Getting hired is taking longer...Can middle-class families still afford a Disney vacation?...Home prices back to 'normal'...And more

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Welcome to MUTUAL INTEREST, the first place to check for all of the news and information you need to manage your money and build financial security. It also helps you understand what's going on in the economy, and how that affects you. This page is constantly updated, so bookmark it and come back often for the latest posts.

Getting hired is taking longer

If you're applying for a job in the U.S., expect to wait around a month for an offer or rejection letter. In 2014, candidates had to wait an average of about 22.9 days to hear if they got the job, according to a survey from Glassdoor, an online job search network. That's nearly double what it was in 2010, when it only took 12.6 days to get hired. The rise in wait time is largely due to the increased use of background checks in the hiring process, notes Bloomberg.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The average amount of time it takes to get an offer or rejection from an employer varies by city. For example, it takes the longest in Washington, D.C. — an average of 34.4 days, according to Glassdoor. Miami, on the other hand, has the shortest wait time on the list, at under 20 days. But whether you're in the nation's capital or Miami, it's a hurry-up-and-wait situation.
July 1, 2015

Rising Disney World prices leaving middle class behind

Vacations to theme parks like Walt Disney World are no longer affordable for middle-class families, according to The Washington Post. This year, the price for a ticket to Disney World shot past $100 for the first time. When the park opened in 1971, it cost only $3.50 to get inside. Now, it's $105 plus tax. Prices for the Orlando park have risen almost every year since it opened. And it's not alone; other theme parks like Six Flags have raised prices as well. Per-person spending at theme parks has jumped by 33% since 2008, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

SECOND THOUGHTS: What would Mr. Disney say? "If Walt were alive today, he would probably be uncomfortable with the prices they’re charging right now," Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina (whose first job was as a cast member in Disney’s Haunted Mansion), told The Post. "They’ve priced middle-class families out."
June 30, 2015

Home prices return to normal levels

After 15 years of extreme ups and downs, home prices are finally returning to normal levels when compared with incomes, rents and other fundamentals, notes The New York Times. Prices are now rising at rates in the low single digits. In fact, national home prices rose by only 4.1% in March, according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller home price index. That's a much easier ride compared with the double-digit increases seen in 2013 and 2014. And it's a good thing for the U.S. real estate market. "We’re having the kind of growth that is going to be sustainable, and anytime you have steady growth, it’s much better than having bubble growth," Thomas O'Bryant Jr., chief executive of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, told The Times.

SECOND THOUGHTS: It's gotten easier to get a mortgage. Banks have loosened requirements, accepting lower credit scores and as little as 5% down. But before you jump into a mortgage, it's crucial to settle on what you can truly afford and how much you can put into a down payment. Here's how to figure out how much house you can afford.
June 29, 2015

Here's how much you should pay your babysitter

Babysitters are paid an average of $13.44 an hour, according to a 2015 survey by Care.com. That reflects a 28% jump in the last five years. And in all 75 cities surveyed, babysitters were paid no less than $11. Plus, more than 25% of people tip their babysitter on top of the hourly rate. In some cities, like San Francisco and Boston, sitters make more than $15 an hour. Much of that bump in pay has to do with parents expecting more from their sitters, such as first aid and CPR training, Kate Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com, tells MarketWatch.

SECOND THOUGHTS: When deciding how much you should pay your sitter, look at where you live, the age of your children, the number of children, the sitter's experience and training (CPR/first aid), and your expectations. Want the sitter to cook dinner for the kids, do laundry or other tasks? You'll have to shell out more cash. You'll also have to pony up more money for younger children, more children and if the sitter has more experience and training.
June 28, 2015

Airline lost your luggage? Check at this Alabama store

A good amount of lost luggage winds up in Alabama at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a store that sells items from travelers' lost bags, according to Quartz. The store stocks around 6,000 items every day, and 85% of them are from lost luggage. Just 0.5% of all bags get lost, according to the store's website. That's not bad considering 850 million passengers traveled to and from U.S. airports last year. But it's still enough to fill 40,000 square feet of floor space at the center. How does it work? Airlines sell unclaimed and permanently lost baggage to the center, which has exclusive deals with several carriers.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Put your contact info on the inside as well as the outside of all checked baggage, especially if you're traveling with expensive items. The Unclaimed Baggage Center gets a lot of electronics, jewelry, sporting goods and even the occasional wedding dresses. Those are things you don't want to have to replace.
June 27, 2015

Seniors are fairly well off financially

According to an analysis of government data by The New York Times, the 25 million Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 are better off financially than past generations and may even be better off than future generations. The median assets of the group doubled between 1989 and 2013. Why are they so well off? Not only are they supported by income from Social Security, pensions and investments, they're deferring retirement and receiving paychecks from jobs well into retirement age.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The days of the traditional pension are gone, but having a comfortable retirement isn't out of reach. Still, it'll take discipline and planning to get there. If all your employer offers is a 401(k) account, you've got to make the most of it. Abide by these 7 rules for a successful 401(k) retirement account, and you'll be on the right track.
June 26, 2015

More homeowners are carrying mortgage debt into retirement

Three times as many older homeowners left the workplace in 2011 owing a monthly mortgage debt compared with a decade earlier, according to recent data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. About 6.1 million homeowners age 65 and older were still paying off a mortgage in 2011. Declining home prices, unexpected expenses, layoffs, credit card debt and college loans have left many older workers unable to pay off their mortgage before they retire.

SECOND THOUGHTS: A mortgage is the most expensive debt most of us will ever carry. That's why it's important to avoid mistakes that cause you to pay more than you should. Here are the 7 biggest mortgage mistakes to avoid.
June 25, 2015

Flying is about to become even more miserable

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is aiming to shrink the size of carry-on bags by 21%, reports Fast Company. Eight airlines have already signed on to the new voluntary carry-on guidelines: Air China, Avianca, Azul, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Lufthansa and Qatar. The guidelines only allow luggage 21.5 inches tall, 13.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep — smaller than the 22 by 14 by 9 inches allowed now.

SECOND THOUGHTS: That size change seems small, but it would have a big effect, the magazine notes, forcing millions of travelers to purchase new luggage, slowing down boarding times and making checked-luggage fees almost mandatory. But the IATA says a standard carry-on size will make the best use of cabin storage space. Keep in mind that the new guidelines are voluntary. So there's no need to rush out and get a new bag quite yet.
June 23, 2015

Hunting for the lowest airfare is becoming even more difficult

More airlines are pulling their fares from third-party booking sites like Expedia and Kayak, making it more difficult for consumers to comparison shop, according to The New York Times. Airlines are pushing customers to book through their own websites, where they can up-sell services like in-flight entertainment and more leg room. Airlines also get to skip out on the $5 to $12 per ticket fee that third-party vendors charge. Delta is one of the most recent airlines to make the move away from third-party sites. And last week, Lufthansa announced that in September it will start charging passengers $18 for booking tickets through a third-party site.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Undeniably, this is a good move for the airlines in terms of making more money. But it's not so great for us. “Consumers are going to go to the price-comparison sites and thinking they’re comparing prices, but they’re not,” Fiona Scott Morton, an economics professor at Yale, tells The Times.
June 22, 2015

For-profit schools are a waste for students and taxpayers

The Obama administration recently decided to forgive the student debt of tens of thousands of those who attended schools run by the bankrupt for-profit Corinthian Colleges. That means taxpayers could end up eating a $3.6 billion (or more) federal student loan bill, notes Quartz. This brings to light some major problems with for-profit education: Fewer of these students make it to graduation. They borrow about four times as much as they would at a two-year public college. And they have higher unemployment rates and lower earnings after graduation.

SECOND THOUGHTS:If for-profit schools are such a waste of time and money, why do people attend them? Flexibility. Many traditional universities simply don't offer the flexibility that those with families and work responsibilities require, notes Quartz. Fortunately, starting to save for college early in a child's life can help. State-sponsored, tax-free college savings plans can give kids a shot at college without needing to go the for-profit route. See if a 529 plan is right for your family.
June 20, 2015

Multimillionaires share a wealth of frugality

Single-digit millionaires are very mindful of how they spend their money, according to a report from The New York Times. The newspaper talked with people who have wealth starting at several million dollars and found some common themes. For starters, they built their wealth by saving, investing and making mindful spending choices. In other words, they didn't only bring home a large salary. In fact, one of the common themes was that these folks bought modestly priced vehicles and kept them for a long time. In addition, they spent their money only on things that mattered to them, such as an experience together or a piece of art.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Stashing away $1 million for retirement isn't out of reach. It takes discipline and planning, but it's possible even on a middle-class income. Here's how to save $1 million for retirement.
June 19, 2015

It's getting more expensive to bring up baby

The average cost of raising a child in America is now over $245,000, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That doesn't take into account the inflation rate, college tuition or costs incurred after age 18. Add inflation and the average jumps to above $304,000. Where you live makes a big difference, notes MarketWatch. The urban Northeast has the most expensive average, at $282,480, and the urban South has the lowest, at $230,610. Housing accounts for the biggest chunk of the cost, followed by child care and food.

SECOND THOUGHTS: That $245,000 price tag is tough to swallow, especially because it doesn't include college. Most of us want our kids to have a shot at higher education. But tuition is outpacing inflation, and the only way you'll ever pay for it is to start setting money aside as soon as possible. One way to do that is through a state-sponsored, tax-free college savings plan. Here's how to figure out if a 529 plan is right for your family.
June 18, 2015

Fed on track to raise interest rates this fall

For the first time in almost a decade, raising interest rates was on the agenda of the Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee today. While it decided to wait a little longer before taking any action that is expected to boost the returns on CDs, savings and money market accounts, the bank's governors indicated they would probably launch a plan to push rates up 1 percentage point a year over the next three years this fall, probably in September.

June 17, 2015

Many big companies still put your 401(k) money in their own stock

Twenty percent of the 50 largest companies in the S&P 500 still put 401(k) contributions in the company's own stock, according to Bloomberg's recent ranking of retirement plans. That's a very bad idea. Workers risk losing their jobs and the bulk of their retirement savings at the same time when there's a downturn or trouble at the company. The upside is that company stock is shrinking as a share of 401(k)s, notes Bloomberg.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Diversification is the name of the game in your 401(k). It's not enough to simply sign up for your employer's 401(k) plan and make regular contributions. If you want a fighting chance at a secure retirement, you're going to have to become a smart investor. Check out how to be a smarter investor in your retirement plan.
June 16, 2015

What's keeping millennials out of homes?

Just 38% of millennials — 25- to 34-year olds in the U.S. — owned homes in 2012, according to CoreLogic, compared with 52% of the same age group in 1980. And a new survey from Carrington Mortgage Services shows that what's keeping millennials from buying homes in one part of the country is very different from other parts of the country. For instance, in 12 Western-most states, down payment costs are the biggest thing holding back millennials, notes MarketWatch. In the Upper Midwest, it's student loan debt. Credit card debt holds back millennials in the Northeast. And in the South, it's low credit scores and lack of knowledge about the home-buying process.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Wise home-buying never changes. It's about figuring out what you can afford, how much you can put into a down payment and sticking to your plan. Here are some smart moves to figure out how much house you can afford.
June 15, 2015

The states where public university tuition is rising most

Tuition at public universities is rising across the nation, but some states have it worse than others. Between 2008 and 2015, average tuition at public four-year colleges jumped the most in Arizona, an increase of 83.6%, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Hawaii came in second with a 70% increase, followed by Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and California. Nationally, the average annual tuition increased 29%, or $2,068. Fortunately, tuition increases have slowed over the last year, with the average increasing only 1.2% in the 2014-15 school year, notes CNN Money.

SECOND THOUGHTS: States were forced to cut back on their funding to public colleges when the recession hit, causing many schools to hike tuition. The average state is spending about 20% less per student in 2015 than it did in 2008. Higher tuition costs mean students have to take on more student loan debt. And student loans can hinder financial security. Check out how to rid yourself of student loans without paying.
June 14, 2015

A quarter of workers aren't taking their full 401(k) match

Around 25% of workers aren't saving enough to take full advantage of their employer's 401(k) matching contribution, according to a new report from Financial Engines. That amounts to $24 billion per year, or $1,336 per person. For a 45-year-old aiming to retire at age 65, that amounts to a loss of $42,855 over the last 20 years of a career, according to CNN Money. "While many people might feel like they can't afford to save more, we hope that this study helps them realize what they are leaving behind," Greg Stein, director of financial technology at Financial Engines told CNN Money.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Failing to save enough to get the full match from your employer is like leaving free money on the table. Indeed, going for the full match is one of the 7 rules for a successful 401(k) retirement account. It's something you simply have to do to have a financially comfortable retirement.
June 13, 2015

Millennials don’t want to work for corporations

Corporations are the last place that millennials want to work. In fact, only 15% of the class of 2015 said they would prefer to work for a large corporation, according to a new survey by Accenture. Medium-sized businesses were the most popular places to work, with 35% of millennials saying they'd prefer that choice. Only 10% of millennials expressed interest in working at a government agency or a start-up. The main factor was fun, with 60% of 2015 graduates saying they would like to work for a company with a "positive social atmosphere." That's even if it means lower pay.

SECOND THOUGHTS: After salary and benefits, millennials want challenging work, flexible hours and a chance to advance quickly. Of course, once you're in the workplace, it's important to tap into the retirement plan that your employer offers. Here's what kind of return we can expect from our 401(k).
June 12, 2015

More employers are paying for employee vacations

A handful of employers now offer paid vacations for employees. Airbnb, Evernote, Afar Media, G Adventures and Think Parallax are among a new group of employers offering anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 to send their workers on vacation, notes Bloomberg. Travel is often limited to certain dates, and employees occasionally have to dip into vacation days. In addition, many of the companies require employees to engage while on vacation. “We all love beach vacations,” Afar Media Chief Product Officer Joe Diaz told Bloomberg. “If that’s all we do on our trips, we come back and feel like there’s something we left on the table.”

SECOND THOUGHTS: Nearly half of U.S. workers didn't take a day off in 2014, according to a survey from Skift. “This is a way of reemphasizing how important work-life balance is,” Guusje Bendeler, creative director at Think Parallax, told Bloomberg. “We see it more as these experience trips that will make them more well-rounded human beings," he added.
June 11, 2015

More homes are being sold without ever being advertised or listed

Pocket listings, or homes for sale that aren't listed on multiple listing services, are becoming more popular in markets across the country, according to CNN Money. Sellers may opt for a pocket listing for various reasons — maybe they're looking for privacy or maybe they're testing the market. Of course, that leaves the real estate agent to find a buyer without public advertisement, and sellers may not get as many offers. It's a risk. "Many times I've had pocket listings where people will say, 'If I get this number I will sell; otherwise I have no desire,'" Jade Mills, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Beverly Hills, told CNN Money.

SECOND THOUGHTS: For buyers, pocket listings are a way to key in on a home in a hot market without a ton of competition. But you'll need your real estate agent's help. And if you can't find a pocket listing, there's a good chance you could wind up in a bidding war over a publicly listed home. Fortunately, there are some strategies to take out the competition. Here's how to win a bidding war.
June 10, 2015

Many consumers are getting hit with surprise medical bills

Many privately insured Americans are getting hit with surprise medical bills, where their health plan paid less than expected. In fact, nearly one-third of individuals who hold private health insurance received a surprise medical bill within the last two years, according to Consumer Reports. Nearly 25% got a bill from a doctor they didn't expect to get a bill from. And only 28% of those with surprise medical bills were satisfied with how the situation was resolved. A whopping 53% said the issue was not resolved as they liked or at all.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Navigating what counts as in-network or out-of-network with health insurance can be tricky. And medical debt is one of the single biggest threats to financial security. Here are 10 smart moves to save on health care.
June 9, 2015

With bargain gas prices, fewer consumers go for hybrids and electrics

The low cost of gas is hurting sales of hybrid vehicles, notes The New York Times. In fact, the majority (55%) of hybrid and electric vehicle owners are switching to gasoline-only models at trade-in time, according to a recent report from Edmunds.com. That's the lowest hybrid loyalty since 2011. “When you can get a midsize sedan that gets you 35 mpg, there aren’t many compelling reasons to buy a hybrid,” Akshay Anand, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, told The Times.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Back in 2012, hybrids repaid their up-front costs in around five years. That's when gas prices were high. With gas prices now averaging around $2.66, it can take as long as 10 years to recoup theose costs. But regardless of the type of car you buy, it's important to get the best deal possible on a loan (that's if paying cash isn't an option). Car loans remain cheap, but rates are rising. If you need to finance, it's a good time to do it.
June 8, 2015

Student loan interest rates are set to drop this fall

Undergraduate students can expect to pay nearly two-fifths of a percentage point less in interest on new Stafford loans this fall. The government resets student loan rates every year according to the market, and this fall a new Stafford loan will run students 4.29% interest instead of the current 4.66%. On a $5,500 loan, students in the 2015-2016 academic year will save around $118 in interest with the new rate over 10 years, notes The Washington Post. The rate for grad students on new Direct loans will fall from 6.21% to 5.84%. Parents taking out at PLUS loan for their kids will pay 6.84% instead of 7.21%.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The new rates on student loans are only good for the 2015-2016 academic year. Indeed, they could rise next year. And with tuition outstripping inflation, the only way you'll ever pay for your kids to have a shot at college is to start putting money aside ASAP. See if a 529 plan is right for your family.
June 5, 2015

America's spending on the lottery is out of control

Americans spent $70.1 billion on lottery tickets in 2014, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. That's more than we spent on sports, books, games, movies and music last year, notes The Atlantic. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets, according to a 1980s study by Duke University. Rhode Island spent the most last year ($800 per person), then South Dakota and Massachusetts. Currently, 43 states have a lotto.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Ambrose Bierce famously said that the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. The odds of winning are about one in 175 million. Of course, many of us have played the lotto, if not just for fun. But instead of taking a big chance, go with a safer bet. Stash your lotto cash into savings or pay off debt. Check out these 7 smart things to do with $1,000.
June 4, 2015

Some credit cards are still offering 2% rewards

According to The New York Times, there are still some credit cards available offering 2% rewards on purchases — a rarity. Fidelity, Barclays, Capital One and Citigroup are all on the list. But since all of the cards are different, it's hard to say which one is the best, notes The Times. It's also difficult to know how long this level of generosity will last. Fidelity, which issues a card through Bank of America, was the only company guaranteeing that it won't change the rate until November 2016, though Capital One, Citi and Barclay said they had no intention of changing it anytime soon.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Play your cards right, and you can get some great rewards from credit cards. But paying off the card on time each month is the key. Otherwise, the interest can eat into your rewards.
June 3, 2015

Say hello to Affirm — a new type of online lender

There's a new type of online lender on the scene. Affirm is aimed at the younger crowd. It allows customers to purchase products — like televisions and mattresses — and pay for them via a set three-, six- or 12-month plan, notes The Washington Post. Shoppers get their products right away. And while there's still a 10% to 30% interest charge, it's not compounding interest, like credit cards charge. Indeed, according to a recent survey by Affirm, American millennials are taking on less credit card debt. Fewer than 20% of people aged 18 to 24 prefer using a credit card, while 40.4% use a debit card and 27.7% use cash.

SECOND THOUGHTS: This may be a nice alternative to credit cards. But as a general rule, if you don't have the cash in your bank account, don't spend it. Instead, stash away as much cash as you can while you're young. It'll pay off big in the end. Check out the power of saving while you're young.
June 2, 2015