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4 affordable US cities with great dining

Published 11/13/14

4 affordable US cities with great dining By Justin Boyle

If you're anything like me, your love of good food and residential elbow room tends to find itself at odds with your need for reasonably priced goods and services. Fortunately for people like us, though, there exist U.S. cities where it's still possible to enjoy a lively and well-fed existence in a comfortable living space while keeping your savings account intact.

Here are four of the best places to do it in 2014, in alphabetical order.

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

The attraction here might not be immediately obvious, particularly after the city's starring turn as a den of vice and viciousness in "Breaking Bad," but you'll be cheered to know that the real Albuquerque is much friendlier than it seems on TV. This desert metropolis is home to some world-class spas and restaurants (and casino resorts, if that's how you party), and it's growing in prominence as a destination for fine food and libations.

Writers for both Women's Health magazine and the venerated Zagat Survey have listed Albuquerque among their top food cities for 2014. Such cuisine and recreation might threaten dry up your disposable income in most places, but New Mexico ranks among the 10 most affordable states in the U.S. in the mid-2014 cost-of-living index (COLI) released by the Council for Community & Economic Research.

2. Boise, Idaho

The Idaho capital could be a real sleeper hit for lovers of food and frugality, particularly those whose physical constitution can handle the freezing winter temperatures.

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Yes, Obama's credit card was declined -- but yours needn't be

Published 10/30/14

Yes, Obama's credit card was declined -- but yours needn't be By Peter Andrew

President Obama and I are like two peas in a pod. We both have quite a lot of grey hair. Er ... we both live in houses with street addresses that begin with a "1." And, um, we've both in the past had our credit cards wrongly declined. You see? POTUS and I are like brothers from different mothers.

Presidential plastic

Unexpectedly, given his multi-million dollar personal fortune, Mr. Obama's plastic was refused more recently than mine. He was in New York in September, attending the United Nations General Assembly, when he took the First Lady out to dinner. When the check arrived, his card issuer declined the payment.

Presumably after a short conference around the restaurant's payment terminal ("You tell him." "No, YOU tell him." "No way."), some poor sap was sent to inform the President of the United States that he was using dodgy plastic.

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3 money moves to make before a career change

Published 10/17/14  (Modified 11/13/14)

3 money moves to make before a career change By Georgie Miller

One of the measures of a healthy economy is workers' confidence in their ability to leave a job and find other employment. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks this number, also referred to as "voluntary separation" or the "quits rate." The higher the quits rate, the more people believe that they will be able to find another (possibly better) job quickly.

While the BLS crunches the numbers, they don't analyze them. However, analyses of the most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere suggest that the labor market is strengthening. Along with that strengthening may come increased confidence that now is the time to make a career move.

If you're considering transitioning to new employment, here are a few strategies to consider before leaving your current position.

1. Pay off debt

Whether it's consumer debt such as credit cards, or other forms of debt such as medical debt or student loans, having a monthly payment hanging over your head may hinder your ability to leave your current job without something else lined up.

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DIY finance repair: Pulling yourself back from the edge

Published 10/10/14

By Justin Boyle

Woman contemplates bills

Confession time: I'm an inveterate do-it-yourselfer. I've fixed vacuum cleaners, sink faucets, coffee tables, lawnmower engines -- you name it, I've tinkered with it. DIY efforts are usually successful if you follow the right advice, and the lessons you can learn from fixing your own stuff can stay with you for years afterward.

If you've been cavalier with your credit cards or run up a few big expenses lately, you might need to approach your finances with the same attitude. Here are some red flags to help you spot potential problems and some fix-it tricks that help get things back in working order.

Signs of trouble

It's sometimes a fine line between running rough and beyond repair. If these situations sound familiar, a financial tune-up might help you prevent an emergency:

  • Making minimum utility payments. Minimum payments on a credit card are bad enough, but only paying the power company what it takes to keep your lights on month to month and never clearing your account to zero should tell you that something's really wrong.
  • Stressing out about everyday purchases. If you find yourself struggling to find the money for a tank of gas or a trip to the grocery store, there's probably some work to be done.
  • Buying on credit with no savings. It's true that a perfectly functional personal finance strategy can include a certain level of debt, but it should be kept to a minimum without a savings account or other safekeeping instrument to back it up.

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Making your student debt worth its burden

Published 9/30/14

Making your student debt worth its burden By Peter Andrew

If you write about personal finance for enough years, you end up on a lot of strange email lists. So I wasn't surprised when a message intended for debt collection agencies turned up in my inbox yesterday. But I did raise an eyebrow over its content.

It was advertising a publication called "Student Loans -- A Primer," and the message's subject line read, "One Trillion Reasons to Collect Student Loans -- What You Need to Know." The trillion (it actually topped $1.2 trillion last May) refers to the amount of outstanding student loan debt in this country, and is a sum that makes this the second biggest form of consumer borrowing, behind home mortgages but well in front of auto loans and credit cards.

Am I alone in finding the email a touch distasteful -- not dissimilar to training sharks to be better at sniffing out blood in the water? Maybe I should be. Without collection agencies, paying debts would become optional, and that could create a collapse in the economy and society faster than any zombie apocalypse.

Public problems with student loan debt

There are problems surrounding both public and private student loan debt.

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Is income-based student loan repayment right for you?

Published 9/19/14

Is income-based student loan repayment right for you? By Georgie Miller

According to a popular estimate, more than 40 million Americans now owe a combined $1.2 trillion in student loans. That's made the issues surrounding these loans -- including income-based loan repayment plans -- a hot topic lately.

Income-based repayment plans may lower your monthly payments and, over time, even eliminate some of your student debt. But not every borrower is eligible for an income-driven plan, and if you are eligible, there's lots to consider when deciding if it's the right choice for you.

Income-based repayment options

The standard repayment plan for a federal student loan is 10 years. However, as you will learn about money after graduation, your grown-up salary may not be as big as you think it is. You will also have other priorities, including savings and retirement, and maybe even an occasional vacation.

According to the Federal Student Aid website, an income-driven plan is worth considering "if your outstanding federal student loan debt is higher than your annual income or if it represents a significant portion of your annual income."

There are three main types of federally available income-driven plans:

  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

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