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

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Which Student Loan Should You Pay First?

The financial camps are divided between paying off your smallest first vs. your highest interest student loan. So who’s right? Finance people can agree on a few things. Some debts like payday loans and IRS back taxes are worse than…

The post Which Student Loan Should You Pay First? appeared first on Modern Frugality.

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American Express Gold card vs. American Express Platinum card

American Express has several different credit cards that can give valuable rewards to travelers. Some Amex cards are co-branded with another hotel or airline partner, but the issuer also has top-notch travel credit cards in its own currency.

Known as Membership Rewards, American Express’s proprietary rewards currency can be very valuable in the hands of the right spender.

Two of the most popular credit cards offering Membership Rewards are the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. In this article, we will compare the two cards – looking at their perks, points earning and redemption options and comparing which card might be right for you.

See related: Which cards earn American Express rewards points?

American Express Gold vs. American Express Platinum

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Rewards rate
  • 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, including Uber Eats and select delivery services
  • 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases annually)
  • 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • 2 points per dollar on prepaid car rentals through amextravel.com
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership
  • 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com – on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. After that, it’s 1 point per dollar
  • 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • 2 points per dollar on prepaid car rentals through amextravel.com
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome bonus 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 6 months 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months
Annual fee $250 $550
Estimated yearly rewards value (for someone who spends $15,900) $707 $856
Annual credits
  • Up to $120 in annual Uber Cash ($10 each month)*
  • Up to $120 in annual dining credits
  • $200 airline incidental credit on one airline of your choice
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber Cash ($15 each month with a $20 bonus in December)
  • Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 for purchases made between January and June and another $50 for purchases made between July and December)
Airport lounge access None
  • American Express Centurion Lounges
  • Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta)
  • Airspace Lounges
  • Escape Lounges
  • Priority Pass Select
Other travel benefits
  • $100 property credit and upgrade (when available) when booking hotel stays of two nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection
  • Transfer points to American Express travel partners
  • Terms apply
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
  • $100 property credit and upgrade (when available) when booking hotel stays of two nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection
  • Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold status
  • Transfer points to American Express travel partners
  • Terms apply

*Uber Cash benefit applicable to US Eats orders and rides only.  Must add Gold Card to the Uber app in order to receive the Uber Cash benefit.

Earning points

One area where the American Express Gold card shines in this comparison is in earning points on everyday expenses. The Platinum card offers 5 points per dollar spent on flights and hotels (on up to $500,000 in combined purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), as long as you book with the airline or American Express Travel. If your spending habits include a lot of booked travel, the Platinum card is a great option.

But the Gold card’s 4 points per dollar spent at worldwide restaurants (including Uber Eats purchases) and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1 point) is one of the best spending category bonuses around. Dining and groceries are two of the top spending categories for many people, and the American Express Gold card delivers with high bonuses in both of them.

Redeeming points

Cardholders of both the American Express Gold card and the American Express Platinum card can redeem Membership Rewards points in exactly the same ways. They can both transfer to American Express’s wide variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. Both cards also can redeem points to book travel through amextravel.com or as gift card purchases or statement credits.

For more inspiration on how to redeem your Membership Rewards, check out our guide on the best ways to spend American Express points.

Bonus perks

There is no question that the perks on the American Express Platinum card are better and more extensive than those on the Gold card. The Platinum card offers up to $200 of annual airline incidental reimbursement, and it also comes with more monthly Uber Cash — up to $200 per year compared to the Gold card’s potential $120 annually. For frequent travelers, the airport lounge access, hotel elite status with Hilton and Marriott and Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit will come in handy.

See related: Guide to American Express lounges

The only bonus perks that the Gold card has that the Platinum card does not are the up to $10 in monthly dining credits and the alternative Rose Gold card design. However, the ongoing dining credits perfectly complement the Amex Gold’s monthly Uber Cash, 12-month complimentary Uber Eats Pass membership (must enroll by Dec. 31, 2021) and 4X points on Uber Eats orders — making it a definitive card for food delivery. On the other side of the American Express Gold vs. Platinum debate, the Amex Platinum carries a higher monthly Uber Cash allowance and provides the same Uber Eats Pass perk, but it doesn’t earn rewards on Uber’s services.

Nevertheless, whether the enhanced perks of the American Express Platinum card are worth its higher annual fee is something that will depend on your specific spending and travel habits.

Annual fee and authorized users

many perks to help offset the high annual cost.

Also worth noting is that there is no additional fee to add authorized user cards on the American Express Gold card (up to five additional cards, then $35 annually for six or more). On the Amex Platinum, you can add up to three authorized users for a total of $175 per year and then an additional $175 annual fee for any following authorized user.

This is an important callout, as authorized users on the Platinum card get their own airport lounge access, Gold status with Hilton and Marriott as well as access to American Express’s Fine Hotels and Resorts and Hotel Collection. Authorized users do not get the $200 airline credit or any of the other perks that the primary cardholder gets.

See related: How to add an authorized user to an American Express card

Bottom line

The American Express Gold card is definitely more accessible for more people, with its much lower annual fee. But if a $550 annual fee doesn’t faze your budget, take a look at the perks that come with the American Express Platinum card to see if you’ll get enough value to offset the higher cost.

If you travel frequently and don’t already have hotel elite status or a Priority Pass lounge membership, you may see value in the Platinum card. If you’re a foodie who spends a lot on restaurants, groceries and Uber Eats deliveries, the Gold card might be for you.

Or consider that both cards earn valuable Membership Rewards points, and American Express easily lets you combine points earned on different cards. So instead of choosing between the Amex Gold vs. Platinum, you might even find value in having both cards in your wallet.

Source: creditcards.com

Mortgage Impounds vs. Paying Taxes and Insurance Yourself

If you’ve been researching mortgages, or are in the process of taking out a home loan, you’ve probably come across the term “impounds” or “escrows.” When you hear these seemingly scary words, the loan officer or mortgage broker is referring to an impound account, also known as an escrow account. You may even be told [&hellip

The post Mortgage Impounds vs. Paying Taxes and Insurance Yourself first appeared on The Truth About Mortgage.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying as a First-time Homeowner

If you’re torn between buying or building a home, understanding what each option entails will help you make a more informed decision. Here are the pros and cons of each journey.

The post The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying as a First-time Homeowner appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

A Guide to Qualified Retirement Plans

woman on computer with notebook

Saving for retirement is an important financial goal and there are different options when it comes to where to invest. A qualified retirement plan can make it easier to build wealth for the long term, while enjoying some significant tax benefits.

Qualified retirement plans must meet Internal Revenue Code standards for form and operation under Section 401(a). If you have a retirement plan at work, it’s most likely qualified. But not every retirement account falls under this umbrella and those that don’t are deemed “non-qualified.”

So just what is a qualified retirement plan and how is it different from a non-qualified retirement plan?
Understanding the nuances of these terms can help you better shape your retirement plan for growing wealth.

What Is a Qualified Retirement Plan?

Qualified retirement plans allow you to save money for retirement from your income on a tax-deferred basis. These plans are managed according to Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards.

The IRS has specific rules for what constitutes a qualified retirement plan and what doesn’t. Public employers can set up a qualified retirement plan as long as these conditions are met:

•  Employer contributions are deferred from income tax until they’re distributed and are exempt from social security and Medicare tax
•  Employer contributions are subject to FICA tax
•  Employee contributions are subject to both income and FICA tax

Following those guidelines, qualified retirement plans can include:

•  Defined benefit plans (such as traditional pension plans)
•  Defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans)
•  Employee stock ownership plans (ESOP)
•  Keogh plans

Section 403(b) plans, which you might have access to if you’re a public school or tax-exempt organization employee, mimic some of the characteristics of qualified retirement plans. But because of the way employer contributions to these plans are taxed the IRS doesn’t count them as qualified plans. The same is true for section 457(b) plans, which are available to public employees.

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution Plans

When talking about qualified retirement plans and how to use them to invest for the future, it’s important to understand the distinction between defined benefit and defined contribution plans.

ERISA recognizes both types of plans, though they work very differently. A defined benefit plan pays out a specific benefit at retirement. This can either be a set dollar amount or payments based on a percentage of what you earned during your working career.

This type of defined benefit plan is most commonly known as a pension. If you have a pension from a current (or former) employer, you may be able to receive monthly payments from it once you retire, or withdraw the benefits you’ve accumulated in one lump sum. Pension plans can be protected by federal insurance coverage through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

Defined contribution plans, on the other hand, pay out benefits based on how much you (and your employer, if you’re eligible for a company match) contribute to the plan during your working years. The amount of money you can defer from your salary depends on the plan itself, as does the percentage of those contributions your employer will match.

Defined contribution plans include 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, ESOPs and profit-sharing plans. With 401(k)s, that includes options like SIMPLE and solo 401(k) plans. But it’s important to note that while these are all defined contribution plans, they’re not all qualified retirement plans. Of those examples, 403(b) plans wouldn’t enjoy qualified retirement plan tax benefits.

What Is a Non-Qualified Retirement Plan?

Non-qualified retirement plans are retirement plans that aren’t governed by ERISA rules or IRC Section 401(a) standards. These are plans that you can use to invest for retirement outside of your workplace.

Examples of non-qualified retirement plans include:

•  Traditional IRAs
•  Roth IRAs
•  403(b) plans
•  457 plans
•  Deferred compensation plans
•  Self-directed IRAs
•  Executive bonus plans

While these plans can still offer tax benefits, they don’t meet the guidelines to be considered qualified. But they can be useful in saving for retirement, in addition to a qualified plan.

Traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts

Traditional and Roth IRAs allow you to invest for retirement, with annual contribution limits. For 2020 and 2021, the maximum amount you can contribute to either IRA is $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over 50.

Traditional IRAs allow for tax-deductible contributions. These accounts are funded using pre-tax dollars. When you make qualified withdrawals in retirement, they’re taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. IRAs do have required minimum distributions (RMD) starting at age 72.

Roth IRAs don’t offer the benefit of a tax deduction on contributions. But they do allow you to withdraw money tax-free in retirement. Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not have RMDs, meaning you don’t have to withdraw money until you want to.

A self-directed IRA is another type of IRA you might consider if you want to invest in stock or mutual fund alternatives, such as real estate. These IRAs require you to follow specific rules for how the money is used to invest, and engaging in any prohibited transactions could result in the loss of IRA tax benefits.

Advantages of Qualified Retirement Plans

Qualified retirement plans can benefit both employers and employees who are interested in saving for retirement.
On the employer side, the benefits include:

•  Being able to claim a tax deduction for matching contributions made on behalf of employees
•  Tax credits and other tax incentives for starting and maintaining a qualified retirement plan
•  Tax-free growth of assets in the plan

Additionally, offering a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k), can also be a useful tool for attracting and retaining talent. Employees may be more motivated to accept a position and stay with the company if their benefits package includes a generous 401(k) match.

Employees also enjoy some important benefits by saving money in a qualified plan. Specifically, those benefits include:

•  Tax-deferred growth of contributions
•  Ability to build a diversified portfolio
•  Automatic contributions through payroll deductions
•  Contributions made from taxable income each year
•  Matching contributions from your employer (aka “free money”)
•  ERISA protections against creditor lawsuits

Qualified retirement plans can also feature higher contribution limits than non-qualified plans, such as an IRA. If you have a 401(k), for example, you can contribute up to $19,500 for the 2020 and 2021 tax years, with an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 for individuals 50 and older.

If you’re able to max out your annual contribution each year, that could allow you to save a substantial amount of money on a tax-deferred basis for retirement. Depending on your income and filing status, you may also be able to make additional contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA.

Making Other Investments Besides a Qualified or Non-Qualified Retirement Plan

Saving money in a qualified retirement plan or a non-qualified retirement plan doesn’t prevent you from investing money in a taxable account. With a brokerage account, you can continue to build your portfolio with no annual contribution limits. The trade-off is that selling assets in your brokerage account could trigger capital gains tax at the time of the sale, whereas qualified accounts allow you to defer paying income tax until retirement.

But an online brokerage account could help with increasing diversification in your portfolio. Qualified plans offered through an employer may limit you to mutual funds, index funds, or target-date funds as investment options. With a brokerage account, on the other hand, you may be able to trade individual stocks or fractional shares, exchange-traded funds, futures, options, or even cryptocurrency. Increasing diversification can help you better manage investment risk during periods of market volatility.

The Takeaway

While a qualified retirement plan allows investors to put away pre-tax money for retirement, a non-qualified plan doesn’t offer tax-deferred benefits. But both can be important parts of a retirement saving strategy.

Regardless of whether you use a qualified retirement plan or a non-qualified plan to grow wealth, the most important thing is getting started. Your workplace plan might be an obvious choice, but if your employer doesn’t offer a qualified plan, you do have other options.

Opening a traditional or Roth IRA online with SoFi Invest®, for example, can help you get a jump on retirement saving. Members can choose from a wide range of investment options or take advantage of a custom-build portfolio to invest.

Find out how an online IRA with SoFi might fit in to your financial plan.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.
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