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Mortgage Rates Today, Jan. 24: Marginally Lower; Citi, Wells Fargo Dinged

Thirty-year fixed, 15-year fixed and 5/1 ARM rates are all marginally lower Tuesday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Mortgage Rates Today, Tuesday, Jan. 24 (Change from 1/23) 30-year fixed: 4.40% APR (-0.01) 15-year fixed: 3.76% APR (-0.04) 5/1 ARM: 3.83% APR (-0.01) Citi and Wells Fargo accused of improprieties

Once again, two major mortgage lenders are being accused of improper loan practices. Yesterday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined CitiMortgage and its loan collection unit CitiFinancial Servicing nearly $29 million for “giving the runaround” to homeowners trying to save their homes from foreclosure.

“Consumers were kept in the dark about their options or burdened with excessive paperwork,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “This action will put money back in consumers’ pockets and make sure borrowers can get help they need.”

According to the CFPB, CitiFinancial Servicing:

  • Kept consumers in the dark about foreclosure relief options.
  • Misled consumers about the impact of deferring payment due dates.
  • Charged consumers for credit insurance that should have been canceled.
  • Prematurely canceled credit insurance for some borrowers.
  • Sent inaccurate consumer information to credit reporting companies.
  • Failed to investigate consumer disputes.

In a statement emailed to CNNMoney, a Citi spokesman said, “We are pleased to resolve these matters.”

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo is accused of improperly charging customers to extend their mortgage rate lock after their loan paperwork was delayed.

In an article published by ProPublica, four former Wells Fargo employees based in the Los Angeles area say the loan processing delays were “usually the bank’s fault” but that management forced the employees to blame customers and charge them “millions of dollars” in additional fees.

“We are reviewing these questions about the implementation of our mortgage rate-lock extension fee policies,” Tom Goyda, Wells Fargo spokesman, told ProPublica. Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published annual percentage rate with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. APR quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

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How Two-Factor Authentication Protects Your Online Info

As the world goes fully digital, online information increasingly is under attack from scammers stealing people’s personal information. A security feature known as two-factor authentication can keep your accounts safer and provide peace of mind.

What is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication, also known as multifactor authentication and often abbreviated as 2FA, adds an extra layer of security when you log in to an account that contains personal or sensitive information; for example, on banking or payment websites. Mobile phones are often used to add this extra layer.

Here’s how it typically works:

When you log in to an account that has been set up for two-factor authentication, you log in with your user name and password as usual. Then there’s an additional step: You get a text message on your phone or an email with a one-time code that you must enter to complete the login. So even if the bad guys get their hands on your password, they still wouldn’t have access to your account.

Two-factor authentication can also use biometric information like fingerprints or face authentication. And there are other forms of two-factor authentication, such as security tokens that produce temporary codes. The idea is that login requires both something you know, like a password, and something you have, like a phone.

You might be using this process already. Some banks automatically require an extra step of authentication when you log in to your account from a new device or location or try to make a high-volume transaction. Other financial service providers may require you to opt into it by adjusting your security settings.

In addition to financial services sites, two-factor authentication can be set up on shopping, social media, email, gaming and many other sites.

Theft of online info a growing problem

There’s no guarantee you won’t get hacked if you use two-factor authentication, but it’s less likely. Even if thieves have your password, they probably don’t have your phone.

The theft of online information is a big, and growing, problem. The Department of Justice estimates that 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014, and complaints to the Federal Trade Commission rose almost 70% from 2013 to 2015, to more than 490,000.

The Department of Homeland Security recommends that you place the strongest possible protections on your accounts, particularly if they hold sensitive information. That means for any account connected to your finances — banks and credit unions, peer-to-peer payment platforms like Venmo and anything that might hold credit or debit card information — the more secure, the better.

You can check online sites to find out if your financial institution offers 2FA. It’s also a good idea to go to your bank’s website or contact your bank directly, since information may change.

More security steps to take

If two-factor authentication isn’t available on a site, you can maximize your accounts’ safety by following these other security tips. It’s a good idea to follow these rules regardless of whether your financial institution offers 2FA.

  • Create passwords using a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Avoid using the same password for multiple sites, particularly for bank accounts and other sites that hold sensitive information.
  • Don’t access sensitive sites while your device is connected to public Wi-Fi.
  • Run updates on your mobile devices and apps to ensure you have the most up-to-date browsers and software to keep viruses out.
  • Read the fine print. Be choosy about which apps and services you give your information to, and know how they will use your information.
  • Delete old apps and accounts you don’t use.

Amber Murakami-Fester is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: amufe@nerdwallet.com.

TradeKing Advisors Review 2017

TradeKing Advisors has seen rapid changes since its launch in 2014, all of them benefiting the consumer. The management fee and account minimum are now significantly lower: Management costs just 0.25% — or $1 a month for balances under $5,000 — and investors can open an account with $500.

The company also brings a diversified portfolio of up to 17 asset classes and a range of account types, including business accounts rarely offered by a robo-advisor. TradeKing Advisors accounts integrate with TradeKing, a well-respected online broker. Both brands were purchased by Ally Financial in 2016.

NerdWallet is a free tool to find you the best credit cards, cd rates, savings, checking accounts, scholarships, healthcare and airlines. Start here to maximize your rewards or minimize your interest rates. Arielle O'Shea NerdWallet's rating: 4.0 / 5 Quick FactsManagement fee: $1/month for balances under $5,000; 0.25% annual fee on balances of $5,000 or moreAccount minimum: $500 Get started on TradeKing Advisors' secure site Get started on TradeKing Advisors' secure site

TradeKing Advisors Arielle O’Shea Jan. 17, 2017 4.0

TradeKing Advisors is best for:
  • Business accounts
  • Existing TradeKing online broker customers
  • Hands-off investors
  • Automatic rebalancing
TradeKing Advisors at a glance Overall Account management fee$1/month for balances under $5,000; 0.25% annual fee on accounts of $5,000 or more. Investment expense ratiosExpense ratios average 0.17% PortfolioETFs and ETNs from up to 17 asset classes Account minimum$500 Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)$50 IRA closing fee; no fee to close brokerage account Accounts supportedIndividual and joint nonretirement accountsRoth, traditional, SIMPLE, SEP and rollover IRAsTrustsCoverdell and UTMA accountsBusiness accounts Tax strategyNot offered Automatic rebalancingFree on all accounts Customer supportPhone, email and live chat support Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern Where TradeKing Advisors shines

Investments: TradeKing Advisors has a relationship with Ibbotson Associates, the registered investment advisor arm of Morningstar. Although TradeKing Advisors is only about 3 years old and manages just $13 million in assets, Ibbotson Associates has more than $105 billion in assets under management and a proven track record. The company reviews and updates the TradeKing Advisors investment portfolios, which are constructed of exchange-traded funds and exchange-traded notes that carry an average expense ratio of 0.17%.

New customers are directed to an assessment. The questions, developed by Ibbotson, determine an investor’s risk tolerance and goals and help the firm select an investment strategy for the client. The questions gauge how comfortable investors are with large portfolio fluctuations and what their investment time horizon is. The assessment then suggests a portfolio, with details about the asset allocation.

 

TradeKing Advisors offers five portfolio choices, covering both conservative and aggressive options with up to 17 asset classes, including domestic and foreign fixed-income securities, equities and real estate. All portfolios are monitored daily and automatically rebalanced as needed.

Integration with TradeKing: Current TradeKing self-directed account holders can open a TradeKing Advisors account and easily view all of their accounts in one place. The platform is also mobile-responsive and consistent across devices. You cannot, however, combine self-directed and managed accounts, and TradeKing Advisors’ minimum balance requirements are separate from any assets held at TradeKing.

Business accounts: TradeKing Advisors offers account options that many other robo-advisors don’t, including LLC, partnership, sole proprietorship and corporate accounts.

Where TradeKing Advisors falls short

Management fees: We’d say this walks the line between being a pro and a con, depending on your account balance. TradeKing Advisors has nudged its fees down considerably since the service launch. At balances of $5,000 or more, the current 0.25% annual advisory fee is in line with what other robo-advisors charge. In fact, when compared with robo-advisory offerings from fellow online brokers, it’s actually on the low side.

But it’s important to point out that the $1 a month fee charged to account balances below $5,000 can be expensive when calculated as a percentage of assets under management. For clients who invest the $500 minimum, the fee works out to an annual charge of 2.4%. Only at an account balance of $4,800 does the service’s flat fee break even with the 0.25% annual management fee.

TradeKing Advisors clients with balances of $5,000 or more can also add a feature called Risk Assist to their account, which tacks on an additional 0.50% annual fee, bringing the total yearly management cost to 0.75%. That’s a very high price for peace of mind. Risk Assist automatically shifts asset allocation away from equities and into fixed-income ETFs during severe market declines like the 2008 recession.

As the market bounces back, the allocation will as well, gradually shifting back into equity ETFs. This is an optional feature, so it’s not really a negative; however, it adds a significant cost to the management fee, and investors with a long time horizon would be wise to simply stay the course during a market downturn.

Cash holdings: Investors with TradeKing Advisors will find uninvested cash in their portfolios — between 1% and 6%, depending on the portfolio’s allocation. The advisor does this to avoid having to sell investments to cover management fees and because cash is a part of some allocations. Investors with greater risk tolerance may prefer a robo-advisor that invests in fractional shares, such as Betterment.

Tax-loss harvesting: Or rather, the lack thereof. The company doesn’t offer this feature, which is standard at many robo-advisors, including several that charge the same management fee as TradeKing Advisors.

The bottom line

That depends a great deal on what kind of account you’re interested in and how much money you have to invest. The service is best suited to retirement or business accounts with $5,000 or more, or loyal TradeKing customers who want to house a managed and a trading account under one roof.

At amounts under $5,000, the flat fee can be high when calculated as a percentage of assets under management, and the lack of tax-loss harvesting will be an issue for investors with taxable brokerage accounts.

Open a TradeKing Advisors Account

Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aoshea@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @arioshea.

Updated Jan. 24, 2017.

Trump's Mortgage Fee Cut Reversal: What it Really Means for House Hunters

Almost lost amid all the celebrating and marching this weekend were a set of official actions the Trump administration took soon after the Inauguration. One directly impacts some consumers who are house-hunting right now.

You might have seen headlines suggesting President Donald Trump raised taxes on middle-class homeowners, but that’s not an accurate way to portray what happened. Instead, Trump signed an administrative order to halt a fee rate cut, announced just days earlier by the Obama administration, that would have saved homebuyers who don’t have big down payments and use Federal Housing Administration-backed home loans an average of about $450 annually in their monthly house payments.

The order will make home loans more costly for a large group of buyers — about 40% of millennial buyers use the program targeted by the Trump order. That, in turn, can make life harder on older owners looking to sell their homes and trade up.

What Really Happened

In the hours after he was sworn in, Trump signed an order that stopped a lame-duck step by the Obama administration that would have lowered monthly fees for consumers who buy homes with less than 20% down payments and use a government program operated by the Housing and Urban Development department known as “FHA loans” to insure their mortgages. The decrease would have saved average homeowners about $37 monthly, according to Attom Data Solutions. It would have saved homeowners much more in places where home prices are higher — averaging more than $1,000 annually in 13 counties across the United States.

FHA loan fees were raised during the recession to cover program losses, and Obama’s move would have returned them to about the level they were before the housing bubble burst. For now, they remain above their 2008 levels.

Keeping the fees higher effectively lowers the buying power of home shoppers, as money that could be spent toward mortgage payments is instead shifted to insurance payments.

Help For Less-Liquid Homebuyers

Many homeowners are familiar with the additional fees that come with low-down-payment mortgages. Buyers with less than 20% generally must pay for mortgage insurance in case they cannot make their mortgage payments. That’s because the owners will have so little equity in their homes that banks can’t be sure they’d make their money back if they foreclosed on the home and sold it.

There are several forms of this kind of insurance; the most popular is provided by the Federal Housing Administration through FHA-backed loans. For an upfront fee and an ongoing monthly cost, the FHA will guarantee a loan between a buyer and a bank — that gives banks the ability to lend money to buyers with as little as 3% down.

The program dates back to the 1930s, and helps create first-time homebuyer activity. The FHA has insured 34 million properties since its inception, and the agency says it is the largest insurer or mortgages in the world.

Low-down-payment buyers can opt for private mortgage insurance, or PMI, instead. PMI tends to be less expensive, but buyers with lower credit scores or smaller down payments might not qualify for it.

Without these kinds of insurance programs, a buyer shopping for a median-priced $185,000 home would need at least $37,000 in a cash down-payment to buy a home, or would be required to finance the down payment some other way.

Younger Buyers Could Be Hit Hardest

FHA loans are particularly popular with millennials; 38% of new loans closed by younger buyers are FHA loans, according to mortgage data firm Ellie Mae.

FHA insurance isn’t cheap. At closing, buyers pay 1.75% of the loan in an upfront fee. For a $185,000 mortgage, that’s an extra $3,238 in cost; it’s usually financed as part of the loan. The ongoing monthly fee on that mortgage is about $126 per month — a rate of .085% of the loan annually, paid in monthly installments. The fee is known as the MIP, or mortgage insurance premium. The MIP was targeted by Trump’s order.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the FHA announced it would drop the fee from 0.85% to 0.60% — a 0.25% drop. That would have provided $37 in monthly savings for a buyer with a median-priced home, or about $446 annually, Attom says. An FHA buyer in Santa Clara County, California, would have saved much more— $1,448 annually.

The fees collected from consumers go into the fund used to support the FHA loan program.

Before the recession, ongoing FHA fees were 0.55%. Not surprisingly, the FHA fund collapsed in the face of massive defaults during the collapse of the housing bubble. To restore the fund, FHA fees were raised steadily, beginning in January 2008, reaching a high of 1.35% in January 2013.

When the fund reached Congressionally-mandated reserve levels, the premiums were reduced, down to 0.85% in January 2015

A drop that would have returned FHA monthly fee levels to their 2008 levels, announced Jan. 9, was set to take effect on Jan. 27.

On the eve of HUD nominee Ben Carson’s confirmation hearings, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, was critical of the fee cut.

Greater Risk of Another Bailout?

“It seems the Obama administration’s parting gift to hardworking taxpayers is to put them at greater risk of footing the bill for yet another bailout,” Hensarling said. Carson then said he would “really examine” the premium cut at his hearing.

Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, says the rate cut two years ago triggered a short-term jump in home sales to FHA buyers. On the other hand, the impact of the rate cut wasn’t as dramatic as hoped, in part because fast-rising prices gobbled up much of the anticipated increased buying power.

“This decision not too surprisingly reflects the Trump administration’s fiscally conservative philosophical bent, favoring not putting taxpayers at risk — or at least what they perceive as risk — for the sake of a government program that helps people buy homes,” Blomquist said to me. “This is not to say that the Trump administration won’t take policy steps to help the homeownership rate rebound, but the levers pulled will more likely involve trying to allow the market to address the situation with deregulation rather than addressing the situation through government programs that potentially put taxpayers at risk.”

HUD did not immediately respond to Credit.com’s request for comment as to why the fee cut was suspended.

Buyers might be tempted to wait and see what the Trump administration does with FHA fees — some observers think they could ultimately be lowered — but that might be a mistake. If home prices continue to rise, those increases would quickly eat up any savings from lower FHA fees. You can learn more about getting a mortgage (and buying a home) here.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

The Ultimate Guide to Filing Your Taxes for Free

If you bristle at the idea of having to pay to file your taxes, you’ll probably be happy to know that the IRS found 70% of all taxpayers are eligible to prepare and file their federal tax return for free.

In fact, a wide variety of free federal and state tax solutions can help qualifying taxpayers file their 2016 tax returns without paying a cent. (You can check out 10 ways you’re filing your taxes wrong here.) Some of these solutions are offered by tax software providers in partnership with the IRS through the Free File Alliance, while others are a standard product offering. Many have strict eligibility requirements, but are perfectly suitable for straightforward tax returns. (Note: Most solutions with income restrictions have special eligibility requirements for active duty military members. If you were an active duty service member in 2016 and had an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of $64,000 or less, you may qualify even if you don’t meet the civilian income requirements listed here — make sure to check the provider’s website for details. Also, certain free file offers must be accessed from the IRS website.)

Paying taxes isn’t fun, but it’s something we all have to do. And not doing so can do more damage than you may think — unpaid taxes can result in a tax lien, which can damage your credit. (Not sure where your credit stands? Viewing it is another thing you can do for free. In fact, you can see two of your free credit scores right on Credit.com.)

With that in mind, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to filing your taxes for free — a list of almost 20 ways you could file your federal and/or state taxes at no cost. We include Free File Alliance solutions available through the IRS website and solutions offered independently. Want to find the right one for you? Check out each solution in detail below.

IRS Paper Forms

The most basic option available is to fill out the IRS paper tax forms and file them by mail. (Note: While the forms and filing are free, this method does require you pay for postage.) You can find your appropriate tax return form on the IRS website or at public locations like post offices and libraries.

“If your taxes are relatively straightforward, you can always print the appropriate documentation from the IRS website and send them back completed,” Jayson Mullin, founder of Top Tax Defenders, a tax debt relief service in Houston, said. “This can be great for single filers with one job and not a lot of itemized deductions.”

Remember, if you do your taxes on your own, you’ll be responsible for any mistakes and won’t get the benefit of software that hunts down tax credits and deductions on your behalf.

IRS Free File Fillable Forms

If you’re comfortable completing your taxes yourself, but paper forms aren’t your thing, you can use Free File Fillable Forms. These forms are accessible from the IRS website and come with basic guidance. You’ll need your 2015 tax return, and this option will not include state tax preparation. There are no income restrictions.

TurboTax

You can use TurboTax’s Federal Free Edition software to file your 1040 EZ and 1040A federal tax returns and state tax returns. State tax returns may cost extra. You can upload your W-2 as a file or just snap a photo, and the TurboTax software can automatically populate the right fields. You’ll answer TurboTax’s questions to work through your return and electronically file (e-file) when you’re done. TurboTax experts and other online contributors are available to answer questions 24/7. To qualify, you’ll need to have made less than $100,000, have no substantial medical bills and not claim any rental, investment or business income.

TurboTax Freedom Edition, available through the Free File Alliance, can e-file both federal and state tax returns for qualified taxpayers at no cost. Freedom Edition supports most federal and state tax forms. To qualify, you’ll need to have an AGI of $33,000 or less or be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Anyone who meets these requirements will also qualify for free state filing.

H&R Block Free File

With H&R Block’s Free File program, you can file both federal and state tax returns for free. Users can import their tax returns from any competing software, directly upload tax documents and prepare and file their returns using any device. Help is available through H&R Block’s online help center. To qualify, you must have an AGI of $64,000 or less and be between the ages of 17 and 50, or be eligible for the EITC. 

efile.com

With eFile.com, you can file your 1040EZ federal tax return free. You can file single or jointly with your spouse. Both e-filing and print filing are supported, and efile.com provides free online support, including a team of “Taxperts.” State return filings are available, but do cost $19.95. There are several restrictions: For instance, you can’t claim dependents, have a mortgage or make over $100,000.

TaxAct

TaxAct provides free filing of 1040EZ and 1040A federal returns and state returns. TaxAct has both an online and desktop version of their software, which uses a Q&A format to guide you through your return. There’s unlimited phone and email support for both tax and software-related questions. Once you’ve filed, you can track your refund status directly through TaxAct. Importing last year’s return will cost an extra $5.

There is also a free file version of TaxAct through the Free File Alliance that may support more complex returns, but has stricter requirements. You can qualify for this version if your AGI is $52,000 or less and you’re 56 or younger, or you are eligible for the EITC.

eSmart Tax

eSmart Tax offers a free version for simple federal 1040EZ and Schedule B returns, plus free chat support. You can easily import your W-2 and last year’s tax return from competitors. You can also file amendments for free if you need to make a last-minute change. They even provide free audit assistance from Liberty Tax Service in the event of an audit. You can file with your state, but in most cases it will cost you at least $29.95.

Just like with TaxAct, eSmart offers a free file edition through the IRS website that provides cheaper state returns but has stricter requirements. To qualify, your AGI must be $64,000 or less and you must be between the ages of 18 and 54. Filing most state returns will cost you $19.95.

TaxSlayer 

TaxSlayer uses a step-by-step guided tax process to file free 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 federal returns. You get W-2 and PDF imports and free email and phone support. While these filings are free, state returns will cost $19.99.

Again, you can use TaxSlayer’s free file version through the Free File Alliance that could support more complex returns but has stricter requirements. You can qualify for this version if your AGI is $63,000 or less and you’re 52 or younger. Qualifying Georgia state returns are also free.

1040.com  

1040.com offers interview-style tax preparation, a free update from your prior year (if you used 1040.com last year) and an auto-completed state return. Simple 1040EZ federal tax returns are filed for free. To qualify, you’ll have to claim no dependents, have a taxable income less than $100,000 and fit other eligibility requirements. State returns will cost an additional $9.95.

There is a free file version of 1040.com accessible from the IRS website that might support more complicated returns, but it comes with stricter requirements. To qualify, your AGI must be $58,000 or less and you must be 52 or younger. State returns will cost you $14.95.

Even if you do end up having to pay a bit to file, 1040.com is a service you can feel good about. It donates $2 to clean water projects for every completed tax return, including free ones.

FileYourTaxes.com

FileYourTaxes.com offers free federal returns with the Free File Alliance. Most basic tax return forms are free, but customer service is limited to Q&A web pages and email notices. FIleYourTaxes.com does file free state returns for Iowa, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Vermont. The free version is available to taxpayers with an AGI between $9,000 and $64,000 who are between the ages of 15 and 65.

1040Now.NET

Available through the Free File Alliance, 1040NOW provides federal tax preparation and filing for taxpayers who make $64,000 or less each year. Your age and the state you live in can affect your ability to qualify. Residents of certain states qualify for free state filing.

FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA’s software provides free federal returns and supports more advanced tax situations such as investments, small businesses, rental property income and itemized deductions. Free filers will get free customer support, but priority support, amended returns and audit assistance will require upgrading to the paid version. State returns will cost you an additional $12.95.

Just like many others we’ve mentioned, FreeTaxUSA.com also offers a free file version provided through the Free File Alliance. You can qualify for this version if your AGI is $51,000 or less and you’re between the ages of 17 and 60. State returns are free for residents in 22 qualifying states; all others will cost an additional $12.95. 

Free1040TaxReturn.com

A Free File Alliance solution, Free1040TaxReturn.com’s free offering provides federal filing and unlimited customer support. Federal extensions are also free. To qualify, you must be age 70 or younger, make less than $64,000, and live in any state other than Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, or Washington. As of Jan. 31, free state returns will be available for Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and West Virginia.

OLT.com

OLT.com offers free federal state returns to everyone. OLT.com supports over 120 federal forms and provides free amended returns and free customer service via email. State returns cost $9.95.

Using the free file offer available through the IRS website, you can also potentially file free federal and state returns. You can qualify with an AGI between $13,000 and $64,000.

ezTaxReturn.com

ezTaxReturn provides free federal tax returns through the Free File Alliance for taxpayers who make $64,000 or less and live in one of 20 states. According to their site, the average taxpayer completes their return in 30 minutes, and ezTaxReturn promises a simple and straightforward experience. That said, the support offered after you file is limited — if you need audit or amendment support, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

Jackson Hewitt

Jackson Hewitt offers several tiers of tax software, including a free version for federal and state returns. There are no specific income requirements, but their free version will only support basic tax returns that include a W-2 income, interest income and all unemployment income. For returns that include student loan interest, self-employment, dependents and many other scenarios, you’d have to upgrade to a paid version. Jackson Hewitt will even complete free simple federal returns on location with a Jackson Hewitt tax professional, but this option requires that you receive your tax refund on an American Express Serve Card.

State Government Solutions

As you’ve probably noticed by now, many free federal tax return solutions either don’t offer free state returns or limit the eligible states. However, many states provide free tax filing services for their residents. For instance, Maryland residents can receive free income tax assistance and even free electronic filing in person or over the phone. If you’ve found the perfect free federal tax tool but still need a free state solution, you may want to check on the resources available through your state’s government website.

Free Tax Assistance Programs

For certain individuals with qualifying circumstances, federal and state programs can provide free tax assistance, including tax preparation and filing.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides basic income tax return services to qualified individuals with disabilities or limited English fluency who make $54,000 or less. With this program, IRS-certified volunteers can provide free basic federal tax return services, including tax preparation and e-filing.

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free tax help to all taxpayers, especially those 60 years of age and older.

“There are many sources of free help, with many organizations offering free tax preparation for non-English speakers, the elderly, and taxpayers who make less than $54,000 per year,” Mullin said. “Check your local library and you’ll most likely find a list of these organizations and who qualifies for their free help.”

How to Choose the Right Tax Solution for You

Choosing the right tax solution depends on your specific needs. Of course, the chief concern is that the solution supports your specific income and tax scenarios. Beyond that, you’ll need to make sure the features you require (W-2 upload, prior year tax return imports, etc.) are supported. You may also want to look for 100% accuracy guarantees with a pledge that any fees or costs associated with mistakes will be covered by the solution provider.

Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development at TaxAct, provided a few additional tips for evaluating online DIY tax products.

  • Find the total price to file: Many tax software providers list the price for a federal return only. It often costs more to file a state return, so it’s a good idea to calculate both to see what it will truly cost you to file your taxes.
  • Look for pricing protection: In many cases, tax filers begin a return and then decide to file later. According to Jaeger, many DIY tax providers “impose steep price increases throughout the filing season, forcing filers to pay more if they’ve started but not completed their tax return.”
  • Look for hidden fees: Common features like prior year tax imports are often hidden behind a paywall.
  • Save time with a W-2 import: Products that offer W-2 imports “can save time and improve accuracy since filers won’t have to do as much manual data entry,” Jaeger said.
  • Look for unlimited phone support: Phone support is sometimes excluded from free tax software products.
  • Consider the importance of in-product help: “It’s common for filers to have questions as they prepare their income tax return,” Jaeger said. “Look for thorough in-product help.”
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

The World's Priciest (& Cheapest) Cities to Live in for 2017

Finding affordable housing may seem like the impossible American dream these days, but here’s a small consolation: America isn’t home to the priciest city in the world. In fact, a full four (yes, four!) places bested U.S. locales when it comes to super-costly places to lay your head, according to the 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2017.

The survey measured affordability in 406 metropolitan housing markets in nine countries around the world — Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S. — using data from the third quarter of 2016. Demographia then ranked 92 major housing markets (those with populations of more than 1,000,000) using the “median multiple,” a measure recommended by the World Bank and the United Nations that takes the median house price and divides it by the median household income.

Ready for more good news? The U.S. actually has the most affordable housing among the measured nations, netting all 11 slots on Demographia’s least affordable cities list (there were a whole bunch of ties).

Of course, that may come as small consolation to Americans. There are still plenty of metros in the U.S. that cost a significant percentage of its residents more than 30% of their income (the recommended maximum to spend on your abode). And other U.S. cities are becoming more unaffordable at a rapid pace.

That’s why it’s important for Americans looking to buy or even rent a home to research markets carefully, get a concrete idea of what’s within their budget, and monitor their credit. A good credit score helps you net the best mortgage rates while a clean credit report can bolster a lease application. (You can see where your credit stands by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Now, without further ado, here are the 10 most expensive major cities in the world to live.

10th Most Expensive City: Bournemouth & Dorset, U.K. 

Median Multiple: 8.9

9th Most Expensive City: San Francisco, U.S.

Median Multiple: 9.2

8th Most Expensive City: Los Angeles, U.S.

Median Multiple: 9.3

7th Most Expensive City: Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. 

Median Multiple: 9.4

6th Most Expensive City: Melbourne, Australia 

Median Multiple: 9.5

5th Most Expensive City: San Jose, California, U.S.

Median Multiple: 9.6

4th Most Expensive City: Auckland, New Zealand

Median Multiple: 10.0

3rd Most Expensive City: Vancouver, Canada

Median Multiple: 11.8

2nd Most Expensive City: Sydney, Australia

Median Multiple: 12.2

Most Expensive City: Hong Kong

Median Multiple: 18.1

Now that you know the most expensive cities in the world, it’s time to find out the places that won’t break your budget. You can see the full list of the cheapest cities to live in 2017 on Credit.com

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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