How to Make a Side Income Running a Vending Machine Business

As we continue to make our way through COVID-19, many people are still looking for ways to get items they need without physical contact with another person.

Vending machines serve that purpose — and make money for the machine’s owner.

Owning and operating vending machines is big business, providing passive income without any specialized skills. It’s also called automatic merchandising.

Basically, all you need to get started is some startup money to buy a machine, a good location and the right products.

The Vending Machine Business During COVID-19

Revenue for the vending machine industry was $24.2 billion in 2019, up 3% from the year before.

That data came from the Automatic Merchandiser’s Annual State of the Industry Survey — before the full impact of COVID-19 hit.

There were 2,175,756 vending machines in service in 2019 in a variety of locations including:

  • Manufacturing areas
  • Offices
  • Retail spaces
  • Hotels/motels
  • Schools
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Universities/colleges
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military bases
  • Restaurants, bars and clubs

Cold beverages were the top-selling product category. A majority of vending machines involve food and beverage products including sodas, coffee, snacks and candy.

There are also machines for bulk vending like gumballs, stickers, toys, novelties and more. During COVID-19, machines popped up selling masks and hand sanitizer.

At places like airports, vending machines often sell tech accessories and travel essentials like neck pillows, blankets and eye masks. Laundry rooms in residential buildings often have machines with detergent and fabric softener.

With many offices, businesses and other public spaces closed or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vending industry is certainly taking a hit.

“We’re in a tough, tough industry right now with COVID-19. A lot of stores don’t want the machines there, they don’t want the kids congregating, they don’t want people touching them,” said Scott Ausmus, director of manufacturing for National Entertainment Network, Inc. and president of the National Bulk Vendors Association.

He grew up in the vending business. The machines he sells and operates are the novelty kind, offering things like stuffed animals, toys and gumballs. Many are in restaurants and entertainment venues like bowling centers.

Many factors make owning a vending machine an attractive business venture.

The startup costs are relatively low, sometimes around $2,000. The work is flexible and often doesn’t require much day-to-day involvement. The risk is comparatively low and there is growth potential.

“There’s a higher profit in the gumball then there is anything else,” Ausmus said. “The cost of goods is low on the gumballs and everybody likes gum, so everybody still purchases a gumball and so that is a winner for a lot of people.”

Starting a Vending Machine Business

While the startup costs are low and the income is often passive, owning vending machines is not without risk. You must be able to understand your own financial situation and how much you can afford to invest.

There is the cost of the machine, the cost of inventory, personnel to keep it stocked, maintenance and more.

The more perishable the product and the busier the area, the more of your time the machine will take.

“If (your machine location has) a big break room and a lot of employees, you would have to be there once a day to fill your machines up because that’s how busy they are,” Ausmus said. Other machines like toys and candy don’t require as much restocking.

One of the first steps in starting a vending machine business is finding your niche and deciding what to sell. That takes a bit of research and knowing who your customer is.

“You gotta buy the right product. If you buy the wrong product, it won’t move and you won’t make any money and you certainly don’t want to throw [product] away,” Ausmus said. “You’ve got to have the variety for people and find out which ones they want and that’s what you restock with, what sells.”

Vending machine businesses are scalable, meaning it’s possible to start small and expand. You don’t have to wait for payments because customers pay when they purchase an item.

Location, Location, Location

To put yourself in the best position to be profitable means finding the right location.

Places with lots of foot traffic are good. Before COVID-19, that meant schools and universities, malls, office parks, etc.

Think about where people need to wait. While waiting, they may get hungry or thirsty. Ausmus’ novelty machines need kids around.

“One of the hardest things to do is to locate a location,” he said.

Location can be about trial and error.

“It’s really not a bad risk to put it in a location and find out that it’s not making enough money. … You can remove it and move it to the next one until you find that right location,” Ausmus said.

When looking for locations, be prepared to approach the owner or landlord with a business plan for the machine.

Also be prepared to:

  • Pay a percentage of sales or other fee for having your machine in their location.
  • Pay for the electricity the machine uses.
  • Ensure the security of the machine. There is money inside a machine as well as inventory. Theft and vandalism are always possible.
  • Research state and local laws and regulations.
  • Pay sales tax on the revenue the machine generates.

Key Purchase: Your Vending Machine

Then you will need an actual vending machine. There are several types, and prices vary depending on what is in the machine, whether it needs refrigeration or heating, and the interactivity.

Buying directly from a manufacturer or supplier is one option, as is purchasing on a secondary market. Some companies also rent machines. Ausmus cautioned to make sure there are spare parts and support available for what you buy.

Machines range from about $1,500 for a used or refurbished machine to several thousands for a new, high-end machine with many technical features.

Some machines have:

  • Remote monitoring software: This helps keep track of how the machine is working and notifies the operator if something is wrong.
  • Low stock alerts: Notify the operator when items needs replacing.
  • Vending management systems (VMS): Tracks sales and other data to help owners make better business decisions.
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Running a Vending Machine Business

While owning vending machines does not require any special skills, it is a business.

You will need inventory and someone to keep the machine stocked and maintained. This may require a van or truck.

Perishables need to be stocked more often than other items. Learning some basic maintenance skills could keep you from having to hire someone if there is a problem with the machine.

Different types of machines have different capabilities. Some take only cash while others will process credit or debit cards. Some models have touch screens or voice capabilities.

“Make sure that you have your phone number on the machine, and that the store location knows your phone number,” said Ausmus. “If somebody didn’t get what they wanted, make sure the store can give them a refund and you pay the refund back to that store. Then get out there as soon as you can to fix the machine so that you can continue to make money.”

Automatic merchandising isn’t for everyone, but owning and operating a vending machine can be a good business. Being able to retrieve the money you make and restock your machines easily is the key.

“Then you only work probably three days a month, basically on the whole gig,” said Ausmus. “Three four days a month can make somebody a good little extra income.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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

FHA vs. Conventional Loans: Which Is Better?

When it comes to affording a new home, you have a few types of home loans to choose from. Prospective homebuyers often compare the FHA vs. the conventional loan when researching loans. Each loan type has certain stereotypes associated with them, but we are here to give you the facts about both FHA and conventional loans. This post will help you understand what each loan is, familiarize you with the differences between them, and provide some guidelines for how to pick which one is best for you.

What Is An FHA Loan?

An FHA loan is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). These loans are issued by private lenders, but lenders are protected from losses by the FHA if the homeowner fails to repay. FHA loans are generally used to refinance or buy a home.

What Is A Conventional Loan?

A conventional loan is supplied by a private lender and isn’t federally insured. Requirements for obtaining a conventional loan vary depending on the lender. When used to buy property, conventional loans are typically known as mortgages.

What Is A Conventional Loan?

Differences Between FHA and Conventional Loans

The main difference between FHA and conventional loans is whether or not they are insured by the federal government. Conventional loans aren’t federally backed, so it’s riskier for the lender to loan money. On the other hand, FHA loans are protected by the government, and as a result of less risk, they can typically offer better deals.

This difference in federal insurance is the reason why FHA and conventional loans vary when it comes to the details of the loan. Keep reading to learn the differences regarding credit requirements, minimum down payments, debt-to-income ratios, loan limits, mortgage insurance, and closing costs.

FHA Loan Conventional Loan
Minimum Credit Score 500 620
Minimum Down Payment 3.5% 3%
Maximum Debt-to-Income Ratio Credit score of 500: 43%
Credit score of 580+: 43-50%
Credit score of 620: 33-36%
Credit score of 740+: 36-45%
Loan Limits Low-cost counties: $356,362
High-cost counties: $822,375
Contiguous US: $548,250
High-cost counties, AK, HI, and US territories: $822,375
Mortgage Insurance Mortgage insurance premiums required. Private mortgage insurance required with down payments less than 20%.
Property Standards Stricter standards, property purchased must be a primary residence. Flexible standards, property purchased doesn’t have to be a primary residence.

Sources: FHA Single Family Housing Policy Handbook | Fannie Mae 1 2 | Federal Housing Finance Agency | Freddie Mac | HUD 1 2 | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 1 2

Credit Score

Your credit score is a determining factor in your loan eligibility. Your credit score is measured on a scale of 300 (poor credit) to 850 (excellent credit). Good credit helps you get approved for loans more easily and at better rates. FHA and conventional loans differ in their credit score requirements and represent financial options for individuals at either end of the credit spectrum.

Minimum Credit Score for FHA Loan: 500

  • Accepts a credit score as low as 500, but usually with a 10% down payment
  • These loans accept lower credit scores because they are insured
  • Note: Some lenders may only issue FHA loans with higher credit scores

Minimum Credit Score for Conventional Loan: 620

  • Accepted score may vary from lender to lender
  • These loans are usually offered to individuals with strong credit because they present less risk to lenders

Minimum Down Payment

A down payment is the sum of money that is paid as a percentage of your purchase up-front.

Minimum Down Payment on an FHA loan:

  • 10% of your purchase with 500 credit score
  • 3.5% of your purchase with 580+ credit score

Minimum Down Payment on a Conventional Loan:

  • 3% of your purchase can be put down with good credit
  • 5% to 20% of your purchase price is typical

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio is the amount of money paid toward debt each month divided by your total monthly income. To be eligible for a loan, you must be at or below the maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.

Maximum DTI Ratio Guidelines for FHA loans:

  • 43% with a credit score of 500
  • 43–50% with a credit score of 580

Maximum DTI Ratio Guidelines For Conventional Loans:

  • 33-36% with a credit score lower than 740
  • 36-45% with a credit score of 740 or higher
  • 50% highest allowed through Fannie Mae

Loan Limits

Both FHA and conventional loans have limits on the amount that you can borrow. Loan limits vary based on your location and the year your loan is borrowed. Find 2021 loan limits specific to your county through the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

2021 FHA Loan Limits

  • High-cost counties: $822,375
  • Low-cost counties: $356,362

2021 Conventional Loan Limits

  • Contiguous US (excluding high-cost counties): $548,250
  • Alaska, Hawaii, US territories, and high-cost counties: $822,375

Mortgage Insurance

Mortgage insurance is taken out to protect the lender from losses in case you fail to repay your loan. Whether you will pay private mortgage insurance or mortgage insurance premiums is based on your loan type and down payment percentage.

FHA Loan

  • Mortgage insurance is required for all FHA loans.
  • It is paid to the FHA in the form of mortgage insurance premiums and includes an up-front and monthly premium.
  • MIP payments last the entire life of your FHA loan.
  • To get rid of MIPs after paying 20% of your loan, you can choose to refinance into a conventional loan.

Conventional Loan

  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is only required when a down payment below 20% is made.
  • PMI comes in different forms: monthly premium, up-front premium, and split premiums.
  • PMI requirements stop once you have met one of three requirements:
    1. Principal loan amount is reduced to 80% before the loan term ends.
    2. At least 78% of the principal balance is scheduled to be paid down.
    3. The halfway point of your loan term has passed.

Property Standards

There are different property standards that must be met to use each loan. FHA loans have stricter requirements, while conventional loans have more flexibility.

FHA Loan

  • Property purchased with FHA loans must be your principal residence, meaning the borrower has to occupy the residence
  • FHA loans can’t be used to invest in property (e.g., renting out or flipping)
  • Title must be in the borrower’s name or name of a living trust

Conventional Loan

  • Property purchased with a conventional loan doesn’t have to be a principal residence — second or third residences are allowed
  • Conventional loans can be used to purchase investment properties

Pros and Cons of FHA vs. Conventional Loans

As a result of the various differences between FHA and conventional loans, each type has its respective pros and cons.

FHA Loan

Conventional Loan

Pros

  • Qualify with low credit and high DTI
  • Smaller down payments overall
  • More affordable with low credit
  • Lowest option for down payments with good credit
  • PMI cancellable
  • More affordable with good credit
  • Property doesn’t have to be your main home

Cons

  • Mortgage insurance premiums required for life of loan
  • Property purchased must be your main home
  • Need higher credit and lower DTI to qualify
  • Typically has larger down payments
  • PMI required with a down payment less than 20%

Pros and Cons of FHA Loans

FHA loans are government-regulated and insured to extend flexible opportunities for homeownership. They’re flexible regarding credit and DTI, but stricter about insurance and property standards.

Pros

  • Flexible qualification with low credit and high DTI
  • Smaller down payments overall
  • More affordable with low credit

Cons

  • Mortgage insurance premiums required for life of loan
  • Property purchased must be your primary residence

Pros and Cons of Conventional Loans

Conventional loans can also offer flexibility, but generally only if you have good credit and demonstrate reduced risk to the lender. These loans have stricter qualifications, but flexibility in other areas.

Pros

  • Lowest option for down payments (3% with good credit)
  • Private mortgage insurance can be canceled (must meet requirements)
  • More affordable with good credit
  • Property purchased doesn’t have to be a primary residence

Cons

  • Strict qualifications require higher credit and lower DTI
  • Larger down payments are typical
  • Private mortgage insurance required with a down payment less than 20%

Which Loan Is Better For You?

Both FHA and conventional loans have their advantages and disadvantages. Here are some general guidelines for when to use an FHA loan or a conventional loan.

When To Use an FHA Loan

  • You have a low credit score (500–619)
  • Your DTI ratio is on the higher side (between 45–50%)
  • You can only afford a small down payment
  • You plan to use the property as your primary residence

When To Use an FHA Loan

When To Use a Conventional Loan

  • Your credit score is fairly good (620 or above)
  • Your DTI ratio is on the lower side (33–36%)
  • You can afford a larger down payment
  • You want flexibility with insurance and repaying your loan

When To Use a Conventional Loan

It’s important to thoroughly research your options before choosing a loan. A key takeaway when comparing FHA vs. conventional loans is that FHA loans are federally insured and conventional loans aren’t. This distinction results in different qualification and payment requirements for each loan.

Use the information in this post to carefully compare the differences in accepted credit scores, minimum down payments, loan limits, maximum debt-to-income ratios, mortgage insurance and property standards. In doing so, choose the loan that works for your circumstances and helps you best afford the home of your dreams.

Sources: FHA Single Family Housing Policy Handbook | US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development | Federal Housing Finance Agency | Freddie Mac

The post FHA vs. Conventional Loans: Which Is Better? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Why Refinance Rates Are Higher Than Purchase Loan Rates

Mortgage interest rates dropped dramatically over the summer, to the point where home loans have never been cheaper in most of our adult lifetimes. With rates at historic lows, you might’ve considered taking advantage of them, either by purchasing a new home or refinancing your current mortgage.

Recent figures from Freddie Mac show that mortgage refinances surged in the first quarter of 2020, with nearly $400 billion first home loans refinanced. However, as it turns out, refinancing your mortgage might actually be more expensive than purchasing a new home. 

This surprised us, too — why would there be a difference at all? 

We investigated how refinancing rates and new purchase home loan rates are set, and found several reasons for this rate disparity. On top of the rate difference, mortgage refinancing is even more difficult to qualify for, given the current economy.

Before rushing to refinance your home, read on to gather the information you need to make the right financial decision for your situation.

Pandemic Effects on Home Lending

Just as mortgage rates have stumbled, banks and lenders have tightened the screws on borrowers due to COVID-19, requiring higher credit scores and down payment amounts. Chase, for example, raised its minimum FICO score requirements for home purchases and refinances to 700 with a down payment requirement of at least 20%. 

Low rates have also driven a massive move to mortgage refinances. According to the same Freddie Mac report, 42% of homeowners who refinanced did so at a higher loan amount so they could “cash out.”

Unfortunately, homeowners who want to refinance might face the same stringent loan requirements as those who are taking out a purchase loan. Mortgage refinance rates are also generally higher than home purchase rates for a handful of reasons, all of which can make refinancing considerably less appealing. 

How Refinance Rates Are Priced

Although some lenders might not make it obvious that their refinance rates are higher, others make the higher prices for a home refinance clear. When you head to the mortgage section on the Wells Fargo website, for example, it lists rates for home purchases and refinances separately, with a .625 difference in rates for a thirty-year home loan. 

There are a few reasons why big banks might charge higher rates to refinance, including:

Added Refinance Fees

In August of 2020, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced it was tacking on a .5% fee on refinance mortgages starting on September 1. This fee will be assessed on cash-out refinances and no cash-out refinances. According to Freddie Mac, the new fee was introduced “as a result of risk management and loss forecasting precipitated by COVID-19 related economic and market uncertainty.”

By making refinancing more costly, lenders can taper the number of refinance loans they have to process, giving them more time to focus on purchase loans and other business.

Lenders Restraining New Application Volume

Demand for mortgage refinancing has been so high that some lenders are unable to handle all requests. Reluctant to add more employees to handle a surge that won’t last forever, many lenders are simply limiting the number of refinance applications they process, or setting additional terms that limit the number of loans that might qualify.

Also note that some lenders are prioritizing new purchase loans over mortgage refinance applications since new home buyers have deadlines to meet. With the housing market also on an upswing in many parts of the country, many major banks and lenders simply can’t keep up.

Rate Locks Cost Money

Generally speaking, it costs lenders more to lock the rate for refinance loans when compared to purchase loans. This is leaving lenders disinterested in allocating resources on the recent surge in mortgage refinance applications.

This is especially true since many refinancers might lock in a rate with one provider but switch lenders and lock in a rate again if interest rates go down. Lenders exist to turn a profit, after all, and it makes sense they would spend their time on loans that provide the greatest return.

Tighter Requirements Due to COVID-19

According to the Brookings Institute, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been asking lenders to make sure any disruption to a borrower’s employment or income due to COVID-19 won’t impact their ability to repay their loan. 

Many lenders are also increasing the minimum credit score borrowers must have while making other requirements harder to meet. As an example, U.S. Bank increased its minimum credit score requirement to 680 for mortgage customers, and it also implemented a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 50 percent.

This combination of factors can make it difficult to save as much money with a refinance, or to even find a lender that’s willing to process your application. With this in mind, run the math and to see if refinancing is right for your situation before contacting a mortgage lender.

How Mortgage Purchase Rates Are Priced

Mortgage purchase rates are priced using a similar method as refinance rates. When you apply for a home mortgage, the lender looks at factors like your credit score, your income, your down payment and your other debt to determine your eligibility.

The overall economy also plays a giant role in mortgage rates for home loans, including purchase loans and refinance loans. Mortgage rates tend to go up during periods of speedy economic growth, and they tend to drop during periods of slower economic growth. Meanwhile, inflation can also play a role. Low levels of inflation contribute to lower interest rates on mortgage loans and other financial products.

Mortgage lenders can also price their loans based on the amount of business they have coming in, and whether they have the capacity to process more loans. They might lower rates to drum up business or raise rates when they’re at or nearing capacity. This is part of the reason rates can vary among lenders, and why it always makes sense to shop around for a home loan.

Many people believe that the Federal Reserve sets mortgage rates, but this is not exactly true. The Federal Reserve sets the federal funds rate, which lenders use to ensure they meet mandated cash reserve requirements. When the Fed raises this rate, banks have to pay more to borrow from one another, and these costs are often passed on to consumers. Likewise, costs can go down when the Fed lowers the federal funds rate, which can mean lower costs and interest rates for borrowers.

The Bottom Line

Refinancing your existing mortgage can absolutely make sense in terms of interest savings, but don’t rule out buying a new home instead. Buying a new home could help you save money on interest and get the space and the features you really want. 

Remember, there are steps you can take to become a more attractive borrower whether you choose to refinance or invest in a new place. You can’t control the economy or the Federal Reserve, but you have control over your personal finances.

Improving your credit score right away, and paying down debt to lower your debt-to-income ratio are just a couple of strategies to start. And if you’re planning on buying a new home, make sure you save a hefty down payment amount. These steps help you improve your chances at getting the best rates and terms whether you choose to move or stick with the home you have. 

The post Why Refinance Rates Are Higher Than Purchase Loan Rates appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Gardening Tips That Save You Green

If you’re a gardener, chances are you know how rewarding growing your own food can be. Whether you run an at-home farm, tend to a small patch of blueberry bushes, or have an apartment window herb garden, you know how satisfying that harvest of something you’ve grown is. Gardening has been linked to some serious health benefits, too—even significantly lowering levels of cortisol and feelings of stress.

Turns out, growing your own food at home offers much more than a chance to get outside and get your hands dirty. Growing your food can be an incredibly cost-effective hobby, with a 600 square-foot garden producing about 300 pounds of fresh produce worth around $600 annually. When packs of seeds cost around $3 each, the opportunity to grow your investment, literally and figuratively, is clear.  

Just by planting and tending to tomatoes, lettuce, or potatoes, you could save some serious money as a result. The average American spends close to $6,800 a year on food, which equals 12.6 percent of their total spending. Of that, $760 is spent on fruits and vegetables. By spending under $100 to build up your own plot of fruits and veggies, you could save around $800 a year—money that you could then save or invest in more seeds to save even more at the grocery store!

You don’t need a green thumb to see how that math adds up. If you’re worried about a black thumb ruining your chances of saving some serious green yearly, learn more about gardening tips that will turn even the smallest of garden plots into a bountiful harvest. Plus, read up on the many benefits of gardening on your health and overall happiness—you’ll be grabbing gardening gloves and mulch before you know it!

Sources: Country Living | An Oregon Cottage | Balcony Garden Web | The Penny Hoarder | Earth Easy | PSECU | Good Housekeeping | AARP | Money 

The post Gardening Tips That Save You Green appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Create Your Own Retirement Plan

One of the good things of working for a company is that they create a retirement plan for you. As an employee, you don’t have to do anything else but to participate in the plan. However, when you’re self-employed or a small business owner, you’re responsible of setting up your own retirement plan.

When it comes to operating your own business, time is of the essence. However, even if you’re crazy busy, saving for retirement should be a priority. Indeed, a retirement account allows you to contribute pre-tax money, which lowers your taxable income.

Luckily, a financial advisor can help you save time and help you choose the right plan that is best for you. Below are four retirement saving options you can create as a self-employer individual.

1. Solo 401k

A solo 401k is for small businesses or sole proprietors who don’t have any employees other than a spouse working for the business. The solo 401k mirrors a typical 401k plan that most companies offer. The main difference is that you can contribute as an employee and employer.

In other words, because you’re both the boss and the worker, you get to contribute in each capacity. That in turn allows you to contribute a higher amount each year. However, your total yearly contributions cannot exceed $58,000 or $64,000 for individuals age 50 or older as of 2021. To set up a solo 401k, you have to get in touch with a financial institution.

2. SEP IRA

If you’re an independent contractor, self-employed, or has a small business with 25 employees or less you can set up a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension). It’s very easy to establish and don’t even require you to incorporate your business to qualify.

In a SEP IRA, the employer alone contributes to the fund, not the employees. You can contribute up to 25% of your annual salary or $58,000 in 2021, whichever is less.

3. Keogh Plan

Keogh plans are available to self-employed people, including sole proprietors who file Schedule C or a partnership whose members file Schedule E. This type of plan is preferable among those who have a high and stable income.

But the main advantage the Keogh has is the high maximum contribution you can make. In 2021, you can contribute up to $58,000. To set up, you will need to work with a financial institution such as Charles Schwab. 

4. Simple IRA

The Simple IRA was created by the Small Business Protection Act to help those who work at small companies to save for retirement. The small business can offer the plan if it has 100 or fewer employees.

Both the employer and the employee can contribute up to $13,000 in 2021, plus an additional catch-up amount of $3,000 if you’re 50 or older. If a company offers a Simple IRA, it must match an employee’s contribution dollar for dollar, up to 3% of each participant’s annual salary or make a nonelective 2% contribution to all employees.

Where to Invest Your Keogh, SEP IRA, Solo 401k, Simple IRA

As a small business owner, there is always an investment program that suits your needs for your IRA, SEP, Keogh and solo 401k. Places such as banks, brokerage firms and mutual funds institutions such as Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab are great options. But before opening account, make sure you consider how much money you have, your appetite for risks, the annual fee, etc.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a small business owner or self employed, you should take advantage of the tax benefits offered by these plans mentioned above. Creating a retirement plan is important, because not only will you be able to grow your retirement savings faster but also no one is going to do it for you. 

Related:

  • 4 Simple Ways to Accelerate Your Retirement Savings
  • How to Retire at 50:10 Easy Steps to Consider

Tips on Retirement Planning

Retirement planning can be a major challenge, but you don’t have to go in it alone. Speak with a financial advisor who can help you come up with a unique plan based on your circumstances and situations. Use SmartAsset advisor matching tool to get matched with fiduciary financial advisors in just 5 minutes.

 

The post How to Create Your Own Retirement Plan appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members

Life in the military offers some distinct experiences compared to civilian life, and that includes your budget and finances. The pre-deployment process can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re organizing your money and bills. 

It’s important you provide your family with everything they need to keep you and any dependents comfortable and stable. This means gathering paperwork, making phone calls to service providers, creating new budgets, and organizing your estate. The more you prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about the state of your investments and finances when you return home. 

To help make the process easier, we’ve gathered everything you need to know for deployment finances. Read on or jump to a specific category below:

Pre-Deployment Needs

  • Review Your Estate
  • Reassign Financial Responsibilities
  • Update Your Services
  • Build a Budget
  • Prepare a Deployment Binder

Deployment Needs

  • Protect Yourself From Fraud
  • Adjust Your Savings
  • Financial Assistance

Post-Deployment Needs

  • Update Your Budget
  • Pay Off Debt
  • Review Legal Documents

Before Your Deployment

There’s a lot of paperwork and emotions involved in preparing for deployment. Make sure you take plenty of time for yourself and your loved ones, then schedule time to organize your finances for some peace of mind. 
investments, and dependents. It’s an important conversation to have with your partner and establishes:

  • Power of attorney
  • Living will
  • Last will and testament
  • Long-term care
  • Life insurance
  • Survivor benefits
  • Funeral arrangements

Anyone with property, wealth, or dependents should have some estate planning basics secured. These documents will protect your wishes and your family in the event you suffer serious injury. There are several military resources to help you prepare your estate:

  • Defense Finance And Accounting Services’ Survivor Benefit Plan and Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
  • Department Of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors Pre-arrangement 
  • Service Member’s Group Life Insurance
  • Veterans Affairs Survivor’s Benefits
  • The Importance Of Estate Planning In The Military
  • Survivor Benefits Calculator

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to cancel a housing or auto lease, cancel your phone service, and avoid foreclosure on a home you own without penalties. Additionally, you can reduce your debt interest rates while you’re deployed, giving you a leg up on debt repayment or savings goals. Learn more about the SCRA benefits below:

  • Terminating Your Lease For Deployment
  • SCRA Interest Rate Limits
  • SCRA Benefits And Legal Guidance

 

Build a Deployment Budget

Your pay may change during and after deployment, which means it’s time to update your budget. Use a deployment calculator to estimate how your pay will change to get a foundation for your budget. 

Typically, we recommend you put 50 percent of your pay towards needs, like rent and groceries. If you don’t have anyone relying on your income, then you should consider splitting this chunk of change between your savings accounts and debt. 

Make sure you continue to deposit at least 20 percent of your pay into savings, too. Send some of this towards an emergency fund, while the rest can go towards your larger savings goals, like buying a house and retirement. 

Use these resources to help calculate your goals and budgets, as well as planning for your taxes:

  • My Army Benefits Deployment Calculator
  • My Army Benefits Retirement Calculator
  • Mint Budget Calculator
  • IRS Deployed Veteran Tax Extension
  • IRS Military Tax Resources
  • Combat Zone Tax Exclusions

 

Prepare a Deployment Binder

Mockup of someone completing the deployment checklist.

Illustrated button to download our printable depployment binder checklist.

It’s best to organize and arrange all of your documents, information, and needs into a deployment binder for your family. This will hold copies of your estate planning documents, budget information, and additional contacts and documents. 

Make copies of your personal documents, like birth certificates, contracts, bank information, and more. You also want to list important contacts like family doctors, your pet’s veterinarian, household contacts, and your power of attorney. 

Once you have your book ready, give it to your most trusted friend or family member. Again, this point of contact will have a lot of information about you that needs to stay secure. Finish it off with any instructions or to-dos for while you’re gone, and your finances should be secure for your leave. 

While You’re Deployed

Though most of your needs are taken care of before you deploy, there are a few things to settle while you’re away from home. 
Romance and identity scams are especially popular and can cost you thousands. 

  • Social Media Scams To Watch For
  • Romance Scam Red Flags
  • Military Scam Warning Signs

 

Adjust Your Savings 

Since you won’t be responsible for as many bills, and you may have reduced debt interest rates, deployment is the perfect time to build your savings.

While you’re deployed, you may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s Savings Deposit Program (SDP), which offers up to 10 percent interest. This is available to service members deployed to designated combat zones and those receiving hostile fire pay.

Military and federal government employees are also eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. This is a supplementary retirement savings to your Civil Service Retirement System plan.

  • Savings Deposit Program
  • Thrift Savings Plan Calculator
  • Civil Service Retirement System
  • Military Saves Resources

 

Additional Resources for Financial Assistance

Deployment can be a financially and emotionally difficult time for families of service members. Make sure you and your family have easy access to financial aid in case they find themselves in need. 

Each individual branch of the military offers its own family and financial resources. You can find additional care through local support systems and national organizations, like Military OneSource and the American Legion. 

  • Family Readiness System
  • Navy-marine Corps Relief Society
  • Air Force Aid Society
  • Army Emergency Relief
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
  • Military Onesource’s Financial Live Chat
  • Find Your Military And Family Support Center
  • Emergency Loans Through Military Heroes Fund Foundation Programs
  • The American Legion Family Support Network

After You Return Home

Coming home after deployment may be a rush of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, excitement, and lots of celebration are sure to come with it. There’s a lot to consider with reintegration after deployment, and that includes taking another look at your finances. 

 

Update Your Budget

Just like before deployment, you should update your budget to account for your new spending needs and pay. It’s time to reinstate your car insurance, find housing, and plan your monthly grocery budget. 

After a boost in savings while deployed, you may want to treat yourself to something nice — which is totally okay! The key is to decide what you want for yourself or your family, figure if it’s reasonable while maintaining other savings goals, like your rainy day fund, and limit other frivolous purchases. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree — it’s best to invest this money into education savings, retirement, and other long-term plans.

In addition to your savings goals, make sure you’re prepared to take care of yours and your family’s health. Prioritize your mental health after deployment and speak with a counselor, join support groups, and prepare for reintegration. Your family and children may also have a hard time adjusting, so consider their needs and seek out resources as well. 
FTC | NFCC 

The post Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Prepare Your House for Winter

With cold weather approaching, it’s time to take a couple days and get your home ready for the winter weather. To help you get started, here is a checklist with some of the most important tasks to get your house ready for the snow and cold.

Check for Leaks

In the winter, you want to make sure your home is a fortress. You don’t want any of your precious heat escaping, and you don’t want any of the winter weather getting in. To help you figure out your home’s leaky spots, you can hire a professional to do an energy audit on your home. This is a great option if you don’t have the time, or the desire to climb on your roof.

Windows: Swap out your screen windows for storm windows. During that process, check around your windows to make sure they are well sealed. To help identify small gaps, carefully hold a lit match or lighter a couple inches from the frame of the window. Move the flame around, always making sure it’s a safe distance from surfaces and fabrics, and watch for the flame to “dance.” If the flame moves, there is air movement in that spot. Use caulk to seal around the frame, or use a plastic window insulation kit to cover an entire window.

Heavy curtains will help keep more heat from escaping through your windows.

Doors: Replace your screen doors with storm doors. Again, check the seals during that process. If you can see any light around your doors, you have a significant gap for warm air to escape. Even if you can’t see any light, you still want to check the rubbery weather stripping around the door. If it’s brittle or cracking, it’s not doing its job. Installing a new weather stripping kit from a hardware store is a quick fix to make sure your doors are sealed.

Ducts: As time goes by, seals on duct work can come loose. Check your duct work to make sure your ducts aren’t letting any heat out into your attic, which can cause snow to melt and refreeze as ice dams on your roof.

Roof: Before winter arrives is a great time to check your roof for the season. Climb up (or at least get on a high ladder) and examine the shingles. Replace any that are missing or broken.

SEE ALSO: Who Knew's How to Prepare Your House for Winter

Make Sure Your Heating Systems Work

Furnace: Before it gets too cold, have your heating system checked out by a professional. The first really chilly day of winter is not the time to figure out your heater isn’t working. Have a heating and air company come out, check the systems, and change the filters, and you’ll be ready for Old Man Winter when he arrives.

Water Heater: The end of fall is a great time to drain your water heater. This should get done once a year, so if you haven’t done it recently, make sure you do before you find you only have really cold water in your house.

Chimney: If you have a chimney, make sure you sweep it (or have it professionally swept) before lighting any fires for the season. Removing the excess soot, as well as the birds and animals that made their homes in chimneys throughout the year, will help prevent fires and smoke damage. Also, examine the damper to make sure it’s still looking good. If it’s bent or warped, warm air will be able to escape through the chimney.

Reverse Ceiling Fans: If you have ceiling fans, now is the time to reverse them. Putting them in reverse will help blow down warm air that would otherwise be stuck near the ceiling, which will likely mean you can turn your heat down a degree or two.

If your fan runs on a remote, there is likely a button on the remote to switch the direction. If your fan runs on a switch, look for a small toggle or switch on the fan motor to make the change.

Be Ready Outdoors

Gutters: Make sure your gutters are ready to handle the winter precipitation. Empty the fallen leaves and anything else that has gathered in the gutters. Make sure they are secure to the roof, and repair them as needed. Also, make sure the drain pipe from your gutters is long enough and directing winter rains and melting snow away from your home’s foundation.

Water Lines: Prevent burst pipes by turning off all exterior water lines or insulating the pipes. If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, drain the lines to make sure no water is left to damage the underground lines.

RELATED: Domestic CEO's Fall and Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Tools: Be ready to get yourself out of the house by making sure all your winter tools are in good working condition. Turn on the snow blower, visually check the shovels, and stock up on salt or deicers. Having everything in its place and ready to go will give you a good start on digging out from a big blizzard.

Prepare Your Safety Kits

Pantry: During the winter, it’s always a good idea to keep extra food supplies in your pantry in case a big storm prevents you from getting to the store. Boxed and canned foods are the best because they take no electricity to store (in case that goes out), and have a long shelf life. Stock your pantry with a week’s worth of pastas, canned fruits and vegetables, soups, rice, beans, and bottled water, and you’ll be ready if the big one hits your town.

Boxed and canned foods are the best food to keep in stock because they take no electricity to store (in case that goes out), and have a long shelf life.

Lights: If a winter storm takes out your electricity, make sure you are ready with flashlights and candles to light your home. Keep flashlights in every room, and teach your kids where they are in case they need to find them in the dark.

Heat: If you have a wood burning fireplace, keep a solid stash of wood ready in case your power goes out. If you are in an area prone to losing power, you may also want to invest in a generator to run your furnace a couple hours a day during power outages. A good stash of blankets and comforters will help you get through chilly days and cold nights.

Detectors: Winter means an increase of home fires and carbon monoxide leaks. Make sure you and your family are protected by replacing the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and testing them before winter hits.

All the tasks on this list are important to get done before the snow starts falling. If you don’t have the time to do them all, hire a trusted professional to help you knock a few off tasks off your list. You’ll be thankful that you have everything done and ready as soon as the first big storm hits.

I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

What is a credit card statement credit?

A recent trend in credit card rewards is increased flexibility in how you can redeem your cash back, points or miles. You can book travel, invest, get gift cards and more – but one of the most common ways a credit card company will issue rewards is as a statement credit.

Statement credits may seem simple, but they’re handled a little differently by each rewards program, and there’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to decide if they’re the best way to redeem cash back or other rewards.

See related: What is cash back?

What is a statement credit?

Put simply, a statement credit is money credited to your account. In its most basic form, a statement credit is not much different from a payment. Like a normal monthly payment, a statement credit is deducted from your card balance, reducing the amount of money you owe. But where cardholders are responsible for payments, credits come from either a merchant or card issuer.

rewards cards also allow you to redeem the points or miles you’ve earned as statement credits. While some cards allow you to use a statement credit to reduce your balance with no restrictions, others only apply credits to your account after you meet certain criteria or make purchases in specific spending categories.

Statement credits on cash back cards

Cash back cards usually make it easy to redeem your points as a statement credit. In most cases, all you need to do is meet the card’s minimum redemption criteria, then choose a statement credit as your redemption method. Once a credit is applied to your account, your card balance decreases accordingly.

If, for example, you were to spend $3,000 with a flat rate 1 percent cash back card, you’d earn a $30 credit; and if you were to redeem this entire credit, $30 would be deducted from your account balance.

While many cards give you the option to request your cash back in the form a check, some only allow you to redeem as a statement credit – so be sure to read your issuer’s terms carefully. After all, when you get your cash back as a check or direct deposit, the money is yours to spend or save as you’d like. With a statement credit, however, the funds are “trapped” in your account and only impact your card balance. If you stop using your card or close your account, you could lose any cash back or points you haven’t redeemed.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for example, allows you to book travel through the rewards center at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But if you redeem your miles for cash back as a statement credit, their value is cut in half to just 0.5 cents per mile.

If you prefer to redeem your rewards as a statement credit, make sure doing so doesn’t dilute the value of your points or miles, as each rewards program grants and values statement credits a little differently.

Statement credits for an introductory bonus

Statement credits also frequently appear as part of a card introductory or annual bonus, when issuers offer to reward you if you spend a certain amount of money within a given timeframe. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, offers a $250 bonus after you spend $1,000 with your new card in the first 3 months. Instead of simply sending you a check for $250, however, American Express credits your account $250 after you’ve met the conditions of the offer. Once received, the credit will cover the next $250 you charge.

Statement credits for card benefits

Many cards also award extra perks in the form of a statement credit. The United Explorer Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, each offer up to a $100 credit to cover the cost of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

In these cases, a statement credit is applied to your account only after you make the eligible purchase and cannot be used for anything else.

How statement credits work with the major rewards programs

Here’s how some of the major rewards programs treat statement credits:

Rewards program Can you redeem rewards as a statement credit? Minimum redemption Rewards rate when redeemed as a credit
Discover cards Cashback Bonus Yes None 1:1
Bank of America Cash Rewards Yes None ($25 for automatic redemptions) 1:1
American Express Membership Rewards Yes $25 1:0.6
Chase Ultimate Rewards Yes $20 1:1

Should I redeem my points as a statement credit?

Once you know what a statement credit is and how it’s treated by your rewards program, you’ll probably wonder if it’s smart to redeem your points or miles in this form. While the answer will depend on your spending habits, goals and financial situation, it makes more sense in certain circumstances.

If you’re trying to decide whether you should redeem your points as a credit statement, consider the following:

  • Are you going to carry a balance? If you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to pay off your balance in full by the due date, redeeming your points as a statement credit makes sense. You’ll knock a chunk off your balance and make it easier to pay in full and avoid interest charges. Keep in mind, however, that statement credits are not usually considered payments, so if you can’t help carrying a balance, you’ll still have to make a minimum out-of-pocket payment.
  • Does your card offer an incentive for redeeming points as a statement credit? Some cash back cards offer redemption bonuses when you opt for a statement credit over “true” cash back in the form of a check or direct deposit. If that’s the case, and you plan to continue using the card, go with a statement credit to get more mileage out of your cash back rewards.
  • Are your points worth less when redeemed as a statement credit? If you’re using a card with a more flexible rewards program, redeeming your rewards as a statement credit is likely possible, but not necessarily wise. Check your issuer’s terms to see if your points lose any value when redeemed as a statement credit. If 1 point is worth 1 cent when used for travel purchases, but only 0.5 cents when redeemed as a statement credit, you’re missing out on a lot of the value you’ve earned. If you have no interest in travel, see if you can get full value out of your points in a roundabout way, like redeeming points for gift cards at stores you frequent.

Other ways to redeem your credit card rewards

Many cards offer several other options for redeeming your rewards. In addition to statement credits, you may be able to redeem cash back, points, or miles for:

  • A direct deposit – You can link your bank account so that when you hit “redeem,” that money goes directly to your account. For some, this is more satisfying than receiving a statement credit.
  • A check – If you don’t mind waiting, many credit card issuers will mail a check for the value of your rewards.
  • Gift cards – Some credit cards allow you to exchange your points or cash back for gift cards. Make sure that you’re getting the same or more value before you choose this option – sometimes the dollar value of gift cards is different from what you would get redeeming for a statement credit or direct deposit.
  • Merchandise – Credit card issuers sometimes have shopping portals that give you the option to use your cash back or points to pay for merchandise. This is another option that you should approach with caution. Do the math to make sure you’re getting the same dollar value as you would with a direct deposit or statement credit.
  • Travel – Travel redemption options vary from card to card, but there are two main methods, one of which is receiving a statement credit for travel purchases you’ve already made. The other is using the issuer’s portal to book travel, such as flights or hotels, online.

Final Thoughts

A statement credit is just one way you can receive bonuses and redeem the rewards you’ve earned. If you’re using a cash back card, it could be a smart, low-maintenance way to reduce your balance and build good spending habits. If you’re using a more flexible rewards or travel card, though, make sure redeeming as a statement credit still gets you fair value for your points or miles.

Source: creditcards.com

What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House

first time home buyerNatalie Johnson

First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.

In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.

At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.

Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.

Location: Fayetteville, NC

House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $111,900
Price paid: $115,000

A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?

Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasn’t fond of renewing the apartment lease—we had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.

We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, we’re not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.

Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson at one of their favorite hangouts in Fayetteville, where they’ve decided to put down roots

Natalie Johnson

LaVallee: I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.

Johnson: We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. That’s why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.

How much did you put down on the house—and how’d you save for it?

Johnson: We put 20% down.

LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.

Johnson: I cut spending. I didn’t buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldn’t go out.

LaVallee: We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you don’t put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.

first time home buyer
LaVallee and Johnson on LaVallee’s first morning in the new house after coming home from deployment

Natalie Johnson

What were you looking for in a house?

LaVallee: We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasn’t like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.

Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so they’ll all come down at the same time so we’ll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.

LaVallee: Garages aren’t very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.

Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.

Johnson and LaVallee’s new kitchen

realtor.com

How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?

Johnson: It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.

During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.

The large living room in Johnson and LaVallee’s new house

realtor.com

LaVallee: Well, I couldn’t really see all the details.

Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.

LaVallee: I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.

The big backyard where Johnson and LaVallee hope a dog will someday run around

realtor.com

How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?

Johnson: We put three earlier offers in.

LaVallee: They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and I’m pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.

Johnson: It was ridiculous. It was definitely a seller’s market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.

Johnson had to move into the new home without LaVallee’s help.

Natalie Johnson

Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?

LaVallee: There were multiple offers.

Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyle’s gone right now and you’re first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,” which it did. The second I walked in, it’s this adorable brick house, it’s super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.

Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence payment—we usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.

After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didn’t ask for much.

LaVallee and Johnson are happy they stuck it out in a competitive seller’s market and landed this home.

Natalie Johnson

What surprised you about the home-buying process?

Johnson: How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.

LaVallee: From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.

Johnson: You never really think that when you’re married, you’re going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.

Johnson and LaVallee (pictured on the right) on the day LaVallee returned from deployment

Natalie Johnson

So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?

Johnson: He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.

Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldn’t see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.

I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.

LaVallee: I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But I’ve felt at home ever since I’ve been here.

Johnson decorated the house for LaVallee’s return from deployment.

Natalie Johnson

first time home buyer
After LaVallee came home, the two finally got to toast their first home with a bottle of wine, courtesy of their real estate agent.

Natalie Johnson

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Johnson: I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses you’ll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or they’re just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.

LaVallee: We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so it’s definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.

Johnson: We really didn’t know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, we’re really going to need some guidance. We don’t know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.

Johnson and LaVallee met in elementary school.

Natalie Johnson

The post What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com