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Interactive map shows how much your state and county are suffering in the recession.

By Karen Datko Mar 24, 2010 4:57PM

The Great Recession has undoubtedly taken its toll, but how close to home is the pain? You can track it in your county and state with the Economic Stress Index prepared by The Associated Press.


“The thing is fascinating,” said our pal “vh” at Funny about Money, who recently discovered this tool. “As bad off as things are in Michigan, what with the struggles of the automotive industry, things generally are far worse in California. The Imperial Valley has an unemployment rate of 27.7%!”


We love poring over statistical snapshots like this, and not all trace misery.


New federal rules are an attempt to streamline the process. Will they work?

By Teresa Mears Mar 24, 2010 1:47PM

When you want to sell a home that is worth less than your mortgage, doing a short sale -- making a deal with the lender to sell it for less than you owe -- is usually considered preferable to just letting the home slide into foreclosure.


But lenders have often made the process difficult, taking months to respond once buyer and seller have signed a contract. The uncertainty keeps many buyers from even considering short-sale homes, or the buyer may walk away before the deal can be completed, forcing the seller to start over.


New Treasury Department rules (.pdf file) that take effect April 5 are supposed to streamline and shorten the process. In addition to offering lenders cash incentives, the rules require them to respond to a purchase offer within 10 days. Sellers also can get as much as $1,500 in relocation assistance.


New regulations designed to protect consumers from surprises.

By Karen Datko Mar 24, 2010 12:05PM

This post comes from James Limbach at partner site


The Federal Reserve Board has announced final rules that will restrict the fees and expiration dates that may apply to gift cards. The rules are expected to protect consumers from certain unexpected costs and require that gift card terms and conditions be clearly stated.


The new regulations prohibit dormancy, inactivity and service fees on gift cards unless:


Entry-level handsets for smart-phone newbies on a budget.

By Karen Datko Mar 24, 2010 9:34AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


The market for more affordable smart phones is heating up.


Consumers who haven’t yet purchased a smart

phone tend to be scared off by the price of the phone or carriers’ requirement for a pricey data plan, says Michael Morgan, a mobile device industry analyst for ABI Research. To push consumers over those hurdles, cell phone manufacturers have cut prices on existing handsets and introduced new lines of inexpensive, feature-rich models -- and in the process boosted sales 25% during the fourth quarter of 2009.


Most birthdays are not landmark occasions. And think of all the money we could save.

By Karen Datko Mar 24, 2010 8:26AM

This post comes from Paul Michael at partner blog Wise Bread.


What if we suddenly stopped celebrating every single birthday in our lives, and instead concentrated on just the important ones? Would you care? Would you support it? I’ll tell you one thing -- we’d all save a bunch of money.


The idea comes from one of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt. If you don’t know the name, you’ll certainly know the voice. He played Remy in “Ratatouille.” He was also Spence Olchin in “The King Of Queens,” and he’s an exceptional comedian.

On his CD “Werewolves and Lollipops,” he outlines a plan to stop the celebration of most birthdays, saying that there’s nothing special about most of them. And he’s right. What’s so special about hitting 36 (my next birthday)? Or 42? Or even 14? They’re not landmark dates in your existence. They’re just another year.


The full list is printed below.


More couples who want to split up are staying under one roof because of the economy. How do they cope?

By Karen Datko Mar 23, 2010 8:51PM

The divorce rate actually dropped -- a remarkable 4% -- in 2008 and that trend appears to be continuing. Does that mean that during bad economic times, more couples are rediscovering true love and harmony?


Could be, but for many, probably not: Financial strain can be the final straw in a shaky relationship. What’s likely is that many people who would otherwise split can’t afford to break up. There’s too little money for legal fees or operating two households. Also, homeowners can find it nearly impossible to dispose of the family house.

So, many unhappy couples remain together (and many divorce lawyers report that business is the slowest it’s ever been).


Here's another strange Great Recession trend: Many couples are forced by finances to live together while going through a divorce. The Washington Post said 20% to 25% of the clients of one area law firm are in that boat, and other news stories reported similar statistics. Doesn’t that sound like hell here on earth? “It was torture, a scene waiting for a crime of passion,” Nordette, a poster at BlogHer, said about her experience.


Using food stamps at Whole Foods: Is something amiss somewhere?

By Karen Datko Mar 23, 2010 2:21PM

This guest post comes from Frank Curmudgeon at Bad Money Advice.


Are you eligible for food stamps? Are you sure? Why not check here and find out? Unfortunately, the rules vary from state to state and are pretty complex within each one, so I can’t give much in the way of useful guidelines.


But I’m guessing the rules are a lot more permissive than you think. They probably grant food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance as it is now technically called, to folks you probably do not think should be eligible, possibly including you.

I know this from an article now reverberating around the blogosphere that was posted last week at Salon, “Hipsters on food stamps.” (I am nowhere near hip enough to read Salon. I found it from thoughtful commentary the next day called “Using food stamps at Whole Foods” on The Big Money, which I do read.)


Defense Department fires longtime employees with credit problems.

By Teresa Mears Mar 23, 2010 1:14PM

At least 62 workers at the federal government’s military payroll facility in Cleveland are reportedly paying a high price for blemishes on their credit reports: They have been fired.


Among those losing their jobs with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) are Troy Marshall, union president and holder of a $47,000-a-year job in which he helps with equipment and staffing. He has worked at the facility for 17 years and told WKYC-TV that all his evaluations have rated him as "excellent" and "highly recommended." But he received a letter saying he was losing his security clearance because of credit problems.



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