Buying a Home for the First Time? Avoid These Mistakes

Buying a home, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, can be daunting and nerve racking.

But it does not have to be. LendingTree’s online loan marketplace has got you covered – at least when it comes to getting a mortgage.

A 2016 study by the Office of Research of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection reveals that prospective buyers who shop for a mortgage when buying a home for the first time report “increases consumers’ knowledge of the mortgage market and increases consumers’ self confidence in their ability to deal with mortgage related issues.”

The importance of shopping for a mortgage as a first-time home buyer is that it saves you money in the long term and “reduces the cost of consumers’ mortgages,” the study found.

The home-buying process can be intimidating. So being aware of these mistakes when buying a home for the first time can help you save thousands and thousands of dollars in the long term.

Tips for Buying a Home
To guide you through a major financial decision like the purchase of a home, you may want to talk to a financial advisor.

Luckily, SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can help you find a suitable financial advisor in your area to work with.

Get started now.

10 Mistakes to avoid when buying a home for the first time.

1. Not knowing your credit score.

We are all aware that the higher your credit score, the better.
Yet, despite this fact, many people fail to check their credit score before
buying their first home.

And a low credit score can lead to a high interest mortgage loan, or even worse, a loan rejection. Given the fact that your credit score is the number 1 item mortgage lender looks at, it pays off to know where you stand.

Credit Sesame will let you know what your credit score is for free and monitor it for you. It will also offer tips on how to raise your credit score and reduce your debt.

Just sign up for a free account – it only takes 90 seconds.

2. Not shopping and comparing mortgage rates.

Mortgage rates and fees vary across lenders. In other words, two applicants with the identical credentials can get different mortgage rates. Despite this, however, many fist-time homebuyers fail to shop and compare mortgage rates before buying their first home.

The study reveals that 30 percent first time homebuyers do not
compare and shop for their mortgages, and more than 75 percent reported
applying for a mortgage with only one mortgage lender.

The study further reveals that “failing to comparison shop for a
mortgage costs the average homebuyer approximately $300 per year and many thousands
of dollars over the life of the loan.”

An easy way to shop and compare for a mortgage is with LendingTree. Their simple and straightforward platform can help you find and apply for the right loan all in one place.

3. Sticking with the first mortgage lender you meet.

While it’s tempting to work with your local mortgage lender who’s
only a few blocks away from your home, this decision requires more time. Take
time to meet with at least three mortgage lenders before picking the best match
for you.

Fortunately, LendingTree free online platform, allows you to quickly browse several mortgage rates with several mortgage lenders without visiting a dozen bank branches.

4. Not knowing what loans are available to you.

If you’re buying a home for the first time, one thing you need to address is what types of loans are available to me. Sometimes the answer to this can be quite simple: conventional loan. This is because most people know about this type of loan.

But conventional loan requires at least 20% down payment. And the credit score needs to be in the 700. *Note: You can put less than 20% down payment, but you will have to pay for a private insurance mortgage (PMI).

Sometimes it’s not feasible to come up with that type of money as a first time home buyer. So knowing if other loans are available to you is very important.

FHA loan

One type of loan that is popular among first time home buyers is FHA loan. It is so popular because it’s easier to get qualified for it. And the down payment is very little comparing to that of a conventional loan.

For example, FHA loans require a 580 credit score and a down payment as low as 3.5% of the home purchase price. This makes it easier to qualify for a home loan when you’re on a low income.

VA loans

VA loans are another great option for first-time homebuyers. However, you have to be a veteran. Unlike a FHA or a conventional loan, VA loans require no down payment and no mortgage insurance. This can save you thousands of dollars per year.

So if you’re in market for a loan to buy your first home, you need to educate yourself about the different available loans.


Not All Mortgage Lenders Are Created Equally

When it comes to getting a mortgage, rates and fees vary. LendingTree allows you to view and compare multiple mortgage rates from multiple mortgage lenders all in one place and at the same time, so you can choose the best rates for your needs. LendingTree makes getting a loan faster, simpler, and better. Get started today >>>


5. Not getting pre-approved for a mortgage

One of the first time home buying mistakes you should avoid making is not getting a pre-approval letter. You can simply contact a lender and request it. The mortgage lender will pull your credit report to make sure you have the minimum credit score requirement.

They will also need your bank statements, W2s, recent income tax returns, pay-stubs to verify your employment and ability to afford the loan.

Why this is important? A pre-approval letter means that you’re a serious buyer. It signals that you’re able to commit to the house once an offer has been accepted. It also makes you more desirable than the other potential buyers.

Get a Pre-Approval for a Mortgage Today

6. Not knowing how much you can afford

Buying a home is probably going to be the biggest expenses you’ve ever made. But buying a house you cannot afford can lead to financial trouble along the road. Paying an expensive mortgage for 15 to 30 years on a low income can be hard.

So it pays to know how much house you can afford before you start searching for your home.

The best way to know how much house you can afford is to look at your budget. Take into account your expenses and income and other costs associated with owning a home.

7. Not knowing other upfront costs

If you think that the only cost to buying a home is a down payment, then think again. There are several upfront costs associated with owning a house. These upfront costs include private mortgage insurance, inspection costs, loan application fees, repair costs, moving costs, appraisal costs, earnest money, home association dues.

As a first time home buyer, this may come to you as a surprise. So, be ready to have enough money to cover these costs.

8. Failure to inspect your home.

Although some banks would prefer you inspect your home before they offer you a loan, it’s not mandatory. But that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. Not inspecting your home can cost you a lot. Inspection discovers defects that you may not know about. Inspection costs can be anywhere from $300 to $700.

Don’t be stingy with these costs. It’s better to find out about any hidden defects , like a faulty wiring and plumbing, than finding about them later. To avoid regretting your decision or having to spend thousand of dollars on repairs down the road, consider an inspector.

9. Failure to check out the neighborhood.

Just because the street or the neighborhood your potential house is located is quiet or is not run down doesn’t mean crime is not a problem. So before buying your home, you should check out the neighborhood. Take a trip at night to get a feeling of the environment. Talk to residents. Most importantly, check with the local police station – they can be a great resource when it comes to crime rates in a particular location. This is simply one of the first time home buying tips you shouldn’t ignore.

10. Searching for a mortgage on your own.

There are several mortgage lenders available to you. But choosing one that is right for you can be tough.

The LendingTree online platform makes it easy and simple for you to find the right home loan for you. Now you can get matched up to several mortgage lenders all in one place and at the same time. And the whole process just takes a few minutes.

Follow these steps to get matched with the right mortgage:

  1. Go to www.lendingtree.com;
  2. Answer a few questions regarding the type pf loan yo need and you’ll use it. Within a few seconds, you’ll see multiple, competing offers from several lenders;
  3. You then shop and compare offers side by side.

Ready to get started? Find your best loan!

The bottom line is when it comes to buying a home for the first time, you should not take any shortcut. Doing so can cost a lot of money down the road. So before buying your first home, make sure you get the right mortgage loan, inspect the home, and have enough money to cover some of the upfront and ongoing costs associated with owning a house.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

Still looking for first time home buying tips? You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Buying a Home for the First Time? Avoid These Mistakes appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance?

The death of a loved one is hard to take and while a life insurance payout can ease the burden and allow you to continue leaving comfortably, it won’t take the grief or the heartbreak away. What’s more, if that life insurance policy refuses to payout, it can make the situation even worse, adding more stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration to an already emotional period.

But why would a life insurance claim be refused; what are the causes of death that may cause your life insurance coverage to become null and void? If you or a loved one has a life policy, this article could provide some essential information as we look at the reasons a death claim may be refused.

What Causes of Death are Not Covered?

The extent of your life insurance coverage will depend on your specific policy and this is something you should check when filing your life insurance application. Speak with your insurance agent, ask questions, and always do your due diligence so that you know what you’re buying into and what sort of deaths it will provide cover for.

Life insurance policies have something known as a contestability period, which typically lasts for 1 to 2 years and begins as soon as the policy starts. If the policyholder dies during this time, they will investigate and contest the death. 

This is generally true whether her you die of a heart attack, cancer or suicide. However, if this period has passed, they may only contest the death if it results from one of the following.

Suicide

Suicide is a contentious issue where life insurance is concerned. On the one hand, it’s a very serious issue and one that’s often the result of mental health problems, so there are those who believe it is deserving of the same respect as any other illness. 

On the other hand, the life insurance companies are concerned that allowing such coverage will encourage desperate people to kill themselves so their loved ones will be financially secure.

It’s a touchy subject, and that’s why many companies refuse to go anywhere near it. Some will outright refuse to pay out for suicide, but the majority have a suicide clause, whereby they only payout if the death occurs after a specific period of time.

If it occurs before this time, they may return the premiums or pay nothing at all. And if they have reason to believe that the policyholder took their own life just for financial gain, they will almost certainly investigate and may refuse to pay.

Dangerous Hobbies and Driving

If you die in a car accident and it is deemed that you were driving drunk, your policy may not payout. Car accident deaths are common, and this is a cause of death that policies do generally cover, but only when you weren’t doing something illegal or driving recklessly.

Deaths from extreme activities like bungee jumping or skydiving may be questioned, especially if these hobbies were not reported during the application. 

Illegal Acts

Your claim can be denied if you are committing an illegal act at the time of your death. This can include everything from being chased by the police to trespassing. A benefit may also be refused if you die for an intentional drug overdose using non-prescription drugs. 

Smoking or Pre-existing Health Issue

Honesty is key, and if you lie during the application or “forget” to tell them about your smoking status or pre-existing medical conditions, they may refuse to payout. It doesn’t matter if they performed a medical exam or not; the onus is not on them to spot your lie, it’s on you not to tell it in the first place.

This is one of the most common reasons for an insurance contract to be declared void, as applicants go in search of the cheapest premiums they can get and do everything they can to bring those costs down. They may also believe they will get away with their lies, either because they will give up smoking in a few months or years or because they will die from something other than their preexisting condition.

But lying in this manner is risky. You have to ask yourself whether it’s worth paying $100 a month for a valid policy that will payout without issue or $50 for a policy that will likely be refused and will cause endless stress for your beneficiaries.

War

Life insurance benefits generally don’t extend to the battlefield. If you’re a solider on the front line, your risk of death increases significantly, and many insurance policies won’t cover you for this. This is true even if you’re not in active duty at the time you take out the policy. More importantly, it also applies to correspondents and journalists.

You don’t invalidate your policy by going to a war-torn country and reporting, but if you die resulting from that trip, your policy will not payout.

Dismemberment

Your life insurance policy likely won’t pay for dismemberment or critical illness, but there are additional policies and add-ons that will provide cover. You can get these alongside permanent life insurance and term life insurance to provide you with more cover and peace of mind. 

They will come at a significant extra cost, but unlike traditional life insurance, they will payout when you are still alive and may make life easier after experiencing a tragic accident or serious illness.

We recommend focusing on getting life insurance first, securing the amount of coverage you need from a permanent or term life policy, and only then seeing if there is room in your budget for these additional options.

How Often Do Life Insurance Policies Payout?

We have recommended life insurance many times at PocketYourDollars and will continue to do so. We often state that it is essential if you have dependents and want to ensure they’re cared for when you die. But as much as we recommend it and as simple as the process of applying often is, there is one simple fact that we often overlook:

Life insurance companies rarely payout.

It’s a stat you may have seen elsewhere and it’s 100% true. However, contrary to what you might have heard or assumed; this is not the result of a refusal to pay the death benefit when the policyholder passes away. Sure, this accounts for some of those non-payments, but for the most part, it’s down to one of the following:

The Policyholder Survives the Term

The majority of life insurance policies are set to fixed terms, such as 10, 20 or 30 years. If anything happens during this period of time, your loved ones collect your death benefit, but if you survive, the policy ends, no money is paid out, and if you want another policy you will need to pay a larger sum.

The Policyholder Accepts the Cash Value

Whole life insurance policies are like investments crossed with life insurance. Your loved ones get a death benefit if you die, but it also accrues interest and can be cashed out. When this happens, the insurer collects, you get a sum of money, and it feels like a win-win, but in reality, the insurer has just dodged a bullet.

The Policyholder Stops Making Payments

As soon as you stop making your premium payments, you lose cover and you run the risk of your policy being canceled. This is true for pretty much any type of policy and it happens regardless of the policy term. 

Unlike a credit card company, which may chase you for payments, a life insurance company will place the burden of responsibility on you. After all, a creditor loses money when you don’t pay, whereas a life insurance company comes out on top.

This often happens when individuals take out substantial life insurance policies at a young age, only to suffer drastically changing circumstances. Imagine, for instance, that you’re 20-years-old and you buy a house with your spouse-to-be, with a view to settling down and starting a family. You assume that you’ll need it for a long time, so you take out a 30-year-term.

But 10 years down the line, your spouse leaves you, the family you wanted didn’t happen, and you’re all alone with no dependents, and with growing debts, bills, and obligations. At that point, life insurance becomes a burden, so you may stop making payments, thus allowing the insurance company to profit from 10 years of insurance premiums.

Summary: It’s Not That Cut-Throat

You don’t have to look far to find consumers who feel they have been wronged by life insurance companies, consumers who will expend a great deal of time and effort into calling out these companies for their perceived wrongdoings. But they often exaggerate the situation due to their extreme anger and this creates unrealistic anxieties and expectations.

The truth is, while there are people who have been genuinely wronged, they are in the extreme minority. The vast majority of family members who were refused a death benefit were let down by the policyholder and by the lies they told on their policy.

Policyholders lie about their weight, smoking status, and medical conditions, and when caught up in this lie, they often claim they made an honest mistake. But the truth is, most life insurance companies will overlook simple mistakes and only really care when it’s obvious that the policyholder lied. 

And let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how forgetful you are, you’re not going to forget that you’re a chain smoker, alcoholic, drug user, extreme sports fan or that you recently had a medical crisis!

If the policy was filed honestly, you shouldn’t have an issue when you collect, even if it’s still in the contestability period. As discussed above, life insurance companies stack the dice in their favor. They use statistics and probability to carefully set the premiums and benefits, and they rely on policyholders forgetting to pay and outliving the term. They don’t need to “rob” you in order to make a profit. So, be honest when applying and you won’t have anything to fear.

What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

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

8 Essential Rules for Surviving Financial Hardship

At some point, most people experience an unexpected crisis that shakes their financial world. It could be losing a job, receiving a huge medical bill, or having a car break down at the worst possible time. But surviving a pandemic is a situation you probably never thought you would face.

No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first.

Along with the public health toll, the COVID crisis has put millions of people out of work. For those struggling financially, here are eight critical rules to help you manage money wisely, stretch your resources, and bounce back from this unprecedented health and economic disaster.

8 rules for managing a financial hardship

Here are the details about each rule to manage a financial setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Rule #1: Accept your situation and use your resources to seek help

The key to successfully navigating a financial setback is to be realistic. If you’re in denial and don’t face money troubles head-on, you can quickly compound the damage.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions. Start talking about your challenges with people and professionals you trust, such as a money-savvy family member, financial advisor, legitimate credit counselor, or an attorney.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions.

The following financial associations have certified volunteers who can offer free help and advice:

  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
  • The Financial Planning Association
  • Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education

Rule #2: Get a bird’s eye view of your finances

To fully understand your situation, create a list of what you own and owe; this is called a net worth statement. Compiling your data in one place helps you evaluate your financial resources, make decisions more efficiently, and have essential information at your fingertips if creditors or advisors ask for it.

First, list your assets: 

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles 

Then list your liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card debt

Include the estimated values of your assets, the balances on your debts, and the interest rates you pay for each liability. You could jot down this information on paper, enter it in a computer spreadsheet, or create a report using money management software.

When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth, which is an indicator of your financial health. It’s not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth when you’re in financial trouble.

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief  

Rule #3: Understand your cash flow

An essential part of bouncing back from a financial crisis is keeping an eye on your monthly income and expenses. Create a cash flow statement that lists your expected income and typical expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, prescriptions, transportation, and insurance. Again, you can create this report manually or by using budgeting features in a financial program.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending. Making temporary sacrifices will help you recover as quickly as possible with less long-term damage to your finances.

Rule #4: Shop your essential expenses

As you review your spending, it’s an excellent time to comparison-shop your essential expenses. Evaluate your highest costs first, such as housing, vehicles, and insurance, since they offer the most significant potential savings.

For instance, you may be able to move into a less expensive home, purchase or lease a cheaper vehicle, and shop your auto insurance to find better deals. Ask your utility provider about assistance programs that offer energy-saving improvements at no charge.

Rule #5: Communicate with your creditors

If you haven’t been in contact with your creditors, start a dialog with each one immediately. You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles. Ask them for solutions, such as deferring payments for several months, setting up a reduced payment plan, or refinancing a loan to reduce your financial burden.

You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles.

Creditors are likely to ask about details regarding your financial situation, so have your net worth and cash flow statements on hand when you speak to them. Be ready to complete any required assistance applications quickly.

Rule #6: Prioritize your debts carefully

Based on guidance from creditors and finance professionals, prioritize your bills and debts carefully. Your goal should be to conserve as much cash as possible without skipping essential payments. Always pay for necessities first: food, prescription drugs, and auto insurance.

Debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized

Use your net worth statement to rank your liabilities from highest to lowest priority. For instance, debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized. Keeping up with an auto loan is a high priority if you rely on your vehicle for transportation. Federal student loans are in automatic forbearance through September 30, and the relief may get extended through 2020.

Your unsecured debts—medical bills, credit cards, and private student loans—are lower priorities. Never pay these debts ahead of rent, a mortgage, or utilities when you have a cash shortage.

Rule #7: Don’t let collectors force you to make bad decisions

Prioritizing your debts means some may be paid late or not at all. If a debt collector contacts you about a low-priority debt, such as a medical bill or credit card, don’t allow them to persuade you to pay it before your highest priority bills.

Collectors may try various aggressive tactics, such as threatening to sue you or ruin your credit. A lawsuit could take years, and a creditor is more likely to negotiate a settlement with you. Remember that a creditor or collector can’t send you to jail for civil debts.

If you are behind on bills, that fact is likely already reflected on your credit reports. By the time a collector contacts you, the damage is already done, and paying the bill won’t improve your credit in the short-term.

Rule #8: Take advantage of local and federal benefits

If your income and savings have entirely dried up, use these resources to learn more about local and federal benefits.

  • FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • MakingHomeAffordable.gov can help you find a housing counselor or see if your mortgage is backed by the federal government and qualifies for forbearance
  • Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for
  • Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid

Financial challenges can cause you and your family to experience a flood of emotions, including anger, fear, and embarrassment. As difficult as it might be to put a financial crisis into perspective, it’s critical. No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first. There are millions of people who are dealing with COVID-related financial hardships.

Face the fact that your recovery could take a while. Do everything in your power to manage your budget wisely by getting organized, seeking ways to earn more, and spending less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from creditors, seek free advice from professionals, and take advantage of every local and federal benefit possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

What Is Gap Insurance, and What Does It Cover?

Woman about to drive off in a carWhen purchasing or leasing a new car, you have several insurance coverage options. When selecting coverage, you will likely know if you want to have collision coverage or not, but will you know what gap insurance and whether to select that option? If you are driving your owned vehicle or a leased one, and it is totaled, your collision coverage insurance will cover your vehicle’s cash value. The coverage will help you to purchase a another car. However, what if you owe more on your car than it’s worth? That is where gap insurance comes in. Here’s what you need to know about this type of coverage.

What is Gap Insurance?

Gap insurance protects you from not having enough money to pay off your car loan or lease if its value has depreciated, and you owe more on your car than it is worth. It is optional insurance coverage and is used in addition to collision or comprehensive coverage. It helps you pay off an auto loan if a car has been totaled or stolen, and you owe more than its worth. Gap insurance might also be known as loan or lease gap coverage, and it is only available if you are the first owner or leaseholder on a new vehicle.

Some lenders require individuals to have gap insurance. In addition to collision and comprehensive coverage, gap insurance helps prevent owners and leasers from owing money on a car that no longer exists and protects lenders from not getting paid by a person in financial distress.

How Gap Insurance Works

Car crushed by a fallen tree

If you buy or lease a new car, you may owe more on the vehicle than it is worth because of depreciation. For example, let’s say you purchase a new car for $35,000. However, a year later, the car has depreciated and is only worth $25,000, and you owe $30,000 on it. Then, you total the car. Comprehensive insurance coverage would give you $25,000, but you would still owe $5,000 on the vehicle. Gap insurance would cover the $5,000 still owed.

Without gap insurance, you would have had to pay $5,000 out-of-pocket to settle the auto loan. With gap insurance, you did not have to pay anything out of pocket and were likely to purchase a new car with financing.

What Gap Insurance Covers

Gap insurance covers several things and is meant to complement collision or comprehensive insurance. Gap insurance covers:

  • Theft. If a car is stolen and unrecovered, gap insurance may cover theft.
  • Negative equity. If there is a gap between a car’s value and the amount a person owes, gap insurance will cover the difference if a car is totaled.

Gap insurance also covers leased cars. When you drive a new, leased car off the lot, it depreciates. Therefore, the amount you owe on the lease is always more than the car is worth. If you total a leased car, you’re responsible for the fair market value of the vehicle. If you lease, you can purchase gap coverage part way through your lease term, although many dealerships require both comprehensive and collision coverage and strongly recommend gap coverage.

What Gap Insurance Doesn’t Cover

Gap insurance is designed to be complementary, which means that it does not cover everything. Gap insurance does not cover:

  • Repairs. If a car needs repairs, gap insurance will not cover them.
  • Carry-over balance. If a person had a balance on a previous car loan rolled into a new car loan, gap insurance would not cover the rolled-over portion.
  • Rental cars. If a totaled car is in the shop, gap insurance will not cover a rental car’s cost.
  • Extended warranties. If a person chose to add an extended warranty to an auto loan, gap insurance would not cover any extended warranty payments.
  • Deductibles. If someone leases a car, their insurance deductibles are not usually covered by gap insurance. Some policies have a deductible option, so it is wise to check with a provider before signing a gap insurance policy.

Reasons to Consider Gap Insurance

There are several situations you should consider gap insurance. The first is if you made less than a 20% down payment on a vehicle. If you make less than a 20% down payment, it is likely that you do not have cash reserves to cover them in case of an emergency and that they will be “upside down” on the car payments.

Additionally, if an auto loan term is 60 months or longer, a person should consider gap insurance to ensure that he or she is not stuck with car payments if the vehicle is totaled.

Finally, if you’re leasing a car, you should consider gap insurance. Although many contracts require it, the vehicle costs more than it’s worth in almost every situation when you lease.

Is a Gap Insurance Worth It?

Gap insurance keeps the amount that a person owes after buying a car from increasing in case of an emergency. Therefore, if someone does not have debt on his car, there’s no need for gap insurance. Additionally, if a person owes less on his car than it is worth, there’s also no need for gap insurance. Finally, if a person does owe more on a vehicle than it is worth, he may still choose to put the money that would be spent on gap insurance every month toward the principal of his auto loan.

If a person owes more on his car than it is worth and would be financially debilitated by having to pay the remainder of his car payments if his vehicle was totaled or stolen, then gap insurance might be a saving grace.

If the extra cost of gap insurance strains your budget then consider ways to keep your vehicle insurance costs down without skipping gap insurance.

The Takeaway

"ARE YOU COVERED" written on a highway

Gap insurance covers the amount that a person would still owe on a vehicle after it is stolen or totaled, and after comprehensive insurance pays out. It prevents people from continuing to owe on a car that no longer exists. While it doesn’t make sense for everyone to purchase gap insurance, it is often smart for people who have expensive vehicles that are worth far more than a person owes. It is also something to consider when you are leasing a vehicle.

Tips for Reducing Insurance Costs

  • If you need a little additional help weighing your insurance options, you might want to consider working with an expert. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs can be simple. SmartAsset’s free tool will match you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to learn about local advisors to help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • You may want to consider all the insurance options available that are suitable for your unique situation. By doing so, you save money. A free comprehensive budget calculator can help you understand which option is best.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto, ©iStock.com/Kileman, ©iStock.com/gustavofrazao

The post What Is Gap Insurance, and What Does It Cover? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How Much Should You Spend on Rent?

One of the most exciting parts of becoming an adult is moving out of your old place and starting your own life. However, as is the case with most major life events, moving out comes with a lot of added responsibility. Part of this duty is knowing and understanding your budget when shopping for the perfect apartment, condo, duplex, or rental house. So how much should you really spend on rent?

The 30 Percent Threshold

The first step in deciding how much you should spend on rent is calculating how much rent you can afford. This is done by finding your fixed income-to-rent ratio. Simply put, this is the percentage of your income that is budgeted towards rent.

As a general rule of thumb, allocating 30 percent of your net income towards rent is a good place to start. Government studies consider people who spend more than 30 percent on living expenses to be “cost-burdened,” and those who spend 50 percent or more to be “severely cost-burdened.”

When calculating your income-to-rent ratio, keep in mind that you should be using your total household income. If you live with a roommate or partner, be sure to factor in their income as well to ensure you’re finding a rent range that’s appropriate for your income level.

If you’re still unsure as to how much rent you can afford, consider an affordability calculator. Remember to consult a financial advisor before entering into a lease if you’re unsure if you’ll be able to make rent.

Consider the 50/30/20 Rule

Consider the 50:30:20 Rule

After you’ve set a fixed income-to-rent ratio, consider the 50/20/30 rule to round out your budget. This rule suggests that 50 percent of your income goes to essentials, 20 percent goes to savings, and the remaining 30 percent goes to non-essential, personal expenses. In this case, rent falls under “essentials.” Also included in this category are any expenses that are absolutely necessary, such as utilities, food, and transportation.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation in which you make $4,000 per month. Under the 50/20/30 rule with a fixed income-to-rent ratio of 30 percent, you have $2,000 (50 percent) per month to spend on essential living expenses. $1,200 (30 percent) goes to rent, leaving you with $800 per month for other necessary expenses such as utilities and food.

Remember to Budget for Additional Expenses

Now that you’ve budgeted for rent and essential utilities, it’s time to make a plan for how you’re going to furnish your apartment. One of the biggest shocks of moving out on your own is how expensive filling a home can be. From kitchen utensils to lightbulbs and everything in between, it can be pricey to make your space perfect.

For the most part, furniture falls under the 30 percent of personal, non-essential expenses. Consider planning ahead before a move and saving for home goods so that you don’t go into major debt when it comes time to move out.

Be on the Lookout for Savings

If your budget is slightly out of reach for your dream apartment, try to nix unnecessary costs to see if you can make it work. Look for ways to cut down on utilities, insurance, groceries, and rent.

Utilities: Water, heat, and electricity are all necessities, but your TV service isn’t. Cut the cord on TV and mobile services that may not serve you and your budget anymore. Consider swapping out your light bulbs for eco-friendly and energy-efficient light bulbs to cut down your electric bill.

Insurance: Instead of paying monthly renters insurance rates, save a fraction of the cost by paying your yearly cost in full. If you have a roommate, ask to share a policy together at a premium rate.

Groceries: Swap your nights out for a homemade meal. You can save up to $832 a year with this simple habit change. When grocery shopping, add up costs as you shop to ensure your budget stays on track.

Rent: One of the best ways to save on rent is to split the bill. Consider getting roommates to save 50 percent or more on your monthly rent.

A lease is not something to be entered into lightly. Biting off more rent than you can chew can lead to unpaid rent, which can damage your credit score and make it harder to find an apartment or buy a home in the future. By implementing these best practices, you’ll hopefully find a balance between finding a place you love and still having room in your budget for a little bit of fun.

Sources: US Census Bureau

The post How Much Should You Spend on Rent? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter

Being a homeowner on a budget is nothing to be ashamed of, if anything, most people prefer to keep their expenses low, especially after recently purchasing a home! But,there are some things you shouldn’t cheap out on, and we’ve got you covered.

The post 5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

8 Upfront Costs of Buying a House

Looking to buy a home soon? There will be upfront costs of buying a house.

You may have found a house that you like. You may have been approved for a mortgage loan, and have your down payment ready to make an offer. If you think that, at that point, all of the hard work is over, well think again.

In addition to the down payment, which can be significant depending on the price of the property, there are plenty of upfront costs of buying a home. As a first time home buyer, this may come to you as a surprise. So, be ready to have enough cash to cover these costs. In no particular order, here are 8 common upfront costs of buying a house.

If you are interested in comparing the best mortgage rates through LendingTree click here. It’s completely free.

What is an upfront cost?

An upfront cost, as the name suggests and in terms of buying a house, is out of pocket money that you pay after you have made an offer on a property. They are also referred to as closing costs and cover fees such as inspection fees, taxes, appraisal, mortgage lender fees, etc. As a home buyer, these upfront costs should not come to you as a surprise.

What are the upfront costs of buying a house?

Upfront cost # 1: Private mortgage insurance cost.

If your down payment is less than 20% of the home purchase price, then your mortgage lender will charge you a PMI (private mortgage insurance). A PMI is an extra fee to your monthly mortgage payment that really protects the lender in case you default on your loan. Again, depending on the size of the loan, a PMI can be significant. So if you know you won’t have 20% or more down payment, be ready pay an extra fee in addition to your monthly mortgage payments.


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Upfront cost #2: inspection costs.

Before you finalize on a house, it’s always a good idea to inspect the house for defects. In fact, in some states, it is mandatory. Lenders will simply not offer you a mortgage loan unless they see an inspection report. Even if it is not mandatory in your state, it’s always a good idea to inspect the home. The inspection cost is well worth any potential defects or damages you might encounter.

Inspection fee can cost you anywhere from $300-$500. And it is usually paid during the inspection. So consider this upfront cost into your budget.

Upfront cost # 3: loan application fees.

Some lenders may charge you a fee for applying for/processing a loan. This fee typically covers things like credit check for your credit score or appraisal.

Upfront cost # 4: repair costs.

Unless the house is perfect from the very first time you occupy it, you will need to do some repair. Depending on the condition of the house, repair or renovating costs can be quite significant. So consider saving up some money to cover some of these costs.

Upfront cost # 5: moving costs.

Depending on how far you’re moving and/or how much stuff you have, you may be up for some moving costs. Moving costs may include utilities connections, cleaning, moving

Upfront cost # 6: Appraisal costs.

Appraisal costs can be anywhere from $300-$500. Again that range depends on the location and price of the house. You usually pay that upfront cost after the inspection or before closing.

Upfront cost # 7: Earnest Money Costs

After you reach a mutual acceptance for the home, in some states, you may be required to pay an earnest money deposit. This upfront costs is usually 1% to 3% of the home purchase price. The amount you pay in earnest money, however, will be subtracted from your closing costs.

Upfront cost # 8: Home Associations Dues

If you’re buying a condo, you may have to pay homeowners association dues. Homeowners association dues cover operation and maintenance fees. And you will pay one month’s dues upfront at closing.

In conclusion, when it comes to buying a house, there are several upfront costs you will need to consider. Above are some of the most common upfront costs of buying a house.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE.

MORE ARTICLES ON BUYING A HOUSE:

10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

How Much House Can I afford

5 Signs You’re Better Off Renting

7 Signs You’re Ready to Buy a House

How to Save for a House


Not All Mortgage Lenders Are Created Equally

When it comes to getting a mortgage, rates and fees vary. LendingTree allows you to view and compare multiple mortgage rates from multiple mortgage lenders all in one place and at the same time, so you can choose the best rates for your needs. LendingTree makes getting a loan faster, simpler, and better. Get started today >>>

The post 8 Upfront Costs of Buying a House appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.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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