Things you did not know about USA (and make your jaw drop)

Before we proceed, this article is for informational purposes only.

I was talking to one employee from Europe (forgot which country) and as part of the consulting process we talked about how the US tax system works and she mentioned that she was in relationship with a lady and wanted to find out how the tax system recognizes their status in US.  When I mentioned that US does not recognize same sex marriage, she said, “well, I cannot come into a country that does not respect my relationship”, and she rejected her ‘potential’ assignment to US. True story.

usa facts

Pic Courtesy: Vinoth Chandra

That example is little old as Internal Revenue System has now started recognizing same sex marriage for tax purposes while lot of states are still to catch up.

Are there any other areas that you did not know about US?  Read and find out the things you did not know about USA.

Being gay is illegal:  Not in all states but in some states for sure.  Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have explicitly declared being gay to be illegal and thus you can get arrested for being gay in these States.  There are 13 states that have declared Sodomy to be illegal.  Irrespective of your ideology of how liberal US as a country is, be careful about your sexual preferences while in these states.

Community property states: what is a community property state?  The states that automatically consider the assets, income and whatever you own to be owned by you and your spouse jointly, irrespective of who earns it.  If you are moving into one of these community property states, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, make sure you understand how community property rules affect you.

Legal alcohol age: Did you know that legal alcohol age is not 21 in all states and is not applicable in all situations.  Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina allow drinking under 21 without parental consent.  In many states, did you know you could get arrested if you directly or indirectly help under age person procure alcohol?  It is ok to help with grocery and alike but never lend your help in buying alcohol to anyone, no matter how old they look.

Cancer and divorce: US ranks top 6 in the world cancer nations.  US also has 52% divorce rate when looked at number of divorces to number of marriages ratio per 1000 population, as of 2011 stats. One of the many reasons why you should avoid talking about ‘too much’ personal information.

Freedom of speech is on paper (pun intended):  Prima facie US does seem to be a place where you can express yourself, and you can, as long as you do not venture out to reveal truth.  Sounds contradictory? Not when you find out that US ranks 46 (13 spots down from previous years to 2013) in press freedom. In other words, some of what you hear/see on news may be BS.

Ranks 16 on socially progressive countries list:  US is conservative, whether you like it or not. You may have been allured by the two places, California and NY, and assumed that all of US is as progressive as the two states.  Not so.  Most every state in US leans from conservative to VERY conservative.  Most notorious is the bible belt (yes, there is such a thing).

There is no official language: Surprised? Yes, English is still the language most every State uses in US but not all states have stamped English as their official language.  Only 31 states have declared English as their official language.  But there is no official language for the US as a whole, none exists at the federal level.

 

Seems like most of it seemed negative?  That was not the intention, so here are some good things (depends on how you look at it) about US:

  • World’s number one country when it comes to ‘highest’ paid jobs (read highest household disposable income).
  • Big food portions
  • US Sports that no other nation plays

Guide to US Travel

Transportation information covering 50 capital cities and 50 of the most populated cities of America

The most common way to commute in USA is by your own car, however, if you are in a big city you can survive on public transportation without a car.  Below are the most common modes of transportation outside of personal car.

travel in usa

Flight: Of course, the most common and easy method to travel is to fly.  There are many websites that you can use but recently www.kayak.com has been good.  Also,www.priceline.com gives you the opportunity to name your price.

Amtrak:  Amtrak is the interstate transport system that can get you farther places.  Of course problem is that it is not that well connected but wherever it runs through, it is a comfortable way to travel.  You can check their schedules and fare on their website at:www.amtrak.com

Greyhound: Perhaps one of the oldest bus service that operates in almost all states to almost any destination you can think of.  Check their site for the schedule and fares.

Megabus: Megabus has started their services in some cities recently and the response is great.   If you book early enough you can get ticket as low as $1.  Check their site for the schedules and fare. http://us.megabus.com/

Public* transportation: All above choices are for commuting from one city to another or one state to another.  When you are living in a city, you need to know about local commute.  Below you will find the details of public transit for 50 capital cities in the US and 50 most populated cities in US.

StateCityWebsiteContact number
AlabamaMontgomeryhttp://montgomerytransit.com/(334) 262-7356
AlaskaJuneauhttp://www.juneau.org/capitaltransit/generalinfo.php907-586-3185
ArizonaPhoenixhttp://www.valleymetro.org/(602) 253-5000 or TTY (602) 251-2039
ArizonaTucsonhttp://suntran.com/(520) 792-9222 or TDD (520) 628-1565
ArizonaMesahttp://www.valleymetro.org/planning_your_trip/(602) 253-5000 or TTY (602) 251-2039
ArkansasLittle Rockhttp://www.cat.org/501/375-6717
CaliforniaOaklandhttp://www.actransit.org/maps/510-891-4706; TDD/TYY 711 or 800-735-2929 
CaliforniaSacramentohttp://www.sacrt.com/(916) 321-BUSS (2877)
CaliforniaLos Angeleshttp://www.metro.net/323.466.3876
CaliforniaSan Diegohttp://www.sdcommute.com/(619) 233-3004
CaliforniaSan Josehttp://www.vta.org/408-321-2300
CaliforniaSan Franciscohttp://www.sfmta.com/415.701.2311
CaliforniaFresnohttp://www.fresno.gov/DiscoverFresno/PublicTransportation/default.htm(559) 621-7433
CaliforniaLong Beachhttp://www.lbtransit.com/(562) 591-2301
ColoradoDenverhttp://www.rtd-denver.com/index.shtml303.299.6000
ColoradoColorado Springshttp://www.springsgov.com/SectionIndex.aspx?SectionID=16719-385-7433
ConnecticutHartfordhttp://www.cttransit.com/Contact/TelephoneNumbers.asp860-525-9181
DelawareDoverhttp://www.dartfirststate.com/800.652.DART(3278)
District of ColumbiaWashingtonhttp://www.wmata.com/202-637-7000/TTY 202-638-3780
FloridaTallahasseehttp://www.talgov.com/starmetro/starmetrohome.aspx850-891-5200
FloridaMiamihttp://www.miamidade.gov/transit/(786) 469-5675
FloridaJacksonvillehttp://www.jtafla.com/Default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1(904) 630-3100/ TDD (904) 630-3191
GeorgiaAtlantahttp://www.itsmarta.com/(404) 848-5000
HawaiiHonoluluhttp://www.thebus.org/#(808) 848-5555
IdahoBoisehttp://www.valleyride.org/(208) 345-7433
IllinoisSpringfieldhttp://www.smtd.org/(217)522-5531
IllinoisChicagohttp://www.transitchicago.com/(312) 836-7000 OR 1-888-968-7282
IndianaIndianapolishttp://www.indygo.net/317.635.3344 OR 800.743.3333
IowaDes Moineshttp://www.ridedart.com/515.283.8100
KansasTopekahttp://www.topekametro.org/(785) 783-7000
KansasWichitahttp://www.wichitatransit.org/Routes/Pages/default.aspx316-265-7221
KentuckyFrankforthttp://transit.frankfort.ky.gov/(502) 875-8565
KentuckyLouisville-Jefferson Countyhttp://www.ridetarc.org/502.585.1234
LouisianaBaton Rougehttp://www.brcats.com/225-389-8282 ext 106 OR Automated: 225-929-7740
MaineAugustahttp://www.apta.com/resources/links/unitedstates/Pages/MaineTransitLinks.aspx(202) 496-4800 Or 1 207 873-2122 (Augusta Area)
MarylandAnnapolishttp://www.aacounty.org/planzone/transportation/transit.cfm#.UYrwG7Wcfjc(410) 222-7450
MarylandBaltimorehttp://mta.maryland.gov/(410) 539-5000
MassachussettsBostonhttp://www.mbta.com/(617)222-3200 or 1-800-392-6100
MichiganLansinghttp://www.cata.org/517.394.1000
MichiganDetroithttp://www.ci.detroit.mi.us/DepartmentsandAgencies/DetroitDepartmentofTransportation.aspx(313) 933-1300
MinnesotaSaint Paulhttp://metrotransit.org/612-373-3333
MinnesotaMinneapolishttp://www.metrotransit.org/612-373-3333
MississippiJacksonhttp://www.city.jackson.ms.us/government/planning/jatran(601) 948.7140 OR (601) 948.3840
MissouriJefferson Cityhttp://www.jeffcitymo.org/transit/(573) 634-6477
MissouriKansas Cityhttp://www.kcata.org/816.221.0660
MontanaHelenahttp://www.helenamt.gov/index.php?id=393406-447-8080
NebraskaLincolnhttp://www.lincoln.ne.gov/city/pworks/startran/402-441-7185 or 402-476-1234
NebraskaOmahahttp://www.neatp.org/402-761-2216
NevadaCarson Cityhttp://www.rtcwashoe.com/public-transportation-3775-348-RIDE (348-7433)
NevadaLas Vegashttp://www.rtcsnv.com/transit/Phone: 702-228-7433 OR 702-676-1834 (TDD)
New HampshireConcordhttp://www.concordareatransit.org/225-3295, ext. 1202
New JerseyTrentonhttp://www.njtransit.com/tm/tm_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=ContactUsTelephoneTo1-973-275-5555
New MexicoSata Fehttp://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?nid=498(505) 955-2001
New MexicoAlbuquerquehttp://www.cabq.gov/transit/bus-routes-and-schedules505-243-7433
New YorkAlbanyhttp://www.cdta.org/518-482-8822
New YorkNew Yorkhttp://new.mta.info/nyct718-596-8585, or 718-596-8273 (TTY)
North CarolinaRaleighhttp://www.gotriangle.org/go-info/contact-us/919-485-RIDE (7433)
North CarolinaCharlottehttp://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/cats/Pages/default.aspx704-336-7433
North DakotaBismarckhttp://www.bismantransit.com/(701) 223-9001
OhioColumbushttp://www.cota.com/Ph (614) 228-1776 TTY/TTD (614) 228-1832
OhioClevelandhttp://www.riderta.com/216-566-5148
OklahomaOklahoma Cityhttp://www.gometro.org/(405) 235-7433
OklahomaTulsahttp://tulsatransit.org/(918) 582-2100
OregonSalemhttp://cherriots.org/(503) 588-BUSS
OregonPortlandhttp://trimet.org/503-238-7433
PennsylvaniaHarrisburghttp://www.cattransit.com/717-238-8304
PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiahttp://www.septa.org/(215) 580-7800 or (215) 580-7853 (TDD/TYY)
Rhode IslandProvidencehttp://www.ripta.com/(401) 781-9400
South CarolinaColumbiahttp://www.gocmrta.com/(803) 255-7085
South DakotaPierrehttp://www.rcptransit.com/(605) 945-2360
TennesseeNashvillehttp://www.nashvillemta.org/(615) 862-5950
TennesseeMemphishttp://www.matatransit.com/(901) 274-6282
TexasAustinhttp://www.capmetro.org/(512) 474-1200
TexasArlingtonhttp://www.arlingtontx.gov/traffic/transportation.html817-459-6550
TexasHoustonhttp://www.ridemetro.org/713-635-4000
TexasDallashttp://www.dart.org/214-979-1111
TexasSan Antoniohttp://www.viainfo.net/(210) 362-2020 TTY (210) 362-2019
TexasFort Worthhttp://www.the-t.com/817.215.8600
TexasEl Pasohttp://www.sunmetro.net/915-533-3333
UtahSalt Lake Cityhttp://www.rideuta.com/1-888-743-3882/ 801-743-3882
VermontMontpelierhttp://gmtaride.org/802-223-7287
VirginiaRichmondhttp://www.ridegrtc.com/804-358-4782
VirginiaVirginia Beachhttp://www.gohrt.com/route/virginia-beach/(757) 222-6100 TDD: (757) 722-8427
WashingtonOlympiahttp://www.intercitytransit.com/Pages/default.aspx1-800-287-6348
WashingtonSeattlehttp://www.seattle.gov/html/citizen/transit.htm206-684-2489
West VirginiaCharlestonhttp://www.rideonkrt.com/(304) 343-7586
WisconsinMadisonhttp://www.cityofmadison.com/metro/(608) 266-4466
WisconsinMilwaukeehttp://www.ridemcts.com/414-344-6711
WyomingCheyennehttp://www.cheyennecity.org/index.aspx?nid=252(307) 637-6253
Note:

1. For traffic and travel updates, dial 511 while in the State

2. Informational purposes only.  Accuracy not guaranteed.  Information as of July 1, 2013.  Errors and omissions expected.

*Some of these may have been owned privately but are available to public. 
Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763098.html

How to Build Credit History ?

If you haven’t learnt about how to get a credit card from our earlier article, we recommend you to have a look if you do not have a credit card. Here we will look at the importance of building credit history in US and ways to build credit.

US runs on credit.  Even if you have $10000 in your bank account and no credit history whatsoever, you will have hard time buying a property on credit.  As a student, I was hesitant to get a credit card initially as I always like to keep things simple, however, it was not until I talked to a friend who has been in US longer than I that I learned that once I get out of the college, my credit history is going to play a vital role in getting a rental place, buying a car and even buying a home.

I was glad that I got that piece of advice, thanks to that advice, now my credit rating is ‘excellent’ and because of that, I got all my loans (credit card, car, student loans, housing loan) at competitive rates.

It takes time, mind you, to build credit history but it is not very difficult to build one if you are disciplined.

build credit history

Below are some ways you can build your credit history (this assumes that you already have a credit card, if not, look at the earlier article about getting one with or without credit history):

1. Auto pay: 

This is one of the easiest ways to ensure that your credit card is paid on time, always.  As long as you review your credit card statements every month, this is a convenient method. If you are lazy and hardly check your statements then this may turn out to be a dangerous way to losing money too.

2. Buy things on credit and then pay it off:

Instead of using cash or debit card, use your credit card wherever it is accepted.  Set an auto-pay or a reminder to yourself to pay off the credit card before the deadline to avoid additional fees/charges.  Most credit cards have 30-45 days for you to pay off. This will not only help with credit history but in some cases you can get cool ‘money back’ offers from the credit card company.  For instance, American Express Cash Back card gives you 1%-5% cash back on your purchases.  Lot of other credit card companies have similar offers these days.

3. Loan payments:

Even if you have $10,000 lying in your bank and even if you want to just buy a used car which costs only $8000, it may still be a good idea to buy it on credit.  When we first started out, we bought a car for $5000 for cash and after 3 years, we bought a car on credit, sure we had to pay an interest of 4% but it was worth it for what it did to our credit history.  Again, this is not the only way but is a quicker way to prove your credit worthiness.

4. Timely payments:

Always ensure that all your credit cards, loans are paid on time.  One defaulted payment may cause unnecessary damage to your credit history.  I was surprised to see that a payment we missed like 2 years back still shows up on our credit report. Auto-pay comes to rescue or setting reminders in your personal (or work) email will help too.

5. Credit union account/credit cards:

If you are new to US, chances are it is difficult to qualify for a credit card and without a credit card/loan it is difficult to build credit history. Paradoxical, I know. One easy alternative is to join a credit union in your locality.  Most places have local credit unions whose only condition is that you live in the county that they serve. It is relatively easier to get a credit card, with low limit initially, from a credit union. You can also maintain your savings account with them.

6. Keep an eye on your credit score:  

You can get free credit reports or subscribe for a credit report company service to keep an eye on your credit history.  You want to make sure that no one else has taken your identity to apply for credit cards or loans, checking your credit report is a good to check.  There are few companies who offer you first free credit report including: www.kreditkarma.com, www.freecreditreport.com

7. Co-signer based application:

If you have never had a card before, you can start by applying to one with a co-signer (someone who has better credit history than yours). Co-signer credit card is a good option for someone starting out new to start building your own credit score of your own.

Those are some of the ways to build credit.

Travel in USA – Best of flights, Hotels and other options in USA

US is a big country, without exploring its beauty by traveling – your visit to US may not be complete.  How then can you travel to the best spots in US without burning your pocket?  Let’s look at the sites that we ourselves use to find deals.  We will look into four different categories and we will throw in some additional options, just for the good measure:

travel in usa

  • Flights
  • Hotels
  • Rental Cars
  • Cruises
  • Other Options

Photo credit: Marc Levin

Flights within US:

When it comes to finding a flight deal – its a very tricky jungle out there.  For some ungodly reason – you tend to find worse deals on official sites and great deals on booking sites.  Below is a list of our favorite booking sites.

SouthWest: Booking sites are sweet but what is sweeter is finding a good deal on the official website that also has ‘free baggage allowance’. No wonder this company fought its way back from bankruptcy to becoming one of the major players.  They merged Airtran making their routes even more accessible.

Spirit Airlines: If you don’t mind about the ‘non-reclining’ chairs and don’t bother about snacks on a 1 to 2 hour flights – then spirit airlines is worth checking.  Last time we flew to Dallas – we saved over $250 on two tickets together.  I don’t think the handful peanuts on other airlines are worth $250.

Kayak: Probably one of the best sites on the internet to find best flight deals, especially, local travel.

OneTravel:  We found the best deals, better than kayak, on international travel from/to US on this site.  Not our favorite for local travel but definitely worth checking out for international.  Pay extra attention to your route before confirming the ticket.  They have 24 hour cancel policy wherein you can cancel your tickets within first 24 hours for a nominal fees.  Sweet deal when you are getting non-refundable ticket deals with this feature.

Expedia: This site serves many corporates around the world and for a good reason.  Their price match is great – in case you find a better deal after booking your trip – they will reimburse you the difference.

Priceline:  Unique feature of this site is you can name your price and if they find a deal that matches your price – they will confirm your booking.  The itinerary is a bit twisted but prices are sweet.

 

Hotels in US:

Traveling can be exhausting and you want to find a good place to crash. It is even better if you get it at a good price.

Hotwire: The BEST when it comes to finding cheaper hotels.  My recent search showed me deals of $76 for a 3 star hotel on a long weekend in San Antonio, one of good tourist destinations.  The only draw back is that you will not find the ‘hotel’ you are going to be booked at until you confirm the booking.

Booking.com: This is my favorite site for international hotel booking. Their prices are hard to beat even by a local booking agent.  When I traveled along Argentina – this site was a god sent as I did not have to go through hoops to get a deal in a foreign country.

Trivago: Trivago is a hotel search engine, that is, it finds the best deals from other booking sites and presents the comparison for same room from different sites so that you can make the decision.  Prices are competent to Hotwire and you don’t have the guess work like in hotwire.

Hotels.com: Obvious choice, they call it.  Obviously we couldn’t leave it out.

 

Car Rentals :

Personally, I prefer driving to flying.  Especially, if the drive is under 8 hours. First – I love driving, second, for a 8 hour road trip, the flight is about 1.5 to 2 hours, with security check (2 hours), going to airport (1 hour), finding a cab (.5 hr), getting to where you have to (.5 to 1 hour) put together – you spend 6.5 hours anyway.  Of course, if you don’t love driving, flying maybe best bet.  Also, during long weekends flying is much more expensive than driving.

Hotwire: We are glad to see hotwire the second time and for a reason.  Their prices are always awesome.  The drawback, though, continues. You will not know who you are renting from until you confirm the booking.  Since they only have reliable players in their list – I don’t mind the chance.

Enterprise: “Pick us and we’ll pick you” is Enterprise’s motto.  When you book the car with Enterprise – they will pick you up and drop you off (within their area of coverage). Sweet. Apart from that – I have always been a fan of enterprise until they changed their unlimited nationwide miles to unlimited neighboring state miles.  Nevertheless, not everyone is as crazy as I am when it comes to driving – and so – enterprise is still a way to go if you are driving to neighboring states and want unlimited miles at sweet price.  To top it off they stood number 1 in customer service/ratings for 2014.

Avis: Avis operations are far fetching and I like the fact that I can rent a car in a country like India, where historically car renting has not been in vogue, with Avis.  Check Avis for your international travel needs.

Hertz: Like hotels.com in the previous section – we cannot complete this section without including Hertz when it comes to rental cars.  They have extensive availability of cars in almost all locations that you find car rental services in US.

Cruises:

We covered air, road and now its time to turn to water.  There are many vacation cruise package deals to many locations from the US.  Unless you are prone to seasickness, cruise is an experience you must add to your bucket list.

Expedia: We see another service provider that appeared twice on this list and there is a good reason to it.  When it comes to cruises you want a reliable service and with its price guarantee and a long history – Expedia is a real deal when it comes to cruises.

CruiseOne: Get cruise and destination credits that you can spend on cruise and the destination. One of the most contemporary sites with wide range of options.

iCruise:  When your plans are to take your cruising international (works well for national too) – then this is a site you want to check to find the deal.

Cruise.com:  This is our hotels.com for the cruise section – we have to mention it because – it is an obvious choice and you shouldn’t book anything before comparing the deal here.

 

Other travel options:  If you don’t want to fly, drive or take cruise, the other option is train and bus.  Following are few choices:

Amtrak:  Where available, amtrak is a great way to travel.  For the number 1 country in the world – train connectivity sucks.  That is why, unfortunately, I had to include this under ‘other’ options.

Greyhound: Probably one of the most endured way of traveling in US and still continues to be one of the most connected transportation (better than train) system. Not the classy of choices but a choice nevertheless.

MegaBus: Serving close to 10% of US population (30 million out of 330 million) MegaBus is a great option, where available.  If you book the ticket early enough – you maybe able to get it for under $10.  They have onboard wi-fi, electric ports to run your laptop (or to charge your PDA, etc).

We hope all the array of choices we presented in this article inspire you to travel and explore new places.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only.  Not an advice.

Send Money to India – Various Options Explained

One of the perks of working in US is the ability to send money to the loved ones back in India.  For sending the money you want to be sure that you are getting:

i) Safe transaction assurance

ii) Good exchange rate

iii) Avoid unnecessary fees or hidden fee

iv) Ease of access to money by recipient in India

send money to india

Keeping the above features in mind, let’s look at the options you have to send the money to India.

Online Money transfer:

Sending money using an online remittance service is both convenient and easy.  Two of the below mentioned options actually let you send cash (and thus do not need you to have a bank account in US) – especially useful when you are working on campus and are dealing in cash rather than bank transfers – these are identified with ($) sign.

Xoom:

Xoom has become an instant attention grabber with its salient features including: No fees on transactions over $1000, 24 hour money transfer (Instant transfer if you have Punjab National Bank or HDFC account in India with no block-out days), locked in exchange rate and ease of transferring money from your US bank account.  You can even use your credit card to transfer money with modest fees.

Bank deposits to India within 24 hours.

MoneyGram ($):

Until I switched to Xoom, Moneygram has been my favorite.  Even to this day – if I want money to be picked by a friend in an instant – I use Moneygram. Their fees is higher when you use your credit/debit card for instant transfer but their exchange rate is usually higher by about 30 paise to 50 paise from others – which typically covers most of the fees.  Still continues to be on my favorite usage list.  Offers cash to online remittance through one of their convenient locations.

www.moneygram.com

ICICI Money2India:

When it comes to big bucks and transferring big bucks safely – I trust ICICI’s Money2India.  Unless you use their express or power transfer – it usually takes about 5 business days.  Recently they have introduced locked in exchange rates so it doesn’t bother me when the money reaches into account as I know the amount received in India before I complete the transaction.

Remit2India:

An initiative of Times of India group, Remit2India is a favorite of many NRIs. It offers remittances from $50 to $50,000+ with in person delivery of bank demand draft to your recipient if they are outside the ‘bank network’ of their group.  You can even have the bank demand draft deposited into the recipient’s account.  Recipient does not have to do anything – Remit2India arranges all these logistics.

www.remit2india.com

WesternUnion Money Transfer ($):

One of the iconic money transfer service.  It would have been on the top of the list if not for other services offering better deals.  Having said that – WU still stands to be one of the most preferred money transfer service due to its vast network around the globe.  Your recipient will find it easier to spot a western union nearby.

www.westernunion.com

Consider the brief comparison of all these services below:

There are other services like SBI, HSBC, etc also offer money transfer services but this article has been deliberately limited to the services we personally used and found to be comparatively better than those that we skipped.  For a detailed comparison of other banks/services – please visit: http://www.compareremit.com/compare-money-transfer-services-to-india/

If you decide to use any of the services listed on this page, we appreciate you using the links posted on this site as it may yield referral to our site and will keep it going.  It will not cost you anything.