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Here's why timeshares are a bad investment

Here's why timeshares are a bad investment
The Marriott timeshare resort on Oahu, Hawaii. (Val Bakhtin / TNS)

Dear Liz: About two years ago, I lost my timeshare because of financial hardship. I paid off the mortgage but after my divorce I missed paying the annual fees. Is there any way I can regain it, or can the company just take it like they did? Also, is it worth it to try to get it back? I think so because it is the only thing I own.

Answer: Please consider investing your money in an asset that can gain value over time. Timeshares don’t.

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Timeshares give you the right to use a vacation property for one week each year. They aren’t an investment. In most cases, timeshare owners are lucky to get 10 cents on the dollar when they try to sell their interests.

Sites such as Timeshare Users Group and RedWeek are filled with ads from people trying to sell their timeshares for $1, and some will even pay others to take timeshares off their hands, perhaps by prepaying a year or two of maintenance fees. Those fees average about $900 a year but can top $3,000 on high-end properties. Resorts damaged by natural disasters or older properties that are being improved also may charge “special assessments” that can be hundreds or thousands of dollars more.

As you discovered, timeshare resorts can take back your interest if you don’t keep up with those fees. You also could have lost your timeshare if you hadn’t been able to pay the mortgage. (In general, it’s not a good idea to borrow money to pay for vacations or other luxuries, and that includes timeshares. The high interest rates charged by most timeshare resort developers make borrowing an even worse idea.)

In addition to taking your timeshare, the developers may have sold your delinquent account to a collection agency that reports to the credit bureaus. Those collections could damage your credit scores.

You could ask the resort developer if you can get the timeshare back, but you could just face the same problem again down the road. One of the biggest problems with timeshares is that there typically is no easy exit. Those annual fees and special assessments are due as long as you own the timeshare. You may not be able to find a buyer if money is tight or you’re no longer able to use it.

If you really loved vacationing at that particular resort, you probably still can. Owners who can’t use or trade their timeshare weeks often rent them out on the sites mentioned above, sometimes for less than the annual maintenance fee. Renting could be a much better deal than tying yourself to a timeshare that could become unaffordable.

Disabled daughter left out of will

Dear Liz: When my husband's brother passed away last year, he left a sizable estate to his second wife of five years (the mother of his children died 10 years ago). He left nothing to his two adult sons or young grandchildren. But the most troubling part was that he left no provision for his 29-year-old daughter who has disabilities and was still living in her childhood home.

Within months, the wife demanded that this young woman leave the property. The stepmother’s comment was, "Not my child, not my problem."

We helped our niece move to our home and apply for Social Security disability and Medicare. She now is able to see doctors about her condition. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen a doctor, which was probably in her teens when her mother was still alive.

A wheelchair has been ordered that will enable her to go out. She has a bank account and had to be taught how to use a credit card at the store and ATM. She started classes in early September to get her high school diploma. Her brothers are stunned that she is able to do all of these things.

I am thrilled for her and the progress she's making, but I am furious with my late brother-in-law and the attorneys who completed his will. The attorneys were aware of this young woman and her needs, yet did not counsel her father to make provisions for her.

Answer: Your fury is understandable, but it’s not a given your brother-in-law got bad advice. It could well be that the attorneys counseled him about his options for caring for his special-needs daughter, and he simply ignored them. Given his long history of ignoring his daughter and her needs, that wouldn’t be surprising.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the "Contact" form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.

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