How to Decide If Pet Insurance Is Worth the Cost

Woman deciding if pet insurance is worth the cost

Last fall, our greyhound Tivo refused his breakfast on a Friday morning. He didn’t eat or drink water all day, and we were worried. That night, we took him to the 24-hour emergency veterinarian and Tivo was diagnosed with a bacterial stomach bug and dehydration. We went home with antibiotics, a saline IV, and a $200 vet bill.

Thankfully, we could afford this bill for unexpected emergency care for Tivo. But if he were diagnosed with a chronic condition or needed a very costly intervention, we might find ourselves facing some heartbreaking financial decisions.

Pet insurance is often touted as a solution to these worries. With pet insurance covering some costs of veterinary care, you’re never forced to choose between your beloved pet and your finances. However, does this kind of coverage make sense for most pet-owners?

Here’s what you need to know about pet insurance so you can keep your fur babies bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for years to come.

Premium costs

As with human health insurance, pet insurance charges you a monthly premium for your pet’s coverage. According to Value Penguin, the average monthly cost for canine pet insurance is $47.20, and the average for feline insurance is $29.54 for accident and illness coverage.

Of course, this doesn’t tell the whole story of what to expect from premium costs. Many pet insurers increase premiums with the age of your pet. Which means the $47 per month you pay to keep your 4-year-old pup healthy could rise with his/her age, making the premiums harder to keep up with just as they’re more likely to need age-related medical intervention. In addition, different breeds can have different premium prices, since there are some hereditary conditions that various breeds may be more prone to.

However, even with these potential issues, there are some methods to keep premiums manageable. For instance, some tried and true insurance reduction strategies work just as well for your pet’s health insurance as they do for your own. These include increasing your deductible, reducing the percentage that the insurance reimburses, or limiting the annual payout rather than choosing unlimited coverage.

These strategies can keep your premiums affordable while still helping with big veterinary bills. But you need to be prepared to pay anything above and beyond the coverage limits you set up. (See also: 8 Ways to Lower Your Vet Bills) 

Coverage

It’s also important to note that pet insurance does not necessarily cover every kind of health cost for your pets. To start, unlike (some) human health insurance, most pet insurance will not cover preventive care and annual exams. So you will need to plan for these costs on top of your premiums.

Pet insurance policies generally come in two varieties: accident and illness policies, and accident-only policies. In general, accident-only policies do not raise their premiums as your pet ages, making this kind of insurance more affordable long-term. However, accident-only policies tend to be cheaper because your pet is less likely to get injured than fall ill. If you decide to invest in pet insurance, getting both accident and illness protection will likely offer you more protection.

That said, each insurer gets to decide which illnesses, conditions, and services it covers, and not all ailments are covered. Many insurers also do not cover the diagnostic exam for a particular illness, even if the treatments are covered. Make sure you pay attention to the details of what your potential insurer will cover before signing up for coverage.

As with many types of human health insurance, most pet insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions. Unfortunately, some insurers consider health problems to be "preexisting" if they crop up within a year of the purchase of your policy. Insuring your pet when they’re young is the best way to avert the preexisting condition coverage gap.

Finally, pet insurance coverage is usually handled via reimbursement. That means you’ll be on the hook to pay the vet bill at the time of service, and you’ll submit your receipts to your insurer to receive reimbursement. (See also: 7 Things You Need to Know About Pet Insurance)

Should you buy pet insurance?

With all the caveats, coverage gaps, and reimbursement requirements, pet insurance is not necessarily a slam dunk for everyone. In fact, many consumer advocates recommend that pet owners put aside an amount equal to the annual premium into a savings account each year. This will give you the same peace of mind that you can cover any potential health care needs for your pet while also allowing you to keep the money if you never need to use it.

However, if you struggle with financial discipline, this strategy will leave you in a difficult situation if your furry friend needs an expensive procedure. Pet insurance can provide you with the protection your pet needs even if you struggle with money. 

Show your love with an emergency fund

Whether or not you decide to purchase pet insurance, remember that you’ll have to pay upfront for any veterinary procedures. With insurance, you will get reimbursed for covered care, but you will still need to have access to funds to pay for Mittens’ kidney stone removal or Rex’s arthritis care at the time of care.

This means that one of the best ways you can protect your furry friends and avoid heartbreaking financial choices is to have an emergency fund. With or without pet insurance, set some money aside for the unexpected so you can enjoy your four-legged family members for years to come. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

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With pet insurance covering some costs of veterinary care, you're never forced to choose between your beloved pet and your finances. Here's what you need to know about pet insurance. | #pets #petcare #insurance


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Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.

But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create your home office on a budget.

Strive for an ergonomically correct home office

Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.

If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.

As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

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“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?

Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace

When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.

In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.

Establish the ideal setup for your workstation

Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.

When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.

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The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.

One more chair takeaway from Loesing?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.

While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:

  • Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
  • Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.

If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.

While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

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“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.

For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.

As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.

Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.

Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive

Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.

Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

5 Best Hedges in the Face of Inflation

Inflation measures how much an economy rises over time, comparing the average price of a basket of goods from one point in time to another. Understanding inflation is an important element of investing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator shows that $5.00 in September 2000 has the purchasing power equal to $7.49 in September 2020. To continue to afford necessities, your income must pace or rise above the rate of inflation. If your income didn’t rise along with inflation, you couldn’t afford that same pizza in September 2020 — even if your income never changed.

Inflation represents a real risk for investors as it could erode the principal value of your investment.

For investors, inflation represents a real problem. If your investment isn’t growing faster than inflation you could technically end up losing money instead of growing your wealth. That’s why many investors look for stable and secure places to invest their wealth. Ideally, in investment vehicles that guarantee a return that’ll outpace inflation. 

These investments are commonly known as “inflation hedges”. 

5 Top Inflations Hedges to Know

Depending on your risk tolerance, you probably wouldn’t want to keep all of your wealth in inflation hedges. Although they might be secure, they also tend to earn minimal returns. You’ll unlikely get rich from these assets, but it’s also unlikely you’ll lose money. 

Many investors turn to these secure investments when they notice an inflationary environment is gaining momentum. Here’s what you should know about the most common inflation hedges.

1. Gold

Some say gold is over-hyped, because not only does it not pay interest or dividends, but it also does poorly when the economy is doing well. Central banks, who own most of the world’s gold, can also deflate its price by selling some of its stockpile. Gold’s popularity might be partially linked to the “gold standard”, which is the way countries used to value its currency. The U.S. hasn’t used the gold standard since 1933.

Still, gold’s stability in a crisis could be good for investors who need to diversify their assets or for someone who’s very risk-averse. 

If you want to buy physical gold, you can get gold bars or coins — but these can be risky to store and cumbersome to sell. It can also be hard to determine their value if they have a commemorative or artistic design or are gold-plated. Another option is to buy gold stocks or mutual funds. 

Is gold right for you? You’ll need to determine how much risk you’re willing to tolerate with your investments since gold offers a low risk but also a low reward. 

Pros

  • Physical asset: Gold is a physical asset in limited supply so it tends to hold its value. 
  • Low correlation: Creating a diversified portfolio means investing in asset classes that don’t move together. Gold has a relatively low correlation to many popular asset classes, helping you potentially hedge your risk.
  • Performs well in recessions: Since many investors see gold as a hedge against uncertainty, it is often in high demand during a recession.

Cons

  • No dividends: Gold doesn’t pay any dividends; the only way to make money on gold is to sell it. 
  • Speculative: Gold creates no value on its own. It’s not a business that builds products or employs workers, thereby growing the economy. Its price is merely driven by supply and demand.
  • Not good during low inflation: Since gold doesn’t have a huge upside, during periods of low inflation investors generally prefer taking larger risks and will thereby sell gold, driving down its price.

2. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

Buying real estate can be messy — it takes a long time, there are many extra fees, and at the end of the process, you have a property you need to manage. Buying REITs, however, is simple.

REITs provide a hedge for investors who need to diversify their portfolio and want to do so by getting into real estate. They’re listed on major stock exchanges and you can buy shares in them like you would any other stock.

If you’re considering a REIT as an inflation hedge you’ll want to start your investment process by researching which REITs you’re interested in. There are REITs in many industries such as health care, mortgage or retail. 

Choose an industry that you feel most comfortable with, then assess the specific REITs in that industry. Look at their balance sheets and review how much debt they have. Since REITs must give 90% of their income to shareholders they often use debt to finance their growth. A REIT that carries a lot of debt is a red flag.

Pros

  • No corporate tax: No matter how profitable they become, REITs pay zero corporate tax.
  • High dividends: REITs must disperse at least 90% of their taxable income to shareholders, most pay out 100%.
  • Diversified class: REITs give you a way to invest in real estate and diversify your assets if you’re primarily invested in equities.

Cons

  • Sensitive to interest rate: REITs can react strongly to interest rate increases.
  • Large tax consequences: The government treats REITs as ordinary income, so you won’t receive the reduced tax rate that the government uses to assess other dividends.
  • Based on property values: The value of your shares in a REIT will fall if property values decline.

3. Aggregate Bond Index

A bond is an investment security — basically an agreement that an investor will lend money for a specified time period. You earn a return when the entity to whom you loaned money pays you back, with interest. A bond index fund invests in a portfolio of bonds that hope to perform similarly to an identified index. Bonds are typically considered to be safe investments, but the bond market can be complicated.

If you’re just getting started with investing, or if you don’t have time to research the bond market, an aggregate bond index can be helpful because it has diversification built into its premise. 

Of course, with an aggregate bond index you run the risk that the value of your investment will decrease as interest rates increase. This is a common risk if you’re investing in bonds — as the interest rate rises, older issued bonds can’t compete with new bonds that earn a higher return for their investors. 

Be sure to weigh the credit risk to see how likely it is that the bond index will be downgraded. You can determine this by reviewing its credit rating. 

Pros

  • Diversification: You can invest in several bond types with varying durations, all within the same fund.
  • Good for passive investment: Bond index funds require less active management to maintain, simplifying the process of investing in bonds.
  • Consistency: Bond indexes pay a return that’s consistent with the market. You’re not going to win big, but you probably won’t lose big either.

Cons

  • Sensitive to interest rate fluctuations: Bond index funds invested in government securities (a common investment) are particularly sensitive to changes to the federal interest rate.
  • Low reward: Bond index funds are typically stable investments, but will likely generate smaller returns over time than a riskier investment.

4. 60/40 Portfolio

Financial advisors used to highly recommend a 60/40 stock-bond mix to create a diversified investment portfolio that hedged against inflation. However, in recent years that advice has come under scrutiny and many leading financial experts no longer recommend this approach. 

Instead, investors recommend even more diversification and what’s called an “environmentally balanced” portfolio which offers more consistency and does better in down markets. If you’re considering a 60/40 mix, do your research to compare how this performs against an environmentally balanced approach over time before making your final decision.

Pros

  • Simple rule of thumb: Learning how to diversify your portfolio can be hard, the 60/40 method simplifies the process.
  • Low risk: The bond portion of the diversified portfolio serves to mitigate the risk and hedge against inflation.
  • Low cost: You likely don’t have to pay an advisor to help you build a 60/40 portfolio, which can eliminate some of the cost associated with investing.

Cons

  • Not enough diversification: Financial managers are now suggesting even greater diversification with additional asset classes, beyond stocks and bonds.
  • Not a high enough return: New monetary policies and the growth of digital technology are just a few of the reasons why the 60/40 mix doesn’t perform in current times the same way it did during the peak of its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.

5. Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS)

Since TIPS are indexed for inflation they’re one of the most reliable ways to guard yourself against high inflation. Also, every six months they pay interest, which could provide you with a small return. 

You can buy TIPS from the Treasury Direct system in maturities of five, 10 or 30 years. Keep in mind that there’s always the risk of deflation when it comes to TIPS. You’re always guaranteed a minimum of your original principal at maturity, but inflation could impact your interest earnings.

Pros

  • Low risk: Treasury bonds are backed by the federal government. 
  • Indexed for inflation: TIPS will automatically increase its principle to compensate for inflation. You’ll never receive less than your principal at maturity.
  • Interest payments keep pace with inflation: The interest rate is determined based on the inflation-adjusted principal. 

Cons

  • Low rate of return: The interest rate is typically very low, other secure investments that don’t adjust for inflation could be higher. 
  • Most desirable in times of high inflation: Since the rate of return for TIPS is so low, the only way to get a lot of value from this investment is to hold it during a time when inflation increases and you need protection. If inflation doesn’t increase, there could be a significant opportunity cost.

The Bottom Line 

Inflation represents a real risk for investors as it could erode the principal value of your investment. Make sure your investments are keeping pace with inflation, at a minimum. 

Inflation hedges can protect some of your assets from inflation. Although you don’t always have to put your money in inflation hedges, they can be helpful if you notice the market is heading into an inflationary period. 

The post 5 Best Hedges in the Face of Inflation appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Is Investing During Coronavirus a Good Idea?

A man in a suit and tie works on his cellphone and laptop at the same time.

The coronavirus bear market might look appealing to some. But for many, the economic changes that come with COVID-19 cause anxiety and uncertainty. Investing during coronavirus, when you can buy stock or other assets for lower prices, might sound like mathematical sense, but is it right for you?

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Start with the information below—and the advice of your
financial planner—to make an educated decision for yourself.

A Look at the COVID-19 Stock Market

The stock market took a beating as the coronavirus
began to sweep across the US. On Feb. 20, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial
Average was 29,219.98 points. By March 23, 2020, it had dropped to
18,591.93 in an extreme slide downward related to the pandemic.

But even as the Dow continued to drop, economic experts were warning people not to panic with their money. Peter Mallouk, a chief investment officer, said he was worried people would make irrecoverable mistakes by using emotion- and fear-based decisions in managing their portfolios.

And in fact, the Dow did start to climb again, reaching as high as 23,949.76 on April 14, 2020. While it’s likely to rise and fall throughout the pandemic, economic experts predict the stock market will eventually rally.

Some Reasons a Rally Is Likely

Nothing falls forever. Eventually, the economy will
begin to rise again. Consumers are eventually going to hit the market with enormous
demand.

According to MarketWatch, the economy in the US is about 70% driven by consumer culture—the buying and selling of goods and services. During the coronavirus quarantine, many people have been stuck in their homes or limited in how they can shop, dine or recreate. Once stay-at-home orders are lifted and people start to get back to a new normal, there’s likely to be a huge spike in spending.

MarketWatch also predicts that changes in supply chains
and money from various economic stimulus efforts will continue to stimulate the
stock market. While no economic future can be 100% predicted, historical trends
support some of these predictions.

Should I Invest During Coronavirus?

But an eventual rise in the stock market isn’t a free pass to go all in. Investment adviser Ric Edelman says knowing how to proceed according to your own situation and needs is important. Regardless of what the economy might be doing right now or in the future, understanding your own financial goals is the place to start.

First, consider how long you have to regain lost wealth or build new wealth. Someone who is on the verge of retirement or already retired may not have the time it takes to wait for bear market investments to increase in value. Older adults might want to stick with low-risk investments or savings accounts that maintain what wealth they already have.

Next, consider your current financial status. “Buy low, sell high” might be the prevailing wisdom among investors, but it only works if you have the money to buy with. Many families are facing loss of income or jobs right now, and it might not be the time for investing. Instead, it might be time to work on your personal budget and negotiate with creditors to reduce expenses, at least temporarily.

Finally, consider how risk adverse you are. No investment is a sure thing, but some
do come with more risk than others. Understanding what you can afford to lose
helps you determine which types of investments might be right for you.

Investing During Coronavirus: Where and How?

Ultimately, only you can decide if investing during
coronavirus is the right move for you. Once you make that decision, though, you
have many options to choose from. Here are just a few possible investments that
might be right for you.

  • Buy stocks that have dropped enough to make them affordable but are for companies that you feel will weather the storm and come out swinging after the pandemic.
  • Invest in companies that have enough cash. Most expert-level investors are still looking for opportunities, but they’re being picky and opting for companies that have strong cash flow and stable balance sheets. Now isn’t the time to make big gambles, especially if you’re not young enough to recover before retirement.
  • Consider investing in real estate, which historically has weathered recessions and global economic crisis better than many other options.

If and how you invest is a very personal decision—and
always a big one. It’s a good idea to seek help from personal financial
advisers or other wealth management professionals even in good times. Consult
professionals for help understanding the best ways to support your
wealth-building goals if you decide to invest during coronavirus.

Other Coronavirus Support

Coronavirus has impacted more than just our investment opportunities. If you’re worried about other money or credit questions at this time, check out our COVID-19 finances guide. From keeping eyes on your credit to what to expect from stimulus packages, Credit.com has information to help you plan and manage your money during this time.

The post Is Investing During Coronavirus a Good Idea? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

How to Copy Warren Buffet’s Biggest Investment of 2020

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Warren Buffett is notoriously a good investor. Sure, he’s made some mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but whatever move he makes, you can bet he’s thought it through, and it will pay off — big time.

Which is why when Mr. Buffett made his biggest stock purchase of the year into Apple, we thought, “Isn’t it too late to do that?” Apple is already trading at the highest price it ever has. It feels out of reach for us non-billionaires.

But it turns out, that’s not the case. While we don’t have the ability to own $111 billion (yes, billion with a B) in AAPL shares, we can still get our hands on some — and reap the rewards as the market goes up.

One of our favorite ways to get into the stock market and be a part of infamous big-tech returns, without risking billions is through a free app called Stash.

It lets you be a part of something that’s normally exclusive to the richest of the rich — on Stash you can buy pieces of other companies — including Buffett’s choices — for as little as $1.

That’s right — you can invest in pieces of well-known companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and more for as little as $1. The best part? If these companies profit, so can you. Some companies even send you a check every quarter for your share of the profits, called dividends.1

It takes two minutes to sign up, and it’s totally secure. With Stash, all your investments are protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) — that’s industry talk for, “Your money’s safe.”2

Plus, when you use the link above, Stash will give you a $5 sign-up bonus once you deposit $5 into your account.*

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

1Not all stocks pay out dividends, and there is no guarantee that dividends will be paid each year.

2To note, SIPC coverage does not insure against the potential loss of market value.

For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

*Offer is subject to Promotion Terms and Conditions. To be eligible to participate in this Promotion and receive the bonus, you must successfully open an individual brokerage account in good standing, link a funding account to your Invest account AND deposit $5.00 into your Invest account.

The Penny Hoarder is a Paid Affiliate/partner of Stash. 

Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or tax advice. Investing involves risk. 

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How Much House Should I Afford?

The internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding information that can help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, searching for “How much house can I afford?” will mostly lead you to online calculators that use an algorithm to come up with a generic estimate.

To come up with a figure, these calculators ask you for details like your zip code, your gross annual income, your down payment amount, your monthly liabilities, and your credit score. From there, they come up with an estimate of your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the amount of bills and liabilities you have in relation to your monthly income. 

The truth is, most lenders prefer your debt-to-income ratio to be at 43 percent or lower, although some lenders may offer you a loan with a DTI slightly above that.

Either way, the figures these calculators throw at you are a simple reflection of what a bank is willing to lend you — not an estimate of what you really can or should spend. 

Let’s dig in a bit more to what factors to consider.

Factors that Should Impact Your Home Purchase Price

One of the main factors to consider when deciding how much to spend on a home is how much you want to pay for your mortgage each month. What kind of payment can you commit to without sacrificing other goals?

A mortgage payment calculator is a good tool to use in this case. With a mortgage calculator, you can see how much your monthly payment might be depending on the amount you borrow, the interest rate you qualify for, and the term of the loan. 

While you decide on a monthly payment you can live with, there are additional details you should consider. The main ones include:

  • Down Payment: If you’re able to put down 20% of your home purchase price, you can avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI. PMI adds an additional cost to your mortgage each month (usually around 1% of your loan amount), although you can have this charge removed from your loan once you have at least 20% equity.
  • Property Taxes: Find out the annual property taxes for any home you’re considering, then divide that amount by 12 to figure out approximately how much you’ll need to pay toward taxes in your mortgage payment each month. Also remember that your property taxes will likely go up slowly over time, which will increase your monthly housing payment along the way.
  • Homeowners Insurance: Your homeowners insurance premiums will also vary depending on the property and other factors. Make sure to get a homeowners insurance quote so you know approximately how much you’ll pay for coverage each year.
  • Home Warranty: Do you want a home warranty that will repair or replace major components of your property that break down? If so, you’ll want to price out home warranties that can provide coverage for your HVAC system, plumbing, appliances, and more. 
  • Other Monthly Bills: Take other liabilities you have into account, and especially the big ones. Daycare expenses, college tuition, utility bills, car payments, and all other bills you have should be considered and planned for.
  • Financial Goals: Are you trying to save more than usual so you can retire early? Or, are you saving in a 529 plan for future college expenses? If your financial goals are a priority (as they should be), then you’ll want to make sure your new house payment won’t make saving for other goals a challenge.
  • Upgrades and Repairs: Finally, don’t forget to come up with an estimate of how much you might want to spend on repairs or changes to your new home. A property that is new or move-in ready may not require much of anything, but money you plan to spend on a major renovation should be taken into consideration along with the purchase price of your home.

Hidden Expenses to Plan For

The factors you should consider when figuring out how much home to buy are pretty obvious, but what about all the expenses of homeownership you can’t always plan for? The reality is, you will need to do some work on your home at some point, and many of the most popular repairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars on their own. 

These repair and renovation cost estimates from Remodeling Magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value study are just a few examples: 

  • Garage door replacement: $3,695
  • Vinyl siding replacement: $14,459
  • Wooden window replacement: $21,495
  • Asphalt roof replacement: $24,700

In addition to major repairs like these, you’ll also have repair bills for your HVAC system, mulch to buy for your flower beds, and ongoing costs for maintenance and upkeep to pay for. You may also decide to remodel your older kitchen one day, or to add an extra bedroom as your family grows. 

As you figure out how much you should spend on a home, remember that you won’t know exactly how much you’ll need for home repairs or upgrades. Most people set aside some money for home maintenance in their emergency fund, but you can also set aside money for home repairs in a separate high-yield savings account. 

How to Calculate How Much House You Should Afford

All of the costs we’ve outlined above probably seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that most major home repairs will be spread out over the years and even decades you own your home. Not only that, but you will hopefully start earning more over the course of your career. As your paycheck grows, you’ll be able to set aside more money for emergencies and potentially even pay your mortgage off faster.

So, how do you calculate how much house you can afford? That’s really up to you, but I would start by tallying up every bill you have to pay each month including car payments, insurance, utilities, student loans, and any other debts you have. From there, add in some savings so you have money to set aside for your investing and savings goals. Also factor in money you set aside for retirement in a workplace account.

At this point, you could consider other factors that might impact how much you want to pay for a home. For example:

  • Do you need to build an emergency fund?
  • Are children on the agenda, and should you play for daycare expenses?
  • Do you like being able to save more money for a rainy day? 
  • Do you want to have one spouse stay at home in the future?
  • How long do you want to pay off your home loan?

Once you’ve considered all other factors, you may decide that you should set aside money for some other goals, like future daycare bills or college savings. Maybe you decide you want to pay double on your student loans so you can pay them off early, or that you want a 15-year-home loan with a larger monthly payment instead of a traditional 30-year loan. 

Either way, experts tend to agree that your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your income. For a $7,000 monthly income, that means your payment shouldn’t exceed $1,750. If your income is $5,000 per month, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,250 per month. These are ballpark estimates, and your property taxes and homeowners insurance premiums (or estimates) should also be figured into this amount. 

What to Do If You Already Spent Too Much?

If you already overspent on your home, you’re probably wondering which steps to take next. Maybe your monthly mortgage payment is making it impossible to keep up with other bills, or perhaps the home you bought required a lot more work than you realized. 

Either way, there are some steps to get back on track financially if you bit off more than you can chew. Consider these options:

  • Refinance your mortgage. Today’s incredibly low rates have made it so almost anyone can refinance an existing mortgage and save money these days. If you’re able to qualify for a new mortgage with a lower interest rate, you could lower your monthly payment and save money on interest each month. Compare mortgage refinancing rates here. 
  • Cut your expenses. Look for ways to cut your spending on a daily basis — at least until you figure out what to do in the long run. Figure out areas of your budget where you might be spending more than you realized, such as dining out, getting takeout, or going out on the weekends. If you can cut your monthly spending somewhat, you can find more money to use toward your mortgage payment each month. 
  • Get a roommate. Consider renting out your guest room in order to get some help with your mortgage. If you live in a tourist area, you can also rent out a space using platforms like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com. 
  • Sell your home and move. Finally, consider selling your home and moving if you have enough equity to do so without taking a financial loss. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a financial crisis is cut your losses and move on.

The Bottom Line

How much house you can afford isn’t always the same as how much you should afford. Only you know what your monthly bills and liabilities look like each month, and only you know the goals and dreams you really should be saving for.

When it comes to buying a home, you’re almost always better off if you err on the side of caution and borrow less a bank will lend. Buying a modest home can leave you with a lot more choices in life, but buying a home you can’t really afford can leave you struggling for years to come.

The post How Much House Should I Afford? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How to Maximize Rewards on Everyday Spending

Woman using credit card on everyday spending

While many rewards enthusiasts focus on signing up for new credit cards to earn signup bonuses, not everyone has the time or desire to play the signup game. There is effort involved in tracking multiple cards, annual fees, and rewards programs, after all, and some people don’t want to spend their time or mental energy this way.

If you’re someone who falls into this category, you may be better off maximizing one or two cards instead of chasing rewards. Fortunately, you can earn plenty of rewards over time if you’re savvy about your card’s benefits and bonus categories.

The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. Here are some tips that can help.

Brainstorm every bill you could pay with a credit card

Because rewards cards offer points based on each dollar you spend, maximizing the amount you can spend on credit is the best way to boost your rewards haul. The smartest strategy to use here is figuring out how many of your monthly bills you can pay with a credit card.

While you may not be notified or aware, it’s possible that bills you’ve been paying with a check or debit card for years can be paid with a credit card without any fees. While your bills may vary, some expenses you should try to pay with a credit card include:

  • Rent
  • Utility bills like electric or gas
  • Health insurance
  • Cable television and internet
  • Cell phone
  • Taxes
  • Daycare
  • Auto and home insurance
  • Subscription services
  • College tuition or student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Lawn care

Keep in mind that these are just some of the bills you could be paying with credit. Depending on your situation, you could have additional, uncommon expenses to cover that could be paid with credit with ease.

Also, remember that these additional bills should be paid with credit on top of your everyday expenses like groceries, dining out, gas or bus fare, and miscellaneous spending. Every time you buy something in person or online, you should strive to pay with your rewards card if you can.

Leverage your rewards card bonus categories

It’s also important to leverage your favorite card bonus categories, whatever they may be. This is especially important if you have a few cards with different bonus categories since you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right card for bills that let you earn bonus points.

Let’s say you have a travel credit card that earns 3x points on dining and travel and another card that earns 6x points at the grocery store. In that case, you would be smart to use the travel card for dining and travel purchases and your other card when you stock up on food. While the amount of rewards you earn with individual purchases may seem nominal, using the right card for the right purchase can help you earn a lot more rewards over time.

Set up auto-pay bills to be paid with credit

Most of us have bills set up to be paid automatically, whether it’s our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, gym membership, or utility bills. Make sure each bill you have set up to be paid automatically is set up to be paid with your rewards card and not a debit card. This way, you can earn rewards points on those expenses every month.

Use shopping portals and dining clubs

Many flexible rewards programs, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty programs have shopping portals you can access to earn extra points. Major airlines like American, Delta, and United also have shopping portals that work similarly. (See also: How to Maximize Rewards Through Credit Card Shopping Portals)

Some programs like Southwest and Delta also offer dining clubs. These programs let you earn additional points or miles just for dining at participating restaurants in your area. It’s easy and it’s free to join, so you may as well earn extra miles on your spending if you’re going to dine out anyway. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Airline Dining Rewards Programs)

How much the average family can earn

If you are skeptical the average family can rack up meaningful rewards without signing up for new cards over and over again, look at how this might work in real life. For example, imagine a family of four with two rewards card-toting adults. Across the two of them, they have:

  • A cash back card that earns 2% back
     
  • A travel credit card that earns 3% on dining and travel
     
  • A rewards card that earns 6% cash back at the grocery store on up to $6,000 in spending each year

To figure out how much this family might earn, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics spending averages from 2017. Here’s a rundown of that data for the year plus how much a family could earn in rewards over 12 months based on average expenses:

  • Food at home ($4,363): $261.78 in rewards at 6%
     
  • Food away from home ($3,365): $100.95 at 3%
     
  • Utilities, fuels, and public services ($3,836): $76.72 at 2%
     
  • Household operations ($1,412): $28.24 at 2%
     
  • Household supplies ($755): $45.30 at 6%
     
  • Household furnishings and equipment ($1,987): $39.74 at 2%
     
  • Apparel and services ($1,833): $36.66 at 2%
     
  • Gasoline and motor oil ($1,968): $39.36 at 2%
     
  • Other vehicle expenses ($2,842): $56.84 at 2%
     
  • Healthcare ($4,928): $98.56 at 2%
     
  • Entertainment ($3,203): $64.06 at 2%
     
  • Personal care products ($762): $45.72 at 6%
     
  • Education ($1,491): $29.82 at 2%

Total rewards: $923.75

While $900+ is a lot to earn in rewards within a year, you have the potential to earn a lot more. After all, these are just some of the expenses the average family faces and not all of them. If you could pay some additional big bills with credit each month like daycare or your rent, you could significantly add to your bottom line.

What to watch out for

While maximizing rewards cards is a smart idea if you’re using them already anyway, there are always pitfalls to be aware of when you’re using a credit card. Here’s what to watch out for during your quest for more cash back and travel rewards.

Fees for using credit

While there are many bills you can pay with credit without a fee, some vendors, merchants, and service providers charge a fee to use a credit card as payment. Fees are especially prevalent on bills such as utilities, cable or internet, rent, and insurance. Make sure to verify you aren’t being charged a fee to use credit before you proceed.

Annual fees

Don’t forget that some rewards cards charge annual fees. These fees may be worth it depending on your spending and rewards haul, but you should always factor them into the equation to make sure each fee is worth paying. If you’re against paying annual fees, look for rewards cards that don’t charge one.

Budgeting mishaps

Using a credit card for all your expenses may simplify your financial life, but it could also cause your budget to fall out of whack. Make sure you’re only spending on purchases you planned to make anyway, and that you’re tracking your spending and paying off your credit cards regularly.

Debt

Never use credit cards for purchases you can’t afford to repay if you’re pursuing rewards. The interest you’ll pay will always be much more than the rewards you earn. If you’re worried using credit will cause you to rack up debt you can’t afford to repay, you’re better off sticking to cash or debit instead.

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Want to maximise your credit card rewards? The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. We’ve got the ultimate tips and tricks to help you save money and earn more rewards! | #creditcards #rewardsprogram #creditcardrewards


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7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

The post 7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com