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As regular readers know, my normal “Ask Stacy” column typically involves a detailed answer to one reader question. But for my first column of the new year, I instead provide short answers to multiple questions in some of the most popular personal finance categories of the preceding year.
So here we go: Here are some of the most-asked questions of 2016, along with brief answers and links to additional information. If you’re a regular reader and these questions and answers look familiar, that’s because many remain the same from year to year.
Questions about timeshares
Ever since I started answering questions in this column six years ago, the subject of timeshares has been consistently one of the most popular. I received dozens of questions about timeshares in 2016, many along these lines:
Cannot continue with my timeshare. What can you suggest so I can get rid of it. Please help since I cannot pay the taxes and maintenance fees every 2 years. It is fully paid.
Answer: We’ve done a lot on this topic; most recently, “Timeshares: Fabulous Opportunity or Financial Trap?” and “Ask Stacy: How Can I Get Out of My Timeshare Without Being Robbed?”
The short answer to this common question is to try selling, or at least renting, your timeshare at some, or all, of these sites:
- Timeshare Users Group listings (Note: Buyers, check out the Bargain Basement listings with deals as low as one penny!)
- RedWeek timeshare listings
- My Resort Network
- EBay timeshare sales
You should approach a sale with very low expectations. Most timeshares don’t have an active aftermarket, which means buyers are scarce. If you borrowed money to buy your timeshare, you might have to pay off your loan to get out of it. While you might start by talking to the developer you bought it from, don’t be surprised if they tell you they can’t help you.
The most important thing to know about selling a timeshare: Never pay a big upfront fee. Fraudulent resale services commonly say they already have a buyer for your unit — all you have to do is pay an upfront fee ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Don’t bite. Odds are that the buyer doesn’t exist. The FTC has been warning of these scams for years, most recently less than two weeks ago.
And when it comes to buying a timeshare, the most important thing to know: Timeshares are very easy to get into and very hard, if not impossible, to get out of. If you like the idea of a timeshare, buy it for pennies on the dollar from a private seller at one of the sites above. Never buy from a developer and never borrow the money to do it.
Questions about investing
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This is another very popular topic, and for good reason. When you’re earning next to nothing in interest at the bank, you’re naturally drawn to anything that might pay more, which the stock market can.
The problem with stocks? What goes up can come down.
Every year there are periods when the stock market looks scary. One of those times was last January, when stocks fell a bunch over the course of a few weeks. Another was the day after the Brexit vote. When times get tough, I get questions like this:
I’m worried about a stock market crash. Should I move all of my funds into cash? I’m 52 and invested in a 401(k) at about 70 percent stocks and 30 percent bonds. — Steve
Answer: Steve, I’m not smart enough to time the market, so I’m never completely on the sidelines. I’m 61, have slightly smaller exposure to stocks and thus far haven’t sold much. (You can see my online portfolio here.)
Nobody, including the smartest minds on the planet, knows what will happen to stocks, or anything else, with any certainty. Recent evidence: Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw a 12 percent market rise in the wake of the Trump presidential victory.
My advice has always been to read as many informed opinions as possible but, no matter how negative the outlook, always have some money in stocks. And no matter how positive the outlook, never have so much invested that you stare at the ceiling at night.
Questions about working from home
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I’ve been getting these types of questions for years. There’s so much misinformation out there, it’s easy to become confused, and even easier to get swindled. Sample question:
Where can we find the best work at home opportunities? Is this one?
The picture you see above is a cut and paste from the website this reader wanted me to check out.
Is the above business legitimate? I can’t say for sure, because I’m not going to take the time to investigate it. But I personally would never respond to the ad above. Why? Because it’s not likely there’s a job requiring no skill, no experience and paying $87 per hour, but it’s highly likely they’ll want my money up front, which I’ll probably never see again.
The most important things to remember about work-at-home jobs:
- Never pay money upfront for “opportunities.”
- The more hyped something is, the more suspicious you should be.
We periodically publish articles that will help you find legitimate work, like “The Top 20 Work-From-Home Employers for 2016” and “50 Ways to Make a Fast $50.” About.com also provides a 20-page directory with dozens of companies offering work-at-home jobs.
Questions about credit
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Building or rebuilding credit has always been one of our most popular topics. Here’s an example:
I filed for bankruptcy about three years ago. I am trying to rebuild my credit, and I pay all my bills on time. I checked my credit score, and it is still low. What can I do to improve my credit rating? — Anna
Anna, you definitely need to go to our credit and debt section and check out articles like “3 Steps to Repairing Your Own Credit,” “Ask Stacy: How Can I Rebuild My Credit?” and “5 Steps to Build a Credit Score From Scratch.” But the solution to your problem is to follow these three steps:
- Pay your bills on time.
- Open new lines of credit. If you have trouble qualifying for credit, first try a credit union. If that doesn’t work, try a secured credit card.
- Check your credit history at AnnualCreditReport.com and make sure there are no mistakes on it.
- Be patient. If you do all of the above, your credit score will improve. And that you can take to the bank.
Questions about our advertisers
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These types of questions are particularly painful to me, because they reveal that some of our readers hold us responsible for advertisements on this site when we have almost no control over them. Here’s a sample comment:
I used to subscribe to the [Money Talks News] newsletter and saw some online companies as suggestions for getting our credit score for free. I used [name redacted], found my credit score (supposedly for free), but now am being charged $29.95 per month. I did not sign up for anything like that and it appears it is a scam. I would have hoped the company would have been checked out by you prior to your reference. Please help get my three months’ worth of charges back. — Karene
We have little control over the advertisers on this site. Our ads are screened, selected and served by Google. More important, the ads being served depend more on you than on us. They change based on what Google knows about you, as well as other ads you’ve looked at elsewhere online.
In other words, when you’re on MoneyTalksNews.com, or on many other sites, you’re likely seeing ads that are completely different from what another reader sitting right next to you would see. They’re customized by Google specifically for you.
In any case, very few of the advertisers you see here are problematic: Google does screen for scams. But if you ever feel ripped by an advertiser, let Google know and let us know as well. While we don’t select our advertisers and probably can’t get you a refund, we can and will blacklist the unscrupulous ones.
Something else to keep in mind: If you never click an ad on our site, or use ad blocking software, we’ll be out of business and you won’t be getting free content. So please click on ads that appeal to you, but always exercise care in dealing with anyone, online or off.
And please: Don’t ever assume that because an advertiser appears here, they have my endorsement. You don’t judge TV reporters by the ads that run during commercial breaks. You don’t judge newspaper reporters based on ads in the paper. Don’t judge us based on the ads you see on this site.
Questions about Canada
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While most of our readers are in the United States, we have readers all over the world. I’ve gotten comments like this one many times:
Just to let you know I thoroughly enjoy Money Talks News. However, I am disappointed that there is not more of it that applies to Canada. Seems that most of these programs like getting money from government groups/programs … are for USA and not Canada. — Ivy
I’m sorry, Ivy. I’ve been to Canada many times, love the areas I’ve visited and have friends there. Unfortunately, however, I’m U.S.-based, as are the vast majority of our readers. So while I’d love to offer insight into offers, deals, programs, etc., that apply in Canada, we simply don’t have the staff, resources or Canadian audience to make it worthwhile, at least not yet.
That being said, much of the advice we offer does apply to our friends north of the border, so keep coming back.
Got a question you’d like answered?
You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.
I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. If you’ve got some time to kill, you can learn more about me here.
Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.