CategoryHome Improvement

Renovate or Sell? Why We Bought a New Home

When we bought our first home in 2013 we thought it would be our forever home. We planned on renovating once we were in a better place financially, but 6 years later we found ourselves struggling with the decision to renovate or sell. 

The post Renovate or Sell? Why We Bought a New Home appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

Critical Defect Rate Highest Since 2018: ACES Report

ACES Quality Management, which provides enterprise quality management and control software for the financial services industry, released its quarterly ACES Mort

Source: themortgageleader.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

5 Rampant Mortgage Myths You’ll Hear These Days—Completely Debunked

Woman looking at financial papers urbazon / Getty Images

These days, things are changing so fast, it’s tough to keep up. That’s especially true in the mortgage industry, where interest rates and the overall home loan landscape are shifting with such head-spinning speed, it’s easy for outdated information to circulate, leading home buyers and homeowners astray.

You may have heard, for instance, that everyone can score a record-low interest rate, or that refinancing is a no-brainer, or that mortgage forbearance means you don’t have to pay back your loan, ever. Sorry, but none of these rumors is true—and falling for them could cost you dearly.

To help home buyers and homeowners separate fact from fiction, we asked experts to highlight some rampant mortgage mistruths out there today. Whether you’re looking to buy or refinance, these are some reality checks you’ll be glad to know.

Myth No. 1: Everyone qualifies for low interest rates

There’s a lot of buzz about record-low mortgage interest rates lately. Most recently, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.88% for the week of Aug. 6, according to Freddie Mac.

This is great news for borrowers, but here’s the rub: “Not everyone will qualify for the lowest rates,” explains Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®.

So who stands to get the best rates? Namely, borrowers with a good credit score, Hale says. Most lenders require a minimum credit score of about 620. Some lenders might require an even higher threshold (more on that later).

Your credit score isn’t the only factor affecting what interest rate you get. It also depends on the size of your down payment, type of home, type of loan, and much more. So, keep your expectations in check, and make sure to shop around to increase the odds you’ll get a good rate.

Myth No. 2: Getting a mortgage today is easy

Many assume today’s low interest rates mean that getting a mortgage will be a breeze. On the contrary, these low rates mean just about everyone is trying to get a mortgage, or refinance the one they have. This glut of applicants, combined with the uncertain economy, means some lenders may actually tighten loan requirements.

In fact, a realtor.com analysis found that 5% to 20% of potential borrowers may struggle to get a mortgage because of these stricter standards. And getting a mortgage could become even tougher if the recession gets worse.

For example, some lenders may also require higher minimum credit scores and larger down payments. In April, JPMorgan Chase began requiring a 700 minimum credit score and 20% down payment.

Jason Lee, executive vice president and director of capital markets at Flagstar Bank, says some lenders aren’t offering the loans that are considered riskier—such as jumbo loans, which exceed the conforming loan limit (for 2020, that max is $510,400).

“There aren’t as many loan products available,” Lee says.

And even if you do manage to get a loan, it may take longer than you’d typically expect.

“Based on low rates and a high volume of refinances, loans are taking longer to complete from application to closing,” says Staci Titsworth, a regional mortgage manager for PNC Bank.

As such, borrowers should ask their lender how long the process will take to close, and make sure they’re aware of the expiration date on the interest rate they’ve locked in—since with rates this low, they could go up.

“Most lenders are locking in the customer’s interest rate so it’s protected from market fluctuations,” Titsworth adds.

Myth No. 3: Everyone should refinance their mortgage

“With mortgage rates hovering near record lows, a refinance can make sense and can help free up monthly cash flow,” Hale says.

Still, not everyone should refinance. Homeowners should make sure to take a good hard look at their situation to see whether it makes sense for them.

For one, it will depend on your current interest rate. If it’s low already, it may not be worth the trouble—particularly since refinancing comes with fees amounting to around 2% to 6% of your loan amount.

Given these upfront costs, refinancing often makes sense only if you plan to remain in your house for a while.

In general, “refinancing is a good idea for homeowners who plan to live in the same home for several years, because they will reap the monthly savings over a longer time period,” Hale explains.

Myth No. 4: You can apply for a mortgage after you’ve found a home

Many people assume that you can find your dream home first, then apply for the mortgage. But that’s backward—now more than ever. Today, your first stop when shopping for a house should be a mortgage lender or broker, who can get you pre-approved for a home loan.

For “a buyer in a competitive market, it’s typically essential to have pre-approval done in order to submit an offer, so getting it done before you even look at homes is a smart move that will enable a buyer to move fast to put an offer in on the right home,” Hale says.

Mortgage pre-approval is all the more essential in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Because many home sellers, leery of letting just anyone tour their home, want to know a buyer is serious—and has the cash and financing to make a firm offer. As such, some real estate agents and sellers require a pre-approval letter before a potential buyer can view a home in person.

Nonetheless, according to a realtor.com survey conducted in June of over 2,000 active home shoppers who plan to purchase a home in the next 12 months, only 52% obtained a pre-approval letter before beginning their home search, which means nearly half of home buyers are missing this crucial piece of paperwork.

Aside from getting their foot in the door of homes they want to see, home buyers benefit from pre-approval in other ways. Since pre-approval lets you know exactly how much money a lender will loan you, it also helps you target the right homes within your budget.

After all, as Lee points out, “You don’t want to get your heart set on a home only to find out you can’t afford it.”

Myth No. 5: Mortgage forbearance means you don’t have to pay back your loan

The record unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means millions of Americans have struggled to pay their mortgages. To get some relief, many have been granted mortgage forbearance.

Nearly 8% of mortgages, or 3.8 million homeowners, were in forbearance as of July 26, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The problem? Many mistakenly assume that mortgage forbearance means you won’t have to pay your loan, period. But forbearance means different things for different homeowners, depending on the terms of the mortgage and what type of arrangement was worked out with the lender.

“Forbearance is not forgiveness,” Lee says. “Rather, it’s a timeout from having to make a mortgage payment where your servicer—the company you send your mortgage payments to—will ensure that negative impacts to your credit report and late fees will not occur. However, because forbearance is not forgiveness, you will need to reach some sort of resolution with your loan servicer about the missed payments.”

The paused payments may be added to the back end of the loan or repaid over time.

“It does not forgive the payments, meaning the borrower still owes the money,” Hale says. “The specifics of when payments need to be made up will vary from borrower to borrower.”

The post 5 Rampant Mortgage Myths You’ll Hear These Days—Completely Debunked appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

What Could a Second Wave of COVID-19 Mean for Housing Markets?

Will a second wave of COVID-19 mean “boom” or “bust” for the housing market? With the trends we’re seeing now, there are a couple of possibilities to expect.

The post What Could a Second Wave of COVID-19 Mean for Housing Markets? appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

How to Prepare For Closing Day [Free Downloadable PDF]

After you’ve successfully put in an offer for your dream home and set a date for closing, you’ve come to the final steps of your home buying journey. However aside from getting the keys, you’ll want to be prepared for the additional costs, and steps that will be required for a successful home purchase.

The Preparing For Closing Day guide contains information, tips, and more about what to expect on the big day. The guide will also include a checklist of what to prepare and an example of how to calculate the funds needed for closing.

To learn more about how you can best prepare for closing day, get our free buyer’s guide here.

Pre-Closing Day Checklist

To ensure a smooth process for your home transaction, you’ll still have a few steps to go through before you get your keys. Here are 6 steps to check off your list before closing day:

  1. Review your contract
  2. Complete a final walkthrough
  3. Meet with your lawyer
  4. Purchase home insurance
  5. Know how much cash is required at closing
  6. Secure cash required for closing

Cash Required At Closing

Understanding the costs that will be required at closing day is important to know even before you start your home search. Not only will you be prepared for what to expect, but this can help you with budgeting your costs.

Some examples of costs to include in your calculation:

  • Down payment
  • Title insurance
  • Legal fees
  • Land transfer tax

Statement of Adjustments

Another important document is your statement of adjustments, which will display any credits to both the buyer or seller as well as the final amount payable by the buyer on closing day. You can expect the following to be listed in the statement:

  • Purchase price
  • Your deposit
  • Prepaid property taxes, utilities or fuel
  • Prepaid rents 
  • Appraisal fee
  • Land survey fee

For a sample calculation of cash required at closing, download our Preparing For Closing Day guide here.

The post How to Prepare For Closing Day [Free Downloadable PDF] appeared first on Zoocasa Blog.

Source: zoocasa.com

4 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Home During Cold Months

As the weather starts to get colder, it’s a good idea to start winter-proofing your home to protect it from cold weather damage that you may not expect.

The post 4 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Home During Cold Months appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

How to Transition Your Kids’ Rooms

As your children grow and change, so should their bedrooms. However, if you were to revamp their rooms with every changing interest, favorite color or boy band, you would not only be spending a lot of time, but also a lot of money. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re looking to transition a child’s room as he or she continues to get older.

Start With Change in Mind

Designing a child’s nursery when you’re expecting is a fun and exciting experience. What parents may not plan for, though, are the unforeseen changes that the room might need as the child grows. Create a nursery with neutral wall colors and an open floor plan for playtime. It makes an easier transition that you can work with each changing year.

Consult With Them

When you’re planning to revamp your children’s room after a few years, make sure to consult with them. It’s likely they won’t hold back in letting you know what they want. You can enhance a child’s creativity and production levels if their rooms are filled with things that excite them.

Choose the Right Items

There are certain pieces of furniture and décor that can grow with a child. For example, a desk is a piece of furniture that can be added into a room and never seem to lose its importance, whether they’ll be endlessly creating works of art in coloring books or filling out college applications. Other items can include a classic bedframe and a monochromatic comforter.

Work Slowly but Surely

Make sure to try not to overwhelm your child with a lot of changes at once. If you’ve decided that it is time to “grow up” from the nursery, it may be best to do it little by little. Most parents choose to start with a new bed before gradually continuing to swap out the old with the new.

Remember Teen Tips

During the teen years, make sure to declutter (that garage sale money can go to their college fund), freshen up with a new paint job, and provide grown-up accessories. Allow room for self-expression, but with limits. For instance, you can frame posters instead of using thumb tacks or tape directly on the walls. A bold rug is fine for the time being, especially if it protects the carpet or floor from food spills or shoe marks.

Raising children can be one of the greatest joys in life, so make sure their room reflects that! Take these tips with you over the years and let the DIY project become a fun one you and your child can look back on.

The post How to Transition Your Kids’ Rooms first appeared on Century 21®.

Source: century21.com

Is LendingTree Legit, Safe or Scams?

If you’re asking yourself whether LendingTree is legit, you have every right to do so. After all, you’re about to take on a big financial obligation (whether it is a mortgage loan or a personal loan).

Your objective is to save money, so you want to find a lender with the best mortgage rate. But if you aren’t familiar with LendingTree, how do you know if it’s legit?

There are resources available to check, such as reading LendingTree reviews, to make sure if they are trustworthy.

When you’re looking for a mortgage lender you can trust, LendingTree is the right place for you. Just enter your information and get multiple free and free mortgage rates within minutes.

What is LendingTree?

Before answering the question of “is LendingTree Legit?,” you need to have an understanding of what LendingTree is.

Launched in 1998, LendingTree has built a reputation by matching borrowers to lenders. (For more information about the company, visit its website.

Instead of filling out several applications and talk to several lenders, with LendingTree you can shop around for the best mortgage loans on one website. It’s an all-in-one platform.

It just connects you with multiple lenders all at one time so you can compare and choose the best mortgage rates.

So in case you were wondering if LendingTree is a legitimate and trustworthy company, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

LendingTree is legit.

Related: LendingTree Review: Get a Loan in 10 minutes

Five Ways You Know LendingTree is a Legit and Trustworthy Company.

1. Read LendingTree reviews by their customers to see if it’s legit.

Part of your search “is LendingTree legit” should include reading customer reviews about their experiences with the company. Performing a simple Google search for “LendingTree Reviews,” then you will find a lot sites like consumeraffairs.com or trustpilot.com.

These reviews can help you determine if LendingTree is indeed legit. These reviews can give you the inside story on everything about LendingTree from customer service to interest rates.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that happy customers are less likely to submit a review than unhappy ones.

So read these reviews with an open mind. Indeed, it’s important to look for reviews that are based on facts rather than opinions.

For example, a review that says “I like the lenders provided by LendingTree because their rates are low” is based on facts. A review that says “their service sucks” is based on opinion.

Shop and Compare Loan Offers in Rates in Minutes

2. Check LendingTree’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating.

Another way to know for sure if LendingTree is legit is to check its BBB rating. The BBB assigns business ratings from A+ to F.

A search for LendingTree’s BBB rating shows that not only it is an accredited company, but also has an A+ BBB rating. A BBB rating of A+ is the highest rating you can get. So if LendingTree has an A+ rating, you know it’s legit.

One thing to keep in mind is that BBB ratings and customer reviews can differ significantly. While a company like LendingTree may have negative reviews from customers (every company does), their BBB rating might be an A+.

3. Check LendingTree’s website.

Another way to know if LendingTree is legit is to thoroughly review its website. A company may seem genuine, but there are a few things that can throw up a red flag. Things to look for to see if LendingTree is a legit are:

  • How long have they been in business. According to both its website and the BBB website, LendingTree has been in business for 23 years.
  • Does it offer customer service? If there is no contact support, no address, no phone number to reach the company, this may be a red flag that the company is not legitimate. Fortunately, LendingTree’s homepage is full with that information. So there is no need to worry on that point.
  • See if LendingTree has a policy page: A legit company will have terms of use and conditions pages such as privacy policy pages. Again LendingTree does have this information, which can lead you to conclude it is legit.

Compare mortgage rates with LendingTree

4. Talk to family and friends about their experience with LendingTree.

Just like reading consumer reviews about LendingTree, friends, family members, colleagues are a great source to determine if LendingTree is legit. Ask them if their experience was satisfactory or not.

5. Visit a local office or a main office.

If you’re still not convincing that LendingTree is legit, visit a local office or their main office. Their main office is located at 11115 Rushmore Dr., Charlotte, NC 28277.

In conclusion, LendingTree is legit. But if you want to do your own research to determine if they are legitimate and trustworthy, do the following: check LendingTree’s reviews, their BBB rating, their website, and ask colleagues and friends about their experience with the platform.

All of these should lead you to believe that LendingTree is in fact a legit company.

Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Today

Work with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you save 100k (whether you need it to pay off debt, to invest, to buy a house, or plan for retirement, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Is LendingTree Legit, Safe or Scams? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

9 Financial Strategies for Padding Your Bank Account in Case 2021 Goes Sideways

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So, you thought 2020 was bad? Just wait!

OK, we’re kidding. Obviously, 2021 should turn out way better than 2020 did, right?

There’s no way it could be worse, right?

Right?

Welllllllll… we hate to sound like pessimists, but if there’s one thing life has taught us, it’s that things can always get worse.

Maybe COVID’s sequel shows up. Maybe the economy crashes again. Maybe our weird politics get even weirder. Maybe aliens land in Times Square.

Just in case, we’ve got some proactive moves you should make to protect your bank account in case things go south. Before the next crisis gets going, let’s get started with the protective measures:

1. Save Up An Emergency Fund

This past year has taught us the hard way that everyone should have an emergency fund. You need a place where you can safely stash your savings away — but still earn money on it.

Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

2. Stop Overpaying for Stuff

Your bank account will be in better shape in 2021 if you stop overpaying for things. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert any time you’re shopping on Walmart and are about to get ripped off?

That’s exactly what a free service called Capital One Shopping does. (No need to be a Capital One customer to use it!)

Capital One Shopping’s free alerts can be added to your browser. Before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Amazon, Target, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. It will also show you coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even let you see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new TV. You’re ready to check out, and you assume you’re getting the best price. Here’s when Capital One Shopping will pop up and let you know if you’re about to overpay. It will even automatically apply any known coupon codes to your order.

So far, Capital One Shopping has saved users more than $70 million.

You can get started with Capital One Shopping in just a few minutes to see if you’re overpaying online.

3. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Toilet Paper

Grocery shopping was never exactly pleasant. But these days, it’s a downright struggle. Fighting crowds; keeping six feet of space — just buying toilet paper is a feat. Shouldn’t you have something to show for it?

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards. Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something…

4. Knock $540/Year From Your Car Insurance in Minutes

Car insurance is another thing you shouldn’t overpay for in 2021. When’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

5. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

If things go south financially, the last thing you want to be saddled with is credit card debt. And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

6. Cut Your Food Budget by Planning Ahead

Even if you’re gainfully employed and not in imminent danger of being evicted, you’re probably struggling with bills like most of us are. Groceries are a huge part of everyone’s budget these days, so they’re a big target for savings.

Try preparing for the week ahead with some meal planning. This goes beyond just making a shopping list. Real meal planning helps you save money because it helps you use what you buy, preventing food and money waste. It also prevents you from spending extra cash on emergency lunches or late-night takeout.

First, figure out how many meals you’re responsible for making every week. If it’s just you, your answer might be 21: seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners. If you have a family, count meals per person — a dinner for three people counts as three dinners, even if you all eat the same thing.

Now figure out how much food you’ll need to buy to make it until your next grocery trip. If you buy the same items repeatedly, you know which ones to stock up on when they go on sale. Stocking up on sale items also helps you freeze meals for the future. If there’s a way to buy in bulk and prep the foods you eat the most often, do it!

7. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News

It’s been a historic time for news, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.

And research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.

You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s got his game face on and is ready for 2021, come hell or high water.

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