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Dear Mr. Money Mustache,
I just came across your blog a few weeks ago after seeing a story about it on ABC.
While the idea of cutting back my lifestyle sounded horrible at first, once I dug in I saw what you were really talking about and it has been like a giant boxing glove hit me in the face. Until recently I thought we were doing pretty well. But suddenly I could see money leaking out everywhere in our lifestyle: the cable package, remaining student loans, restaurants, excessive driving, excessive air conditioning – everywhere.
My question is what to do about the decisions that are already “locked-in”. We have some expensive and not-that efficient cars (A 2010 Mazda CX-9 and 2013 Acura TL), but at least they are paid off so we might as well drive them forever, right
Also, we live about 15 miles from work in a house that is way too big for the four of us, but on the bright side we bought it in on foreclosure in 2009 and the value is up about $100,000 since then.
Finally, and I have an old (2000) speed boat and a camp trailer we use occasionally in the summers – these are paid off as well, but they do cost something to store and maintain (about $2400/year).
We’ve started biking more and doing more local activities and the kids like it. I just wish we hadn’t locked in these earlier poor decisions.
First of all, let me admit that the above person is somewhat fabricated. I find letters like this waiting for me every morning when I wake up, and so many of them follow the same general pattern that I figured we could create a great lesson by combining some of the best details into one composite letter. And that lesson is the one right there in the title:
Don’t let the boat anchor of your past mistakes drag on you forever into your future.
Clinging to past behaviors is one of the built-in weaknesses (also known as Cognitive Biases) that we humans are born with. In this case, we’re talking about Loss Aversion and maybe a bit of the Sunk Cost Effect: we tend to value things we already have, and things we have poured a lot of money into, even if they are in fact pieces of crap when measured on an objective quality-of-life scale.
“I’d hate to take the depreciation hit on this 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 BigHorn after making three years of payments on it!”
These prepackaged flaws are so powerful that we need to pull ourselves deliberately in the other direction in order to end up at a reasonable middle ground. Even when you think you’re living life in a reasonable fashion, this bias will still sneak up and bite you.
And it still bites me too – let’s look at another example from my own life right now. Do you remember that rental house I was so happy to have sold in the last article
On paper, it looks pretty good: I was stuck with a supposed-to-be-$650,000 house back in 2010 that I was having trouble selling even with the listing price dropped down to $480k. Probably because the market value was more like 450. At the time, I felt stubborn and defiant:
However, and this is the key to this whole article, if the situation were reversed I would have given a completely different answer. Suppose it was the year 2010 in a different universe, and I was not saddled with that house. I was retired, had that same $450,000 sitting happily in index funds, and looking out at the carnage in the housing market. If someone had suggested I invest in this house, it would be a different conversation:
Random Person: “Hey man, do you want to buy a $450,000 house in a high-end neighborhood with a strict Homeowner’s Association It’ll give you $2400 in rent, plus whatever appreciation the housing market provides. Property taxes will run you around $3200/year and the HOA fees are another $960. And don’t forget maintenance!”
Me: “Are you Effing Crazy! I’m retired! I don’t need some fussy high-end rental. I’ll sit back and enjoy my index funds, or at least get something like a 4-plex that nets $4000/month for that kind of money!”
But cognitive bias struck, and I decided to rent out the place anyway.
And sure, things turned out roughly as a reasonable forecast would predict: I put it up for rent, and collected over $144,000 in rental income over the next five years. On top of that, the housing market recovered so the house appreciated by an additional $115,000. A total income of $259,000, which sounds pretty good on a $450,000 investment, right
But wait. Let’s subtract the taxes and HOA fees at $20,800 over those five years.Then subtract my maintenance costs, which added to about $10,000 (most of it spent just this past May as I restored the house to its original sparkling condition for sale).
Plus an estimate of the value of my labor for managing and maintaining it: 200 hours at $40, or $8,000.
This yields a net profit of about $220,000, meaning my $450,000 grew to $670,000.
It still sounds like an amazing windfall, but that’s just because $450 grand is a lot of money, and five years is a fair amount of time. On an annualized basis, this is like earning just 8%. Yet another example of how your money can work harder than you can.
What if I had put this money into the plain old conservative Vanguard SP500 index fund (VFIAX) instead, and allowed all dividend payments to automatically reinvest
Plugging the dates into our amazing IndexView tool, I can see that a stock investment would have roughly doubled in that time period if you include dividend reinvestment. In other words, if I had ditched that house at $450,000 and just kicked back for the next five years, that chunk of money would be over $900,000 today.
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. The stock market could easily end up going sideways over a five-year period. But what matters is making the choice that is most likely to be the right thing for you. And that means thinking about today’s big decisions as if there were no past baggage attached to them.
In the introductory story, the brand-new Mustachian is currently burdened with a money-burning 2010 Mazda CX-9 SUV, which would fetch about $12,000 on the used market. If she were starting from scratch with $12,000 in the wallet and no car, would she buy the same vehicle Or perhaps the far superior 2010 Honda Fit which handles better, will cut the running costs in half, and costs over $3,000 less
The $3000 cash difference plus a savings of $2500 per year in fuel, depreciation and maintenance will compound to a wealth difference of over $30,000 per decade, just from this one decision. Not many people realize the staggering effects of a poor vehicle choice, which is the reason SUVs exist in the first place. But now that the new knowledge has been acquired, it is time to act on it. Since she wouldn’t buy the SUV right now, she should sell the SUV right now.
Similarly, moving a double-commuting couple 15 miles closer to work will save you close to $100,000 every decade in direct car costs alone, but much more than that if you factor in the value of your own time and health. Most people don’t realize the shockingly high cost of car-commuting. If they did, distant suburbs and the the entire phenomenon of “rush hour” would not even exist. But once you do get the secret memo, it is time to act on it and move.
Lifestyle trinkets like motorboats and rarely-used cabins, ATVs and country club memberhips seem like an harmless treat you indulge in when you get your first promotion at work. But they tend to add up and become a massive tax on your life – draining attention and cashflow to the tune of hundreds of thousands more per decade. Once you realize that these little weekend amusements are equivalent to chaining yourself to an office for an extra 40 years, you might weigh the decision differently. And so you can change your decision. Right now.
But What about Transaction Costs
The Economists of the audience are probably a bit annoyed right now: “Mustache’s examples don’t account for the time and money you need to spend to change cars, or change houses! Often if you take these into account it would wipe out the first several months of savings or more!”
They are right to a certain extent. But I encourage people to push through the pain and get the deals done anyway, because making transactions is good for you.
Transactions, deals, friendships, and other arrangements with other humans are the highest-paying and often most rewarding thing you can do with your time. Even the ones that don’t go perfectly build your perspective and your Badassity.
Most of us make far too few transactions, and this lack of experience keeps us in fear, so we avoid them even more with each passing year. Your skill and comfort with life transactions is reflected directly in your wealth and the quality of your life.
So even if it does take a few hours to photograph the gas guzzlers and get them onto Craigslist, and even more hours to search out a new ride, make the investment and get the job done. The momentum you gain will start a chain reaction that helps you clean up all your other past mistakes.
What would you do differently if you could go back to age 19 and design your wealthy dream lifestyle from scratch
How many of these things can you change and improve right now if you really put your mind to it
I’m looking forward to getting fewer excuses for the past, and more announcements of massive change in the present, in my future emails student loans no cosigner no credit
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You’re young. You’re healthy. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have a medical emergency tomorrow and get stuck with some whopping bills. These bills can get overwhelming really fast and it can be tempting to just ignore them.
But let’s be clear here—you do have to pay them. According to the Federal Reserve, the credit scores of two in five Americans were negatively affected by medical bills. One in six credit reports contains a medical debt.
If you get slapped with a big hospital or doctor’s bill, make sure you follow these steps:
Make sure the charges are accurate
One reason why medical care is so expensive The system is kind of a mess and they make a lot of billing mistakes.
Some of the most common include charges for services you didn’t receive and medications you never took. If you have an extended hospital stay, sometimes you’ll get charged a full day’s room rate even if you check out in the morning.
Don’t ignore your bills
This point bears repeating. Whatever you do, don’t ignore your bills—it’s one of the worst things you can do. If you do, your bills will get sent to collections and not only will you get annoying phone calls at all hours of the night, but your credit score will take a hard hit.
Don’t use credit cards to pay off your medical bills
If you have, what seems like never ending medical bills, you might be tempted to pay them off in full with credit cards to get your doctor(s) off your back. But you should never use credit cards to pay off your medical bills.
As we’ve said in many of our posts before, carrying a balance on your credit card can lead to a never ending cycle of debt due to high interest payments. This can have a very negative effect on your credit score.
There’s more room to negotiate medical bill payments unlike some other debts. As long as you pay something, and set up a payment plan you can get by making smaller payments for a while.
Medical payments also come with low or no interest, which is definitely not true of most other debts.
Work out an interest-free payment plan
Interest free payment plans exist, but “it’s often written in the fine print on the statement,” says Marcy Quattrochi, Manager of Financial Counseling at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Depending on the hospital or doctor’s office, the amount you pay each month may be negotiable. They’ll start out with a number that may be too much for you. Don’t be afraid to talk them down.
However, if you have enough money to pay what you owe in full, another option makes more sense:
Ask for a prompt pay discount
Some hospitals and doctor’s offices will give you a one-time discount for paying your bill in one lump sum within 30 days. “We take 10 percent off,” Mary says.
Some experts suggest asking for even more of a discount. You can get some ammunition for your argument by using the Healthcare Blue Book to see what other nearby hospitals or doctors charge for the type of care you received. If you were charged significantly more, you can argue you deserve a price reduction.
At the other end of the scale, if you can’t afford to pay anything at all…
Apply for financial assistance
You’re not a bad person if you fall into this camp. A lot of people do.
Luckily, hospitals do offer financial assistance, but each has its own procedure. At some, you have to apply for Medicaid first (you may be eligible if you are under 26 and earn less than $15,856). If you’re rejected, then you apply for help from the hospital.
Other hospitals have an easier process, but it still requires a lot of paperwork. “We have an application that you must complete along with giving us your tax returns, bank account information, and paychecks,” Mary says. “After we review that, we determine a discount.”
Here’s a list of 35 other medical assistance programs that can help you get your medical bills covered.
Apply for a loan
Getting a loan should be a last resort, because if you can’t pay it off you’ll be on the hook for the APR. That said, you’d be paying less in interest than you would if you had a balance on a credit card, which is why we’re recommending you consider this option.
If you’re at this stage, check out Credible. They have a special section for medical expenses and they’ll scour the marketplace and find you the best possible rate for your specific needs.
Deal with collection agencies
If the worst has happened, and your bills have gone to a collections agency, you need to deal with it. Luckily, internal collections agencies (those at the hospital or doctor’s office) are more willing to negotiate payment plans and hold off sending information to credit bureaus than third-party debt collectors.
Here are a few tips to help make dealing with collection agencies a little less painful:
Know what collectors can do
Believe it or not, debt collectors can’t call you an unreasonable number of times (including before 8am or 9pm).
They also can’t:
Record any phone calls and get everything in writing
Talking with debt collectors can get heated quickly, but they aren’t allowed to threaten you. If they do, you have reason to sue. So make sure to record your phone calls with any debt collectors that contact you.
Once you’ve come to an agreement on what you can pay, make sure you get it in writing. Don’t make any payments until you have the physical document.
Also, keep all proof of payment—that way, if there’s ever a question about your debt you can prove that you paid what you said you would.
Offer to pay something
Obviously debt collectors want to get the full debt paid, but be firm and offer to pay what you can. It’s likely that they’ll accept it.
You should expect a counteroffer…or a couple of them. That, after all, is what debt collectors are supposed to do. If you can pay off the debt in full, this will look much better on your credit report, but chances are you can’t—which is how you got in the situation in the first place. Just offer to pay what you can.
Medical bills are especially stressful in addition to whatever medical crisis you just went though. But, no matter what you do, don’t ignore the bills.
It can be tempting to since there’s no immediate repercussion, like there is when you don’t pay a cell phone bill. But like any business, hospitals and medical offices eventually turn over unpaid bills to collection agencies. And once they get involved, your credit score takes a ding and negotiation gets a whole lot harder.
You want to fire your real estate agent. Can you do that .
American workers today lack confidence in their ability to retire, due in part to a misunderstanding about how much it will take to fund a successful retirement.
A recent report by the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that fewer than half of American workers today are either “very confident” or “confident” in their ability to retire.
Part of the problem may be that so many are overestimating the percentage of their salary they need to be saving. A full 44 percent of those surveyed think they need to save somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of their salaries.
Related: How much should you contribute to your 401(k)
Holy moly. No wonder so many people are terrified to get started. The good news is that, for most of us, the percentage we need to save is substantially lower than what many of us think. The even better news is that the earlier you start, the less you’ll have to save over time.
JPMorgan Asset Management puts together an annual Guide to Retirement for financial planners to use with customers (er, clients). The 2016 edition was released in March and, thanks to the internet, is available for anyone with an internet browser.
Even though I personally try to minimize pricey investment fees, the big investment houses have access to big data that’s helpful to all of us—whether we do it ourselves or hire a planner to help set our course.
This report assumes that those at lower income levels will have a higher percentage of their retirement income supplemented by Social Security benefits. If you’re not confident about the future of the entitlement program, you’ll want to add a boost to the numbers below.
These numbers are based off the following assumptions:
The investor will earn an annual return of 6.5 percent until retirement and then 5 percent per year after (to account for a more secure post-retirement portfolio). In the following examples, retirement begins at age 65 and will last 30 years. Inflation will average 2.25 percent and the investor will contribute at a rate of 5 percent per year.
That said, here’s how much the Big Boys recommend we have put aside at different age milestones.
By Age 30
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*Note: This is an update to the “How 15 rental houses can retire you faster than a million dollar 401K” article we posted a few years ago. You can view the original article and the accompanying comments on it here.Register For Our Next Free Workshop Now
Or…Saving Your Way to Retirement vs. Building Cash Flow To Retire
First let me say that I prefer the second title to the first because saving your way to retirement is really the concept that I want to attack and hopefully destroy in your mind by the time you finish this article.
Second, let me make a few concessions. Does building cash flow require education Yes. Does this require courage Yes. Does this require commitment Yes. Does this require hard work Yes.
But let me ask you this. Are you really thinking there is something for nothing out there Do you think that you are going to get ahead without courage, commitment and hard work I don’t think so. I think you know this is true. However, because of lack of self-education, you just don’t know what to do so you keep doing what you are doing year after year, decade after decade.
“Formal education (high school and college) gets you a job.
Self-education gets you rich.” -Jim Rohn
According to Social Security, 90% of Americans are retiring at or below poverty income levels. The main reason for this is that they are saving for retirement instead of building passive streams of income. They retire with only social security income and their meager savings.
We will call this Business Model No. 1. It’s scrimping and saving your way to retirement.
Special Note: Remember that a family is a business. It is a business that is supposed to run at a profit. Most people never learn this simple point.
Let’s look at the results of Business Model No. 1 over a nine-year period compared with Business Model No. 2.
Business Model No. 2 is building wealth and passive income streams with real estate. We will keep it simple and only look at single-family property for this example.
Let’s look at the median income in the US. As of 2011, the median income in America for a family is $50,502 according to the Census Bureau.
If we take a conservative approach and decide to save 10% of our income for investments that is about $420 a month.
I understand that the vast majority of people can’t and don’t do this. They live paycheck to paycheck with no savings at all. That is why the average 65 year old only has $35,000 to show for 40 years of working 40, 50 even 60 hours a week.
What Results will you get in 9 years (and 32 years) with Business Model No. 1
According to BankRate.com, the average stock market return since the turn of the last century is 9.4% — 4.8% in price appreciation, plus approx 4.6% in dividends. The average inflation for the same period has been about 3%.
At the end of 7 years, you will have saved up about $45,000.
At the end of 9 years, you will have saved up about $70,000.
Because of inflation, your $1,000,000 is now only worth $388,337.03.
Now you have to start taking out money from the principal effectively forcing yourself to “pray you die before you run out of money.”
Where are the golden years Travel, grand kids, cars, houses, charity and legacy. Just pulling out the equivalent of $40,000 a year in today’s money means you have less than 10 years worth of savings. What if you live longer
Now let’s look at Business Model No. 2: Building Passive Income
Take the average of my last 7 deals.$20,000 Equity Capture$400 a month cash flow after principal, interest, taxes, insurance (PITI) and $100 a month maintenance and vacancy reserve.
$12,000 down. This is the total down payment including everything out of pocket.
Start saving the same $420 a month but this time, educate yourself in real estate investing and start buying income-producing assets instead of speculating in the stock market.
29 Months to save up $12,000Now Saving $820 a month ($420 from earned income, $400 from cash flow)15 Months to save $12,000Now saving $1,220 a month10 Months to save $12,000Now saving $1,620 a month7 Months to save $12,000Now saving $2,020 a month6 Months to save $12,000 and buy another houseNow saving $2,420 a month5 Months to save $12,000 and buy another houseNow saving $2,820 a month4 Months to save $12,000 and buy another houseNow saving $3,220 a month4 Months to save $12,000 and buy another houseNow saving $3,620 a month3 Months to save $12,000 and buy another houseNow saving $4,020 a month3 Months to save $12,000 and buy another house
We are now at the end of year 7. Let’s see where we really are.10 HousesPicked up $200,000 in equity
Where are you at with Business Model No. 1 in the stock market You’d have $45,000 and no monthly income.
Let’s go just two more years: You will average about one house every two months over this period.
Two more years and that is 12 more houses.
We are now at the end of Year 9. Let’s see where you are.22 Houses$440,000 Equity Capture
Where are you with your savings program in the stock market You’re at $70,000 and no monthly income.
Obviously there is no comparison financially. Building wealth with real estate is much more effective.
But now let’s see how your life will be different at the end of those nine years.
It’s not the money, it’s the Lifestyle.™
How do your bills come in Monthly, right How does $70,000 in the stock market help you pay your bills It doesn’t. How about that $8,800 a month passive income All your bills are paid aren’t they Yes. The average family in the US spends $4,009 a month.
Could you quit your job if you had $8,800 a month in passive income For most people the answer is yes.
Remember:As soon as your passive income meets and exceeds your bills,you are retired. It has nothing to do with age.
We have students in their 20s that have done this.
How long will you live in retirementHow well do you want to live in retirement
Can you enjoy your golden years Travel, grand kids, cars, houses, charity and legacy.
In conclusion, building wealth with real estate is so much more effective than speculating in the stock market it is not even comparable.
So get out there, get educated and start building passive streams of income for you and your family pnc loan calculator
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What can you do if your Realtor doesn’t return calls or pushes you to buy a “fixer-upper” that looks like the house from Psycho It is possible to fire your real estate agent, though it’s not exactly simple. Remember these three things:
- Although you can fire a real estate agent, breaking up isn’t like switching dry cleaners
- Because most agent-client relationships involve a written contract, you can’t just walk away
- In some cases, you may have to prove that the agent breached your contract. Even then, you may still owe money
For these reasons (and more), it’s best to carefully screen real estate agents before you hire one. But if you end up with a lemon despite your best efforts, here’s how to keep a “divorce” from turning into a legal quagmire.Verify your new rate (Jan 23rd, 2019)
When to get rid of your real estate agent
The #1 reason for dissatisfaction with agents is poor communication. The agent doesn’t return your calls, emails or texts in a timely manner – or at all.
To prevent this, set the communication ground rules at the start of the relationship. Discuss how often you wish to be updated, and what forms of communication you prefer – phone calls, emails, texts or a combination.
First-time home buyers guide: using a real estate agent
If you do this, and the agent goes MIA, you’ll have a stronger case for ending the contract.
When good relationships go bad, it’s not always somebody’s fault. And it may not be a good enough reason to fire your real estate agent.
For example, you might initially look for a home in one neighborhood, and then search another area – one the agent knows nothing about.
In this situation, honesty is the best policy. Raise the issue with the agent and her brokerage firm. Then request a new agent with more knowledge of your desired neighborhoods.
Before you fire your real estate agent
Before you fire your real estate agent, try to rescue the relationship.
If you have problems with the agent’s style or performance, express these concerns to the agent. Tell the agent what you expect from her, and determine if she’s willing to meet those expectations.
If that doesn’t work out, strive for an amicable parting of the ways. Ask the agent to cancel your contract.
What do today’s home buyers want in their real estate agents
Agents don’t like working with disgruntled clients, so many will readily agree to this, especially if you’re a buyer. (In general, it’s easier for buyers to get no-fuss cancellations than sellers.)
And if that doesn’t work, go over the agent’s head. Contact the head of the brokerage. Make your case to the boss to see if you can terminate the contract or get a new agent from the agency.
First, don’t choose an agent because she’s married to your cousin or because you went to college with him. You want someone experienced and professional with a good reputation. And the pickier you are, the more time you’d better invest in choosing the right representation.
Should you use your real estate agent’s “preferred” mortgage lender
You can choose a Realtor, a member of the National Association of Realtors. You may want someone with special credentials if you’re buying or selling a particularly high-end property, or something like a farm or combined residential and commercial space.
Interview more than one, and when you get an agreement, don’t toss it in a drawer unread. If “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the “ounce” in this case is to read the contract before you sign.
If you sign a buyer’s agent agreement, you are legally bound to the agent until the contract is canceled or expires. If you decide to terminate the agreement, make it official by sending a letter of cancellation or termination.
Are robots replacing Realtors
Or, if you’re the patient type, you could simply wait until the term expires (typically, six months).
Don’t “ghost” the agent and hope he gets the message. That may work in the dating world, but it could land you in legal trouble in the real estate realm.
It’s tougher for sellers
As noted above, however, canceling an agent contract can be much trickier for home sellers.
That’s because agents and agencies tend to make bigger upfront investments in selling homes – e.g., listing, marketing, staging and showing properties – than they do representing buyers.
FSBO: your complete guide to For Sale By Owner transactions
As a seller, you’ll probably be asked to sign an exclusive right-to-sell listing. This is the most common contract used by listing and selling agents.
It gives the agent the exclusive right to earn commissions by representing you and by bringing buyers to see your property.
Unless there’s an exception in the contract, this document makes you responsible for paying a commission. In some cases, you may still owe this fee even if you sell the house yourself.
Hedge your bets with a short-term contract
Listing agreements come with a variety of conditions and terms. Typical terms are 30 days, 90 days, six months and a year. Be sure to read the fine print, especially regarding cancellation.
If the contract allows you cancel at any time, the term doesn’t matter so much. If the agreement makes termination difficult, consider opting for a shorter term (say 90 days).
Requesting a short-term may signal the agent that you don’t trust him, but it’s better to hedge your bets than lock yourself into an “unhappy marriage.”
“New school” house hunting: Buy a house online
However, even if you terminate the contract, or it expires, you may still owe money to the agent. For example, if the selling agent gives you a list of buyers, and one of them buys your home later, you could still be obligated to pay some or all of the commission.
If all else fails, you could hire a lawyer to help extract you from the agreement. But given how much attorneys charge, this should be a last resort.
Unless a brokerage firm believes you’re trying to rip them off, most will let you off the hook if you’re truly dissatisfied. Otherwise, they risk becoming known as firms that won’t guarantee their customers’ satisfaction good sam rv loansVerify your new rate (Jan 23rd, 2019)
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