Rent Increase Laws: What Landlords Can (and Cannot) Do

rent increaseseccolo74/iStock

Rent increases are never, ever fun. Every year, I hold my breath when it’s time to renew my lease, in the hopes that the hike is still within my housing budget. Sure, it may be easier than ever to find homes for rent online, but I love where I live, and would like to stay there as long as I can.

Fortunately, my landlords have always played fair. But let’s be frank—some don’t. And when that happens, it leaves many tenants wondering: What are the rules on raising rent, anyway?

Read on for answers to the questions that keep renters up at night.

How often can landlords raise rent?

Landlords can’t just raise your rent whenever they feel like it; they have to wait until whatever contract you’ve signed with them expires, says Robert Pellegrini, president of PK Boston, a real estate and collections law firm with offices in the Greater Boston area. That means that if you have a lease, they can’t raise it until the lease term expires.

For example, if you’ve signed a one-year contract, it’ll be a year before rent can go up, or two years if you’ve signed a two-year lease (which is why signing a lease for two years or longer is wise, to keep the rent down).

Meanwhile, if you’re renting month-to-month, your rent can’t increase until the end of any given month. Simple rules. But real rules.

How much notice should renters receive of rent increases?

In most states, renters must be granted at least 30 days’ notice before a rent increase is enforced, although that can vary based on how much the rent will actually go up. In California, for instance, that advance notice expands to 60 days if the increase is more than 10% of the rent.

These rules are also typically true for a “tenant at will” (i.e., you do not have a lease) and, more surprisingly, a tenant in a rooming house, where you are likely to pay rent weekly.

“In this case, one would assume that seven days’ notice would suffice. Not the case!” says Pellegrini. “Tenants in rooming houses still require 30 days’ notice for a rent increase.”

No matter how strange your leasing terms may seem, or how unorthodox your housing situation, you may be surprised when it comes to your rights concerning rent increases.

How much can landlords legally increase what renters pay?

As unfortunate as it may be, rent increases are common, and many tenants expect some kind of increase every time their lease comes up. Still, some renters might find it hard to believe just how much the price of their housing goes up every year.

“When it comes to how much a landlord can raise rent, anything flies,” says Pellegrini. “There are no rules, and it’s totally at their discretion.” Except, of course, if you’re living in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment, in which case there are strict government provisions in place governing how much rent can be raised (or if it can be increased at all).

Finding one of these rent-controlled apartments is something like locating the holy grail. So, if you don’t know if you have a rent-controlled apartment, the chances are you do not.

If that’s the case, you, your lease, and your wallet are mostly at the mercy of your landlord and the rental market in your area. However, there are some exceptions to what your landlord can do, for example: raise the rent to punish a renter.

“If it looked to a judge like the landlord was raising rent punitively—say, for example, to get ‘payback’ for the tenant contacting the Board of Health for a health code violation—then this is not OK, and the landlord could be found guilty and made to pay as much as triple damages and court costs,” says Pellegrini.

In this case, it’s not about your rental agreement, the length of your lease, or even a housing market increase in your area. It’s about what is legal and illegal. If you think you may be a victim of a punitive rent increase, contact a lawyer.

Can a landlord raise rent retroactively?

The short answer is no. In most cases, if a landlord has slapped a tenant with a retroactive rent increase, he was negligent in letting the tenant know about the increase at the appropriate time. The renter can’t be held responsible for a rent increase he or she genuinely didn’t know about.

“Often, a landlord provides notice of the increased rent retroactively together, to try to bully renters out, knowing that the tenant might be overwhelmed due to the ‘back rent’ and would be more likely to vacate,” says Pellegrini.

If this is the case for you, be aware that a tenant can file suit against a landlord, or simply counterclaim if an eviction has already been initiated by the landlord.

What should renters do if they think their landlord illegally raised the rent?

So, now that you know a bit more about rent increases: What if you’re realizing that your rent may have been increased illegally?

Maybe your rent was increased illegally on a rent-controlled apartment. Or, perhaps you’re looking through your rental agreement and realizing that you weren’t due for an increase.

There are things you can do to protect yourself from an illegal rent increase.

“A tenant should keep track of every correspondence they receive,” says Pellegrini. “They should also take notes when communication is verbal, and keep track of the dates of each communication.” This is especially important when trying to prove harassment (to pay rent or otherwise).

But don’t assume that your landlord is automatically the bad guy.

“In my opinion, the vast majority of landlords do the right thing, and, out of the slim percentage that do not, they aren’t even aware that they did something incorrectly,” says Pellegrini.

“So, in all but a few cases, I’d highly recommend that the tenant communicate with the landlord first if something doesn’t seem right. If the tenant ends up in court, or starts things off in a threatening way, they should remember that the landlord owns the property. And, if the landlord finds the tenant to be difficult to work with, the landlord is entitled to allow the tenancy to expire and find a new tenant.”

So, you should yourself (and your money) from an unfair increase, but don’t go so far as to threaten your landlord and put your housing situation at risk. Remember that your landlord could have made an honest mistake.

It’s also possible that you could have miscalculated an increase along the way. If you come on too strong to correct the situation, you could potentially end up facing eviction.

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Watch: Is It Smarter to Rent or Buy?

The post Rent Increase Laws: What Landlords Can (and Cannot) Do appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter can be a tough time of year for many of us, especially after all the holiday excitement dwindles down. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. And this is when many of us start to feel the winter blues settling in. 

But there is good news. By planning out a few simple home improvements you can easily transform your space into a happier and cozier place to be, while also enjoying time spent inside. Sprucing up your home can feel good during any season, but certain projects are perfect for giving you a much-needed mood boost during this time of year. 

So, if winter is getting you down, consider these home improvement projects to help you beat those winter blues, no matter how short the days are or how low the temperatures drop.

painted living room

1. Repaint living spaces

Feeling like your home is in need of a dramatic change? A new coat of paint can be a cheap and effective way to switch things up in no time. During this time when many of us need a mood booster, take a page out of the psychology book, and surround yourself with colors that help you relax and increase happiness. In general, cool colors have a calming effect, while warm colors add comfort and can be invigorating. White can help brighten rooms by reflecting light. It makes a small space feel larger and more open, which can help you feel more energized.

Painting can require some patience, especially if you are considering a brand new color, but it’s easy enough for even a DIY beginner to accomplish. And, with the right attitude and a few friends or even some favorite music, you can make repainting your walls fun, too. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your painting project, consider hiring a local painting company to tackle it for you.

kitchen lighting

2. Update your home’s lighting 

What better way to brighten and warm your spirits this winter than with the perfect lighting. Not to mention it’s an easy and affordable way to make your home a more comfortable place to spend time.

Instead of sticking with whatever fixtures came in your home when you bought it, you can use the doldrums of winter as an excuse to try this simple home improvement. Light fixtures are affordable and can often be installed without an expert. Whether you repurpose your holiday string lights or invest in a daylight lamp, the options are endless. You can also completely change the ambiance in your home simply by replacing any harsh white bulbs with calming yellow ones.

skylights in living room

3. Maximize natural light with windows or skylights

With the shorter days and gloomy weather, one of the main factors leading to winter blues this time of year is the lack of natural light. The best solution for this is to increase the amount of sunlight in your home. If your current windows aren’t letting in enough light or air, it may be time to upgrade. 

Skylights can also be an excellent way to improve natural light. This is true even if you live somewhere like Miami, where the sunlight is abundant. Skylights can be installed in many areas of your home, with kitchens and baths being among the most popular choices. Adding more light and sun can go a long way in making the winter darkness a little easier to manage.

simple home improvements bright entryway

4. Install a sound system

There’s nothing like a great song for instantly lifting the spirits. Playing some of your favorite tunes at home is the perfect remedy to help fight your winter blues. It’s a bit less impactful, though, when you’re listening to music through tiny laptop speakers. If you want to really immerse yourself in the sound of your favorite songs, invest in a home sound system.

Setting up a surround sound system or a sound system that plays across multiple rooms is quite simple. Modern technology allows for easy connectivity with Bluetooth, ensuring your home is ready for fun without a costly or complicated setup process.

simple home improvements bathroom

5. Improve organization

After spending months inside due to the pandemic, followed by the holidays, your home may be overrun by clutter. Think about how good you’ll feel when you’ve cleaned your house, and everything has been put back in its rightful place

Improving the organization of a space can occur in a number of ways, from purchasing storage boxes and bins to custom pieces for the closet. A few simple home improvements can go a long way. Whether that’s just going through old mail, sorting clothing to donate, or filing papers, organizing can help create a nicer living space. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the process, bring in a professional organizer or declutter to help.

6. Add greenery to beat winter blues

Plants are amazing gifts of nature. In both work and home environments, live plants can boost your mood, productivity, concentration, and creativity. Plants come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny succulents to large potted plants, making greenery a functional and flexible option for everyone. You can choose from flowers, greek plants like ferns, or even herbs to add color and life to any room.

If you have a large living area, potted trees can also be an excellent addition and one of the simplest home improvements you can do. Available from local nurseries and mail order services nationwide, plants make it easy to add a dynamic living focal piece to any room.

bedroom sanctuary simple home improvement

7. Create a bedroom sanctuary

There’s nothing quite like having a cozy place to escape to on a cold winter day. From fluffy blankets and bedding to essential oils and warm, ambient lighting, your bedroom can be a place of peace from the moment you walk in. Flannel sheets can keep you nice and warm while a plush rug to sink your toes into will add comfort. 

Making it through yet another winter may seem tough, but a few simple home improvements can be just what you need to turn a cold-weather frown upside down. From a little repainting to installing skylights, there’s plenty you can do to increase your happiness and take your home from bland to beautiful this season.

The post 7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues appeared first on Redfin | Real Estate Tips for Home Buying, Selling & More.

Source: redfin.com

Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups

Park in San Francisco social distancingDavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A group of real-estate startups is aiming to cash in on the remote-work phenomenon.

With many corporate offices closed because of the pandemic, many young professionals have left cities like New York and San Francisco for warmer, cheaper places. A number still plan to return after their offices reopen, leaving them reluctant to buy homes or sign long-term apartment leases.

That situation is creating fresh demand for furnished housing on a short-term basis, a fast-growing niche that many property startups and their venture-capital backers are rushing to fill.

One of them is Landing, which runs a network of furnished apartments across the U.S. When it launched in 2019, the Birmingham, Ala., and San Francisco-based company initially planned to operate in about 30 cities last year. Instead, it expanded to 75, largely because demand grew much faster than expected, said Landing Chief Executive Bill Smith.

“Covid has taken a decade of change that I was thinking was going to happen between now and 2030 and kind of compressed it into a year,” he said.

Legions of remote workers also offer these firms a chance to make up for reduced tourist and corporate business. San Francisco-based Sonder, which rents out furnished apartments by the night, ramped up its marketing of extended stays during the pandemic, according to Chief Executive Francis Davidson. Stays of longer than 14 days now account for about 60% of the company’s business, up from less than a quarter before the pandemic, he said.

Kulveer Taggar, CEO of corporate-housing operator Zeus Living, said his firm experienced a steep drop in demand as companies hit the pause button on employee travel and relocations. But he was able to make up some ground by renting apartments to individuals. People working from home now account for about a quarter of the company’s business, Mr. Taggar said, up from virtually nothing before the pandemic.

Unlike Sonder and Zeus, remote workers were a key part of Landing’s business before the pandemic. Its customers pay an annual membership fee, which gives them the right to rent furnished apartments in any city. The minimum length of stay varies from 30 to 60 days, and the company asks for a month’s notice before a customer moves out.

The company is popular with college-educated young professionals who don’t want to be tied to a single location. Since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a growing number of customers leave New York and San Francisco and move to cities like St. Petersburg, Fla., and Denver, Mr. Smith said.

In November, Landing raised $45 million in venture funding from a group of investors led by Foundry Group and including Greycroft and Maveron, along with $55 million in debt. Mr. Smith said he hopes to expand to 25,000 apartments by the end of this year, up from around 10,000 today.

That growth carries risk if demand from remote workers were to disappear again after the pandemic is over. Still, Chris Moody, a partner at Foundry Group, said the number of furnished apartments available under flexible terms is still so small that he doesn’t worry about a lack of customers.

“Even at the end of 2021, we won’t really have scratched the surface,” he said.

The post Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Fannie, Freddie Overseer Looks to End Federal Control Before Trump Leaves

Mark Calabria, who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, testified before a Senate committee in June.Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The federal regulator who oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is pushing to speed up the mortgage giants’ exit from 12 years of government control but has yet to reach an agreement he needs with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mark Calabria, a libertarian economist who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has made it a priority to return Fannie and Freddie to private hands, a goal shared by Mr. Mnuchin. How that is done could affect the cost and availability of mortgages backed by the companies, which guarantee roughly half of the $11 trillion in existing home loans.

Completing the complex process before President Trump’s term ends on Jan. 20 is a long shot, and President-elect Joe Biden is considered unlikely to continue the effort. But Messrs. Calabria and Mnuchin could succeed in taking steps that would be difficult to reverse, such as significantly restructuring the government’s stakes in the firms.

The Treasury secretary must agree to any move to alter the terms of either the companies’ bailout agreement or the government’s stakes. One person familiar with the effort said Mr. Mnuchin is supportive of locking in a path to private ownership but mindful of steps that could disrupt the housing-finance market.

Mr. Calabria has met twice recently with Mr. Mnuchin to discuss an expedited exit of the companies from government control, most recently the week of Nov. 9, according to people familiar with the meetings, which also involved Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council. Mr. Mnuchin was noncommittal about the push, the people said.

Fannie and Freddie don’t make home loans. Instead, they buy mortgages and package them into securities, which they then sell to investors. Their promise to make investors whole in case of default keeps down the price of home loans and underpins the popular 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

The government seized control of Fannie and Freddie to prevent their collapse during the 2008 financial crisis through a process known as conservatorship, eventually injecting $190 billion into the companies. In exchange, the Treasury received a new class of so-called senior preferred shares that originally paid a 10% dividend. It also received warrants to acquire about 80% of the firms’ common shares.

One option under discussion would entail a complex capital restructuring that would eventually reduce the government’s stakes in the firms. Such a move would be aimed at opening the door to new, private investment.

Still, it is a delicate issue because U.S. officials don’t want to cause investors to doubt the government’s backing of the firms, which have helped pin mortgage rates at record low levels during this year’s pandemic-induced economic slump. Moreover, it is politically sensitive because depending on the design, it could effectively move Wall Street investors ahead of taxpayers in line to receive any future profits.

As part of that set of decisions, Mr. Mnuchin would have to determine whether to write down the government’s more than $220 billion of senior preferred shares in the firms. Because those shares give the Treasury first claim on profits, private investors will have little incentive to take new stakes in Fannie and Freddie as long as they exist in their current form.

Such a move would likely push up the value of shares that investors acquired at fire-sale prices after the 2008 crisis. Some lawmakers are worried taxpayers would be short-changed.

In a letter to Messrs. Calabria and Mnuchin last month, Sens. Mark Warner (D., Va.) and Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) said taxpayers must be paid a fair market value for whatever stake they give up.

“Any other means of reducing their investment would be tantamount to a transfer of wealth from the taxpayers who stepped in to save [Fannie and Freddie] to private investors looking for a windfall,” they wrote.

It is unclear how seriously officials are considering another legal move that Mr. Calabria has raised in the past: an order formally ending the conservatorships but requiring the companies to operate with significant limitations on their businesses until they raise enough capital to operate independently through retained earnings and possible future stock sales. Supporters say the move would be akin to downgrading a sick patient from the emergency room to a regular hospital room.

One person familiar with the matter said the policymakers aren’t considering such an order, fearful it could upend markets.

Any single step, such as restructuring the government’s stakes in the firms, would normally require dozens of employees across the White House, Treasury and other agencies many months to complete, according to current and former government officials.

Industry officials warn that an abrupt overhaul to the company’s legal status could spook risk-averse investors in mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie and Freddie, which are seen as nearly as safe as Treasurys.

“An end to conservatorship would be a material change from what we’ve had, and it will take time to explain to investors what risks do and do not exist,” said Michael Bright, CEO of the Structured Finance Association, whose members include investors in Fannie and Freddie securities.

In a sign that Mr. Calabria is eager to complete unfinished work quickly, the FHFA on Wednesday completed a rule requiring the companies to hold as much as $280 billion in capital once they exit conservatorship, up from $35 billion currently.

The post Fannie, Freddie Overseer Looks to End Federal Control Before Trump Leaves appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How to Make Tough Decisions as a Couple

Marnie and Tom live in a nice suburb in the Midwest with their two young children. Marnie’s mother, Elaine, lives about an hour away.

When the kids were babies, Marnie's mother used to drive to Marnie and Tom's every day to see her grandkids and help out. But lately, Marnie's mother's health has been declining, so she can’t drive over anymore.

One day Marnie gets an idea: What if she and Tom sell their house and move closer to her mother? Then the kids would be able to see their grandmother more often. Plus, Marnie would be able to keep a closer eye on her mother in case her health gets worse. Seems like a perfect solution.

There’s only one problem—Tom doesn’t want to move. Tom likes the neighborhood they’re in. He thinks he and Marnie paid too much for their house, but other than that he’s very comfortable.

Tom says no.

Tough decisions and zero-sum situations

Faced with big decisions like this, a couple will ordinarily try to compromise. But in this case, there’s really no half-way. Economists call this kind of thing a zero-sum situation. Someone’s going to win, and someone’s going to lose.

For over thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so.

Some classic zero-sum problems for couples involve whether or not to move—often for one partner’s career—and whether or not to have another child. But there are lots of others.    

For thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so. Today, we’re going to talk about what works, and what doesn’t, when you’re faced with one of these situations.

Three ways not to make tough decisions as a couple

 First, let’s talk first about what doesn’t work. There are three main approaches that don’t work. Unfortunately, most couples try all three:

Mistake #1 – Trying to convince your partner they'll be better off

The first mistake is to try to convince your partner that they’ll be much happier if they do things your way. In Marnie’s case, this might involve demonstrating to Tom all the wonderful things about the neighborhood she'd like to move to. Wouldn't Tom be better off there? 

No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way.

 Here’s the problem: No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way. It's better to assume each person has good reasons for feeling the way they do. And that those reasons aren’t likely to change. In couples therapy, we call this "staying in your own lane."

Mistake #2 – Suggesting there's something wrong with your parnter for disagreeing

The second thing that doesn’t work is to suggest there’s something wrong with your partner. Otherwise, they'd see it your way. If only they were less anxious, less obsessive-compulsive, less oppositional, less stuck in their ways, or less damaged by unresolved childhood trauma. Then they’d surely agree with you!

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work.

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work. It usually just leads to a lot of bad feeling.

Mistake #3 – Appealing to your partner's love

The third thing that doesn’t work is to appeal to your partner’s love and insist that if they really love you as much as they say they do, they’ll give you what you want. Almost every couple tries this.

Marnie is no exception.

“Tom,” she says, one night as they're getting ready for bed, “Don’t you see how I can’t sleep at night worrying about my mother? I can't stop thinking about how she’s missing out on so much of our kids’ lives. Can’t you see what this is doing to me? Don’t you love me?”

 “The answer’s still no,” says Tom. “And it has nothing to do with whether I love you or not.”

I'd be inclined to agree. Just because you love someone, that doesn't mean you're responsible for giving them everything they want. 

A better way to make tough decisions as a couple

The good news is there’s a much better method. There are three steps involved.

Step One:  Let’s make a deal

In business, this would be a no-brainer, right?  You’d never ask someone to give you something you want for free. Instead, you’d find out what their price is.  

In marriage, it’s the same thing. The main question is: What’s going to motivate the other person to do a deal?

Let’s see what happens when Marnie tries this approach.

One night in bed, just before they turn off the lights, Marnie turns over to face Tom.

“Tom, what can I give you to make you agree to move?” she asks.

Tom is silent.

“A promise to never complain ever again about you watching TV?”

Tom smiles. “It’s going to cost a lot more than that,” he says.

Marnie thinks some more. “How about if I agree to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family?”

Tom shakes his head. But now Marnie has the idea. She’s not asking for favors anymore. She just wants to do this deal.         

“I'll do all the cooking and cleanup three times a week,” she says. "And we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family."  

Tom raises an eyebrow. Now he knows she's serious. "Let me think about it,” he says, and turns off the light.

Time for Step Two.

Step Two:  The $64,000 Question

The following night, Tom is sitting at his laptop paying bills. Suddenly it hits him. “Marnie,” he says, “I think I see a way to do this. If we’re going to move, let’s get a smaller house and start saving money again. What do you think?”    Marnie’s actually been hoping for a bigger house. It’s painful to hear that this is what Tom wants. But hey, now he’s named his price. That means he’s in the game.

To me, this looks promising. Marnie gets something she wants very much. And she pays for it, fair and square. Same thing on Tom’s side.

Marnie thinks for a minute.  

“Let’s see what we can find,” she says.

Step Three: The Price is Right

Now comes the fun part.

The following Sunday, Marnie and Tom drop the kids off with her mother and start house-hunting in earnest. After a few weekends, they find a house they both like well enough. It breaks Marnie’s heart to be downsizing, but it was the only way to make things work. And it helps that once they find a place Tom likes, Marnie gets him to agree to new cabinets and closets.

Decision making builds strong relationships

 A good deal will have both of your dreams in it. That’s important, because it means you’re both fully in. You never know how a move like this is going to work out. If it goes well, you both share the satisfaction. If not, you share the blame.

A good deal will have both of your dreams in it.

One sign of a good deal is that in the end, neither of you got everything you wanted. The final result didn’t look exactly like what either of you originally had in mind.

But hey, isn’t that the case with anything creative? Eventually you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

Sometimes life brings you to a fork in the road, where no compromise is possible. When that happens, assume you’ll need to do some serious deal-making—as if your relationship depended on it. Which in fact, it will.

Eventually, you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

In the long run, how you settle the issue may matter more than which fork you take.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

protecting yourself from credit card theft

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost. (See also: Don’t Panic: Do This If Your Identity Gets Stolen)

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my "web host," there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information. (See also: 3 Ways Millennials Can Avoid Financial Fraud)

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

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It’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you're not stuck with the cleanup. Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. | #Creditcard #creditcardtheft #personalfinances


Source: wisebread.com

I taught English in China to pay off my student loans

Hello! Here’s a guest post from a reader, Nick. Nick was feeling stuck a few years ago and wasn’t making progress on his student loans. He ended up researching a lot about salaries and the cost of living for English teachers in China and realized that he would be able to save far more money in China than back home. Even without teaching experience, and still living very comfortably, including taking vacations, it has been easy for him to save $20,000 in a year. For him, it had a huge impact on his life and financial freedom. Enjoy his story on how to teach English in China below!

I taught English in China to pay off my student loans #teachenglish #movetochina #makeextramoneyIt must have been about 4.5 years ago. I remember walking out of an interview in Chicago feeling completely dejected.

The interviewer mentioned the salary, and along with it, how most new hires take on a second job during the weekend. 

I wasn’t expecting to find an amazing job, but this was just too much. None of my past decisions looked particularly good on a resume. I had just returned from a 3.5-year stint traveling around Latin America while earning a very modest living playing online poker.

But, I was burnt out, making no progress on my student loans, and realizing it was time to get a normal job. I was actually really excited to do so but job hunting was incredibly frustrating and when I realized how little money I’d be earning, I began looking for alternative options. 

Somewhere along the way, I had heard about teachers in Asia making good money and motivated by the frustration of the job search, I began looking into it more seriously.

After spending countless hours reading online, I ended up settling on China as that seemed to be where it’d be easiest to save the most money. 

I’ve since been in China for four years, paid off my student loans, and finally feel comfortable with my finances. 

Without a doubt, moving to China isn’t for everyone or even most people. However, for those that are a little bit adventurous, not opposed to working as a teacher, and want to save money fast, it’s an option worth considering. 

It’s not at all difficult to save $20,000 per year, without needing to be particularly frugal, and still have plenty of vacation time. 

Related articles on how to make extra money:

  • 12 Work From Home Jobs That Can Earn You $1,000+ Each Month
  • 30+ Ways To Save Money Each Month
  • The Best Online Tutoring Jobs

How to start teaching English in China.

 

The demand for teachers in China

Chinese parents spend an average of $17,400 per year on extracurricular tutoring for their children. 

More than 60% of students receive tutoring outside of school at an average of six hours per week and English is among the most popular subjects for after school tutoring. 

While these numbers look insanely high from my Midwestern American point of view, it barely scratches the surface for the demand for English tutoring in China. 

In fact, English is a required subject in Chinese schools. Private schools often take this a step further, with many classes and programs taught exclusively in English. Meanwhile, the online tutoring industry has created lots of opportunities to teach English online

Chinese parents are obviously willing to pay for English education. This demand for English teachers becomes even more apparent when you consider just how huge of a country it is. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, there are 32 cities with more people than Chicago

 

The requirements to be an English teacher

It’s not difficult to become an English teacher in China. The huge demand has made for relatively lax requirements. These are…

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • Two years of work experience
  • 120 hour TEFL certificate
  • Clear criminal background check
  • Pass a health check
  • Native English speaker

The bachelor’s degree doesn’t need to be in any specific subject, nor do the two years of work experience. The 120-hour TEFL is easy and pretty cheap to do online. 

Of course, having these doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to get a great job right off the bat. Some of the best schools will have a very rigorous hiring process. However, even a standard first job in China can allow you to save a lot of money. 

 

The types of English teaching jobs in China

Most foreign teachers in China come to teach English. However, there are other opportunities as well, such as with teaching sports, a specific subject, or as a homeroom teacher who teaches a variety of subjects. 

There’s a wide range of salaries and teaching environments, with the main positions being in kindergartens, public schools, international schools, training centers, and universities. Salaries, working hours, and work environment can vary quite a bit depending on the type of school.

Additionally, the chosen city will have a large impact on your life with bigger cities paying more but also having a higher cost of living. ESL Authority has a good breakdown of the different salary ranges for different school types and locations. 

My teaching experience in China has exclusively been in Beijing at two public schools and one international school. I’ll share a bit about my experiences and salary at these schools. 

 

Teaching at a public school in China

Public school teaching jobs typically focus on oral English, meaning you’ll help students with their speaking and listening comprehension. The class sizes tend to be quite large. I often had 30-40 students in a class and would see each class only a couple of times per week, while often teaching multiple classes and different grade levels. In a given week I’d see 200-300 students. 

At the public schools I taught, I earned around $1,600 per month, which included a round-trip plane ticket to America, and housing. A typical schedule for public schools would be Monday-Friday, from 8 am – 4 pm, with 16-20 classes per week, with each one lasting around 45 minutes. There would be a lot of down-time during the day which I used to study Chinese

Many public schools, but not all, will let foreign teachers leave if they don’t have classes. Both public schools I taught at while in Beijing allowed me to leave when my classes were finished, which meant I’d often be done for the day around 2 pm. 

Vacation time is very generous, exceeding 3 months for summer and winter vacation, plus all of the national holidays during the year. Both public schools I’ve taught at allowed foreigners to finish the semester earlier and start later than their Chinese counterparts which makes sense as foreign teachers aren’t usually responsible for grading homework or preparing exams. 

The salary at public schools is more than enough to live comfortably and save quite a bit of money. Still, many teachers use their substantial free time to teach extra on the side with private students or at training centers. Doing so can be quite lucrative with an average rate of around $30 per hour. 

Having said that, it’s not exactly legal to teach with a different school than the one that sponsored your visa. If you got caught, it could get you in trouble and you could have your visa canceled and your time in China cut short. But, it’s one of those things that nearly everyone does and almost nobody gets in trouble for. So, if you choose to teach on the side, you should be aware of the risks. 

It isn’t difficult to teach an extra six hours per week during the ~8 months of the school year. This would earn an extra $5,760. Teaching 20 hours per week during 2 months of the summer/winter vacation would earn an extra $4,800. Combining these with the public school salary would make your yearly after-tax income $29,760 – with housing already paid for.

Plus, you’d still have close to two months’ vacation throughout the year. 

While I didn’t keep good track of my earnings and expenses while teaching at the public schools, these numbers are very close to my own experience. 

 

My experience teaching at an international school in China

If you’re more interested in teaching a subject like history or math, as opposed to English, an international school would be your best bet. 

These are the schools where wealthy Chinese and expats typically send their children to study. Teaching positions at some of the better schools can be very competitive, often requiring a teaching license, graduate degree, and a number of years of experience. Of course, those who qualify for these positions will earn higher salaries. 

However, a large number of international schools don’t have any additional requirements for teachers above the bare minimum required to teach in China. 

The work at these schools can be very demanding, much like teaching in America would be, requiring things like communicating with parents, creating exams, giving and grading homework, and plenty of meetings. Vacation periods are typically shorter than those for public school teachers. Likewise, working hours may be from 8 am – 5 pm, but most international school teachers will find themselves with very little downtime throughout the day. 

On the plus side, class sizes are generally much smaller and salaries higher. While teaching at an international school, I earned around $2,800 per month or $33,600 per year after taxes, with housing and a round-trip plane ticket included. 

However, due to the shorter vacations and more tiring day-to-day work, I didn’t have any interest in tutoring on the side. 

 

What does a typical budget look like for an English teacher?

This can be hard to say as everyone has a different lifestyle and things they’re willing or not willing to spend money on. I’ll share my budget below. 

Housing and Healthcare – $0/mo – In China, especially in the bigger cities, rent would make up the largest portion of a budget. Fortunately for foreign teachers, most schools include housing or a housing allowance. Housing would typically be a one-bedroom apartment, which may be on or off-campus, depending on the school. Some teachers may choose to add some of their own money to the housing allowance so that they can stay in a nicer place. But, I’ve been happy with the provided accommodation and didn’t pay any extra.  Health insurance is also provided and many schools have gyms on campus that you can use for free. 

Food – $350/mo – You can spend a lot of money on food or not much at all, depending on your preferences. Cheaper meals can be had for under $3 but you could easily spend $30 on a meal if you choose to go to fancier places. It also depends on how much you cook vs eat out and whether you like buying imported groceries. Most schools will offer free lunch to their teachers. Even so, I tend to spend quite a bit on food but am cheaper in other areas, so my food budget would be something like:

Groceries: $150

Restaurants: $200

Entertainment – $100/mo – Being the old man I am, I rarely go out for drinks at bars and my preferred entertainment is also the cheaper kind – hanging out, eating, and playing games with friends. Still, my wife and I will go to the occasional show. 

Transportation – $60/mo – Public transportation in China is fantastic and a single trip on the subway or in a bus can cost less than 50 cents. Shared bikes are everywhere and extremely cheap. Even using Didi, the Chinese version of Uber, is very affordable.  This is another area where I spend more than necessary, often taking a Didi out of laziness when there are cheaper options. 

Utilities – $15/mo – I think most schools typically pay for household utilities, like electricity and water. At least, the schools I worked at did. So, the only expense here is my phone which is on a pay as you go plan.

Travel – $250/mo – Living in China and working as a teacher opens up lots of travel opportunities, both within China and around Asia. Unfortunately, although plentiful, teacher’s vacation time is usually during national holidays when the cost of tickets is a bit higher.  Still, I tend to go on at least one international trip a year and also like to travel within China. Plus, almost every school also provides a round-trip ticket to your home country. If I were to guess, I probably spend around $3,000 per year on travel. I know people who spend much more and others who spend much less, so this cost will depend a lot on each individual’s preferences. 

Miscellaneous – $50/mo – These are other expenses such as buying household appliances, clothes, and other random things. I’m not a big shopper, but random things do come up. 

Total Expenses – $825/mo or $9,900/year

Although I’m conscious of my spending, I wouldn’t say that I’m especially frugal while in China. Far much less than I’d be if I were still living in Michigan. 

Some people might consider my spending extravagant while others might think I’m cheap. For me, it’s a good balance of comfort and enjoying my lifestyle with saving for the future. 

 

How much money can you save teaching English in China?

In my experience, I earned between $29,760 and $33,600 per year with expenses around $9,900 per year. This led to savings between $19,860 and $23,700 per year. Unfortunately, I didn’t track my exact earnings and spending each year, but these ballpark numbers are pretty accurate. 

It’s not particularly difficult to save $20,000 in a year of teaching in China while still living comfortably, traveling, and leaving yourself with enough free time to pursue other interests.

Plenty of people save more than this each year. There are also opportunities to increase your earnings as you gain more experience. 

However, like most places, life can be as expensive as you make it. If you’re bad with money back home, it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly become good with money by moving abroad. In fact, the money may disappear even faster than it would back home as there are lots of exciting ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. 

But, if you’re somewhat frugal and work fairly hard, you’ll have no problem saving a lot of money. 

 

How to find a job teaching English in China

There are tons of websites with job listings for English teachers in China. I can’t comment on most sites as all the jobs I found started with a search on the eChinacities job board

The start of your job search can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re still not sure where you’d like to live in China. This isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of recruiters will earn more money if they can get a teacher to accept a lower salary. 

I’ve known teachers that came to China and received terrible salary packages, earning less than half of what a typical salary would be and with an apartment far from the school. These people tended to not do enough research beforehand and accepted the first offer they received.

I would strongly recommend talking with lots of recruiters before accepting any position. Be sure to ask tons of questions, and be willing to say no to a jobs that don’t fit your criteria. There is no shortage of opportunities, so be patient when looking for your ideal position. 

Before accepting any position, be sure to do your due diligence on the school.

Most schools are fine and professional, but there are some sketchy ones. You won’t always find much information online about the school, but if they’ve done shady things in the past, you’ll probably see people talking about it.

Asking to speak with any current or former teachers can give you a bit more insight into the school as well.

 

Final thoughts on teaching English in China

Not everyone will be excited to live in China and I can understand that. It’s far from home, the language is difficult, and many people have a negative perception of the country. 

However, I’ve really enjoyed my life here and the experience has been exceptionally positive. Sure, there are small annoyances, but these will happen anywhere. Plenty of people worry about air quality, and while still not great, it has been improving every year

Beijing is extremely modern with no shortage of interesting and unique things to do. Moving here has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. 

I came here with only a few thousand dollars in the bank and what felt like an endless pit of student loan debt. In only a few years, I’ve been able to completely turn around my finances, pay off my loans, and save up a nice nest egg. 

I know that it’s not for everyone, but if you’re open to new experiences, can see yourself enjoying teaching, and want to save a lot of money, moving to China to teach English is an option worth considering. 

Nick Dahlhoff is an English teacher living in Beijing. Since moving there in 2016, he’s paid off his student loans, studied Chinese, gotten married and started a blog. At All Language Resources, he tests out lots of language learning resources to help language learners figure out which resources are worth using and which ones are better off avoiding. 

Would you take a job in another country to pay off your debt? Would you start teaching English in China?

The post I taught English in China to pay off my student loans appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

Busted! 11 Common Myths About Balance Transfer Credit Cards

If you are confused about balance transfer credit cards it’s likely because you’ve heard some of the myths about them. Believe me, I get it.  I’ve been there. There are so many myths about balance transfer credit cards, it can be hard to distinguish the truth from the fantasy. Well, good news. Today we’re covering […]

The post Busted! 11 Common Myths About Balance Transfer Credit Cards appeared first on Incomist.

Source: incomist.com

Moving Stressing You Out? Here Are 5 Move-Planning Apps to Make Your Life Easier

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What can eclipse the excitement of moving to a new home? The headache of packing and unpacking, deciding what to toss, and actually transporting all of your prized possessions, that’s what. It’s a big job, and someone has to do it—but that doesn’t make the impending stress of moving any less overwhelming.

What will help take the pain out of preparing to relocate are move-planning apps. Like other productivity apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone, move-planning apps will help you keep everything organized.

“Move-planning apps work great for preparation and organization, because they help you break up your move into small, actionable steps, so you can be prepared on your move day,” says Jason Burroughs, founder and CEO at Able Body Moving and Delivery in Birmingham, AL. “This can greatly save you on the cost of your move, because the less the movers do, the more money you keep in your pocket.”

Below are five of the best move-planning apps to help make moving day as hassle-free as possible.

1. Sortly

move-planning apps
Sortly is an app that helps you keep inventory for your move.

Sortly

The beauty of this app is its attention to detail; it allows you to compartmentalize every inch of your house. You can create a moving checklist (which can be exported for movers), photograph items and categorize them by location (room, closet, box, etc.), and you can add value and condition for specific items (i.e. your prized dolphin painting).

For $3.99 a month, one user can catalogue an unlimited number of items on three devices. The $25-a-month plan allows three users to catalog unlimited items, with the option of adding users $3 a month per user. The app also has a two-week free trial and a free version that allows one user to catalogue 100 items on one device.

Sortly is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

2. Unpakt

move-planning apps
Find a moving company with Unpakt

Unpakt

This app helps you find a moving company. Enter basic details—when, where, and what you’re moving—and you’ll see real prices (not estimates) from verified firms. Unpakt offers a price guarantee that only changes if you add or remove an item or service.

Booking a service is simple: Just select a mover, enter your billing information, and your move is reserved. Your credit card will be charged two business days before the day of the move. Unpakt guarantees that moving companies are screened to ensure that they’re reputable; you can also read reviews from other consumers on the app.

Unpakt is free and is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads and the Google Play Store for Androids.

3. MakeSpace

move-planning apps
MakeSpace is a great storage solution.

MakeSpace

If you’re downsizing or moving to a home short on storage space, MakeSpace will come in handy. “We take care of the hauling and heavy lifting, at a price that’s comparable to traditional, DIY self-storage,” says Amory Wooden, VP of brand at MakeSpace.

The app makes the process as simple as possible: Just book an appointment, and its team of professional movers will come to pick up your stuff and haul it off to storage. When you want your items back, schedule a delivery, and the team will return your goods.

As an added bonus, Wooden says MakeSpace will bring complimentary supplies, like bubble wrap and free MakeSpace bins.

When the items arrive at the storage facility, the company sends photos of everything—and the photos can be used to request specific items that you want to get out of storage.

The storage plans range from $69 per month for a 2-foot by 2-foot unit, to $469 per month for a 10-foot by 20-foot unit.

The MakeSpace app is free and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

4. Flying Ruler

move-planning apps
Flying Ruler will help you measure anything in your home.

Flying Ruler

Not sure if that sofa will fit in your new living room? Is it too large to come through the front door? Flying Ruler can help you be sure. This app is a tape measure, ruler, protractor, and a goniometer (otherwise known as an angle-measurer).

After you calibrate your phone—a simple process that the app walks you through—you can take measurements merely by moving your phone from one point to the next. The measurement is then displayed on the interface in either inches or centimeters. You can also take a photo of the measurements. The Flying Ruler app has a high accuracy rate, but the company recommends that you measure more than once.

FlyingRuler costs $1.99 and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

5. Dolly

move-planning apps
Hire someone to help you move with Dolly.

Dolly

Dolly helps you find vetted and insured pick-up truck owners to help you with moving, furniture pick-up, and even hauling off your trash. Found your perfect sofa at a store that doesn’t deliver? Dolly can help you hire someone to transport your purchase home.

In addition, Dolly can match you with someone for a “labor-only move,” if you need some extra muscle to move stuff around your home.

The app is extremely simple to navigate: Enter your details (what/where/when you need something picked up and delivered) and receive a quote for the service. If you agree to the price, simply book the Dolly. You can book a same-day delivery, or schedule the delivery for the next day, or even the next month.

You can ask for almost anything to be moved, with the exception of a few items, such as gun safes, pianos, and alcohol.

Dolly is free. It is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

The post Moving Stressing You Out? Here Are 5 Move-Planning Apps to Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com