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5 A.I. Programs That Aims to Make Your Homebuying Journey Easier

As the real estate industry continues to advance, technology expands into the homebuying journey – making it easier for homebuyers to find the home they love in less time than ever before.

The post 5 A.I. Programs That Aims to Make Your Homebuying Journey Easier appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt?

Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.

Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.

Check Your Eligibility

Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:

  • Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
  • Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.

To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.

Assess Your Current Financial Situation

Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.

However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.

Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk

Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.

Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.

The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.

Pros:

  • Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
  • Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
  • Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
  • Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.

Cons:

  • Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
  • Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
  • Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
  • Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.

1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates

Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.

2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending

Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.

3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt

Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.

4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt

If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.

5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card

If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.

6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing

To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.

As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.

This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.

Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.

The post Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

3 Financial Self-Care Habits You Can Start Today

If you’re someone who struggles with financial anxiety and stress, practicing a financial self-care routine could help. Just like other areas of your life, the more consistent you are about financial self-care, the better. This is why I am emphasizing the idea of building habits. The reality is that anxiety and stress are life’s constants. We ourselves don’t have the luxury of removing those factors from our environment, but what we do have are tools to help manage and reduce them. 

Before I get into it, I want to note that there’s a pretty extensive list of financial-self care options available, but what I’ve realized is that when we are struggling, we often overcommit ourselves to perfectionism instead of trying to be a little less imperfect. I’m the first to admit that it’s really tough not to go all-in when reading advice that sounds life-changing. Often, we find ourselves trying out anything and everything to feel in control, and it is for this reason that I won’t offer you the extensive list today. Instead, I hope to help you focus on taking things slow for once so that you don’t set yourself up for failure (and ultimately right back in the anxiety-ridden state you first found yourself in). You can view these three foundational habits as a starting point for a long-term financial self-care routine that you will work to enhance over the course of your life. With this in mind, let’s dive in.

HABIT # 1: REVIEW & CATEGORIZE YOUR TRANSACTIONS DAILY

Building awareness of what and how much you’ve spent can be a game-changer. This habit not only takes the dreaded guessing game out of your end-of-month leftover income and total spending, but it can help you course-correct throughout the month to ensure you hit budgeting goals, cut back in areas you may find yourself regretting, or even upping your spend in areas that bring you joy. A few added bonuses of this habit include saving time at the end of the month if you’re someone that typically sits down for 4-5 hours to get yourself organized, in addition to helping you catch fraudulent transactions faster! 

Pro tips for building this habit: 

  • Make it easy: If you don’t already use Mint, download the app today to have all of your transactions organized and easily viewable in one place. 
  • Make it obvious: Set a calendar reminder on your phone to check Mint each day at the same time. I’d recommend early morning before your day gets busy.
  • Make it attractive: Check your spending after a ritual or habit you enjoy doing. For example, after you sit down to drink your coffee, open up Mint to review your transactions.    
  • Make it satisfying: After reviewing your transactions, do something rewarding. For example, after categorizing and reviewing, consider checking it off your to-do list for the day to feel progress.

HABIT # 2: CHECK YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT(S) DAILY

Checking your savings accounts is a great way to flood your brain with positivity about your financial situation. Having savings is a rewarding feeling, and even more rewarding, is seeing your savings progress over time. Getting in this habit will also be a good reminder to actively save for each of your financial goals. 

Pro tips for building this habit: 

  • Make it easy: Connect your savings accounts to Mint and use the goal-setting feature that allows you to customize your savings goals and connect your savings account to easily track your progress. 
  • Make it obvious: Consider setting your phone’s background to a photo of something you’re saving for so that everytime you check your phone, you’ll be reminded of saving. Mint also allows you to add photos of your goals in the web version and in the app. 
  • Make it attractive: In addition to checking your savings right after reviewing your transactions in Mint, consider starting a savings group with your friends and family. No need to talk about how much you’ve saved, but you can talk about your goals and turn to the group for motivation when you’re tempted to spend what you would normally save. 
  • Make it satisfying: Make sure to give yourself credit for doing this habit by also crossing it off as a separate to-do list item. Try to also make it a rule to never miss checking your savings twice in a row. Skipping a day here and there because life gets in the way is totally normal, just make sure to commit yourself to doing it the next day. 

HABIT # 3: REWARD YOURSELF 1X PER WEEK

I saved the best for last. Rewarding yourself is a critical step that most skip when trying to become more disciplined. Self-control can be a draining experience, especially at first. Make sure to set aside “free time” each week to do something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to require a lot of money. Think of it as a way of telling yourself good job for working hard and trying to improve. 

Pro tips for building this habit*: 

  • Make it easy: Consider making your reward something that takes less than 2 minutes to start doing. Perhaps it’s turning on a Netflix show, making an easy dessert, grabbing a coffee at the Starbucks you just walked by, or even dancing in your living room to your favorite song. 
  • Make it obvious: As I write this, it sounds weird, but for some of us, setting aside time for ourselves isn’t something we’re good at, so commit yourself to a consistent day and time that’s for you to do what you want.

*Making it attractive and satisfying isn’t necessary here because the reward in and of itself will reinforce the habit. 

 

With that, you now have 3 habits to start building a financial self-care routine. Give this a shot, and let me know how it goes in the comments below. 

The post 3 Financial Self-Care Habits You Can Start Today appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Check-In: Expecting Couple Struggling with Debt, But Future Looks Bright

When I first connected with Julia and John, the Queens, NY couple was expecting their first child and grappling with some debt, a lack of savings and income prior to the baby’s arrival. The couple was basically living paycheck to paycheck and in need of some advice to break through that cycle.

We reconnected this month to see how they’ve been doing. Julia is now nearing the end of her third trimester. The baby is due to arrive in two months.

I was hoping that with a baby on the way the couple would have found some ways to chisel away their debt or bulk up savings. Unfortunately, fie months later, they’re more or less still in the same money boat.

But they did act upon a couple of my tips and are benefiting from the goodness of New York and their parents, which has their futures looking brighter.

First, John, who lacks a college degree and was struggling to find full-time work, is going back to school. Not to a college or university, but to a 9-month software boot camp in New York that’s going to give him the skills and network to become a software developer. His potential earnings in the first year in the market could be as much as $75,000 (based on some people I know who’ve gone through similar programs in New York.)

The program will be about $15,000, a fraction of what it would cost to earn a bachelor’s degree. John’s parents have agreed to loan him the money. The couple’s decided to place that $15,000 family loan in savings and, instead, take out a small student loan to pay for John’s school. I agree with that strategy, given that their family is about to increase in size and having some cash on hand will be very important.

Once John completes school and finds work, I’d recommend the couple prioritize the credit card debt by paying at least double the minimums each month. Be most aggressive with the highest interest credit card debt first. Their student loan will likely have a smaller interest rate and can be paid over a 10-year period, making the monthly minimums relatively manageable. Automate those payments as soon as possible and benefit from a 0.25% interest rate reduction when they do.

While they’re taking on more debt, I’m okay with it. Investing in John’s education is one of the best ways this couple can get ahead and better secure their finances in the future – so long as they commit to earning more and paying it down.

Ahead of that program starting, John’s also taken on a side hustle (per my advice). He’s been working a few shifts here and there at Julia’s company, working with special needs patients as a social aide, taking them to community and outdoor events.

Some other good news that’s developed since we last spoke is that New York State has enhanced its Family and Medical Leave Act by implementing Paid Family Leave. In the past, certain employers were only required to provide workers with their jobs back after taking a leave of absence for up to 12 weeks. Now, qualifying private employers must provide paid time off and a continuation of health insurance for 8 weeks in 2018.

This came as a surprise bonus for Julia, who was preparing for zero paid time off from her employer.

It would be my recommendation to use part or all of that extra money to pay down their high-interest credit card debt.

Once Julia returns to work after her maternity leave, her mother-in-law will be the go-to caretaker during the day, another huge help.

They’re fortunate to have free childcare from a trusted, loved one. With that very big expense covered and John’s schooling about to start, I feel confident that the couple’s future is a financially bright one.

The post Check-In: Expecting Couple Struggling with Debt, But Future Looks Bright appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

5 Financial Goals to Start in 2021

 

Although many people start New Year’s resolutions in January, there’s nothing magical about January with regards to self-improvement. Still, the best time to make a change or set a goal is today, so if you’re ready to level up in your life, there’s no time like the present. Here are five financial habits that you might consider starting this year. 

Commit to a written budget (and review it often)

The very first thing that you’ll want to do is commit to a budget. Having a budget is the cornerstone and foundation for financial success. Knowing where your money is going (and not going) can help you understand where you’re at. If you’ve had trouble making or keeping a budget, resolve to start a budget this year. A tool like Mint can be a great way to put your budget on autopilot.

Remember that a budget is just a tool to help you to not spend money on the things you don’t find important so that you have money to spend on the things that you do find important. If you already have a budget, make it a habit to review your budget, at least monthly. That can help you identify where you might be able to make improvements.

As you start or recommit to your budget, make sure that it is written down. Budgets that are not written down, like goals, tend to fall by the wayside easily.

Start (or build) your emergency fund

Another great habit to get into in 2021 is starting an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be one of the very first things you do with any extra money you have in your budget. Even before working on eliminating your debt or saving for retirement, it makes a lot of sense to set aside money for emergencies.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a $1,000 emergency fund. It may not cover catastrophic emergencies, but it can help you to avoid having to spend on your credit cards when the unexpected happens. After you’ve started that basic emergency fund, then you can continue to build it up while also starting to pay off debt or invest for the future. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a couple of months of expenses in your emergency fund. That way you’re covered for a while in case you lose an income source or have a major emergency.

Make a plan to eliminate your debt

The next habit to start or continue this year is to eliminate your debt. Depending on how much debt you currently have, it may not be realistic to pay off all of your debt in 2021. But no matter what, you should have a plan in place. There are a variety of different debt repayment strategies – the debt snowball and the debt avalanche among many. It’s important to pick a debt payoff approach that works for you, and that you can stick to. Make it a habit to spend less than you earn and work towards becoming debt-free.

Spend with a purpose

Another great habit that can help you live within your means is to spend with a purpose. Spending with a purpose means that you are conscious with your spending. If you ever find yourself wondering where all your money has gone, you may benefit from being more deliberate with your spending.

Many people find success by setting a rule about any non-essential spending. For example, before you make any purchases besides essentials like rent, utilities, and debt payments, you must write it down. Just the act of writing it down (or taking a picture of it) is enough for many people to be more deliberate and conscious about what they choose to spend their money on.

Pay yourself first, and make sure to give yourself a raise

If you’re like many people, you may have good intentions of saving money each month, but at the end of the month, you find there’s nothing left over after all the bills are paid. One habit that people who are successful financially have is to pay themselves first. Put your savings money aside at the BEGINNING of the month. It’s a bit of a mental trick, but many people find that having that money out of sight helps them to save more.

Another financial habit to start is to always give yourself a raise. Whenever you get a raise at work or come across any “extra” money, IMMEDIATELY put it either in your emergency fund or use it to pay down your debt. Putting any raise or extra money towards your savings (instead of increasing your standard of living) is a great habit to start. 

This is a great habit to start, especially if you are young or just starting out in your professional life.  Of course, paying yourself first and giving yourself a raise, doesn’t mean that you have to only eat ramen or can’t have nice things. But thanks to the magic of compound interest, the sooner you start to save and invest, the better off you’ll be.

The post 5 Financial Goals to Start in 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

10 Home Updates That Are Worth the Money

Homeownership is one of the most time-tested ways to build wealth in the U.S. It can help you build wealth thanks to home appreciation — but this isn’t always guaranteed (just ask anyone who bought a home right before 2008). 

Another way to build wealth through homeownership is by upgrading your home, thereby increasing its value. The idea is that when you eventually sell your home (or pass it on to your heirs) it’ll be worth even more than simply keeping up with basic home maintenance alone. 

And since you spend around 90% of your time indoors, you might as well enjoy your home a bit more while growing its value.

10 Impactful Ways to Raise Your Home’s Value

The opportunities for upgrading your home are endless. But if you’re aiming to boost your home’s value, some upgrades are better than others. You’ll also need to consider whether you feel comfortable with certain DIY projects, or if you prefer to hire a professional. 

You could rig-up a picket fence made of the leg lamps from A Christmas Story if you really wanted to, after all, but chances are it’d decrease your property value (if it didn’t burn down your house in the process, that is). 

Instead, try one of these investment-friendly upgrades, according to the 2020 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine:

  1. Stone Veneer
  2. Garage Door Replacement
  3. Minor Kitchen Remodel
  4. Replace Siding
  5. Replace Windows
  6. Deck Addition
  7. Replace Entry Door
  8. Replace Roof
  9. Remodel Bathroom
  10. Major Kitchen Remodel

1. Stone Veneer

Estimated cost: $9,357

It’s no secret that finding ways to add curb appeal is one of the quickest remodeling wins to increase your home’s value. Right now, one of the hottest trends is adding manufactured stone veneers to the exterior of your home, generally around the base or as accent walls. 

You can DIY this, but it might be better to hire a professional because the materials are expensive. Plus, if you do it wrong, you could waste a lot of money and end up with a wonky result. 

2. Garage Door Replacement

Estimated cost: $3,695

If you’re not keen on spending tens of thousands of dollars, a relatively quick win you can go for is simply replacing your garage door with a better model that includes a lifetime warranty. Again, this is one that’s better left to the pros because it’s an especially dangerous job for newbie DIYers. Besides, installing it yourself is likely to void the warranty anyway.

3. Minor Kitchen Remodel

Estimated cost: $23,452

If you don’t mind sitting around in some construction dust for a little while, doing your own minor kitchen remodel is definitely within the scope of DIYers. It’s also a common home remodel on HGTV and other media. 

To reach the value-add touted by the survey, you’ll need to replace your oven or cooktop, refrigerator, cabinet doors, countertops, drawer fronts, flooring, and add new paint and trim. It requires a lot of changes, but if you have time to watch a few YouTube tutorials, you can do it yourself fairly easily. 

4. Replace Siding

Estimated cost: $14,359 to $17,008

Another big curb-appeal booster is simply replacing your home’s siding. But not all siding is created equal. Fiber-cement siding costs slightly more and recoups slightly more of the cost. The difference, however, isn’t huge and might vary for your individual case. 

Vinyl siding is easier to maintain and install, but isn’t as fire-resistant as fiber-cement — an increasingly important consideration if you live in the arid West. No matter which type you choose, you might need to rent specialized equipment, like scaffolding, unless you’re an NBA athlete working on a single-story house.

5. Replace Windows

Estimated cost: $17,641 to $21,495

Old, leaky, rackety windows aren’t great for curb appeal or energy-efficiency. That’s why replacing them can also be a good idea. If you’re nervous about smashing them (and we wouldn’t blame you), you can hire a professional. Otherwise, it’s a job that’s possible for most DIYers. 

If you have standard-sized windows, you can get ready-made windows from a home supply store. But you’ll likely need to custom-order them to fit your own home. 

6. Deck Addition

Estimated cost: $14,360 to $19,856

Decks are one of the easiest home additions to DIY, as long as you have basic carpentry and tool safety skills. You can take your time with decks since they’re outside of your home and not directly in your everyday living space. Composite decks are slightly more expensive than wooden decks but have the advantage of longevity and less maintenance necessary over the years.

7. Replace Entry Door

Estimated cost: $1,881

Another easy and low-cost project, replacing the front door gives you an instant boost to your curb appeal. Just about anyone can do it with the help of YouTube video tutorials and a good, strong arm. 

8. Replace Roof

Estimated cost: $24,700 to $40,318

Your roof is literally the cap to your home. Replacing the roof is a big job, and although hammering in shingles seems easy (and it is), it’s generally best left to the professionals. A professionally-installed roof comes with a warranty, and takes a day or two to complete.

If you DIY this home improvement project, you’ll lose the warranty, and it could take you longer to complete the job. And the longer your roofing project lingers, the longer your home is vulnerable to damage. 

Another point to remember — metal roofs are far more expensive than asphalt shingle roofs, but they also tend to last longer and require less maintenance.

9. Remodel Bathroom

Estimated cost: $21,377 to $34,643

As long as you’re not making major changes to the plumbing and electrical systems underlying the fixtures, a bathroom remodel is possible on your own. This is an especially common remodel for many DIYers, because along with the kitchen and the bedroom, it’s a daily-use room. 

10. Major Kitchen Remodel

Estimated cost: $68,490 to $135,547

If you’re looking to bring a 1950s-style kitchen into the 21st century, it’ll take a bit more than some extra spit and glue. You’ll need to make big changes, like adding in a vented range hood for those blackened-fish tacos, new recessed and under-cabinet lighting, new cabinets, and even adding in an island for better cooking options. For that reason, it’s usually better to hire a professional team who can make sure everything’s wired up right. 

Your Mileage May Vary

Here’s something to consider: on average, you’ll only recoup a portion of your cost if you complete the upgrade and then sell your home in the same year. That might seem a bit disappointing — shouldn’t you be able to recoup all of the cost, and then some?

Remember, your specific case might be very different depending on a lot of factors, like what area of your home could use work. For example, if your exterior looks tired and the siding is falling off, upgrading that rather than adding a new deck might give you a better payoff. 

Another factor affecting your return on investment is how long you let your home’s value appreciate, before selling it. Adding a stone veneer can help you recoup 96% of your cost in the first year. However, in the second year, consider whether you can boost the value of your home by more than you paid for the upgrade. 

If you plan on selling your home in the future, asking a local realtor or real estate investor which upgrades are best for your particular home can be worthwhile. After all, market conditions vary dramatically cross the country and no two homes are exactly the same. 

The post 10 Home Updates That Are Worth the Money appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

We Earn $200,000 and Can’t Save. Help!

Mia, 35 and her husband Luke, 36, earn a combined $200,000 per year. But after paying their mortgage and rental property loan, as well as car and student loans, child care, and other living expenses, the Los Angeles couple has a difficult time socking away money in savings.

They do have about $10,000 in a rainy day account, which could cover their expenses for about one month. But adding to the account has been proving difficult.

Luke feels confident that if they ever run into a serious financial bind, they could always take advantage of their low-interest home equity line of credit. But Mia isn’t comfortable with that route. She’d prefer to have more cash on hand.

A bit more background on the couple and where they stand financially:

Luke recently transitioned to a new job as a government attorney, which he loves, but it also meant taking a 50% pay cut. That’s impacted their ability to spend and save as comfortably in recent months. It was an unexpected opportunity for which the couple wasn’t financially prepared.

Mia and Luke would like an objective look at their finances to discover ways to reduce spending, increase saving and possibly find new revenue streams. “I’d love to figure out a side-hustle, so that I can eventually leave my job and spend more time with the kiddos,” says Mia, who works in marketing. Other goals including affording a new car in a couple of years and remodeling their primary residence.

Here’s a closer look at their finances:

Income:

  • Combined salaries: $200,000 per year
  • Net rental income: $6,000 per year

Debt:

  • Car and student loan debt. $13,000 combined at 2%
  • Mortgage at primary residence $845,000 at 3.625%
  • Mortgage at rental property $537,000 at 3.5%
  • HELOC on primary residence: $200,000 (have not used any of this credit)

Retirement:

  • Mia: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match
  • Luke: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match

Emergency Savings: $10,000

College Savings: The couple has 529 college savings funds for both of their children. They allocate their cash back rewards from credit cards towards these accounts. Currently they have about $10,000 saved for their 4-year old and $5,000 saved for their 1-year old child.

Top Monthly Spending Categories:

  • Primary residence mortgage: $4,000
  • Primary residence property tax: $1,100
  • Childcare: $1,900 (daycare for both children, 3 days per week. Grandmother watches other 2 days per week)
  • Food (Groceries/Eating Out): $800
  • Car and student loan payments: $450

From my point of view, I think the biggest hole in Mia and Luke’s finances is their rainy day savings bucket. Relying on a HELOC to cover an unexpected cost is not really an ideal plan. In theory, the money can be used to cover expenses and the interest rate would probably be far lower than the rate on a credit card. But in reality, tapping a HELOC means falling further into debt. They do have $10,000 saved, which is good. But it’s not great.

If not for an emergency, the savings can allow them to achieve other goals. The couple mentioned wanting to buy a car in a couple years. This will probably require a down payment. Having cash can also assist with renovating their home.

Here are my top three recommendations:

Transfer Rental Income Towards Savings

Their previous residence is now a rental property. It nets them about $500 per month. The couple is using this money to pad their living expenses. Can they, instead, move this into their savings account for the next few years? The way I see it, they should have a proper six month cushion in savings to tide them over in an emergency and/or if they need money to address their goals. This rental income isn’t going to get them to this 6-month reserve too quickly, but it’s a start.

Carve Out Another $500 for Savings

While I don’t have a detailed breakdown of all of the family’s monthly expenses, I can bet that they can pare their expenses to save an additional $300 to $500. A few dinners out, some unplanned purchases at the grocery store (because you took the kids) and a couple monthly subscription plans can easily add up to $500 in one month. Whenever I want to save more, I schedule money to transfer out of my checking and into savings at the top of the month. I do this automatically and only spend whatever money I have left. I’d suggest doing this for the first month and seeing how it feels. Do you really notice the money is gone? If yes, revisit some of your recurring costs and decide on trade-offs. If Luke’s salary has decreased by 50% then the couple needs to make some modifications to their spending. The math, otherwise, won’t add up.

Can Mia Adjust Her Work Structure?

Mia is interested in a side hustle, too, to bring in extra income (which I highly recommend). Sites like tutor.com, care.com, taskrabbit.com and others can help you find quick work within her preferred time frame. In the meantime, can she and her husband find ways to adjust their work hours or commute, which saves gas, time and money?

Mia’s commute to work is one hour each way. That’s ten hours per week stuck in a car. And my guess is that while Mia’s driving, she’s paying for daycare, for at least some of those hours. Could she work from home one or two days per week to reduce her time in traffic, as well as her child care costs?

Bottom line: When Luke’s income dropped by 50%, the couple didn’t adjust spending. It may help to take pen to paper and imagine they were building their budget for the first time. Take all of their expenses off the table and rebuild the budget and lifestyle to better align with their adjusted income. Start with the absolute needs first: housing, insurance, food. And really scrutinize all other expenditures. Unless it’s an absolute need that they can easily afford it, consider shutting it off until they’ve reached a 6-month savings pad.

The post We Earn $200,000 and Can’t Save. Help! appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Reaching your twenties is an exciting milestone for most as it means you’ve officially entered adulthood. Along with that milestone comes new responsibilities and worries that we didn’t picture when our teenage selves dreamed of turning 21. We imagined our college graduation, moving into our first apartment, and launching our new career. That vision didn’t include dealing with student loan debt, taking on a low paying entry-level job, or having to confront that despite spending 4 years in college, you’re still unsure how the world of personal finance actually works.

It’s easy to dismiss it all because well you’re a 20 something, and you’ll have plenty of time to play catch up. The reality is that each decade plays an important role in our future financial health. Take the time now to learn about your money and follow the money moves outlined below to put yourself on a path of lifelong financial success and eventual freedom.

Money Moves to Make in Your 20’s:

Learn How To Budget

Building a budget doesn’t have to be overly complicated or time-consuming. It’s actually the first step in putting yourself in control of your finances because it means you know where your money goes each month. The good news is that there are lots of apps and online tools that can make the process a breeze. Consider a system like Mint that will connect to your accounts and automatically categorize your spending for you. The right budgeting tool is simply the one you’ll stick with long term.

Pay Off Debt

Debt isn’t all bad. It may be the reason you were able to earn your degree, and a mortgage may help you one day buy a home. It can also quickly overrun your life if you aren’t careful. Now’s the perfect time before life gets more hectic with family commitments to buckle down and tackle any loans or credit card balances so you can be debt-free going into your 30’s.

Build a Cash Cushion

The financial downturn caused by the pandemic has reminded the whole world of the importance of having an emergency fund. We don’t know what life is going to throw at us and having a cushion can help you navigate the uncertain times. Though it’s not all about having a secret stash of cash to deal with the bad news of life (medical bills, car repair, layoff), it can also be about having the cash to seize an exciting opportunity. Having savings gives you the freedom and security to deal with whatever life brings your way – good or bad.

Understand Credit

Your credit score can dictate so much of your life. That little number can play a big role in the home you buy, the car you drive, and even the job you hold as some employers (especially in the finance world) will pull your credit. It’s important that you check your credit report and score (also available through Mint), learn how it’s calculated, and work to improve it.

Money Moves to Make in Your 30’s:

Invest For Retirement

Now that you’ve spent your 20’s building the foundation for your financial life, it’s time to make sure you’re also tackling the big picture goals like saving and investing for retirement. I typically recommend that clients save 10% to 15% of their annual income towards retirement. That may seem like an insurmountable goal, but starting small by saving even 1 to 3% of your salary can make a big difference in the future. Also, make sure to take advantage of any matching contributions that your employer may provide in your retirement plan. If, for example, they offer to match contributions up to 6%, I would try hard to work towards contributing at least 6%.

Buying Your First Home

Buying your first home is a top goal for many, but it also seems to be getting increasingly more difficult especially if you live in a major city. The most important steps you can take is to improve your credit score, pay down high-interest debt, and be aggressive about saving for a down payment. Saving 20% down will help you qualify for the best loan terms and interest rate, but there are still home loans available even if you aren’t able to save that much. Just be realistic with your budget and what you can afford. Don’t let a lender or real estate agent determine what payment will fit into your budget.

Be Covered Under These Must-Have Insurances

You’ve spent the last several years building your savings and growing your family. It’s now crucial that you have the proper insurance coverage in place to protect your assets and your loved ones. Life and disability insurance are top of the list. Life insurance doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. Get a quote for term-life that will last a set number of years and protect your partner and children during those crucial years that they depend on you. Disability insurance protects your income if you become sick or injured and are unable to work. Your earning ability is one of your biggest assets during this time, and you should protect it. This coverage may be offered through your employer, or you can request a quote for an individual policy.

Invest in Self-Care and Well Being

Mental health is part of self-care and wealth. Most people don’t talk about how financial stress and worry affect their overall health. When you can take care of yourself on all levels, you will feel healthier and wealthier, and happier. But it is not easy. It takes work, effort, awareness, and consciousness to learn how to detach the value in your bank account or financial account from your self-worth and value as a human being. When you feel emotional about your money, investments, or the stock market, learn ways to process them and take care of yourself by hiring licensed professionals and experts to help you.

Money Moves to Make in Your 40’s:

Revisit Your College Savings Goal

As your kids get older and prepare to enter their own journey into adulthood, paying for college is likely a major goal on your list. Consider opening a 529 plan (if you haven’t already) to save for their education. 529 plans offer tax advantages when it comes to saving for college. There are lots of online resources that can help you understand and pick the right plan for you. Visit https://www.savingforcollege.com. This is also a great time to make sure you’re talking to your kids about money. Give them the benefit of a financial education that you may not have had.

Get Aggressive with Retirement Planning

Your 40’s likely mark peak earning years. You’ll want to take advantage of your higher earnings to maximize your retirement savings especially if you weren’t able to save as much in your 20’s and 30’s. Revisit your retirement plan to crunch the numbers so you’ll be clear on what you need to save to reach your goal.

Build More Wealth

You’ve arrived at mid-life probably feeling younger than you are and wondering how the heck that big 4-0 got on your birthday cake. We typically associate being 20 with being free, but I think we’ve got it wrong. There is something incredibly freeing about the wisdom and self-assurance that comes with getting older. You’ve proved yourself. People see you as an adult. Your kids are getting older and your finances are more settled. Now’s the time to kick it up to the next level. Look for ways to build additional wealth. This may mean tapping into your entrepreneurial side to launch the business you’ve dreamed of or buying real estate to increase passive income. Now’s also a great time to find a trusted financial advisor who can help guide your next steps and help you plan the best ways to build your wealth.

Revisit Your Insurance Coverage

Insurance was crucial before, but it’s time to revisit your coverage and make sure you’re protected especially if you decide to launch a business or buy additional real estate. This is also where a financial advisor can help you analyze your coverage needs and find the policies that will work for you.

Consider Estate Planning

Estate planning (think wills, trusts, power of attorney) isn’t the most fun / exciting topic. It involves imagining your gone and creating a plan for the loved ones you leave behind. It is also often overlooked by adults in their younger years. It’s easy to assume estate planning is something the wealthy need to do. It really comes down to whether you want to decide how your life savings will be managed or if you want a court to decide. It’s also crucial for parents with children who are minors to select a guardian and have those uncomfortable conversations with their family members about who would care for the children if the worst were to happen. It’s also a good time to visit this topic with your own aging parents and make sure they have the proper documents and plans in place.

 

Whether you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, it can be easy to put off planning your finances especially in the middle of a pandemic. Most of us are busy, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll have time to work on a goal in the future. Commit to setting aside one hour each week or even each month to have a money date and review your finances. Don’t let yourself reach a milestone birthday (30, 40) and regret not being farther ahead. Follow these money moves now to seize control of your financial future.

The post Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

GSCU Mortgage Rates Reviews: Today’s Best Analysis

Granite State Credit Union (GSCU) provides members with a variety of mortgage products across the state of New Hampshire.

GSCU AT A GLANCE

Year Founded 1945
Coverage Area New Hampshire 
HQ Address 1415 Elm Street, Manchester, New Hampshire 03101
Phone Number 1-800-645-4728

 

GSCU COMPANY INFORMATION

  • Services the state of New Hampshire
  • Offers conventional loans, such as fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages
  • Provides FHA and VA loans to qualifying individuals
  • Allows first-time homebuyers to make down payments of zero to three percent
  • Member of the NHCUL and CUNA
  • Allows borrowers to use gifted funds for the down payment and closing costs on certain loan products

Granite State Credit Union provides a variety of mortgage products to individuals across the state of New Hampshire. It offers traditional loans, such as fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages, as well as government-assisted loans and options for individuals who cannot put 20 percent down on a new home.

GSCU Mortgage Facts

  • Services the state of New Hampshire
  • Offers conventional loans, such as fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages
  • Provides FHA and VA loans to qualifying individuals
  • Allows first-time homebuyers to make down payments of zero to three percent
  • Member of the NHCUL and CUNA
  • Allows borrowers to use gifted funds for the down payment and closing costs on certain loan products

Overall

gscu mortgage rates reviewGranite State Credit Union provides a variety of mortgage products to individuals across the state of New Hampshire. It offers traditional loans, such as fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages, as well as government-assisted loans and options for individuals who cannot put 20 percent down on a new home.

Current GSCU Mortgage Rates

GSCU Mortgage Products

Granite State Credit Union provides a variety of home mortgage products. Its offerings consist of traditional mortgages and government-assisted loans, as well as programs for first-time home-buyers and affordable home refinances.

Fixed-Rate Loans

Fixed-rate loans are the best choice for homebuyers who plan on staying in their home for an extended period. With fixed-rate loans, buyers can expect their principal and interest rates to remain the same throughout the loan’s lifetime. GSCU offers fixed-rate mortgages for lengths of 10, 15, 20, and 30 years.

Adjustable-Rate Loans

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) provides borrowers with an interest rate that may vary throughout the loan term. Typically, these mortgages have a lower initial rate than fixed-rate loans, giving potential customers more financial freedom when looking for a new home.

After the initial period, the rates and payments associated with these mortgages may rise or fall to adjust to market prices. Typically, these costs will fluctuate on an annual basis.

Many companies, including GSCU, provide a cap that prevents these costs from getting too high from one year to the next. GSCU recommends these types of mortgages for home-buyers who do not plan on staying in the house for the loan’s full term. GSCU offers 1/1, 3/1, 5/1, and 7/1 ARMs.

First-Time Homebuyer Loans

GSCU offers excellent deals on mortgages for first-time buyers. The credit union gives borrowers the flexibility to choose a fixed- or adjustable-rate mortgage and even provides no and low down payment options to first-time buyers. The No Down Payment mortgage allows borrowers to take out a 5/1 ARM and pay zero percent down on the home.

The Low Down Payment Adjustable loan offers a 3 percent down payment with a 3/3 ARM and the option to refinance into a fixed mortgage if so desired. The Low Down Payment Fixed loan offers a 3 percent down payment and a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. For Low Down Payment Adjustable and Fixed mortgages, borrowers can use gifted funds for the down payments and closing costs on their homes.

FHA Loans

Unlike some other credit unions, GSCU offers FHA loans to home-buyers who do not qualify for other loan programs. Borrowers may have a high debt-to-income ratio, low credit score, or the inability to put 20 percent down on the home. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created these types of home loans to grant buyers the opportunity to invest in property. GSCU allows 100 percent of the closing costs to be gifted.

VA Loans

GSCU allows veterans, military members, and their spouses to apply for VA loans. These types of mortgages are backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Qualified individuals can make a low down payment on the home and keep up with affordable monthly payments.

HARP Loans

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) introduced the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) as part of their Making Home Affordable™ initiative. HARP allows eligible homeowners to refinance their mortgages into a lower interest rate to keep their finances secure. HARP provides this opportunity for individuals who otherwise may not qualify for refinancing due to their declining home value.

GSCU Mortgage Customer Experience

Granite State Credit Union offers a variety of online resources that help current and prospective borrowers research home loan options. GSCU’s website contains several mortgage calculators, which assist home-buyers in determining how much they can take out on a home loan.

It also provides information about their different mortgage products, which helps borrowers figure out what type of home loan is right for them. GSCU has a Refer-a-Loan option, which incentivizes borrowers who refer a New Hampshire resident or business owner to procure a loan with the credit union.

In exchange for this referral, both parties can receive $25 for consumer loans or $50 for the mortgage and home equity loans.

GSCU Lender Reputation

Founded in 1945, Granite State Credit Union has provided affordable mortgage rates to New Hampshire residents for over 70 years. Its Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System ID number is 477276.

Since the credit union only services the states of New Hampshire, it does not have many online customer reviews. It is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and has no reviews on the site, but maintains an A+ rating.

GSCU Mortgage Qualifications

Although GSCU has flexible mortgage qualifications for individuals taking out FHA loans, its qualification requirements for individuals requesting other home loans are similar to mortgage industry standards.

First and foremost, the credit union prioritizes credit score when approving someone for a loan or for calculating their rates. FICO reports that the industry-standard credit score is 740. However, those with credit scores above 760 can expect the best mortgage rates.

Credit score Quality Ease of approval
760+ Excellent Easy
700-759 Good Somewhat easy
621-699 Fair Moderate
620 and below Poor Somewhat difficult
No credit score n/a Difficult

Buyers should typically expect to put 20 percent down on the home, unless they qualify for a government-assisted loan. In some cases, buyers can anticipate paying as little as zero to three percent on their mortgage down payment.

With certain types of loans, such as first-time home-buyer, FHA, and VA loans, GSCU allows borrowers to use gifted funds to make down payments and pay closing costs. However, those taking out a traditional fixed- or adjustable-rate mortgage should anticipate paying these costs on their own.

History of GSCU

Granite State Credit Union (GSCU) was founded in 1945 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Founder John Edward Grace, who previously worked as a city bus driver, put down an initial deposit of $15.

With the work put forth by John and his wife, Betty, GSCU achieved notability and success before merging, in late 2003, with the Acorn Credit Union. GSCU is currently a member of the New Hampshire Credit Union League (NHCUL) and Credit Union National Association (CUNA). It offers a selection of home loan products, including fixed- and adjustable-rate, VA, FHA, HARP, and first-time home-buyer loans.

Bottom Line

If you live in New Hampshire, GSCU may be a great fit for you! With a variety of mortgage products, GSCU has something to offer for everyone. For more information, visit their website. 

The post GSCU Mortgage Rates Reviews: Today’s Best Analysis appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com