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Car Dependency is An Unequal Burden – Streetsblog USA

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This article originally appeared on Planetizen and is reprinted here with permission. For more information and resources, visit Planteizen. 

Entertainer Will Rogers once noted that, “The United States is the only country ever to go to the poorhouse in an automobile.” This has become tragically true for many low- and moderate-income families.

For example, thousands of automobiles regularly line up to receive food bank packages, as illustrated in the photo above.

These are mostly nice SUVs, light trucks and vans, the types of vehicles owned by responsible families living in automobile-dependent communities. Automobile food bank lines are, to a large degree, a self-fulfilling prophesy: Because residents must drive everywhere, they have high transportation costs, leaving inadequate money for other essentials like food, shelter and healthcare, which forces them to depend on charity. Many of these families would not need food bank help if they could cut their vehicle expenses in half, saving $250-500 per month, but that is often infeasible because they lack affordable mobility options. This is one example of the inefficiencies and unfairness of an automobile-dependent transportation system.

Todd Litman
Todd Litman

For most of the last century, transportation planning has favored automobile transportation over slower but more affordable transportation options. The result is a community where it is easy to get around by car, but often difficult and sometimes dangerous to reach essential services and activities by other modes. This type of transportation system may satisfy the needs of affluent motorists but fails to serve people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive, and imposes unfair financial burdens on many lower-income households.

Consider the economics. Although lower-income motorists use various strategies to minimize their vehicle expenses, such as purchasing used vehicles, driving with minimal insurance, and performing their own maintenance when possible, it is difficult to spend less than about $5,000 per vehicle-year to legally operate an automobile. Some motorists spend less some years, but automobiles are prone to unpredictable and sometimes large expenses. For every low-income motorist that spends less than $3,000 to drive an efficient and reliable old car, two others spend thousands of dollars on vehicle payments and insurance premiums, plus occasional unplanned expenses due to mechanical failures, crashes, traffic citations, and fuel price spikes.

Most vehicle costs are fixed; motorists pay the same regardless of how much they drive (see graph below), so they have few opportunities to save money. For example, a motorist must continue making car and insurance payments, performing scheduled maintenance, and sometimes pay for residential parking, even if they lose their job, so their income and monthly mileage declines significantly. They are stuck.

Most vehicle expenses are fixed. Motorists must pay the same car payments, insurance, scheduled maintenance and residential parking costs, whether they drive 250 or 1,000 miles per month.

These expenses are more than many households can afford. Experts define affordability as households being able to spend less than 45% of their total budgets on housing and transportation combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, households in the first and second income quintiles (fifth of all households) spend more than 35% of their budgets on housing, so affordability requires that they spend less than 10% of their budgets on transportation.

The table below indicates the portion of total household budgets required to own one or two vehicles, by income quintile, assuming that each vehicle costs $5,000 per year. This indicates that for the first and second income quintiles owning one car is unaffordable, and owning two vehicles is unaffordable for most households.

Littman table 1
This table shows the portion of household budgets typically required to own one or two vehicles. Bold indicates those that exceed the 10% affordability targets.

Described differently, typical lower-income households can afford housing expenses (rent or mortgage) or vehicle expenses, but not both, and owning two vehicles is financially stressful for most households. Of course, many households own more vehicles and spend more on transportation than is considered affordable. This leaves them vulnerable to financial shocks, such as a vehicle failure, traffic collision, or reduced income, which explains why so many families must drive to food banks or require other types of financial assistance.

For vulnerable households, a small vehicle problem can turn into a major financial and legal crisis. For example, a high-interest car loan for an unreliable vehicle, a vehicle crash, being caught driving unlicensed or uninsured, or an unpaid traffic citation can quickly expand to a morass of debt, injury, unemployment, legal strife, and sometimes jail. Default rates on high-risk, high-interest auto loans are increasing, leaving many low-income households with no vehicles, no money, and no credit.

Of course, I’m not blaming those households or ignoring the economic opportunities that owning a vehicle provides. There are certainly examples of disadvantaged households that can justify spending more than recommended on vehicles, for example, to access a better paying job or cheap housing. However, for each of these, you will find more examples of households that are severely harmed by our automobile-dependent transportation system, for example, non-drivers who suffer from inadequate mobility options, and low-income household that go into debt to purchase a vehicle that promptly fails or crashes, leaving them with neither money or mobility, plus injuries and bad credit ratings. The fact that some disadvantaged households succeed in an automobile-dependent community does not mean that it serves everybody.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would surely rank food, shelter and healthcare above the added convenience and status of driving, but our planning practices give individuals little choice. Most jurisdictions invest far more in automobile infrastructure than in other modes. It is not generally possible to say, “Please don’t invest any more on roads and parking facilities for me. Instead, spend my transportation dollars on sidewalks, bike paths, bus lanes and transit services so I have more affordable transportation options.”
There are many good reasons to favor multimodal transportation and affordable infill development. Residents of compact, walkable neighborhoods tend to own fewer vehiclesdrive less, and rely more on active modes, and so:

Some people mistakenly argue that these problems justify even more subsidies for driving, to allow low-income households to access economic opportunities, but that is an inefficient solution. For example, researchers Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein’s study, “A Longitudinal Analysis of Cars, Transit, and Employment Outcomes” found that low-income households that obtained a car were able to work more hours and earn approximately $2,300 more per year, which sounds great, but they spent an additional $4,100 annually on their vehicles, so they ended up with less time and less money overall. For many lower-income people, automobiles are an economic trap: they force people to work harder so they can earn more money so they can pay vehicle expenses to commute to their job, making them worse off overall.

It needn’t be that way. We can reverse our planning priorities to favor affordable mode and multimodal neighborhood development, in order to create communities where it is easy to live without a car. An efficient, equitable and resilient transportation system must ensure that anybody, particularly those with mobility impairments or low incomes, can find suitable housing in a walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood where it is easy to access basic services and activities—education, jobs, shops and recreation—with affordable modes. This is sometimes called Transit Oriented Development or New Urbanism, and most recently a 15-minute neighborhood, but regardless of what it is called, it offers affordable and diverse transportation options, providing something for everybody, including people with disabilities, children, and anybody who cannot, should not, or prefers not to drive.

I can report from personal experience that by residing in a walkable urban neighborhood it is easy to live car-free and minimize our transportation expenditures: to access local services and activities we spend about a thousand dollars annually on shoes, bikes, bus, plus occasional taxi fares and car sharing.

This is a timely issue. Affordability is an important but often overlooked transportation planning goal. Conventional planning sometimes considers vehicle operating costs and transit fares, but seldom considers total transportation costs and therefore the potential savings provided by more multimodal planning that favors affordable transportation options.

A basic principle of good planning is to “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” In most North American communities our transportation systems fail to reflect this principle; they favor expensive modes and people with abilities over slower but affordable modes, and therefore ignores the needs of people who are physically, economically, or socially disadvantaged. The box below identifies specific policies and planning practices that contribute to automobile dependency, and therefore higher transportation costs. Planners have a responsibility to identify the harms and inequities that result from these practices, and to identify reforms.

Littman graphic 2

This is ultimately about opportunity and freedom. Conventional policies assume that everybody, or at least everybody who matters, wants to live a high-consumption, high-cost, automobile-dependent lifestyle. It ignores the demands of people who need more affordable housing and mobility options, due to low incomes or because they want to work less and devote more time to art, education or family. All we are saying is, give affordability a chance!

Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. Follow him on Twitter @litmanvtpi



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How long do offers last, and what if I have bad credit? We answer the most-asked mortgage questions

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Forget the eyes – nowadays, it is our internet searches that provide a window into the soul.  

We often turn to search engines to ask the questions that are on our minds, whether we’re just looking for a quick answer or because it’s something we are embarrassed to ask in person. 

Now, Britons’ most common mortgage questions have been revealed, thanks to a new analysis of Google searches.  

Many of the mainstream lenders are able to offer a mortgage within 2-3 weeks of an application being submitted, according to the mortgage experts we spoke to

Many of the mainstream lenders are able to offer a mortgage within 2-3 weeks of an application being submitted, according to the mortgage experts we spoke to

Comparethemarket.com looked at search data from the last twelve months, and discovered that the most asked mortgage question, with 20,960 searches, was ‘How long does a mortgage application take?’

Britons also wanted to know how long a mortgage offer lasted for, how to get a mortgage with bad credit, what an interest only mortgage was, and what a lifetime mortgage was. 

Applying for a mortgage can sometimes be complicated, and there is often a lot of jargon to contend with – so it is not surprising that people search online for more information.

This is Money asked Mark Harris of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, Nicholas Morrey of mortgage broker John Charcol and a spokesperson from the Mortgage Advice Bureau to help provide answers to the five most-asked questions.

How long does a mortgage application take?

The most common mortgage question on Google, this is particularly relevant at the moment given that some buyers are keen to complete before the stamp duty holiday ends on 31 March. 

But the answer depends on the type of mortgage application being submitted, according to Harris.

For example, a product transfer – where you stay with your current lender but move to a new deal – can take a matter of days, whilst a more complex mortgage application can take weeks.

‘Once the application is submitted, a lot depends on the lender and the complexity of the application – it may take anywhere between one day to two weeks for an initial assessment to take place,’  Harris said. 

If you’re self-employed or the mortgage valuation requires a surveyor to visit the property in person, then you are likely to face further delays. 

A firm mortgage offer will follow once your application has been fully reviewed and an acceptable valuation received.

The experts we spoke to said that typically, it would to take two to three weeks from application to offer – but the pandemic has meant that these timescales have been stretched. 

‘Unfortunately, during the Covid-19 pandemic, lenders have suffered from staff and resource issues and tasks are taking longer to complete,’ said Harris.

‘Also, given the effect on employment and income, lenders are scrutinising applications in greater depth to see how applicants have been affected.’ 

How long does a mortgage offer last?

In most cases mortgage offers last for six months, although some offers will only last for three months.

‘If the offer expires, lenders will sometimes agree to an extension – although this will sometimes require a re-assessment by the lender,’ said Morrey.

A typical mortgage offer will last for six months, but this can sometimes be extended

A typical mortgage offer will last for six months, but this can sometimes be extended

‘For example, the original deal may no longer be available, or a new valuation may be required, or the lender may wish to re-assess your income and outgoings.’

Where an application involves a new-build property, the offer may last longer – potentially up to 12 months, according to Harris.

‘Borrowers should be aware that some new builds have completion deadlines that may not coincide with offer expiry dates,’ he said.

How to get a mortgage with bad credit?

Some lenders will not offer mortgages to people with a history of bad credit, and this was something that Google searchers wanted to know how to get around. 

Lenders that are willing to do so often charge a higher interest rate, to reflect the increased level of risk.

‘When getting a mortgage with bad credit, you can expect to borrow less and to pay more in interest in comparison to someone who has an exemplary credit record,’ explained the spokesperson for the Mortgage Advice Bureau.

Having bad credit may mean you are not able to borrow as much on your mortgage

Having bad credit may mean you are not able to borrow as much on your mortgage

‘High street lenders are generally averse to dealing with those who have bad credit, which can make it pretty difficult.

‘When you apply for a mortgage, it can register on your credit file – and if you apply to a number of lenders to see if they will lend to you, it may be doing additional damage to your credit score.’

‘Your best option, according to Mortgage Advice Bureau, is to contact an established and experienced mortgage broker.

‘They will have access to contacts and deals that are exclusive and not available to the general public. The mortgage broker will carry out a ‘soft’ credit check first, so your inquiry doesn’t negatively impact your credit score.’ 

What is an interest-only mortgage?

Another common question on Google concerned interest-only mortgages. So what are they? 

When borrowing for a home, you can either opt for a repayment mortgage or an interest-only mortgage.

With a repayment mortgage, you will pay back a part of the loan, as well as the interest, each month until you eventually pay off the mortgage.

With an interest-only mortgage, you will only pay the interest each month, with the loan amount remaining the same.

‘It means your monthly payments will be lower but, at the end of the mortgage term, the full amount you borrow is still outstanding and you have to pay the lender back everything at that time,’ said Morrey.

‘When applying for an interest-only loan, the borrower must demonstrate that there is a clear and credible strategy in place to repay the capital,’ added Harris.

What is a lifetime mortgage?

A lifetime mortgage is a mortgage secured on your home, with the loan only being repaid when you pass away, go into long-term care or sell the property.

Two examples of this are retirement interest-only mortgages and equity release mortgages.

Equity release allows you to access some of the equity in your home via a lifetime mortgage

Equity release allows you to access some of the equity in your home via a lifetime mortgage

‘Lifetime mortgages often have fixed rates of interest, and in the case of equity release mortgages, the fixed rate is for life and not just two or five years,’ explained Morrey.

He added: ‘They should not be confused with lifetime tracker mortgages, which track a specific index such as the Bank of England base rate – these will likely have an end date and won’t be for a ‘lifetime’ in itself.’

There are strict lending criteria, with the amount you can you borrow depending on your age.

‘Seeking expert financial and legal advice is crucial for this type of mortgage,’ said Harris.

‘An adviser covering both equity release and standard mortgages would be most useful as they can assess the most suitable route forward.’

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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What is a Subprime Mortgage?

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What is a subprime mortgage? If you’re asking this question, chances are good you’re either trying to borrow for a home with poor credit or you’ve been offered a loan you’re concerned is a subprime loan. We’ll explain the answer to the question “what is a subprime mortgage?” and discuss some of the risks and alternatives.

What is a subprime mortgage?

Prime loans usually offer competitive interest rates to well-qualified borrowers. A subprime mortgage is similar to a conventional mortgage, except it has a higher interest rate. Subprime loans are geared toward borrowers with bad credit who can’t qualify for a prime mortgage at the best rates. Lenders take a bigger risk with subprime loans, so they charge substantially higher rates due to the borrower’s poor credit history.

If you have a credit score below 620, you may not be able to qualify for a prime mortgage, but you might get a subprime mortgage.

Types of subprime mortgages

There are multiple types of subprime mortgage loans. However, one particular type of loan — an adjustable-rate mortgage — is especially common for subprime mortgages.

Adjustable-rate mortgages

Many subprime mortgages are adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs. The introductory rate on an ARM is fixed for a limited time. For example, a 5/1 ARM provides a fixed rate for five years. After that, the rate adjusts based on a financial index.

That means your interest rate may go down — but it could go up, too. ARMs carry more risk than fixed rate loans. If interest rates rise, monthly payments could increase. If you take out an adjustable loan, find out how high your payment could go. Don’t assume you’ll always be able to refinance or sell your home before it adjusts.

Fixed-rate mortgages

With fixed-rate subprime mortgages, the interest rate remains the same for the entire repayment period. Since the rate doesn’t change, payments don’t change.

The important question is, what is a subprime mortgage interest rate you’d qualify for? You need to make sure the rate is reasonable and that monthly payments are affordable.

Shop and compare rates from multiple mortgage lenders for poor credit to find the best subprime loan rates. And use a mortgage calculator to see how much your monthly payment would be for any loan you’re considering.

Interest-only mortgages

Interest-only mortgages allow you to pay only interest for a limited time, such as the first five years. This makes monthly payments more affordable, but you don’t make progress in reducing your loan principal.

At the end of the initial period, you’ll begin paying both principal and interest. Your payments may rise substantially because you’ll have a shorter timeline to pay your loan off. If you took a 30-year mortgage and only paid interest for the first 10 years, you’d have just 20 years to pay off your entire principal balance.

Most interest-only loans are also structured as ARMs, so you take the added risk of rates going up and payments rising.

Dignity mortgages

Dignity mortgages are a specific type of subprime loan offered by some lenders. With this type of mortgage, you’ll initially have a high interest rate. But if you make on-time payments for a period of time, your interest rate will eventually be reduced to the prime rate.

Subprime mortgage risks

It’s important to also consider if you’re willing to take on the risk of this type of loan. Some of the biggest risks include:

  • Interest costs will be high: You will pay significantly more mortgage interest over time than if you took out a conventional mortgage.
  • Finding a lender may be difficult: Not all mortgage lenders offer loans to subprime borrowers. You could be limiting your potential loan options.
  • Payments could increase: If you choose an ARM, you face the risk of interest rates going up and payments rising.
  • Foreclosure is possible: If you don’t pay your subprime mortgage loan, your lender will foreclose. Your credit could be severely damaged.

Lenders are required under Dodd-Frank financial reform laws to conduct an “ability-to-repay” assessment. This ensures borrowers are capable of paying back their loans. These mandates can reduce the risk for borrowers. But the bottom line is buying a house with bad credit can create a host of complications.

Alternatives to subprime mortgages

You may be wondering if there are other options. The good news is that there are multiple solutions for borrowers with bad credit. Some of the best options include these government-back loans:

  • FHA loan: FHA lenders often work with borrowers with lower credit. FHA loans are available to borrowers with credit as low as 500 as long as they make a 10% down payment. Borrowers with scores of 580 or higher can get approved with a 3.5% down payment.
  • VA loan: A VA mortgage loan is available to eligible service members and veterans regardless of their poor credit history. The VA doesn’t set a minimum score, but some lenders do.

USDA loan: These allow you to purchase eligible homes in rural areas. More stringent underwriting is required to qualify borrowers with credit scores below 640. But it may still be possible to qualify.

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Indigo Platinum Mastercard Review | NextAdvisor with TIME

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We want to help you make more informed decisions. Some links on this page — clearly marked — may take you to a partner website and may result in us earning a referral commission. For more information, see How We Make Money.

Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®

Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®

  • Intro bonus: No current offer
  • Annual fee: $0 – $99
  • Regular APR: 24.90%
  • Recommended credit score: 300-670 (Bad to Fair)

The Indigo Platinum Mastercard can help you build a better credit score (if you practice good credit habits) with monthly reporting to the three credit bureaus. Unlike many other options for building credit, this is an unsecured credit card, so it doesn’t require a cash deposit as collateral. But you may incur an annual fee, depending on your creditworthiness when you apply.

At a Glance

  • Monthly payment reporting to the three credit bureaus for people with limited credit history or poor credit
  • Annual fee of $0, $59, or $75 the first year, depending on your creditworthiness ($75 version charges a $99 annual fee after the first year)
  • Unsecured credit card with no security deposit required
  • Standard variable APR of 24.9% 

Pros

  • Available to individuals with no credit history or low credit scores

  • Unsecured credit card

  • Annual fee could be as low as $0 depending on your creditworthiness

  • Monthly payments report to all three credit bureaus

Cons

  • No rewards

  • Annual fees vary depending on creditworthiness, and you won’t know your fee until you apply

  • High variable APR

  • $300 credit limit

Additional Card Details

The Indigo Platinum Mastercard is geared toward people with “less than perfect credit” or minimal credit histories. Like other credit-building card options, it doesn’t offer a lot of perks.

You will get a few benefits, like online account access and reporting to all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can also choose from multiple card designs for no extra charge.

Prequalification is another benefit of the Indigo Platinum Mastercard. Prequalifying is a great way to gauge your approval odds and the terms of your offer without filling out a full application and undergoing a credit check, which can temporarily hurt your credit score. If you do choose to apply after pre-qualifying, you’ll still be subject to credit approval with a hard credit inquiry.

Should You Get this Card?

Many credit cards available to people with bad credit scores are secured credit cards that require a cash deposit as collateral. The Indigo Platinum Mastercard offers an alternative to secured cards for building better credit, but has its own drawbacks.

For one, your credit limit is capped at $300. If you’re approved for a version of this card with an annual fee, it’ll be automatically applied, which means your starting limit could be as low as $225. 

The annual fee itself is another drawback. The amount you’re charged will depend on your creditworthiness when you apply. If your approval comes with an annual fee, that $59 or $99 ($75 the first year) charge can quickly add up over time. Consider other cards with no annual fee (and even no annual fee secured credit cards) that may make better long-term options for building a healthier credit profile.

How to Use the Indigo Platinum Mastercard

Because the Indigo Platinum Mastercard doesn’t offer any rewards and your credit limit is just $300, you should use this credit card for the sole purpose of improving your credit score. Only make purchases you can afford to pay off when your statement is due, and pay your bill on time to avoid up to $40 in late fees and a penalty APR up to 29.9%. 

Pro Tip

Building a great credit score, whether you’re starting from no credit history or repairing damaged credit, requires a foundation of good credit habits your credit card can help establish — such as timely payments, low credit utilization, and paying off your balances in full each month.

The Indigo Platinum Mastercard’s low credit limit means you’ll need to be extra careful with your spending to improve your credit score. Using more than 30% of your available credit can hurt your credit utilization rate — one of the most influential factors in your credit score. With a credit limit of $300, that means you should keep your charges below $90.

The goal of a card like Indigo Platinum Mastercard is to, over time, improve your credit score enough to qualify for a better credit card. Use this card to establish and maintain the healthy credit habits (like timely payments in full, low utilization, and consistently paying down balances) that will improve your credit long-term, and help you qualify for a card that’s better suited for your spending habits in the future.

Indigo Platinum Mastercard Compared to Other Cards

Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®

Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    $0 – $99

  • Regular APR:

    24.90%

  • Recommended credit:

    300-670 (Bad to Fair)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site
Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    $0

  • Regular APR:

    22.49% (Variable)

  • Recommended credit:

    (No Credit History)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    $39

  • Regular APR:

    26.99% (Variable)

  • Recommended credit:

    (No Credit History)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site

Bottom Line

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

If your credit score isn’t great and you want to start building the credit foundation to move in the right direction, the Indigo Platinum Mastercard can help by reporting your usage to the three credit bureaus — if you practice good habits that will reflect positively on your report. But you may also take on a pricey annual fee and risk high utilization due to the card’s low credit limit. Before applying, consider other cards for bad credit and secured credit cards with no annual fee that may better serve your credit-building goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Indigo Platinum Mastercard is a decent option for consumers with poor credit who don’t want to put down a security deposit on a secured credit card. Check your prequalification terms, and compare other options for people with fair credit or bad credit before applying.

The credit limit for the Indigo Platinum Mastercard is $300. If you get approved for a version with an annual fee, your annual fee will be deducted from your credit limit.

The Indigo Platinum Mastercard is an unsecured credit card, so you do not have to put down a cash deposit as collateral.

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