Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t let puppy love blind you to the expenses of a dog. Also in the news: The pros and cons of timeshares, 9 unsung ways to earn airline miles for free, and every expense you can expect with a first-time home purchase.

Don’t Let Puppy Love Blind You to the Expense of a Dog
Keeping Fido’s costs in check.

Are Timeshares Worth It? Possibly, if You Buy Smart
There are bargains to be found.

9 Unsung Ways to Earn Airline Miles for Free
Convert your groceries into miles.

Every Expense You Can Expect With a First-Time Home Purchase
The costs lurking behind the celebration.

How to be a happy timeshare owner

Many people are desperate to shed their timeshares. That provides bargains for timeshare enthusiasts like Angie and Mike McCaffery of Los Angeles.

The retired couple has paid as little as 50 cents for “used” timeshares. They’ve parlayed their timeshare weeks at four mainland U.S. resorts into affordable stays in England, Spain, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.

“You hear all the nightmare stories, but if you know how to work it and you can plan ahead, it’s the best thing ever,” says Angie McCaffery, 71.

In my latest for the Associated Press, what people who are happy with their timeshares have in common.

Q&A: How to escape a timeshare

Dear Liz: How do I walk away from a timeshare? It’s paid off but we have yearly maintenance fees that are now $3,600 each year. This will be prohibitive in retirement, and it’s quite a burden now. The developer won’t let us give it back, and we can’t sell it because the resale companies are sharks that demand money upfront. Can they ruin our credit if we stop paying? Is there any way to protect ourselves?

Answer: If you stop paying your annual maintenance fees, your account can be turned over to a collection agency. That will trash your credit, and you could be sued.

Many people who buy timeshares don’t realize they’re making a lifetime commitment, said Brian Rogers, owner and operator of Timeshare Users Group. Even after any loans to buy the timeshare are paid off, owners owe maintenance fees on the property. Maintenance fees typically rise over time and may be supplemented by special assessments to repair or upgrade resorts as they age.

The good news is that you may be able to get out from under these fees by selling your timeshare, and you don’t have to use a resale company that charges an upfront fee. In fact, you shouldn’t, since those arrangements are frequently scams, Rogers said.

The amount you’re paying indicates that you own a timeshare at an upscale resort. (The average maintenance fee is closer to $800 a year, Rogers said.) If that’s the case, your timeshare may have some value, even if it’s only a tiny fraction of what you paid. Owners at less desirable resorts often find they can sell their timeshares for only $1, and may have to pay others to take the timeshares off their hands.

You can list your timeshare for sale at no or low cost on EBay, Craigslist, RedWeek or Timeshare Users Group, among other sites. To get some idea of what it’s worth, enter the name of the resort into EBay’s search engine and click on the “completed sales” box on the lower left side of the page. Timeshare Users Group and RedWeek offer additional advice on selling timeshares.

You also could consider renting out your timeshare, using those same sites. Many owners discover they can offset or even completely cover their maintenance fees through such rentals, Rogers said.