore to show up at an open house pre-qualified for a mortgage and with a letter that sells yourself. You may need to have an engineer or other inspector come along, says Sereno Group’s Grabill.

She had a client recently clinch a $2 million all-cash deal after his first viewing, but only because he was able to do his due diligence on the foundation issues immediately.

This buyer was one of those bidding down on a property. He was really in the market for more like $2.5 million, and will put the remainder of his budget into fixing it up.

“They are throwing so much more money at properties to get it. It’s a little crazy,” Grabill says.

MONEY buying a home

Homebuyers ‘Addicted’ to Online Listings—But Accuracy Is Still an Issue

141117_EM_homebuyers_1
Getty Images

Almost two-thirds of recent home buyers surveyed said they were "addicted" to online listings, but only 22% said they were always accurate.

A new study from Discover Home Loans confirms the extent to which technology has transformed the way people buy and sell houses. But it also shows the limits of using online real estate sites when shopping for a home.

According to the survey, which polled 1,003 recent homebuyers on how technology affected their experience, 83% used listings sites like Zillow and Trulia, more than any other online resource. But the majority of respondents weren’t always satisfied with what they found. Only 22% said online listings were always accurate. The results reinforce previous studies, which found a disparity between the accuracy of listings on third-party websites and those found on local Multiple Listing Services, the primary tool of real estate brokers. Those listings tend to be updated more quickly than consumer-facing sites.

Zillow and Trulia have previously responded to such studies, noting that their sites also offer special tools to educate buyers on neighborhoods and housing conditions, and include listings of for-sale-by-owner, premarket and new-construction homes that don’t show up in MLSs.

Alison Paoli, public relations manager with Zillow, noted that while she hadn’t seen the full research, “what’s more important to understand about a study like this is that there is no gold standard for [accuracy in] real estate listings.” She added that Zillow gives brokers, agents, and MLSs the option of sending their listings directly at no cost. “Accuracy is top priority for us,” Paoli.

Accuracy aside, the survey showed that buyers still love trolling listing websites. The vast majority of respondents said technology made them feel “smarter” and “more confident,” and almost half said it helped them save money. In fact, two thirds said looking at online property listings “reached the point of becoming addictive.”

T.J. Freeborn, senior manager of customer experience at Discover Home Loans, said the results show that buyers still need a combination of online information and local expertise. “I think technology is an incredibly useful tool in this marketplace, but Realtors have a very deep knowledge of neighborhoods and particular homes,” Freeborn said.

Discover’s data shows buyers tended to shun social media when looking for houses—a surprising result in a world where virtually all other activities are in some way connected to Facebook and Twitter. Only 25% of homebuyers collected ideas on social media, and just 29% used social media to consult friends. (Given how hot some real estate markets have become, perhaps their reluctance can be chalked up to justifiable paranoia about oversharing.)

That data could have implications for home sellers. At least for now, a social media presence is far less important than making sure your home is listed online.

Get answers to your home buying questions from MONEY101:
How Do I Shop for a House?
How Do I Choose the Right Real Estate Agent?
How Do I Negotiate the Best Price on a New Home?

 

TIME movies

You Can Live in ‘The Godfather’ House for About $3 Million

And it has a "man cave" in it

Here’s a real estate offer you can’t refuse: The house that was used as the Corleone family home in The Godfather is on the market for a cool $2.895 million.

The 6,248-square-foot English Tudor in the Emerson Hill area of Staten Island was home to Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic 1972 movie. The home has changed hands only once since Marlon Brando and Al Pacino filmed there.

The exterior and nearby gardens were the setting for Corleone’s daughter’s wedding at the beginning of the movie. And while the interior of the house wasn’t used in the film, the owners renovated it in 2012 to make some rooms look like the ones in the movie.

The real-estate listing for the property notes that the house has an English pub and a “man cave” area. Sounds perfect for watching, well, The Godfather.

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