CategoryFirst Time Home Buyers

Home Improvement Archives – Money Crashers

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How to Choose the Best Healthcare Plan for Your Budget

Healthcare expenses can take a huge chunk out of any family’s budget so I want to break down how a family can weigh the pros and cons of a traditional health plan vs a high deductible one.

Health Insurance Getting Too Expensive

If I asked you what’s are your biggest expenses each month, what would you say? If you’re like most families, you’d probably mention rent (or mortgage), food, or transportation. And yes, those are huge expenses for the typical family.

However, one of the largest can be healthcare. The crazy thing is how much it can drain from your budget even if you’re a relatively healthy family.

We found out firsthand a few years ago when my husband’s employer had open enrollment. Each year we review the health insurance options and it seemed to us that the costs kept rising. After having kids, we went with the ‘basic’ family plan and the monthly premiums still rose pretty fast. Finally, we hit our limit.

With the latest update, our monthly premiums would pretty much be the same as our mortgage. Considering we only visit the doctors for the girls’ annual well visits, we knew we needed to change things up. We know we’re not the only family dealing with this.

Right now for a family of four, the average monthly premium paid is $833 or  $9,996 annually. Add in the costs of the average deductible and you can see what a huge chunk of money health insurance can be.

However, this year when you get ready to review your options during open-enrollment, you may want to look into whether a high deductible health plan is a practical and affordable solution for your family.

How High Deductible Health Plans Work

As the name suggests, a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) comes with a larger deductible than a typical health insurance plan. The appeal for employers and insurance companies to offer this is that you’re taking on more financial responsibility for your health care costs.

The upside for you is that you should see a drop in the monthly premiums. For us, we saw a difference of a few hundred dollars for each month for premiums. Using a $300/month in savings, that’s like an extra $3,600/year that can be used for other financial goals that you may have.

Huge Tax Wins with a Health Savings Accounts

Another reason why a high deductible plan may be appealing for families is the ability to have a Health Savings Account (HSA).  It’s an extremely tax-advantaged account that you can use to pay for medical expenses.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve heard of or used a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). That’s what’s typically offered with the ‘more standard’ health plans. Basically you put money in there before taxes.

We used an FSA for years and it helped us to pay for regular expenses like my glasses and contacts. The problem was making sure we calculated enough to go into the account because if we didn’t use it by the end of the year, we’d lose it.

With a Health Savings Account, however, whatever you don’t use you keep. It can then grow in the account over the years. After saving enough to cover things like the deductible, you may decide to invest a portion to improve growth over the long term.

Making it even better is the fact that your HSA contributions are tax-deductible. Depending on your employer, they may also offer contributions to your HSA. That’s a fantastic bonus!

What really sweetens the deal is that families can contribute up to $6,900 each year, that money grows tax-free, and if we use the money for qualified medical expenses, what we pull out is tax-free.

Sounds amazing, right?

It’s enough to make you want to jump in and switch right now, but a high deductible and HSA may not be the best solution for your family.

The Pros and Cons of High Deductible Health Plans

A high deductible plan sounds great, but there are some costs to consider. With the higher deductible, you need to be aware of what your typical annual expenses would be to make sure you’re coming out ahead.

For example, if you have chronic health issues that require regular visits and perhaps medication, then you’d be paying a lot of money upfront before you hit your deductible and have your insurance cover their portion.

One way you can review your expenses is by using Mint to pull the numbers quickly. You can then easily see how much you’ve paid out of pocket.

When we looked at a few years of expenses, it confirmed that our visits were pretty much limited to annual well-visits (which are covered by HDHP plans), meaning we can save a significant amount of money.

When I spoke to a certified financial planner about what families need to consider, he pointed out families should also be aware of their out of pocket maximums with the plan they are looking into.

You want to have enough stashed away (either with your general savings or with your HSA) to cover those expenses.

A relative of mine recently had a procedure done. Even with insurance, her portion came out to be $3,000!

Thankfully she has some savings she can tap into, but still, that’s quite a bit of money.

So please run the numbers to make sure you could absorb a medical problem, especially during that first year of switching plans.

Choose the Best Plan for Your Family

So after weighing the costs and benefits, took the leap and switched over to a high deductible health plan and opened an HSA. Years later, we feel it was the best decision for our situation.

I hope you now have a better understanding of your options when it comes to health insurance. Having that knowledge can assist you in making the best decision for your family and finances.

I’d love to hear from you – what plan are using now? Do you have any plans on switching?

 

The post How to Choose the Best Healthcare Plan for Your Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.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

Relationships Archives – Money Crashers

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How to Work from Home While Schooling Your Kids

Parents all over the United States have had to make lofty and quick adjustments due to the pandemic erupting the daily routines many of us haven’t had to change in quite a while. Feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and sheer confusion have consumed many; leaving the evergreen thoughts about how to best accommodate our children while simultaneously completing remote work effectively. If you have been struggling with finding a balance or could use some extra pointers to smooth out this process; see the tips below and breathe a little easier knowing there’s additional help available. 

Wake up at least an hour earlier 

I know, this is probably the last thing you wanted to hear fresh out of the gate. However, take this into consideration – you can use this uninterrupted time to knock out some tasks, enjoy your cup of coffee or breakfast before the day truly begins. Rushing (especially in the mornings) tends to set a precedence for the day, causing your mind and body to believe that a pace of hurriedness is expected; generating feelings of burnout very easily. Crankiness, low engagement, and minimal productivity doesn’t serve you, your work, or your children well. Use this solo time to still your thoughts so you are able to be fully present for all things the day holds. While this may take some time to get used to initially, you’ll thank yourself when you have the energy to handle any and everything! 

Set and abide by a clear routine 

Comparing your child’s school schedule in conjunction with your personal work obligations very clearly can showcase what needs to get done and when. Reviewing this every evening beforehand or once a week with your children creates new, positive habits that become easier to follow over time. Not only does this mimic physical in-school setting, but it also generates responsibility and a sense of accomplishment for your little ones. If necessary, communicate with your manager if there are time periods you need to be more present to assist your children with any assignments. 

Designate ‘do not disturb’ time periods 

Depending on your work demands, there are conference calls and online meetings that may have to happen while the kids are completing their individual assignments or classroom time. To make sure everyone fulfills their tasks with minimal interruptions, create time periods that are dedicated to completing the more complex tasks that require a more intense level of focus. To avoid any hiccups, give some leeway before the blocked time to address any questions or concerns. While this doesn’t guarantee that nothing else arises, it establishes peace of mind so that your thoughts can be directed to the tasks that lie ahead.    

Plan out all meals for the week

If meal prepping wasn’t your thing before, it definitely should be now. Having lunch and/or dinner already prepared not only saves you time (which is a necessity) but also helps to normalize the growing grocery bill that seems never-ending. Planning not only avoids confusion and lengthy food conversations, but it also sets a routine the entire family can abide by. Easy food items such as tacos, burrito bowls, sandwiches, and an assortment of fruit provide a healthy balance – while avoiding ordering fast food or takeout multiple times a week.  

Establish a ‘lessons learned’ list 

Similar to an end of year job evaluation, you and your family can take a personal inventory of the things that have worked effectively – while taking note of the things that didn’t. At the end of every week have a very candid conversation with your children. Ask them what worked for their schooling and also self-assess the positives during your remote work. Remember to keep an open mind! Instead of automatically responding with frustration, consider how much of an adjustment this is for kids. They’re accustomed to a multitude of settings and environments, which develops their reasoning and comprehension skills. If they identify something was less than satisfactory, ask what can be done (within reason) to improve their new learning environment. These notes can take place on sticky notes, a large whiteboard, or a simple notepad. This doesn’t have to be a serious sit-down conversation; it can almost be presented as a game. Keeping track of these items will help you all make tweaks as necessary while finding a solid sweet spot.  

Give yourself (and your children) grace 

Life as we knew it switched in the blink of an eye. The busyness of going into the office, dropping the kids off at school, and shuffling them to extracurricular activities stopped more abruptly than any of us could have imagined. As we all know but don’t like to admit, every day isn’t a good day. There are many nuances that happen throughout the course of time that can derail our plans, leaving us to feel defeated. But before going off to the deep end, remember this – every day serves as a chance to start over. If the food wasn’t prepared ahead of time it’s okay. If the workday didn’t go as smoothly as expected, it’s quite alright. Take a deep breath and remember we are all doing the best we can with what we currently have. Learning to navigate new waters such as this is only achieved through trial and error.   

Celebrate the small wins 

Let’s face it – this is new for all of us! While online learning and remote work have been in place for more than a few months, we have to grant ourselves grace. So, if you haven’t already – give yourself and your children a pat on the back! Plan safe outings you and your family can enjoy such as picnics, movie nights, or any outdoor activities. Getting some fresh air for at least 30 minutes during the day can help boost productivity and the moods of you and your children! Each week may not be easy, but it is rewarding to know that the effort you’ve put forth as a parent is a positive contribution to your family.   

One question that we all need to ask ourselves is-will we ever gain this amount of time with our families again? Let’s embrace this moment with learning and lasting memories.  

The post How to Work from Home While Schooling Your Kids appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Family & Home Archives – Money Crashers

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Teach Your Teen to Budget Like a Pro

It amazes us how quickly our girls are growing up. Next month when school starts up again, we’ll have a fourth-grader and a kindergartener.

Even though we have some time before they are ready to move out of the house, we want to spend time now prepare them for the big transition. As a parent, you probably feel the same way too. 

One crucial piece of a financial foundation kids and in particular, teens, need to master is learning to budget (and sticking with it),

While they’re home now, you have a fantastic opportunity to get them comfortable with handling their money.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips from fellow parents and experts in the personal finance space to make teaching this life skill a bit easier less stressful for you and your teen!

Teach Your Teen to Budget for Real Life

Teens or not, whenever most people hear the word budget, they also hear the word ‘no’. To them, budgets feel like a strict diet. Just as fad diets fail, an unrealistic or extreme budget will more than likely discourage your teen and they will quit.

The first step before you even talk about the numbers is to discuss exactly what a successful and sustainable budget should be. When done right, a budget is something that helps you move your money towards your goals. Explain to them that at its root, budget is simply a plan about what they’d like to do.

You want a budget that can cover:

  •     Essential bills
  •     Future goals
  •     Discretionary expenses

When your teen’s budget covers those goals, they’re not only putting their finances in a good spot, but they’re moving closer to their specific long term dreams.

Creating a Doable Budget (They’ll Actually Enjoy!)

Once your teen(s) understands how a budget works, it’s important for them to create a budget that they can use in the real world. You can honestly budget however you want, but an easy budget to get your teen started is the 50/20/30.

Quite simplify, the 50/20/30 budget puts money into those three main buckets:

  •     50%  goes towards essentials
  •     20% towards savings (or investing)
  •     30% for fun and discretionary expenses

I appreciate how easy and flexible this budget can be. You can adjust the percentages for your teen’s needs, but it gives them some ballpark idea of how to portion their finances when they are out on their own.

How do you start them out on this budget?

With teens, you may have expenses like clothing or their cellphone bill count as essentials, or you may want to give your child the experience of being responsible for a small, shared family bill while they are still at home.

For older teens, you could even charge them a nominal ‘rent’ to offset their portion of the bills. In some cases, parents give that money back to their child as a gift to help with moving expenses (like for their security deposit) or use as additional savings. 

However you decide, talk it over so your teen understands why you’re doing it this way.

Share Your Family Budget

Creating a budget isn’t complicated, but it can difficult if your teen has no idea what to expect. Knowledge can be empowering.

While we may take it for granted since have to deal with the numbers, but your teen may not be aware of how much it takes to keep the lights on and roof over their heads. If you haven’t already shared your own budget already, now is the time.

Not knowing also puts them at a disadvantage when they start searching for a place or are comparing prices on expenses. Being armed with the numbers makes your teenager a more informed consumer.

When Your Teen Breaks Their Budget

Will there be times where your teenager will mess up with their budget? Probably so. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As parents, we tend to want to protect our kids, but we also have to prepare them for the real world. As Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, pointed out we should let our kids make financial mistakes. 

Wouldn’t it be better for your child to break the clothing budget while they’re still at home allowing you to help guide them through rather than having break their monthly budget while they are on their own and have bills to pay?

Mistakes will happen, they’re a part of life so giving your teen time to work those them and adjust their budget is a blessing for their future selves.

Essential Accounts for Your Teen  to Have

Since we’re talking about budgets, we should also mention some essential accounts you’d want your kid to have so they can practice managing their money.

Opening up student checking and savings accounts (usually free low on fees as well as not having minimum balance requirements) are good foundational accounts for your teen. They can deal with real-world situations pending charges, automatic transfers, and direct deposits.

As Family Balance Sheet founder Kristia Ludwick pointed out, teens should have the skill of balancing a checkbook even if they decide to go all-digital with their banking.

If they work, talk it over together and see if they can open up an IRA and start contributing. It doesn’t have to be much. The idea is to get them familiar and comfortable with the basics of investing.

Even if they put in $25 a paycheck, having them practice setting aside money in their budget for both long and short term goals is an invaluable lesson. You can also encourage them to contribute by offering a match for what they put in.

How Teens Can Easily Stay on Top of Their Money

With several accounts to keep tabs on, your teen is going to need an easy system to track their budget and goals.

With Mint, they can link up their accounts in one secure spot. They can also add their budget along with any savings goals they want to hit and make sure they stick with them.

Hopefully, these ideas and tips will make it easier to help your teen transition into a self-sufficient adult.

The post How to Teach Your Teen to Budget Like a Pro appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com