How I Saved Money on My Rental Apartment Application & Credit Score Check

As I have mentioned lately, I am moving back to California in a few weeks. And in California, almost every single apartment/house/rental you apply for, you have to pay an application fee and a credit check fee to the landlord. Because I have been looking for (and finally found) a cool place to rent, I have been putting in applications for various houses, all of which initially required both the application the credit check fee. I don’t know if there is a standard charge for these fees, but the people I talked to wanted a $25 app fee and a $35 credit fee. Realizing this was going to get expensive, I decided to do something about it; I ran my own credit report and got a copy of my own credit score. I now had copies of information that landlords were going to charge me $35 for each time I applied for a place, and it only cost me a one time fee of about $7. Sweet!

The first thing I did was go over to Annual Credit Report and get one of my free credit reports for the year. You are allowed one report, per year, from each of the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. I usually run at least one report a year anyway, just for my own records and to see if there is any strange activity on my account, but this year I had not run any at all. So I chose Equifax for this free report, filled out the information, answered a few questions pertaining to my financial history, and out came my credit report in PDF format. It was about 25 pages long, but the most important information was on the first few pages – my name, a summary of my account history, inquiries for my report, and my debt to credit ratio by account. Just from these pages you could see what accounts I had, see that I have no negative information recorded, and that I owe $0 in debt, including any auto loans. So far, so good.

However, your credit score doesn’t come free with your report, so you have to pay for that separately. I cannot remember how much the charge was, but $7 sticks in my mind as being the amount. (Which is a lot cheaper than $35 each time you apply for a new place!) I paid the charge with my credit card right on the Equifax site, and got my score, which is near the top of the credit score range of 300-850. I now had the documents I needed to provide to any potential landlords, without having to A. have them run my credit every time I applied and B. spend a small fortune having them do so.

I printed out a few copies of my credit score, along with the first 5 pages of my report, and had them ready to submit with my applications. While a friend of mine did run in to someone who wouldn’t accept his copy of his report and instead wanted the fee to run it themselves, I didn’t have that problem at all. Every landlord I talked to gladly accepted my paperwork as-is, and only charged me the application fee itself. And surprisingly, the owner of the little bungalow I finally rented didn’t even want the application fee at all! I only needed to give him some info about references and my self-obtained credit report/score, and we were good to go. I signed my lease, and I move in to my new place in just a few weeks.

So next time you are rental hunting, consider getting your credit report and score yourself. It could save you a ton of money if you end up applying for many places, and it could even speed up the process as you have all the information your potential landlord needs available right away. Good luck!

Photo by ishane


Comparison of Average Moving Cost Estimates for Different Methods

I hate moving. I hate packing, I hate unpacking, and I hate the entire process. A few years back I swore I would never do a move by myself again, and instead have been hiring guys to help put my belongings in the truck and to take them out at my new place. It has certainly made moving a little easier, but every time I move I have to decide whether to hire full-service movers, to go the “You pack, we drive” route, or to rent the truck and drive it myself. And guess what? It’s time to move again, so it’s time to compare and contrast different moving methods again.

This time I am moving from Colorado to California, and while I own a fraction of the belongings I owned 5 years ago, I still have a 1 bedroom apartment’s worth of furniture and “stuff”, so I need something other than a small trailer to tow behind my Mini. So let’s take a look at the three methods of moving I will chose from, and see which one makes the most sense in term of economics and the amount of work involved.

Full Service Movers

I have used full service movers a few times now, and while they are the most expensive way of moving, they are also the least amount of physical work. Some guys come to your house, put everything in the truck, drive it to your new place, and then put everything back in while you just direct them to where. However, doing your move like this can cost a pretty penny, and a quick estimate with a major company for my move ran around $3,500. Ouch. I am not looking to spend this kind of cash right now, so will be passing on having someone else do all the work for this move.

Do It Yourself

This is probably the most popular way to move. Renting a truck from U-Haul or Budget, packing it yourself, driving it to your house, unpacking, and then returning the truck means that you do ALL the work – and it’s not cheap. Some rental truck companies, while advertising rates of $19.99/day, charge a lot more for one-way rentals. You also have to buy insurance, pay for gasoline, road tolls, hotel stays (if more than a one day drive), etc., so the rate you are given for the truck rental isn’t really a true amount. Looking into renting a truck from U-Haul for my move, I discovered that the costs would add up as follows:

  • Truck rental – $640. I have 5 days to pack, drive, unpack, and return truck.
  • Insurance – $90
  • Gasoline – The truck gets 10 MPG, and my new home is 1,000 miles away. That means I would use about 100 gallons of gas, at $3/gallon. $300
  • Hotel – $75
  • Car dolly for towing my car – $324
  • Hired help – $200
  • Move – $1,013. I have unlimited time to pack and unload the truck at my homes.
  • Gasoline for my Mini – 1000 miles/32 MPG minimum = 31.25 gallons of gas X $3 = $93.75
  • Won’t need a hotel, as can make that drive in one day

Total cost for move, minus incidentals like food? $1,629

I Pack It, They Drive It

This is the one kind of move I have never done, but I have a few friends who swear by it. From what I have learned, there are 2 ways companies do this – they either drop off cubes/pods for you to fill up, which they then come pick up, or they drop off a truck trailer that you pack, which they then drive away to your location. I contacted ABF/U-Pack, and after giving them some information they suggested their moving trailer for my use. I pay only for the space in the truck I need, and the estimate came out to $1,032. This includes insurance, taxes, gasoline, and the transport of my stuff. With that in mind, the cost of my move would look like this:

Total cost for move, minus incidentals like food? $1,306.75

So, for a minimum savings of $323, and a lot less headache (I have towed a car behind a truck before, it’s not fun, especially over the Rocky Mountains), I think I have found out how I am going to move this time around. What method do you use when you move? I hope this goes smoothly, and I am hoping this is the last move I do for quite a while. The last few years has been a whirlwind of packing and unpacking!

Photo by sashafatcat


Compare Your Car Insurance Policy with Other Auto Rates & Quotes Every 6 Months

If you have been with the same auto insurance company for any length of time, you may be paying too much. Because I have a pending move to a different state coming up very shortly, I decided to use this change as a time to get new quotes on my auto insurance. Over the course of my 22 years of driving, I have been with several different auto insurance companies – MetLife, State Farm, 21st Century Insurance, Wawanesa, and Progressive. Progressive is the company I currently have, as they were the cheapest for my needs here in Colorado. I would have stayed with Wawanesa when I left California a few years back, but they only serve customers in Canada, California and Oregon. They were simply unbeatable in their prices and customer service, so since I am moving back to California I will definitely be getting a quote from them. State Farm and Geico advertise “You can save 40% or more” every three minutes on the TV, but I don’t know what you are saving 40% or more off of… off their rates? Off other rates? Off my grocery bill? Who knows. But in any case, because I am moving and will be registering my car in another state, it was time to check into getting auto insurance quotes for my Mini Cooper S – and this is what I found.


Progressive is my current insurer, and I pay $382.50 for 6 months of coverage here in Colorado. This is with a $500 comprehensive deductible and a $1,000 collision deductible. After running the numbers for the same coverage in California, my costs will be $696 for 6 months, or $1,392 for a year. That’s a huge jump in auto insurance costs, but I knew that California would cost more. Since Progressive is my current company, I wanted to give them the first shot at my business… but at that price, I really need to check prices with other companies.


I wrote about Wawanesa before here on My Two Dollars when I called them the “perfect car insurance company”, so of course I had to get a quote from them! They have the best customer service I have ever experienced from an insurance company, which means a lot to me, and they don’t insure everyone on the planet, so prices are often significantly lower. I submitted my information and waited for my quote to be emailed to me. Total price? Only $776.00 for a full year. Wow.

State Farm

State Farm is who I was insured with in New Mexico, but mainly because there were so few options up where I lived in the mountains! Their rates were fair, but I don’t know if that’s because of them or because I lived in one of the poorest states in the country. I have friends with State Farm who complain about their prices all the time, but they stick with them anyway because they can walk into a branch office. For some people this is important, but I would prefer not to pay for that privilege – after all, I don’t even have a bank branch because I bank online with Charles Schwab! I called up a State Farm agent in the zip code I am planning on moving to in CA, and asked for a quote based on the coverage I have on my car now. Their rate came out to $1,412 for the year.

I will be going with Wawanesa once again as soon as I arrive in CA, since their pricing is the best and I really appreciate their customer service. This is why it pays to review your policies every 6 months, as rates do change even if you don’t move to another state. If you haven’t reviewed your auto insurance policy and insurance needs for 6 months or more, I highly recommend you do it soon. You could be overpaying for car insurance or paying for more coverage than you need, and who likes to waste money? I sure don’t!


How to Make Your Own Homemade All-Purpose Household Cleaner – For Pennies!

Do you buy special cleaning products for every surface in your home? Does the kitchen get a different cleaner than the bathroom? How about your appliances? Every major company selling these products tries to market a different bottle of their cleaner for different purposes, but I use the exact same one for everything in my house. And the best part? I make a completely non-toxic one with very simple ingredients all by myself for only pennies instead of $2.99 and up per bottle. Let’s take a look at what I use to make this cleaner…

Here are the ingredients:

1. Water – Simple enough, and we all have access to it. Most cleaners you buy at the store are 95%+ water anyway, so this homemade version will be no different.

2. White Vinegar – Distilled white vinegar is sold everywhere and costs about $1 or so for a bottle.

3. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap – This is the only ingredient that costs a few bucks, but has so many uses that it’s worth the money. I buy a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap and use it has my shampoo, body wash, hand soap, and (after watering it down) my laundry detergent. For this household cleaner, you only need a few drops of it.

So what else do you need? The only thing left is a spray bottle to store the mixed up cleaner in. While you can of course use any empty container you have in your home, I picked up an aluminum one for $4.99 which seems to work really well.

The first thing I did was fill it up with water, and then empty the water into a measuring cup to see how much liquid it held. You will need this to figure out how much water and vinegar to use for your cleaner. I used the following ratio to make mine, after trying different ones for their effectiveness:

  • 2/3 water
  • 1/3 white vinegar
  • 2 short squirts of Dr. Bronner’s soap

After putting the three ingredients in the squirt bottle, I shook it up really good and put it to use cleaning my kitchen. It worked great! Anyone who knows what vinegar smells like will recognize that slight vinegar smell at first everywhere you sprayed, but the smell goes away in a matter of minutes, leaving behind a spotless shine. Some people like to add a few drops of their favorite essential oil scent, but I find that the slight peppermint smell from the soap is perfectly fine. I use this cleaner to clean my kitchen, bathroom, inside my refrigerator, and even spots on my hardwood floors. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so you don’t need to worry about your bathroom not getting as clean as it used to with the toxic cleaners. Those cleaners for sale in every grocery store are often full of ingredients that can make you, your family, or your pets sick – so why would you willingly choose to use them to “clean” your home?

Try making your own all-purpose natural cleaner like the one I made above, and see the difference in both your wallet and the health of your home.


How Federal (IRS) Income/Salary Tax Brackets Really Work

Just because your income puts you in the X or Y % tax bracket, that doesn’t mean that is really what percentage of your income you pay in taxes. We actually have a progressive tax system in place in the US, where you are taxed at different levels as your income increases. I wrote about the 2010 tax rates before on the site, and will discuss them a little later, but people often have the misconception that if their income falls in the 25% tax bracket it means that they pay a full 25% in taxes. This is simply not the case, and I wanted to put together a little post to explain how the tax brackets actually work. Throughout this post, I will use the figures from the “Filing as a single” tax brackets, as that is how I file:

10% Tax Bracket – $0-$8,375
15% Tax Bracket – $8,375-$34,000
25% Tax Bracket – $34,000-$82,400
28% Tax Bracket – $82,400-$171,850
33% Tax Bracket – $171,850-$373,650
35% Tax Bracket – $373,650+

These are the single tax brackets for when you file your 2010 tax returns next April. To show you how these brackets work, let’s create a very simple tax-paying citizen who is single and makes $50,000 per year. That $50,000 is this person’s total income, but not the amount they are taxed on. The amount this person would be taxed on would be their AGI, or Adjusted Gross Income, which is the amount left after they take their standard deduction of $5,700 for the 2010 tax year. Taking this deduction makes their taxable income $44,300 for the year. This is the number we will work off of.

Using the brackets I listed above for a single person, this person is taxed at 10% for the first $8,375 of their income, at 15% for everything between $8,375 and $34,000, and so on, up to the total amount of their income. Let’s break it down to see the taxes due amount for each bracket:

10% Tax Bracket – $8,375 x 0.10% = $837.50 in taxes
15% Tax Bracket – Everything between $8,375 and $34,000, which totals $25,625 x 0.15% = $3,843.75 in taxes
25% Tax Bracket – Everything between $34,000 and $44,300 (the AGI for this filer), which totals $10,300 x 0.25% = $2,575 in taxes

So, this person, with an AGI of $44,300, owes $837.50 + $3,843.75 + $2,575 in taxes, which equals $7,256.25 for the year. As I mentioned above, if they had thought they had to pay 25% on their total income (a common assumption people have), they would have had to pay $11,075… and not the much smaller amount of $7,256.25. Instead of seeing our income fall into a certain tax bracket on appearance alone, our progressive tax system instead gives us an “Effective Tax Rate”, which is figured out by dividing your total tax due by your taxable income. For this filer, this rate is $7,256.25 / $44,300, equaling 16%. This is how much this person is being taxed, which is a far cry from their initial thought of being taxed at 25%.

When people complain about being taxed at X %, they are often just using the numbers from the tax brackets and not doing the math to compute the actual rate they pay. And in this case, a 16% tax rate is MUCH different than a 25% tax rate, so it’s important to note how our taxes are figured out rather than just going by the brackets themselves. And now you know!

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