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Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

If left unchecked, extensive amounts of credit card debt can cripple your finances. The good news is there are many ways to handle debt, though each requires a dedicated effort on your part. But if you can manage to consolidate credit card debt, you will reduce your burden relatively quickly. In the process, you’ll avoid the exorbitant interest rates that accompany most credit cards. Below we take a look at some of the most effective techniques you can use to make this goal a reality.

Find Out Your Credit Score

Before you can work on improving your credit and minimizing your debt, you have to know where you currently stand.

Many credit card issuers allow cardholders to see their FICO® credit score free of charge once a month, so check out if any of your cards include that free credit score. The three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – also give out free annual credit reports. If that’s not enough, websites like Credit Karma™ and Credit Sesame provide a free look at your credit score and reports as well.

It is vital to review your credit report with a fine-tooth comb to ensure the accuracy of the information. If you find errors be sure to let the credit bureau in question know so the issue can be eradicated as soon as possible.

Zero Interest Balance Transfer Cards

Although it might seem counterintuitive to apply for another credit card to lessen your debt, a zero interest balance transfer card could really help. These cards typically include an introductory 0% balance transfer Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for six months or more. This ultimately allows you to move debt from one account to another without incurring more interest. However, once the introductory offer concludes, any leftover balances will revert to your base APR.

These offers aren’t totally free, though. Most cards also charge a balance transfer fee that’s usually between 3% and 5% of the transfer. Even with this initial payment, you will almost always still save money over leaving your debt where it stands currently.

If you want to consolidate credit card debt, here are three different balance transfer credit cards you could apply for, with varying introductory interest rates and transfer fees:

Balance Transfer Credit Cards Card Intro Balance Transfer APR Balance Transfer Fee Chase Slate 0% APR for first 15 months; then 16.49% to 25.24% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness No fee for first 60 days; then $5 or 5% of each transfer, whichever is greater Citi Double Cash Card 0% introductory APR for 18 months from date of first transfer when transfers are completed within 4 months from date of account opening; then 15.49% to 25.49% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness $5 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater BankAmericard® credit card 0% APR for first 15 billing cycles; then 14.49% to 24.49% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness No fee for first 60 days; then $10 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater Take Out a Personal Loan

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

The thought of taking out another loan probably doesn’t sound too appetizing to consolidate credit card debt. But a personal debt consolidation loan is one of the speediest ways to rid yourself of credit card debt. More specifically, you can use it to pay off most or all of your debt in one lump sum. That way, your payments are all merged into a single account with your lender.

The APR and length of the offered loan and the minimum credit score needed for approval are the main factors that should go into your final decision on a lender. By concentrating on these three components of the loan, you can map out what your monthly payments will be. As a result, you can more easily implement them into your financial life.

Applying for a personal consolidation loan can have a detrimental effect on your credit. Unfortunately, most institutions will run a hard credit check on you prior to approval. However, many online lenders don’t do this, which might ease your mind depending on the severity of your debt situation.

These loans are available through a wide variety of financial institutions, including banks, online lenders and credit unions. Here are a few examples of some of the most common debt consolidation lenders:

Common Debt Consolidation Lenders Banks Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Fifth Third Bank Online Lenders Lending Club, Prosper, Best Egg Credit Unions Navy Federal Credit Union, Unify Financial Credit Union, Affinity Federal Credit Union Auto or Home Equity Loan

If you own assets like a home or car, you can take out a lump-sum loan based on the equity you hold in them to consolidate credit card debt. This is a great way to reuse money you paid toward an existing loan to take care of your debt. When paying back your auto or home equity loan, you’ll usually pay in fixed amounts at a relatively low interest rate. Even if this rate isn’t great, it’s likely much better than any offer you’d receive from a card issuer.

Equity loans are technically a second mortgage or loan, meaning your house or car will become the loan’s collateral. That means you could lose your house or car if you cannot keep up with your equity loan payments.

Create a Budget

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

To build a budget, you first need to figure out your approximate monthly net income. Don’t forget to take into account taxes when you’re doing this.

You can then start subtracting your variable and fixed expenses that are expected for the upcoming month. This is where you will likely be able to identify where you’re overspending, whether it’s on food, entertainment or travel. Once you’ve completed this, you can begin cutting back where you need to. Then, use your surplus cash to pay off your debt one month at a time.

It shouldn’t matter if you’re dealing with substantial credit card debt or not. A monthly spending budget should always be a part of how you manage your finances. While this is likely the slowest way to eliminate debt, it’s also the most financially sound. At its core, it attempts to fix the problem without taking funding from an outside source. This should leave very little financial strife in the aftermath of paying off your debt.

Professional Debt Counseling

Perhaps since you’ve found yourself in serious debt, you feel like you want professional help getting out of it. Well the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) is available for just that reason. The NFCC® has member offices all around the U.S. that are certified in helping you consolidate credit card debt.

These counselors won’t only address your current financial issues and debt. They’ll also work to create a plan that will help you avoid this situation again in the future.

Agencies that are accredited by the NFCC® will have it clearly displayed on their website or at their offices. If you’re not sure where to look, the foundation created an agency locator that’ll help you find a counselor nearby.

Borrow From Your Retirement

Taking money early from your employer-sponsored retirement account obviously isn’t ideal. That’s means borrowing from your retirement is a last-ditch alternative. But if your credit card debt has become such a handicap that it’s affecting all other facets of your life, it is a viable option to consolidate credit card debt.

Because you are technically loaning money to yourself, this will not show up on your credit report. Major tax and penalty charges await anyone who has trouble making payments on these loans though. To make matters worse, if you quit your job or are fired, you’re typically only given 60 days to finish paying it off to avoid incurring a penalty.

Tips To Consolidate Credit Card Debt

  • If you take the time to come up with a budget, don’t let it go to waste. While you might find it tough to stick to, especially if you’re trying to cut back, it is the best way to manage your money correctly. Even if a budget becomes habit, stay vigilant with where your money is being spent.
  • Although a financial advisor will cost money, he or she might be able to help you keep your finances in check while ultimately helping you plan for the future as well. However, if this isn’t an option for you financially, stay on track with your NFCC® debt counselor’s plan.
  • There are so many ways to gain access to your credit score that there’s virtually no excuse for not knowing it. It doesn’t matter if you do it through one of the top three credit bureaus, FICO® or one of your card issuers. Just remember to pay attention to those ever-important three digits as often as possible.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Liderina, ©iStock.com/ferrantraite, Â©iStock.com/cnythzl

The post Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Fired by the Kings, Vlade Divac Selling $1.65M Home in Downtown Sacramento

Vlade Divac Sacramento Homerealtor.com, Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

After five seasons in the front office for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, the former NBA center Vlade Divac was shown the door in August 2020.

Now Divac is divesting his real estate holdings in the capital city. He’s put his downtown Sacramento home on the market for $1.65 million.

Located just blocks away from the Kings’ downtown arena, it’s an awesome option for a buyer looking for a classic home in the middle of an urban setting.

The charming three-bedroom residence offers 3,371 square feet and was built way back in 1900. Since then, the single family abode has been renovated and now features a classic facade with an all-modern interior.

According to the listing, “The owners have paid attention to period details, while bringing modern functionality and style.”

High ceilings throughout the home offer an airy and spacious feel. The modern kitchen features an island with double ovens, and high-end finishes and appliances.

Upstairs, you’ll find three bedrooms—all bathed in natural light. The home’s basement has a separate entrance and offers a “studio-type layout and a spacious bathroom.”

Around the rear of the home is a garage, currently configured as a home gym, with a bonus space for meditation or yoga.

A gorgeous, private backyard has an extensive tiled patio area and offers a hot tub ideal for an evening soak.

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Front exterior of home in Sacramento, CA

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Living area

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Kitchen

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Dining room

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Basement

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Gym

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Hot tub & sitting area

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This luxury home is located about 2 miles from the arena and would be a brisk 35-minute walk to work.

Divac purchased the downtown digs in April 2018 for $910,000 in the middle of his tenure as the general manager of the Kings.

He’s also lived in the neighboring Sacramento County town of Carmichael. In 2016, Carmichael’s Chamber of Commerce named him “Person of the Year.”

His former residence in Pacific Palisades recently sold again in November, for $3,436,000. He had purchased the property in 2004 for $2.5 million and sold it in 2015 for $2,711,500.

Divac, 52, made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989, and was a part of the first wave of players to come to the league from the former Yugoslavia. The Serbian 7-footer played for 16 seasons in the NBA and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019.

Nev Kordic with Coldwell Banker Realty is representing Divac with the sale.

The post Fired by the Kings, Vlade Divac Selling $1.65M Home in Downtown Sacramento appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Amazon Prime Card offering new Whole Foods card art, limited-time bonus

On Jan. 20, Chase announced a new card design option for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card featuring Whole Foods Market art and added a limited-time sign-up bonus offer for those who prefer to shop at Whole Foods in-store.

Amazon has become a leader in grocery shopping during the pandemic, with consumers avoiding grocery stores due to health safety concerns – not to mention the convenience of shopping from a web browser. Amazon Prime members can enjoy speedy free delivery, as well as get access to online shopping at Whole Foods Market and special member deals when shopping in-store.

They can also count on extra savings if they carry the Amazon Prime Rewards card from Chase – or if they’re looking to apply in the next few weeks.

Here’s what you need to know.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card

Amazon Prime Card Whole Foods

Our rating: 3.8 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Cash back
Spending categories: Amazon, Whole Foods, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores

  • 5% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases
  • 2% back on restaurant, gas station and drug store purchases
  • 1% back on other purchases
  • $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval or $100 statement credit after spending $100 at Whole Foods in first 2 months
  • No annual fee

Our take: While the Amazon Prime Rewards card offers excellent cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, it might not be the best choice for customers who don’t currently have a Prime membership and aren’t looking to subscribe.

A new Whole Foods card design and limited-time offer

Chase introduced a new card design option for new Amazon Prime Rewards cardholders, featuring Whole Foods Market art. New cardmembers with an eligible Prime membership can choose the new design when they apply for the card. If you’re an existing cardholder and would like to switch to the new design option, you can call in to request a new card after Jan. 22.

If you frequently shop at Whole Foods in-store, the new limited-time introductory offer can also be exciting news for you. Through March 3, new Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 in Whole Foods Market stores in the first two months from account opening. Alternatively, they can still choose the standard $70 Amazon gift card offer as a sign-up bonus.

Considering the standard bonus is lower, the new temporary offer might be a better deal. On the other hand, if you avoid shopping in-store or normally use Amazon Fresh for buying groceries, the gift card might make more sense for you.

Should I start shopping at Whole Foods if I have an Amazon credit card?

If you already shop at Whole Foods, the 5% back with the Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa and 10% off specially marked items is a good deal. The discounts, though, don’t make Whole Foods cheaper than other grocery stores.

In fact, according to a study from 2019, Whole Foods remains the most expensive grocery store with its prices at 34% above Walmart, which was reported to have the lowest prices overall. If your goal is to save on groceries, Whole Foods is evidently not the best option – even if you carry the Amazon Prime card.

Other cards to consider

The Amazon Prime Card isn’t the only option you should consider if you often shop on Amazon or at Whole Foods.

See related: Which is the best card to use on Amazon.com purchases?

For instance, with the Chase Amazon.com Rewards Visa card, you can get a $50 Amazon gift card upon approval and earn 3% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% percent at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else. If you don’t have a Prime membership and aren’t looking to subscribe, this is a good option, since the card doesn’t require a cardholder to be a member.

If you do have a membership and shop on Amazon a lot, the Amazon Prime card is a better deal. With 5% for purchases made at Whole Foods and on Amazon, 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else, this card is hard to beat for Amazon and Whole Foods lovers.

If you’re looking for a card to buy groceries, consider the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which could save you more than the Amazon Prime Visa at Whole Foods. Why? Blue Cash Preferred cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%).

See related: Best credit cards for grocery shopping

Bottom line

You can now stack your rewards at Whole Foods, earning cash back and the limited-time bonus with the Amazon Prime Card, and you can get extra savings from the loyalty program. Whether it makes sense to shop at Whole Foods, even with rewards cards and the loyalty program, is up to you.

Source: creditcards.com

5 Great Ways to Increase Remote Working Productivity

When the COVID lockdowns started, most business owners probably didn't think much about the efficiency of their remote working solutions as long as they were able to keep the lights on. As we head into 2021, we can see that remote working is going to become a permanent feature of our business lives. With more than half of employees reporting frustrations with their remote work solutions, now is a good time to think about getting the best software and apps in to help your team stay productive.

Remember, too, that many of your people will find working at home a very lonely experience and so things like video conferencing can help alleviate the mental health impact of a lockdown.

Let's look at some of the products that are available to help you stay in touch and remain effective no matter what 2021 throws at you!

Workflow boards

One of the things that many people have reported is difficulty in keeping motivated and understanding what needs to happen and when.

When you're in an office, it's easy to simply lean across the desk and ask what is going on. But what happens when your team is all working remotely?

Using Kanban boards like Trello and Asana allows you to posts jobs, tasks, and subtasks and then allocate them to individual staff members or team so that everyone knows where they are and what still needs doing.

Remote access software

Remote access software can have some real benefits for users across the organisation and doesn’t need to be confined to your IT helpdesk.

Modern remote working can give users a virtual desktop, which is the same wherever they log on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can also increase security.

Remote access software can also include functionality that enables video conferencing, chat functions, shared word processing, and file sharing, along with resources for troubleshooting in a pinch.

If you’d like to find out more about what it can do for you, check the best options in this excellent remote access software review by Neil Patel.

Remote shared storage

Many companies rely upon having drives readily available to all staff, and when you're all working in the same office, this is a simple matter. But when your team is spread out, then you need to think about organizing remote storage.

Google Drive and Dropbox are probably the most well-known offerings, but there are many more. They all provide you with the ability to have shared drives that are accessible based on your own organization’s security protocol.

Remote storage is a very competitive area, so prices have dropped over the last few years. So in many cases, you are better off subscribing to a best-in-class cloud storage solution (especially if it includes remote access desktops as above) rather than upgrading your on-premise servers.

Business-class video conferencing

For many businesses, this is one area where they just had to get a solution in place quickly so everyone could carry on working. But it really is worth choosing a business-class video conferencing system.

Having a better system makes life easier for your staff, but it also portrays a professional image to your customers and suppliers.

Free systems are great, but they will always come with limitations. Zoom, for instance, limits calls to 45 minutes on its free version. Other free solutions reduce video quality.

With paid solutions, the cost for a group subscription is often very reasonable when compared to the cost of losing even one customer.

Collaboration and sharing tools

When you can just pass files and papers across a desk, life is easy. But if you're miles away from your co-workers, contractors, and customers, how can you possibly collaborate effectively?

Many of the really good systems bundle in storage, video conferencing, Kanban boards and collaboration tools that help your teams act like teams rather than a collection of dispersed individuals.

Obviously, the big player here is Microsoft. But you can get excellent results with apps like Zoho Connect, Winio, and Wire. If you only really want chat capability, then look at Slack.

Take advantage of trials

What works for some people may not work for you and your company. But the good news is that pretty much every system mentioned here has some form of free trial.

The best advice is to take the developers up on their offer and test these solutions out. Get feedback from your employees and take into account how easy the apps are to use, the support available, and of course, the annual cost.

Don’t be swayed by attractive-sounding initial reductions. If the system is good, you’ll be using it for a long time. It is much more important to get the right features for you rather than buying something that isn't well-suited to the task because the developer was offering a half-price sale.
 

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits

Before the coronavirus reached the U.S., unemployment was low and few could have anticipated a global pandemic. However, as the pandemic and ensuing recession took hold, a record-breaking number of people filed for unemployment benefits to stay financially afloat.

“COVID-19 led to an incredible number of American workers being without work,” says Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment compensation attorney. “And it’s caused a huge need for individuals to file for unemployment insurance.”

Unemployment insurance, or unemployment benefits, can offer an essential lifeline. But if you’ve never accessed these benefits before, you may have questions about how they work. You might also be asking: What do I do when my unemployment benefits run out and I’m still unemployed?

This article1 offers tips about what you need to know about filing an unemployment claim. It also addresses the following questions:

  • How do you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits?
  • Can your unemployment benefits be extended?
  • What can you do when unemployment runs out?
  • Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?

A record number of people have filed for unemployment, and many are wondering what to do when unemployment runs out.

If you’re just getting ready to file or need a refresher on the basics of unemployment benefits, read on to have your questions answered.

If you’re already collecting benefits and want to know what happens once you reach the end of the benefit period, skip ahead to “Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out.”

Common questions about unemployment benefits

Experiencing a job loss is challenging no matter what. Keep in mind that you’re not alone, and remember that unemployment benefits were created to help you.

As you consider how to prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, remember that you're not alone.

While they’re designed to provide financial relief, unemployment benefits are not always easy to navigate. Here’s what you need to know to understand how unemployment benefits work:

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment insurance provides people who have lost their job with temporary income while they search for and land another job. The amount provided and time period the benefits last may vary by state. Generally, most states offer up to half of a person’s previous wages in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or until you land another full-time job, whichever comes first. Requirements and eligibility may vary, so be sure to check your state’s unemployment agency for guidance.

How do you apply for unemployment benefits?

Depending on where you live, claims may be filed in person, by phone or online. Check your state government’s website for details.

Who can file an unemployment claim?

This also may vary from state to state, but eligibility typically requires that you lost your job or were furloughed through no fault of your own, in addition to meeting work and wage requirements. During the coronavirus pandemic, the government loosened restrictions, extending unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.

When should you apply for unemployment benefits?

Short answer: As soon as possible after you lose your job. “If you are someone who has had steady W2 work, it’s important that you file for unemployment the moment you lose work,” Simon-Mishel says. The longer you wait to file, the longer you’re likely to wait to get paid.

When do you receive unemployment benefits?

Generally, if you are eligible, you can expect to receive your first benefit check two to three weeks after you file your claim. Of course, this may differ based on your state or if there’s a surge of people filing claims.

Can unemployment benefits be extended? Check your state’s unemployment insurance program page for updates.

2020 enhancements to unemployment benefits for freelance and contract workers

In early 2020, the U.S. government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. In addition to other benefits, the CARES Act created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who were typically ineligible. That means that if you don’t have steady W2 income—for instance, freelance and contract workers, those who file 1099s, farmers and the self-employed—you still may qualify for unemployment benefits.

“That program is a retroactive payout,” Simon-Mishel says. “If you’re just finding out about that program several months after losing your job, you should be able to file and get benefits going back to when you lost work.”

Because legislation affecting unemployment benefits continues to evolve, it’s important that you keep an eye out for any additional stimulus programs that can extend unemployment benefits. Be sure to regularly check your state’s unemployment insurance program page for updates.

“It’s really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you.”

– Julia Simon-Mishel, unemployment compensation attorney

Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out

In a perfect world, your job leads would become offers long before you reached the end of your unemployment benefits. But in reality, that’s not always the case.

If you’re still unemployed but haven’t yet exhausted your benefits and extensions, you may want to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits as early as possible so you don’t become financially overwhelmed. Here are four tips to help you get through this time:

Talk to service providers

Reaching out to your utility service providers like your gas, electric or water company is one of the first steps John Schmoll, creator of personal finance blog Frugal Rules, suggests taking if you’re preparing for the end of unemployment benefits.

“A lot of times, either out of shame or just not knowing, people don’t contact service providers and let them know what their situation is,” Schmoll says. “[Contact them to] see what programs they have in place to help you reduce your spending, and basically save as much of that as possible to help stretch your budget even further.”

Save what you can

To help prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, a few months before your benefits end, Schmoll suggests cutting back spending as much as possible, focusing only on necessities.

“If you can try and save something out of the benefits that you’re receiving while you’re receiving them—it doesn’t matter if it’s $10 or $20—that’s going to help provide some cushion,” Schmoll says. Keep those funds in a separate account if you can, so you’re not tempted to spend them. That way you’re more prepared in case of an emergency.

If you hunkered down during your period of unemployment and were able to save, try to resist the urge to splurge on things that aren’t necessary.

“There might be temptation to overspend, but curtail that and focus on true necessities,” Schmoll says. “That way when [or if] you receive an extension on your benefits, you now have that extra money saved.”

Saving money can be a good way to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Saving money can be a good way to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Seek additional financial aid

If you find that your savings and benefits aren’t covering your expenses, and you’re reaching a point where you no longer qualify for benefits, look into other new benefit programs or features designed to help during times of crisis.

For example, there are programs across the country to assist people with rent or mortgages, Simon-Mishel says. Those programs are generally designed to keep those facing financial hardship from losing their home or apartment. You may need to show that you are within the programs’ income limits to qualify, or demonstrate that your rent is more than 30 percent of your income. These programs vary widely at the state and even city level, so check your local government website to see what might be available to you.

As you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, explore which government benefits or government agency may be best suited for your needs.

Keep up with the news

During economic downturns, government programs and funds often change to keep up with evolving demand.

“It’s really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you,” says Simon-Mishel. “You should closely pay attention to the social media of your state unemployment agency and local news about other extension programs that might be added and that you might be eligible for.”

Pay attention to social media and local news as you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Options for extending your unemployment benefits

If you’re currently receiving benefits, but they’ll be ending soon, you’re likely wondering what to do when your unemployment runs out and asking if your unemployment benefits can be extended. Start by confirming when you first filed your claim because that will determine your benefit end date.

If you’re wondering, “Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?” the answer is yes, but you’ll have to wait until your current “benefit year” expires. Note that a benefit year is 12 months from when you file a claim. If you filed at the beginning of June, for example, you generally can’t file again until the beginning of the following June.

You may get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on your state’s rules at the time. Most states extended the payout period to 39 weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Check your state’s website for the particulars on what to do when your unemployment runs out.

If your claim is still active but you’ll be in need of additional financial relief after your unemployment benefits run out, here are your options:

File for an unemployment extension

During extraordinary economic times, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government may use legislation like the CARES Act to offer people more benefits for a longer period of time, helping many people concerned about whether unemployment benefits can be extended.

Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out? It can vary by state, so reach out to your unemployment office.

For example, in 2020, for most workers who exhaust, or receive all of, their unemployment benefits, a 13-week extension should automatically kick in, Simon-Mishel says. This would bring you up to 39 weeks total. However, if more than a year has passed since you originally filed and you need the extension, you will likely need to file a short application provided by the government. Details vary by state.

As you’re determining what to do when your unemployment runs out, reach out to your unemployment office. It’s important to do this before your benefits expire so you can avoid a missed payment. You can also confirm you’re eligible and that you can refile for unemployment after it runs out.

Ask about the Extended Benefits program in your state

Can unemployment benefits be extended beyond that? In periods of high unemployment, you may qualify for a second extension, depending on your state.

“After those [first] 13 weeks, many states have added a new program called Extended Benefits that can provide another 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment when a state is experiencing high unemployment,” Simon-Mishel adds. This means you may be able to receive a total of up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, including extensions. The total number of weeks of unemployment you may receive varies based on your state and the economic climate.

It’s hard enough keeping up with everything as you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, so don’t worry if you don’t have your state’s benefits program memorized. Visit your state’s unemployment insurance program page to learn more about what benefits are available to you.

For anyone considering what to do when unemployment runs out, it's important to take things one day at a time.

Beyond unemployment benefits

While life and your finances may seem rocky now, know that you’re not alone. Remember that there are resources available to help support you, and try to take things one day at a time, Schmoll says.

“Realize that at some point your current situation will improve.”

If you find that your benefits aren’t covering all of your expenses, now may be the time to dip into your cash reserve. Explore these tips to determine when it’s time to use your emergency fund.

1 This article is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Eligibility for unemployment benefits may be impacted by variations in state programs, changes in programs, and your circumstances. If you have questions, you should consider consulting with your legal counsel, at your expense, or seek free assistance from your local legal aid organization.

Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.

The post How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

We Want to Retire to Florida or a Florida-Type Atmosphere and Buy a Condo With Lots of Amenities for $250,000—Where Should We Go?

Retirement locales in Florida and South CarolinaGetty Images

Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I are looking to retire in three years from New Jersey to Florida or a Florida-type atmosphere — warm weather, no snow!

We will be getting around $5,000 from Social Security monthly and will have a little over $1 million spread among savings/401(k)/house equity. We want to buy a condo for about $250,000 that has all the extras like pools, restaurants, social activities and near the beach.

Can you make any suggestions?

Thanks,

Marty

Dear Marty,

With 1,350 miles of coastline in Florida alone, never mind the rest of the South, you have many possibilities for your retirement. But as you can imagine, properties closest to the beach are more expensive, so “near the beach” may involve some compromise.

I started my search with Realtor.com (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.) and its picks of affordable beach communities, but didn’t stick to it exclusively.

My three suggestions are just a starting point. No place is perfect, not every development will have all the amenities you want, and every town has its own personality, so you may want to think about what else is important to you. You also may want to consider gated communities and townhomes, not just multistory condominium buildings.

As you narrow down your list, I recommend you visit at least twice — once in the winter to experience the crowds in high season and once in the summer to understand what southern humidity is like. It’s worse than in New Jersey.

Think about how you will build your new social network, even with all the social amenities in your condo building. Don’t rule out the local senior center or the town’s recreation department.

Consider renting for the first year to test it out to make sure you’ve picked the right area.

Then there are the money questions. The last thing you need is a surprise.

You’ll have condo fees; they can be quite high, particularly in a high-rise building along the beach. What do they cover and what don’t they cover? How much have fees been rising over, say, the past 10 years? How does the board budget for bigger repairs? More broadly, are you OK with the condo association’s rules?

Ask about the cost of both flood and wind insurance given that the southern coastline is regularly threatened with hurricanes. That’s on top of homeowner’s insurance. Or are you far enough inland that you can get away without them?

Walk into the tax assessor’s office to try for a more accurate tax assessment than your real-estate agent may give you. And since this would be your primary residence, ask about the homestead exemption.

And don’t forget that you’re trading your New Jersey heating bill for more months of air conditioning; what will that cost?

Finally, three years isn’t that far away. Start decluttering now. That’s hard work, too.

Here are three coastal towns to get you started on your search:

Venice, Florida

Venice Beach pier
Venice Beach pier

frankpeters/iStock

This town of nearly 25,000 on the Gulf Coast is part of the Sarasota metro area, deemed by U.S. News & World Report to be the best area in the U.S. to retire. Venice is 25 miles south of Sarasota and its big-city amenities; it’s 60 miles north of Fort Myers, the runner-up in the U.S. News listing.

It also made Realtor.com’s list of affordable beach towns for 2020.

This is a retiree haven — 62% of residents are 65 and over, according to Census Bureau data.

While you can always travel to the nearby big cities, when you want to stay local, see what’s on at the Venice Performing Arts Center and the Venice Theatre. Walk or bicycle along the 10.7-mile Legacy Trail toward Sarasota and the connecting 8.6-mile Venetian Waterway Park Trail to the south. The latter will lead you to highly ratedCaspersen Beach.

Temperature-wise, you’ll have an average high of 72 in January (with overnight lows averaging 51) and an average high of 92 in August (with an overnight low of 74).

Here’s what is on the market right now, using Realtor.com listings.

Boynton Beach, Florida

Boynton Beach condos
Boynton Beach condos

Carl VMAStudios/Courtesy The Palm Beaches

On the opposite side of the state, smack between Palm Beach and Boca Raton, is this city of about 80,000 people, plenty of whom are from the tri-state area. More than one in five are 65 or older.

Weather is similar to that in Venice: an average high of 73 in January and 85 in August.

Boynton Beach is in the middle of developing the 16-acre Town Square project that will include a cultural center and residential options, among other things. Still, this is an area where one town bleeds into the next, so whatever you don’t find in Boynton Beach, you’ll probably find next door.

At the western edge of town is the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 145,000 acres of northern Everglades and cypress swamp. The Green Cay Nature Center is another natural attraction.

You can also hop Tri-Rail, a commuter train line that runs from West Palm Beach to the Miami airport with a stop in Boynton Beach, when you want to go elsewhere. The fancier Brightline train is adding a stop in Boca Raton to its existing trio of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami; the current plan is for a mid-2022 opening.

This city has many amenity-laden retirement communities, and the median listing price for condos and townhouses fit your budget, according to Realtor.com data. Here’s what’s on the market now.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, FL
Myrtle Beach, FL

Kruck20/iStock

If you’re ready to look beyond Florida, Myrtle Beach, S.C., with nearly 35,000 people, made Realtor.com’s 2018 and 2019 lists of affordable beach towns, and Murrells Inlet, just to the south and home to just under 10,000 people, made the 2020 list. The broader Myrtle Beach area, known as the Grand Strand, extends for 60 miles along the coast.

Summer temperatures in Myrtle Beach are a touch cooler than Florida; an average high of 88 in July, with lows averaging 74.

A word of warning: In the winter, average overnight lows get down to around 40, and average daytime highs reach the upper 50s. Is that acceptable, or too cold?

Myrtle Beach boasts of its low property taxes, especially when combined with the state’s homestead exemption. While you may think of the city as a vacation destination, 20% of residents are 65 or older. (Nearly 32% of Murrells Inlet residents are seniors.)

Here’s what’s for sale now in Myrtle Beach and in Murrells Inlet.

The post We Want to Retire to Florida or a Florida-Type Atmosphere and Buy a Condo With Lots of Amenities for $250,000—Where Should We Go? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Don’t Panic! 3 Money-Saving, Last-Minute Tax Tips for Homeowners

last minute tax tips for home ownerskroach/iStock

It’s heeeere: tax time.

Granted, this year, the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Internal Revenue Service to extend the usual April 15 deadline to July 15. That might have seemed like plenty of time—and yet here we are, with a mere two weeks to go and a filing window that’s closing fast.

We get it. Maybe you’re a procrastinator. Or maybe you’re a homeowner who, rather than taking the easy-peasy standard deduction, generally tries to save a bundle by itemizing your deductions instead.

Whatever your reason, if you’ve put off filing your taxes until now, don’t panic! You still have options.

Here are three last-minute tax tips for homeowners that could save you plenty of money, headaches, and more.

Tip No. 1: Grab Form 1098

Form 1098, or the Mortgage Interest Statement, is sort of like your home’s W-2: a one-stop shop for your possibly two biggest tax breaks.

  • Mortgage interest: “The biggest real estate tax deduction for most people will be the interest on their home loan,” according to Patrick O’Connor of O’Connor and Associates. Single people can deduct the full interest up to $500,000; for married couples filing jointly, the limit is $1 million if you purchased a house before Dec. 15, 2017. If you bought a home after that date, you will be allowed to deduct the interest on no more than $750,000 of acquisition debt—that’s a loan used to buy, build, or improve a main or secondary home. (Here’s more on how your mortgage interest deduction can help you save on taxes.)
  • Property taxes: This is the second-biggest deduction for most homeowners. Just remember the total amount you can deduct is $10,000, even if you pay way more—and that includes state and local income tax, property tax, and sales tax. (Here’s how to calculate your property taxes.)

You might be eligible for other real estate–related deductions and tax credits, but these are the biggies for most people. If you’re down to the wire on filing, you might just deduct these two and call it a day.

Just remember to make it worth your while. These numbers need to add up to more than the current standard deduction, which jumped to $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

Tip No. 2: File an extension

If you still need more time to get your taxes together, it’s totally simple and penalty-free to file for an extension until Oct. 15. But don’t get too excited; the IRS still requires you to pay your estimated tax bill by July 15, or else you’ll pay interest on what you owe down the road.

The IRS makes it easy to file for an extension, either online or by mail. On the form, just estimate how much tax you owe. If you’re filing an extension because you need more time to figure out your itemized deductions, one easy shortcut is to just take the standard deduction now—or the same amount you claimed last year. All in all, it’s better to overestimate what you owe, because then you won’t pay any interest. Once you file for real, anything you’ve overpaid will come back to you.

But what if you need an extension because you can’t pay your tax bill? It’s still better to file for an extension with fuzzy numbers than to not file at all.

The IRS has payment plans that can help if you are short on cash. Just file something—blowing the deadline entirely will open you up to penalties as well as interest on your bill. And maybe an audit, too.

Tip No. 3: Hire some help

If you make less than $69,000 a year, you qualify to use free tax prep software from the IRS. Even if you make more than that, there are lots of free or low-cost online tax prep options that should work for anyone with relatively straightforward taxes.

Of course, another option is to find yourself a good accountant.

If paying for a tax preparer sounds extravagant, keep in mind that, according to the U.S. Tax Center, the average cost of getting your taxes done is only $225. This, generally speaking, is money well-spent.

A good accountant can actually save you money by spotting deductions you might not have found on your own, and helping you plan to minimize the next year’s taxes. All in all, that may add up to the best few hundred bucks you’ve ever spent!

Another timesaver: Rather than snail-mailing your accountant your tax forms, snap pictures of them on your smartphone; some apps like CamScanner can do so with scanner-style quality. Accountants don’t need the originals to file.

For next year, remember to prepare

OK, so this year you waited too long and stressed yourself out. If you don’t want a repeat ordeal next year, now is also the time to mend your ways and start tax prep early. Nobody wants to be thinking about taxes all year, of course. But as a homeowner, you can do some things to be better prepared.

So before you do any home maintenance, upgrades, or renovations, research whether there are any tax deductions you could be eligible for.

Start now, and you’ll be sitting pretty to collect on all the various tax perks that come with owning a home rather than pulling out your hair at the last minute.

The post Don’t Panic! 3 Money-Saving, Last-Minute Tax Tips for Homeowners appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Do College Rankings Matter?

student at college campus mobile

All articles about college rankings should perhaps be read with a grain of salt and primarily through a lens of what matters most to individuals about the college experience and what they’re hoping it will be an investment toward.

Prominent publications and people have conveyed a variety of views about whether college rankings matter:

The editor-in-chief of the Science Family of Journals said no in May 2020. “To any logical scientific observer, the fine distinctions of where schools show up on this (U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges) list are statistically meaningless—but try telling that to a roomful of alumni or parents,” H. Holden Thorp wrote.

Ian Bogost, distinguished chair at Georgia Tech, wrote in The Atlantic in June 2020: “The absurdity of a numerical ranking mechanism for colleges becomes apparent the moment you look at how U.S. News calculates it. The methodology reads like a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet: 8% for class size; 10% for high-school-class standing; 4.4% for first-to-second-year student retention, and so on.”

But just because the consensus leans toward “no” doesn’t mean it should be the last word on anyone’s ultimate decision about where to go to school.

Even U.S. News & World Report says on its best-colleges website: “The rankings provide a good starting point for students trying to compare schools. … The best school for each student, experts say, is one that will most completely meet his or her needs, which go beyond academics.”

What Are the College Rankings?

There is no single, ultimate, etched-in-stone set of college rankings. All over the world, there are entities using a wide array of criteria to appraise universities.

Rather than expecting a “yes” or “no” to the question of whether college rankings matter, it would be more beneficial to understand why “It depends” could be more appropriate.

If you’re aiming for an education from a prestigious school, and money is no object—well, first of all, congratulations and good luck.

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Unlocking the Secret of Apartment Keys

You signed the lease. You cut the check for the security deposit. And the truck with all your stuff just pulled in. The leasing agent welcomes you and hands you the keys to your brand new place. But the key looks like a weird piece of plastic. And you’re not actually sure how it locks and unlocks doors. When did apartment keys get so complicated?!

Different types of keys mean different types of security. And that makes it harder for just anyone to gain access to buildings and units.

Many buildings now have electronic locks that log when a door was opened and whose card was used to open it. Others keep security by keeping close track of who has keys. Some use keycards and what the heck is RFID?

The good news is any combination of any of these locks, when used correctly, is a tested, secure and effective way to protect you and your home. And each method of security brings with it its own set of guidelines.

Metal keys

metal keys

Tried and true, metal keys will go through the wash and dry cycle and come out just fine. You can drop them, lose them, toss them and they’ll never let you down. Metal keys are the reason we don’t really think about them much. Cheap to make and as long as you can keep an eye on them, they’ll last forever.

But are they really your keys? Or are they the property of your landlord? You’ll want to check your lease, especially if you want copies made. Are you even allowed to get copies of your keys made? Well, if you look closely on your key, and see the words DO NOT DUPLICATE, you think you’d have your answer. But the truth isn’t that open and shut. (Open and shut. Get it? Because of doors? Never mind.)

You may need to go through your leasing office or landlord before you make the trip to the hardware store. Your landlord may have spares for free. And what happens if you lock yourself out of your apartment? Can your building’s superintendent come by and let you in? Or do you need to call a locksmith? As with all things for your apartment, check with your landlord.

Key cards

key cards

Convenient, skinny jeans-friendly, inexpensive to replace, the keycards you use to get into your building are just like the ones you use to get into your office. The only thing missing is an embarrassing photo of you on your first day. But not all key cards are the same.

Key cards are programmed by entering your information onto a card that’s read when it’s swiped or scanned. That information is either encoded on a magnetic strip on the back of the card or it’s loaded onto what’s known as a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip in the card.

A small chip containing your information is inserted into a plastic card and is powered by an induction circuit. When the card comes close to the scanner, it converts the electromagnetic field emitted by the scanner into electricity. That electricity powers the chip, which is then read by the computers. RFIDs are more secure than magnetic strip cards because the strips can become damaged more easily.

Key fobs

key fob

The key fob is just like an RFID keycard, only smaller. The fob is meant to be clipped onto your keyring so it’s always with you. These are quickly becoming a popular option with many new construction buildings, not only for garage and mailroom access but also for individual units. The fobs are small and also use a tiny induction circuit, so there’s never a need to change batteries or reprogram them.

The downside is these little plastic doodads can be expensive to replace. And you have to remember to have your keys with you all the time. So, if you’re the kind of person who frequently loses things and locks yourself out of your house, this may not be the option for you. And make sure you don’t lose it! Replacing these things can be expensive. Your landlord could charge a few hundred bucks for a replacement.

Key codes

key access code

Sometimes your apartment key might not be a key at all — but instead a code. Apartment communities have been using access codes for years for visitors to dial into your building. Some are using this same technology outside of your door.

Simply punch in your code, just like you would at an ATM, to unlock your door and enter your unit. In most cases, you’ll be able to select your own code. Just make sure it’s one that you’ll remember!

Bluetooth-digital combination

bluetooth phone key

This is the high tech solution many landlords are now considering. Besides your keys, what’s the one item everyone takes with them everywhere now? Your phone. In this case, your phone acts like a fob. Except instead of a small induction circuit powering it, it’s simply your phone that connects to the door lock via Bluetooth. Digital locks like these often use a backup code to get inside if you ever accidentally lock yourself out.

But as great as these digital locks sound, they aren’t perfect. Digital lock scanners need to be hard-wired to the building’s main electrical system in order to work. So, if the power goes out, that will be a problem.

And if they’re not connected to the main electrical system, they can also operate on small backup batteries built into the units. But there’s no telling how often those batteries or replaced, so you could find yourself locked out.

Safe home, happy home with apartment keys

Whether your apartment keys are old school or new, they should help keep your home safe and secure — provided you use some basic common sense and good practices.

The post Unlocking the Secret of Apartment Keys appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.