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Housing Costs Are Rising Faster Than Incomes, Study Finds

Homes are unaffordable in more American cities than any time since the recession began, and housing costs are rising far faster than incomes, according to a study released Thursday by ATTOM Data Solutions.

During the third quarter of 2016, 24% of U.S. counties were less affordable than historic averages, up from 19% one year ago, the firm said; that’s the highest rate since the third quarter of 2009.

Ironically, affordability increased in the nations’s most-expensive areas, such as Northern Virginia and Brooklyn, N.Y. — probably because years of high price growth have finally started to level off, the report found.

The study uses an affordability index to measure whether homes for sale are more or less affordable relative to incomes. The index is based on the percentage of average wages needed to make monthly mortgage payments on a median-priced house with a 30-year fixed rate and a 3% down payment, including property taxes and insurance.

The report found that 101 of the 414 counties analyzed had an affordability index below 100. That means a median-priced home in that county was less affordable than the historic average for that county, as determined by ATTOM, the report said.

“The improving affordability trend we noted in our second quarter report reversed course in the third quarter as home price appreciation accelerated in the majority of markets and wage growth slowed in the majority of markets as well as nationwide, where average weekly wages declined in the first quarter of this year following 13 consecutive quarters with year-over-year increases,” Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, said in a press release. “This unhealthy combination resulted in worsening affordability in 63% of markets despite mortgage rates that are down 45 basis points from a year ago.”

The counties whose prices are less affordable than their historic averages include:

  • Harris County (Houston), Texas
  • Kings County (Brooklyn), New York
  • Dallas County, Texas
  • Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas
  • Alameda County, California, near San Francisco

Meanwhile, affordability improved in 153 counties (37%), including pricey spots like Marin County, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area and Arlington, Virginia (5%).

“Some silver lining in this report is that affordability actually improved in some of the highest-priced markets that have been bastions of bad affordability, mostly the result of annual home price appreciation slowing to low single-digit percentages in those markets” Blomquist continued. “This is an indication that home prices are finally responding to affordability constraints — a modicum of good news for prospective buyers who have been priced out of those high-priced markets.”

But that good news ends there. Any relief provided by improvement in household wages, as suggested by the recent Census report, was overwhelmed by housing price increases. “Annual growth in median home prices outpaced wage growth in 368 of the 414 counties (89%) included in the analysis,” the report said.

This is on trend: Since the beginning of 2012, median home prices nationwide have increased 60% while average weekly wages have risen just 6%, ATTOM said.

Buying a Home

Prospective homeowners may have little control over housing prices in their area, but a substantial down payment can help you save over the life of your mortgage. So can a good credit score, since it generally entitles borrowers to the lowest interest rates. (You can see where your credit stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) If your credit needs to be polished, you can improve your scores by paying down high credit card balances, disputing any errors on your credit report and limiting new credit inquiries until your standing rises. You can also potentially cut back on the costs of a home by negotiating a good price. You can go here to learn more about how to do so.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Chipotle to pay more than $7 million in sexual harassment lawsuit

A jury awarded $7.65 million plus legal fees to a Texas woman on Monday, and Chipotle will have to pay the bill.

>> Read more trending stories  

In a lawsuit filed in 2014, the woman said she was sexually harassed by two managers at a Chipotle restaurant that she worked at in Houston for four months.

The lawsuit, which deemed the woman's then-assistant manager and general manager responsible, also claimed the chain itself was liable, saying the restaurant allowed the harassment to happen.

The victim, now a 19-year-old college student, was 16 at the time of the harassment.

"We feel an employer has an obligation to provide a safe working environment, especially when the employer knows the employee is a minor," attorney Adrian Villacorta said in February

According to WDAF-TV, the assistant manager, Gerardo Solis, started touching the woman inappropriately in the workspace weeks after she was hired.

The lawsuit claimed Solis initially said the touching was accidental, but he later began regularly touching her and "grooming" her for sex at the Chipotle restaurant. By the summer of 2014, Solis was having unprotected sex with the victim "at the restaurant dumpster, in the restroom, in the office and other places," the lawsuit stated.

"In a matter of six weeks, her supervisor was bumping into her breasts, commenting about her breasts," said attorney Ben Hall. "Other supervisors were using cameras to look at the butts and breasts of women at that restaurant."

The lawsuit described a work environment in which managers "would have sex, kiss, hug, sexually touch and pursue intimate relationships."

"It's almost like a brothel that just served food. That's the best way to characterize this restaurant," Hall said. 

Villacorta said the restaurant's then-general manager was aware of the activity and did nothing to stop it.

According to WDAF, the victim's mother said that on one occassion, she went to the Chipotle to pick up her daughter from work and found that she and Solis were not at the restaurant. The mother said the general manager "begged" her not to call police.

"The evidence showed that one of the supervisors had more than 50 (incidents of) unprotected sexual intercourse with this child and oral sex," Hall said.

Hall said the sexual encounters happened every three and a half days on average.

The victim eventually quit her job because of the abuse, KPRC-TV reported.

 "It was definitely hard. I never expected it to be like that," the victim told KPRC. "I just went there to work and earn some money, and I never expected that from managers to treat women like they're not supposed to be treated."

"The fact of the matter is that these sexual assaults were being committed by managers," said Villacorta. "These aren't low-level crew members. These are managers, agents of the corporation. So the jury grasped on to that concept that the manager, who was committing sexual assaults, and an upper level manager, who helped facilitate the assaults, were Chipotle. What they knew, Chipotle knew."

"Chipotle's conduct in this case was outrageous," said Hall. "Chipotle wanted to couch it as a relationship, but the jury was clear you cannot have a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old child. That's why they call it a sexual assault."

Chipotle released a statement, saying, "We care deeply about all of our employees, but even our rigorous policies specifically designed to protect our employees cannot prevent private relationships that happen away from the workplace during non-work hours, such as occurred in this case."

It continued: "We continue to offer our support for this former employee, and hope for her well-being. Chipotle goes to great lengths to provide safe and productive work environments. We have internal policies, procedures, and training to address issues and potential problems between employees, if ever they arise. None of our employees were made aware of this relationship, which took place outside of work. We learned of it only when the former employee's parents demanded money and filed a lawsuit, and by that time, neither of the employees worked for the company any longer."

A jury in Harris County District Court took 3 1/2 hours to reach a verdict. Jurors found Chipotle liable.

"In the words of the jury, they had made up their mind the first week, and they wanted to make sure that the little 16-year-old was taken care of for the rest of her life," Hall said.

"I'm just glad that it's over and justice was made," the victim told KPRC.

She also said the legal victory is "going to help other people to not be scared to speak out." 

Solis is believed to have fled to Mexico to avoid criminal prosecution, WDAF reported.

Three Brain Surgeries Can't Keep Cancer Patient From Son's Birth

Cagney Wenk and his fianceé, Jessica Li, recently welcomed their son, Levon Robbie Wenk, into the world. It wasn’t all joy for the new family, however. Cagney had been recently diagnosed with inoperable, stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Already hospitalized and with three surgeries already performed, Cagney was still determined to be at his son’s birth. His nurses helped make that not only possible, but even threw in something extra special.

So on Sept. 18, when Cagney made his way from the intensive care unit at Boulder Community Hospital to the delivery room — along with his nurse and all his medical equipment — a videographer also arrived to document the occasion. Cagney’s nurses contacted Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep ― an organization that provides remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby ― to take photos of Cagney, Jessica and Levon, according to the photographer and videographer, Sarah Boccolucci, who captured the moments.

Cagney’s tears of joy as he hears his son’s cries for the first time are incredibly moving (it’s only fair to warn you that the video, which you can see in full on Credit.com, will likely move you to tears).

Because Cagney is no longer able to work, the family is struggling with hospital bills. They started a donation page on GiveForward.com in hopes of raising $50,000 to help them pay the bills and for daily necessities.

Americans Still Struggle With Medical Debt

Despite national health reform, healthcare costs continue to threaten financial stability for millions of American families. There are various consequences that result from unaffordable healthcare costs. Some people simply forego recommended medical treatment because they can’t afford it. This holds true for both insured and uninsured patients. But there are also financial consequences.

A Kaiser Family Foundation/New York Times survey earlier this year found that a majority (58%) of Americans with medical bill problems report they were contacted by a collection agency for unpaid medical bills. These collection accounts can seriously affect consumer credit scores. (You can see if a collection account is affecting your credit by getting your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com or by reviewing two of your credit scores for free every 14 days on Credit.com.)

Of even greater concern are the strategies used by people to address their medical bills. Six in ten (59%) of those with medical bill problems used all or most of their savings trying to pay these bills, about one-third (34%) took on credit card debt to do so, and about a quarter (26%) withdrew funds from a retirement or college account in order to pay.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Massachusetts Consumer Advocates Fight Debt Collectors

MoneyTips

The state of Massachusetts has battled for consumer rights in several debt collection cases and Attorney General Maura Healey may continue to do so. Many advocates have called on her office to keep up the tight regulation of the state's debt collection industry. Wednesday's announcement of a settlement with Ditech Financial LLC is an example of such regulations. The collection agency agreed to a $1.4 million settlement after the attorney general's office accused the company of violating the state's laws on debt collection and harassment. According to allegations, Ditech Financial was calling borrowers several times a day, to collect on over 5,000 mortgage debts. Many of the tactics employed by the company violated Massachusetts law. Healey has a history of working to protect consumers in her state. In 2015, her office sued Lustig, Glaser & Wilson PC, for dece...

Feds issue warning against exploding Samsung washing machines

A Georgia woman's Samsung washing machine exploded, and now the government is warning everyone to be aware of the danger.

Melissa Thaxton was in her Paulding County home in April when something went wrong with her washing machine.

"All of the sudden, without warning, the washing machine just exploded, and it was the loudest sound. It sounded like a bomb went off in my ear," Thaxton said. "There were wires, nuts – the actual top was laying on the floor."

>> Read more trending stories

Thaxton said her 4-year-old son, Luke, was next to her.

A North Carolina mom said her 2-month-old top-loading Samsung washing machine flew apart, too.

According to ABC News, 21 people reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that their top-loading Samsung washing machines exploded or were blown apart since early last year.

Thaxton and several others are suing Samsung. Their lawyer argues that a support rod can become unfastened during the spin cycle.

Samsung released the following statement: "In rare cases, affected units may experience abnormal vibrations that could pose a risk of personal injury or property damage when washing bedding, bulky or water-resistant items."

Samsung also said the washers have handled hundreds of millions of loads with no problem.

Samsung and the CPSC are advising people to only use the delicate cycle while washing bulky items.

Uber is Partnering with ... Sears?

Now if you take a ride with Uber in New York City or Chicago, a new partnership with Sears can allow you to earn shopping cash for its stores or Shop Your Way rewards website, the company announced Wednesday.

Riders who link their Uber account to Sears’ free Shop Your Way program have the potential to receive unlimited Shop Your Way points, up to $2 in points for each trip with Uber. Although it’s currently only available in Chicago and New York City, there are plans to expand to other cities.

If you’re considering driving for Uber, new drivers who sign up through for the Shop Your Way Program can earn up to $1,000 in shopping points, and Uber plans to give “hundreds of thousands of Shop Your Way Points” to drivers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and San Francisco who enroll in the program, according to a press release. Drivers can also receive 50% off all oil changes and 30% back in points on all labor at Sears Auto Centers.

As a sign up incentive, Uber and Shop Your Way plan to award 1,000 riders with $10,000 in rewards points through a sweepstakes that registers riders each time they ride. The Shop Your Way app is available on iTunes and Google Play.

Sears isn’t the first partnership Uber has made. Many credit cards are offering points to consumers when paying for Uber with the card— like Chase, who offers new Uber users a free ride, up to $30, or American Express who offers twice the membership points for Uber rides.

Remember, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of any program or offer you’re thinking of signing up for to be sure it’s right for you. Also, rewards can be great, but you’ll want to avoid the temptation to overspend in order to get them, because it isn’t worth going into debt for perks. Debt can be challenging to pay off, and can also affect your credit score. To find out how your credit card usage is affecting you, you can check out two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

How To Boost Your Credit Score Fast

MoneyTips

What is the fastest way to boost your credit score? That's easy – keep the amount of credit you use at less than thirty percent of your total available credit. That number makes up a third of your credit score, and lowering it gives an immediate boost to how credit-worthy you look to lenders. Your credit score can seem like a mystical, magical thing, and there are unlimited ways that lenders slice and dice the numbers to arrive at different types of scores. The most widely used credit score – FICO – was introduced in 1989, and ranges from a low of 300 to a perfect score of 850. All a credit score really amounts to is a quick set of digits that translates your credit history into a numerical ranking of the likelihood that you'll be able to repay the money you borrow from a bank, credit union or credit card issuer. In an era wh...
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