Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups

Park in San Francisco social distancingDavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A group of real-estate startups is aiming to cash in on the remote-work phenomenon.

With many corporate offices closed because of the pandemic, many young professionals have left cities like New York and San Francisco for warmer, cheaper places. A number still plan to return after their offices reopen, leaving them reluctant to buy homes or sign long-term apartment leases.

That situation is creating fresh demand for furnished housing on a short-term basis, a fast-growing niche that many property startups and their venture-capital backers are rushing to fill.

One of them is Landing, which runs a network of furnished apartments across the U.S. When it launched in 2019, the Birmingham, Ala., and San Francisco-based company initially planned to operate in about 30 cities last year. Instead, it expanded to 75, largely because demand grew much faster than expected, said Landing Chief Executive Bill Smith.

“Covid has taken a decade of change that I was thinking was going to happen between now and 2030 and kind of compressed it into a year,” he said.

Legions of remote workers also offer these firms a chance to make up for reduced tourist and corporate business. San Francisco-based Sonder, which rents out furnished apartments by the night, ramped up its marketing of extended stays during the pandemic, according to Chief Executive Francis Davidson. Stays of longer than 14 days now account for about 60% of the company’s business, up from less than a quarter before the pandemic, he said.

Kulveer Taggar, CEO of corporate-housing operator Zeus Living, said his firm experienced a steep drop in demand as companies hit the pause button on employee travel and relocations. But he was able to make up some ground by renting apartments to individuals. People working from home now account for about a quarter of the company’s business, Mr. Taggar said, up from virtually nothing before the pandemic.

Unlike Sonder and Zeus, remote workers were a key part of Landing’s business before the pandemic. Its customers pay an annual membership fee, which gives them the right to rent furnished apartments in any city. The minimum length of stay varies from 30 to 60 days, and the company asks for a month’s notice before a customer moves out.

The company is popular with college-educated young professionals who don’t want to be tied to a single location. Since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a growing number of customers leave New York and San Francisco and move to cities like St. Petersburg, Fla., and Denver, Mr. Smith said.

In November, Landing raised $45 million in venture funding from a group of investors led by Foundry Group and including Greycroft and Maveron, along with $55 million in debt. Mr. Smith said he hopes to expand to 25,000 apartments by the end of this year, up from around 10,000 today.

That growth carries risk if demand from remote workers were to disappear again after the pandemic is over. Still, Chris Moody, a partner at Foundry Group, said the number of furnished apartments available under flexible terms is still so small that he doesn’t worry about a lack of customers.

“Even at the end of 2021, we won’t really have scratched the surface,” he said.

The post Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

5 Tips Every Renter and Homeowner Should Know About Insurance

This week, I had to evacuate because of Hurricane Dorian. If you’ve ever experienced a natural disaster or had to evacuate your home, you know that insurance is a top concern. No matter where you live, there are common threats—such as California earthquakes, Oklahoma tornados, and Texas floods—that affect renters and homeowners.

Let's review five essential insurance tips that every renter and homeowner should know. You’ll learn the variety of protections you get from basic renters and home policies, mistakes to avoid when buying a policy, and ways to save money on premiums.

5 Tips Every Renter or Homeowner Should Know About Insurance

  1. Not every type of damage is covered
  2. Certain belongings have low coverage limits
  3. Know the difference between cash value and replacement cost
  4. There are special types of deductibles
  5. Don’t leave discounts on the table

Here’s more information about each insurance tip.

1. Not every kind of damage is covered

A basic homeowners policy pays for claims when a natural disaster—such as a fire, tornado, hail, or windstorm—damages your property. Personal belongings like your furniture, electronics, and clothing are generally covered up to specific limits for damage and theft.

Home insurance includes liability, which protects you from legal issues that could arise if someone is hurt on your property.

Homeowners coverage also pays "additional living expenses." That might include things like some amount of hotel and meal expenses if you can't stay in your home after a covered disaster.

If you’re a renter, you also need insurance, because your landlord is not required to cover you. Renters insurance gives the same protections as a homeowners policy. You get coverage for your personal belongings, liability, and additional living expenses. But it doesn’t cover damage to rental property because that’s your landlord’s responsibility.

Unfortunately, about half of renters don’t have renters insurance. Many mistakenly believe that their landlord would pay to repair or replace their damaged or stolen personal belongings. Or they mistakenly think a renters policy is too expensive. The good news is that a typical renters policy is quite affordable, costing just $185 per year on average across the U.S.

The good news is that a typical renters policy is quite affordable, costing just $185 per year on average across the US.

But what surprises many people is that a standard home or renters policy doesn't cover some natural disasters. These include earthquakes and flooding from groundwater.

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you can typically add earthquake coverage to a home or renters policy. But flooding is a different category of insurance that must be purchased separately. Flooding is handled differently than other types of disasters because it’s the nation’s most common and expensive disaster. Floods can happen anywhere, and they don’t even have to be catastrophic to cause significant damage.

If your town or community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you can buy a policy for your rental or your home. And if you buy a home in a designated flood zone, mortgage lenders typically require you to have flood insurance.

Most flood policies have a 30-day waiting period, so you can’t wait until a storm is bearing down on you to sign up. You'd be too late.

Even though the federal government backs flood insurance, it’s brokered by regular insurance companies or agents. You can learn more at floodsmart.gov.

Most flood policies have a 30-day waiting period, so you can’t wait until a storm is bearing down on you to sign up.

Remember that water damage from rain, high winds, or a tree that fell on your roof are covered by a standard home or renters insurance policy. But damages to your home or personal belongings that occur due to rising groundwater are never covered, except when you have flood insurance.

Also note that if you have a home-based business with inventory, specialized equipment, or customers who enter your property, you typically need a commercial policy. Likewise, if you turn your home into a rental, Airbnb, or a vacation property, you generally need additional coverage or a landlord insurance policy.

2. Certain belongings have low coverage limits

Just like not every disaster is covered, not every type of personal belonging is fully covered under a home or renters policy. Some belongings, such as cash, aren’t coved at all. Many others have coverage caps.

For instance, jewelry, watches, furs, silverware, electronics, and firearms are typically limited to one or two thousand dollars of coverage. If you have jewelry that’s worth $10,000 and it’s lost or stolen, you’d come up very short with just $2,000 of coverage.

If you have items worth more than the coverage caps, you can add an insurance rider for more coverage. This addition is known as “scheduling” your personal property. It costs more, but it gives your most expensive items separate coverage so they could be replaced.

Another often-overlooked protection you get with renters and home insurance is that your belongings are covered outside of your home.

Another often-overlooked protection you get with renters and home insurance is that your belongings are covered outside of your home. If your vacation luggage gets stolen, you lose valuable jewelry, or your laptop gets stolen from your car, your homeowners or renters policy covers it.

So, pay close attention to the insurance limits for possessions inside and outside of your home and consider adding a rider or property schedule to beef up coverage when needed for valuable items.

3. Know the difference between actual cash value and replacement cost.

It can be a little confusing to know exactly how much money you’d receive from a renters or home insurance claim. So be sure you understand the different types of policies you can buy.

Actual cash value coverage pays to repair or replace your property or possessions up to the policy limits, minus a deduction for depreciation. The calculation can vary from insurer to insurer. But what you need to know is that a cash value policy only pays a percentage of what it would cost you to go out and buy a new item.

Cash value coverage is the least expensive option. However, it means that if you experience a severe disaster, you probably won't receive enough to rebuild your home or fully replace personal belongings.

Replacement cost coverage pays to repair or replace your property and possessions up to the policy limits, without a deduction for depreciation. That means you would receive enough money to rebuild a home with materials of similar quality. Or buy new items to replace your damaged belongings.

Yes, replacement coverage costs more than cash value. But it would allow you to replace what you lost.

There are also guaranteed or extended replacement cost policies which give you even more protection. They pay to replace your home as it was before a disaster, even if costs more than your policy limit.

Remember that a home insurance policy is based on the cost to rebuild your home and any outbuildings, not the amount you paid for the property or its appraised value.

Remember that a home insurance policy is based on the cost to rebuild your home and any outbuildings, not the amount you paid for the property or its appraised value. You never include the value of your land in your home insurance. Depending on the age, location, and style of your home, the insured value could be much higher or lower than its market value.

4. There are special types of deductibles.

A deductible is an amount you’re responsible for paying for an insured loss. The higher your deductible, the more you can save on premiums. So be sure to get quotes for different deductible amounts when shopping for renters and home insurance.

As I previously mentioned, disasters such as windstorms, hailstorms, and hurricanes, are typically covered by standard renters and home insurance. However, in some high-risk areas, you may have separate deductibles for damage caused by these disasters.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, nineteen states and the District of Columbia have hurricane deductibles: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington D.C.

These special deductibles are additional and separate from the regular deductible for all other types of claims, such as fire or theft. A hurricane deductible applies only to damage from hurricanes, and windstorm or wind/hail deductibles would apply to any wind damage.

Hurricane and wind deductibles are typically given as a percentage that may vary from 1% to 5% of a home's insured value but can be even higher in some coastal areas. The amount you must pay depends on your insured value and the "trigger" event.

For instance, if you have a 3% hurricane deductible and your home is insured for $200,000, you’d be responsible for the first $6,000 ($200,000 x 3%) in repair costs. That’s much more expensive than paying a standard $500 or $1,000 home deductible.

In some states, the triggering event for hurricane deductibles to apply is when a Category 1 storm causes damage whether it made landfall or not. Other states allow Category 2 to be the threshold. In others, a hurricane deductible applies from the moment a hurricane watch or warning gets issued until 72 hours after it ends.

A hurricane deductible can only be applied once each hurricane season, from June to November.

5. Don’t leave discounts on the table.

When it comes to the price of renters and home insurance, there are some factors you can control and some you can’t. Here are some ways to save and typical discounts to ask for:

  • Bundling insurance is when you purchase different types of policies, such as renters or home and auto, from the same insurance company. Buying two or more policies can help reduce your total cost. Just make sure that the combined price from one insurer is less than buying policies separately from different insurers.
  • Shopping around may seem obvious, but many people don’t do it. Prices can vary considerably from insurer to insurer. Be sure to compare the same coverage and deductibles to get the best deal possible.
  • Installing safety features in your home or rental, such as smoke detectors, alarm systems, deadbolts, storm shutters, shatterproof windows, or roofing, may allow you to qualify for discounts. Even being a non-smoker or being retired reduces the risk for insurers, so be sure to let them know any factors that could work in your favor.
  • Raising your deductible is an easy way to cut the cost of premiums. Just make sure that you could afford to pay it in the event of a claim. Also, the savings vary depending on where you live and your insurer, so get quotes with multiple scenarios.
  • Maintaining good credit is vital for many aspects of your financial life, including the rates you pay for home, renters, and auto insurance. Depending on where you live, having poor credit can cause you to pay double the premium compared to having excellent credit! The only states that currently prohibit home insurers from using credit when setting rates are California, Maryland, and Massachusetts
  • Being a loyal customer can pay off with a discount. However, don’t let that keep you from periodically shopping around to make sure you’re still getting a good deal.

No one enjoys paying for home or renters policy, but when disaster strikes, you’re the victim of theft, or you get involved in a lawsuit, having insurance can be a financial lifesaver.

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Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Best States for Veterans – 2020 Edition

Image shows an advisor sitting across from a member of military personnel; there are official papers and a computer on the desk between them. In this study, SmartAsset analyzed various data points to find the best states for veterans.

How easily veterans adjust to their lives after service depends on many factors, not the least of which is their ability to maintain adequate finances to cover their home payments and daily needs. There’s good news for vets on that front, though: While about 37,000 veterans still experienced homelessness in January 2019, the homelessness rate among veterans declined more than 2% in 2019 and had decreased 50% since 2010, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Despite that marked improvement, not all places are equally suited to help veterans thrive. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to find the best places for veterans.

To do so, we looked at data across nine metrics: veterans as a percentage of population, veteran unemployment rate, overall unemployment rate, percentage of veterans living below the poverty line, housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans, percentage of a state’s businesses owned by veterans, number of VA health centers per 100,000 veterans, number of VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents and taxes on military pensions. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Veterans are less likely than the general population to live below the poverty line. Nationally, 11.1% of the U.S. population is living in poverty, according to 2019 figures from the Census Bureau. The average for this metric across this study is 6.7%, possibly because military benefits help keep some veterans afloat when they might otherwise face financial challenges.
  • More populous states may not be as suitable to veterans. The bottom three states in the study are California, New York and Illinois, which have the largest, fourth-largest and sixth-largest state populations, respectively. These states struggle in two metrics: the unemployment rate for veterans and housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This may be due, in part, to their high populations, which increase both competition for available jobs and demand for housing.
  • Pension taxes vary. Each state chooses how to tax military pensions. All in all, 30 states don’t tax military pensions at all, including eight out of the top 10 states (Nebraska and Montana are the exceptions). Military pensions are partially taxed in 13 states, along with the District of Columbia, and they are fully taxed in seven states.

1. South Dakota

South Dakota, home of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, is the best state in the U.S. for veterans. South Dakota has 21.04 Veterans Administration health facilities per 100,000 veterans, which is the second-highest rate for this metric overall, meaning veterans in South Dakota should have relatively good access to health services. There are also 3.51 VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents, ranking 10th. In addition, South Dakota does not tax military pensions.

2. Wyoming

Wyoming takes the runner-up spot. Wyoming has the highest number of VA health facilities in the country, at 28.99 per 100,000 veterans. It also does not tax military pensions. Wyoming finishes in the bottom half of the study in terms of the percentage of veterans who are living below the poverty line (coming in at 38th, with a percentage of 7.1%). However, the veteran unemployment rate in the state is 1.0% – second-lowest in the study – so veterans looking for work could do worse than thinking about the Cowboy State.

3. North Dakota

North Dakota is one of the least populous states in the nation, but it does well by its veterans. The Rough Rider State has the lowest unemployment rate for veterans in the nation, at 0.9%. Its overall September 2020 unemployment rate is also low, coming in at 4.4% – fourth-lowest in the nation. Housing costs make up 19.90% of the median income for a veteran, the second-best rate for this metric in the study.

4. West Virginia

West Virginia has housing costs that make up just 18.95% of the median veteran income, the best rate for this metric in the study. The Mountain State has the sixth-highest concentration of VA health facilities in the study, at 12.39 per 100,000 veterans, and the third-highest number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 5.78 per 100,000 residents. Military pensions are not taxed in this state. See more about retirement tax friendliness in West Virginia here.

5. Maine

Maine is one of two Northeastern states to be ranked in the top 10, and it gets there partially on the strength of its 1.3% veteran unemployment rate, ranking fourth-lowest in the country. Maine’s population is made up of 8.89% veterans, the eighth-highest percentage for this metric. Maine also has 5.13 VA benefits administration centers per 100,000 residents, ranking sixth-best. There are no taxes on military pensions in the Pine Tree State.

6. Alaska

Also known as The Last Frontier State, Alaska has a relatively small population, but one that is 10.74% veterans, the highest percentage for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska also comes in first for the metric measuring the percentage of businesses owned by veterans, at 11.60%. The state doesn’t do nearly as well, though, when it comes to employing veterans, as the unemployment rate among veterans is 6.3%, near the very bottom of the study. On the plus side, the state does not tax military retirement pay.

7. Nebraska

Nebraska had an overall unemployment rate of just 3.5% in September 2020, the lowest in the country, and that rate is particularly impressive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska also has the fifth-best unemployment rate for veterans, at just 1.4%. Nebraska taxes some portion of military pensions, making it one of two states in the top 10 of the study where military pensions are not completely tax-free.

8. New Hampshire

Veterans in New Hampshire own 9.42% of the state’s businesses, placing the Granite State at 12th overall for this metric. The entire population of the state is 8.52% veterans, the 14th-highest rate for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Hampshire performs relatively poorly in terms of housing affordability: The average housing cost represents 36.25% of the median veteran income, sixth-highest in the study. However, Military pensions are tax-free in the state. Those who are seeking assistance with balancing all of these financial factors may wish to consult our roundup of the top 10 financial advisors in New Hampshire.

9. Montana

Veterans will find a built-in community in Big Sky Country, where the population is 10.28% veterans, second-highest in the study. That said, Montana taxes military pensions fully – the only state in our top 10 to do so and one of just seven to do so nationwide. Still, Montana ranks ninth for both of the unemployment metrics we measured, with a veteran unemployment rate of 2.3% and an overall September 2020 unemployment rate of 5.3%.

10. Hawaii

Hawaii places first in this study in terms of number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 6.64 per 100,000 veterans. It is important to note, though, that the Aloha State had an unemployment rate of 15.1% in September 2020, ranking last for this metric in the study. Furthermore, housing costs make up 39.41% of median veteran income, second-worst overall. However, only 5.8% of veterans are living below the poverty line, good for 12th overall. The state also has top-20 rankings for veterans as a percentage of the population, veteran-owned businesses as a percentage of all businesses and VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans.

Data and Methodology

To conduct the 2020 version of our study on the best states for veterans, we compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across the following metrics:

  • Veterans as a percentage of the population. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Veteran unemployment rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for September 2020.
  • Percentage of veterans living below the poverty line. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This is annual median housing costs divided by median income for veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Share of veteran-owned businesses. This is the percentage of all businesses in a state that are owned by veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 Annual Business Survey.
  • VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Taxes on military pension. States were assigned a 1 if the state does not tax military retirement pay, a 2 if there are special provisions or other considerations for military pension taxes and a 3 if the state fully taxes military retirement pay. Data comes from militarybenefits.info.

First we ranked each state in each metric. From there, we found the average ranking for each state, giving all metrics a full weight except for the two metrics measuring unemployment, which each received a half weight. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The state with the best average ranking received a score of 100, and the state with the worst average ranking received score of 0.

Money Tips for Veterans

  • Financial help from someone who’s always got your six. Veterans, like everybody else, sometimes need help with financial matters. A financial advisor can provide that help and bring in reinforcements to set you on the right path. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Don’t sacrifice continuing education because of costs. If you want to go to college after you serve, the GI Bill will help — but you may still end up with student loans. To discover how much you’ll need to pay, use SmartAsset’s student loan calculator.
  • Create a strong strategy for your budget. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to figure out how much you should be spending on different areas and you’ll make sure you have enough money for everything.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SDI Productions

The post Best States for Veterans – 2020 Edition appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Let the Roaring 2020s Begin

First some great news: because of your support in reading and sharing this blog, it has been able to earn quite a lot of income and give away over $300,000 so far.

The latest $100k of that happens at the end of this article. Please check it out if you want to feel good, learn more, and even join me in helping out the world a bit.

As I type this, there are only a few days left in the 2010s, and holy shit what a decade it has been.

Ten years ago, a 35 year old MMM and the former Mrs. MM were four years into retirement, but not feeling very retired yet. We stumbled out of 2009 with a precious but very high strung three-year-old, a house building business that was way more stressful than it should have been, and a much more rudimentary set of life skills. It was a time of great promise, but a lot of this promise was yet to be claimed.

Ten years later, despite the fact that I have one less marriage, one less surviving parent, and ten years less remaining youth, I am in an even better place in life right now, and would never want to trade places with the 2009 version of me. And on that measure alone, I can tell it has been a successful decade.

This is a great sign and it bodes well for early retirees everywhere. Compared to the start of the decade, I am healthier and stronger physically, wealthier financially, and (hopefully) at least a bit wiser emotionally. I’ve been through so much, learned so much in so many new interesting fields, and packed so much living into these 3653 days. A big part of that just flowed from the act of retiring from my career in 2005, which freed me up to do so many other things, including starting this blog.

It has not always been easy, in fact the hard times of this decade have been some of the hardest of my life. But by coming through it all I have learned that super difficult experiences only serve to enrich your life even more, by widening your range of feelings and allowing you to savor the normal moments and the great ones even more.

Ten Years of Learning in Three Points

I think the real meaning of “Wisdom” is just “I’ve seen a lot of shit go down in my lifetime and over time you start to notice everything just boils down to a few principles.

The books all say it, and the wise older people in real life all say it too. And for me, it’s probably the following few things that stand out the most:

1) This Too Shall Pass: nothing is as big a deal as you think it is at the time. Angry or sad emotions from life traumas will fade remarkably quickly, but so will the positive surprises from one-time life upgrades through the sometimes-bummer magic of Hedonic Adaptation. What’s left is just you – no matter where you go, there you are.

2) But You Are Really Just a Bundle of Habits: most of your day (and therefore your life) is comprised of repeating the same set of behaviors over and over. The way you get up, the things you focus your mind on. Your job. The way you interact with other people. The way you eat and exercise. Unless you give all of this a lot of mindful attention and work to tweak it, it stays the same, which means your life barely changes, which means your level of happiness barely changes.

3) Change Your Habits, Change your Life: Because of all this, the easiest and best way to have a happier and more satisfying life is to figure out what ingredients go into a good day, and start adding those things while subtracting the things that create bad days. For me (and quite possibly you, whether you realize it or not), the good things include positive social interactions, helping people, outdoor physical activity, creative expression and problem solving, and just good old-fashioned hard work. The bad things mostly revolve around stress due to over-scheduling one’s life, emotional negativity and interpersonal conflict – all things I am especially sensitive to.

So while I can’t control everything, I have found that the more I work to design those happiness creators into my life and step away from things that consistently cause bad days, the happier and richer life can become.

Speaking of Richer:

I recently read two very different books, which still ended up pointing me in the same direction:

This Could Be Our Future, by former Kickstarter cofounder and CEO Yancey Strickler, is a concise manifesto that makes a great case for running our lives, businesses, and even giant corporations, according to a much more generous and person-centric set of rules.

Instead of the narrow minded perspective of “Profit Maximization” that drives so many of the world’s shittier companies and gives capitalism a bad reputation, he points out that even small changes in the attitude of company (and world) leaders, can lead to huge changes in the way our economy runs.

The end result is more total wealth and happier lives for all of us – like Mustachianism itself, it really is a win/win proposition rather than any form of compromise or tradeoff. In fact, Strickler specifically mentions you and me in this book, using the FIRE movement as an example of a group of people who have adopted different values in order to lead better lives.

Die with Zero*, by former hedge fund manager and thrill seeking poker champion Bill Perkins sounds like a completely different book on the surface: Perkins’ point is that many people work too long and defer too much gratification for far too long in their lives.

Instead, he encourages you to map out your life decade by decade and make sure that you maximize your experiences in each stage, while you are still young enough to enjoy each phase. For example, do your time in the skate park and the black diamond ski slopes in your 20s and 30s, rather than saving every dollar in the hopes that you can do more snowboarding after you retire in your 60s.

Obviously, as Mr. Money Mustache I disagree on a few of the finer points: Life is not an experiences contest, you can get just as much joy from simpler local experiences as from exotic ones in foreign lands, and spending more money on yourself does not create more happiness, so if you die with millions in the bank you have not necessarily left anything on the table. But it does take skill to put these truths into practice, and for an untrained consumer with no imagination, buying experiences can still be an upgrade over sitting at home watching TV.

However, he does make one great point: one thing you can spend money on is helping other people – whether they are your own children, family, friends, or people with much more serious needs like famine and preventable disease.

And if you are going to give away this money, it’s better to do it now, while you are alive, rather than just leaving it behind in your estate, when your beneficiaries may be too old to benefit from your gift anyway.

So with this in mind, I made a point of making another round of donations to effective causes this year – a further $100,000 which was made possible by some unexpected successes with this blog this year, combined with finding that my own lifestyle continues to cost less than $20k to sustain, even in “luxury bachelor” mode.

And here’s where it all went!

$80,000 to GiveWell, who will automatically deliver it to their top recommended charities. This is always my top donation, because it is the most serious and research-backed choice. This means you are very likely doing the most good with each dollar, if your goal is the wellbeing of fellow human beings. GiveWell does constant research on effective charities and keeps an updated list on their results – which makes it a great shortcut for me. Further info in my The Life You Can Save post.

Strategic Note: I made this donation from my Betterment account where I keep a pretty big portion of my investments. This is because of tax advantages which multiply my giving/saving power – details here at Betterment and in my own article about the first time I used this trick.

$5000 to the Choose FI Foundation – this was an unexpected donation for me, based on my respect for the major work the ChooseFI gang are doing with their blog and podcast and meetups, and their hard-charging ally Edmund Tee who I met on a recent trip. They are creating a curriculum and teaching kids and young adults how to manage their money with valuable but free courses.

$2000 to the True Potential Scholarship Fund, set up by my inspiring and badass Omaha lawyer friend Ross Pesek. Ross first inspired me years ago by going through law school using an extremely frugal combination of community and state colleges, then rising to the top of the pack and starting his own firm anyway. Then he immediately turned around and started using some of the profits to help often-exploited immigrant workers in his own community with both legal needs and education.

$1000 to plant one thousand trees, via the #teamtrees effort via the National Arbor Day Foundation. I credit some prominent YouTubers and Elon Musk for promoting this effort – so far it has resulted in over 20 million trees being funded, which is a lot (roughly equal to creating a dense forest as big as New York City)

$5000 to Bicycle Colorado – a force for change (and sometimes leading the entire United States) in encouraging Colorado leaders and lawmakers to shift our spending and our laws just slightly away from “all cars all the time” and towards the vastly more effective direction of accommodating bikes and feet as transportation options. Partly because of their work, I have seen incredible changes in Denver, which is rapidly becoming a bike utopia. Boulder is not far behind, and while Longmont is still partially stuck in the 1980s as we widen car roads and build even more empty parking lots, these changes slowly trickle down from leaders to followers, so I want to fund the leaders.

$5000 (tripled to $15,000 due to a matching program that runs until Dec. 31) to Planned Parenthood. Although US-centric, this is an incredibly useful medical resource for our people in the greatest need. Due to emotional manipulation by politicians who use religion as a wedge to divide public opinion, this general healthcare organization is under constant attack because they also support women’s reproductive rights. But if you have a loved one or family member who has ever been helped during a difficult time by Planned Parenthood, you know exactly why they are such an incredible force for good – affecting millions of lives for the better.

And finally, just for reasons of personal and local appreciation, $1000 to the orchestra program of little MM’s public middle school. I have been amazed at the transformation in my own son and the hundreds of other kids who have benefited from this program. They operate a world-class program on a shoestring (violin-string?) budget which they try to boost by painstakingly fundraising with poinsettia plants and chocolate bars. So I could see that even a little boost like this could make a difference. (He plays the upright bass.)

You could definitely argue that there are places that need money more than a successful school in a wealthy and peaceful area like Colorado, and I would agree with you. Because of this, I always encourage people not to do the bulk of their giving to local organizations. Sure, it may feel more gratifying and you may see the results personally, but you can make a much bigger difference by sending your dollars to where they are needed the most. So as a compromise, I try to split things up and send the lion’s share of my donations to GiveWell where they will make the biggest difference, and do a few smaller local things here as a reward mostly for myself.

So those are the donations that are complete – $99,000 of my own cash plus an additional $10,000 in matching funds for Planned Parenthood. But because environment and energy are such big things to me, I wanted to do one more fun thing:

$5000 to build or expand a local solar farm.

This one is more of an investment than a donation, but it still does a lot of good. Because if you recall, last year I built a solar array for the MMM Headquarters coworking space, which has been pumping out free energy ever since. My initial setup only cost me $3800 and it has already delivered about $1000 in free energy, more than the total amount used to run the HQ and charge a bunch of electric cars on the side.

So, I plan to invest another $5000, to expand the array at HQ if possible, or to build a similar one on the roof of my own house, possibly with the help of Tesla Energy, which is surprisingly one of the most cost-effective ways to get solar panels installed these days. These will generate decades of clean energy, displacing fossil fuels in my local area while paying me dividends the whole time, which I can reinvest into even more philanthropy in the future.

What a great way to begin the decade. Let’s get on it!

* Die With Zero is not yet released, but I read a pre-release copy that his publisher sent me. The real book comes out on May 5th

** Also, if you find the scientific pursuit of helping the world as fascinating as I do, you should definitely watch the new Bill Gates documentary called Inside Bill’s Brain, which is available on Netflix.

Source: mrmoneymustache.com

‘Perfection in Every Way’: $18M Modern Mansion in San Francisco

San Francisco Modernrealtor.com

A new listing in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood has turned heads for its unique design, both inside and out.

The 4,185-square-foot home with four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms was built in 2016, is on the market for $18 million. It has an top-notch design pedigree that includes Aidlin Darling Design (architecture) and Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture (landscape), who were honored with National Design Awards for the project.

Neal Ward and Rick Teed of Compass are handling the listing. Built in 2016 for the current seller, it’s available for the first time.

“The architecture of this property is so striking, and the detail, from top to bottom, is perfection in every way,” says Ward.

Cello & Maudru Construction built the home, and Allyn Davis’ interior design is showcased in the home’s staging.

While natural light is prominent in the interiors, so is privacy, thanks to exterior walls designed with wood slats. In addition, a walnut and stainless-steel kitchen can be easily separated by five frosted-glass panel walls that are designed to retract if the cook prefers privacy. The home also has a green roof.

Inside, 20-foot ceilings in the living room and a 13-foot-tall light sculpture above the dining room table add elegance. Pivot-hinge doors on the north end of the living room lead to a cantilevered deck offering views of the Palace of Fine Arts, Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, and San Francisco Bay.

Ward calls out the deck’s “bird’s-eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge” as another huge highlight. The home is at the north end of a tree-lined block of single-family homes on Filbert Street, which means that it has some of the neighborhood’s best views. It also has a green roof.

This home is built for entertaining. On the lower level—excavated into the home and beneath a rock—are a media room and DJ booth, as well as a wet bar. That area connects directly with the outdoors, where you’ll find a dining and grilling area, as well as a lanai, bamboo leaves, an outdoor TV, in-ground fire pit, and spa.

Exterior of home in Cow Hollow, San Francisco

Matthew Millman

Entrance

Matthew Millman

Dining room

Matthew Millman

Living room

Matthew Millman

Interior

Matthew Millman

Backyard

Matthew Millman

Media room

Matthew Millman

Interior

Matthew Millman

“The person that owns the house is into music, technology, and high-tech, and was able to have all of this done custom,” says Ward.

Another selling point is the location.

“The Cow Hollow neighborhood is highly sought after because of its proximity to the Presidio and all the wonderful shops on Union Street, and Chestnut Street in the Marina,” says Ward.

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Watch: You Can Take In Seattle’s Entire Skyline From This Historic Home

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And while San Francisco is often linked with fog and cool temps, this neighborhood does get its fair share of sunlight.

“It’s nice and sunny,” says Ward. “Cow Hollow is known for its good weather.”

Ward believes that a young couple or single person—particularly a tech employee drawn to the custom features who is looking in this price range—will snap up the property.

“It’s not a typical young family with younger children that can’t have the separation from their parents,” he says, alluding to the master bedroom’s location on the top floor, with other bedrooms below. “I’ve also shown it to people looking for a pied-à-terre, couples from New York City,” he says.

The post ‘Perfection in Every Way’: $18M Modern Mansion in San Francisco appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

First Time Home Buyer Programs for Veterans

Numerous programs exist to help veterans and service members who are first-time buyers with their closing costs and other expenses.

Indeed, it’s perfectly possible for those who are eligible for VA home loans to become homeowners with very little — or even nothing — in the way of savings.

Check today's VA rates by completing this quick online form.

Advantages of VA home loans for first-time buyers

The most famous housing benefit associated with the VA loan program is the zero down payment requirement. That can be hugely valuable for first time home buyers.

But it’s just one of a whole range of advantages that come with a VA home loan. Here are some more.

Low mortgage rates for VA loans

According to the Ellie Mae Origination Report, in October 2020, the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage backed by the VA was just 2.75%. That compares with 3.01% for conventional loans (ones not backed by the government) and 3.01% for FHA loans.

So VA home loans have lower rates. And that wasn’t just a one-time fluke. VA mortgage rates are lower on average than those for other loans — month after month, year after year.

Lower funding fees for first-time buyers

When you buy a home with a VA loan, you need to pay a funding fee. However, you can choose to pay it on closing or add it to your loan so you pay it down with the rest of your mortgage.

But, as a first-time buyer, you get a lower rate. For you, it’s 2.3% of the loan amount (instead of 3.6% for repeat purchasers) if you make a down payment between zero and 5%.

That’s $2,300 for every $100,000 borrowed, which can be wrapped into the loan amount. It’s a savings of $1,300 per $100,000 versus repeat buyers.

Put down more and your funding fee drops whether or not you’re a first-time buyer. So it’s 1.65% if you put down 5% or more, and 1.4% if you put down 10% or more.

Although it might seem like just another fee, the VA funding fee is well worth the cost since it buys you the significant financial benefits of a VA home loan.

No mortgage insurance for VA loans

Mortgage insurance is what non-VA borrowers usually have to pay if they don’t have a 20 percent down payment. Private mortgage insurance typically takes the form of a payment on closing, along with monthly payments going forward.

That’s no small benefit since mortgage insurance can represent a significant amount of money. For example, FHA home buyers pay over $130 per month on a $200,000 loan — for years.

Mortgage insurance vs funding fee

Let’s do a side-by-side comparison of the mortgage insurance vs. funding fee costs of a $200,000 loan:

  VA Loan FHA Loan
Payable on closing $4,600* $3,500
Payable monthly $0 $133 per month**
Paid after five years (60 months) $4,600 $11,500

*First-time buyer rate with zero down payment: 2.3%. $200,000 x 2.3% = $4,600
** $200,000 loan x 0.8% annual mortgage insurance = $1,600 per year. That’s $8,000 over five years. $1,600 divided by 12 months = $133.33 every month

It’s clear that mortgage insurance can be a real financial burden — and that the funding fee is a great deal for eligible borrowers.

Better yet, that makes a difference to your buying power. Because, absent mortgage insurance, you’re $133 a month better off. And that means you can afford a higher home purchase price with the same housing expenses.

Ready to buy a home? Start here.

Types of first-time homebuyer programs for VA loans

You may find two main types of assistance as a first-time buyer:

  1. Down payment or closing cost assistance
  2. Mortgage credit certificates

Down payment and closing cost assistance

There are thousands of down payment assistance programs (DAPs) across the United States and that includes at least one in each state. Many states have several.

Each DAP is independent and sets its own rules and offerings. So, unfortunately, we can’t say, “You’re in line to get this …” because “this” varies so much from program to program.

Some help with closing costs as well and down payments. Some give you a low-interest loan that you pay down in parallel with your main mortgage. Others give “forgivable” loans that you don’t pay back — providing you stay in the home for a set period. And some give outright grants: effectively gifts.

Mortgage credit certificates (MCCs)

The name pretty much says it all. In some states, the housing finance agency or its equivalent issues mortgage credit certificates (MCCs) to homebuyers — especially first-time ones — that let them pay less in federal taxes.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation explains on its website (PDF):

“MCCs are issued directly to qualifying homebuyers who are then entitled to take a nonrefundable federal tax credit equal to a specified percentage of the interest paid on their mortgage loan each year. These tax credits can be taken at the time the borrowers file their tax returns. Alternatively, borrowers can amend their W-4 tax withholding forms from their employer to reduce the amount of federal income tax withheld from their paychecks in order to receive the benefit on a monthly basis.”

In other words, MCCs allow you to pay less federal tax. And that means you can afford a better, more expensive home than the one you could get without them.

Speak with a mortgage specialist today.

Dream Makers program

Unlike most DAPs, the Dream Makers Home Buying Assistance program from the PenFed Foundation is open only to those who’ve provided active duty, reserve, national guard, or veteran service.

You must also be a first-time buyer, although that’s defined as those who haven’t owned their own home within the previous three years. And you may qualify if you’ve lost your home to a disaster or a divorce.

But this help isn’t intended for the rich. Your income must be equal to or less than 80% of the median for the area in which you’re buying. However, that’s adjustable according to the size of your household. So if you have a spouse or dependents, you can earn more.

It’s all a bit complicated. So it’s just as well that PenFed has a lookup tool (on the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD’s) website) that lets you discover the income limits and median family income where you want to buy.

What help does the Dream Makers program offer?

You’ll need a mortgage pre-approval or pre-qualification letter from an established lender to proceed. But then you stand to receive funds from the foundation as follows:

“The amount of the grant is determined by a 2-to-1 match of the borrower’s contribution to their mortgage in earnest deposit and cash brought at closing with a maximum grant of $5,000. The borrower must contribute a minimum of $500. No cash back can be received by the borrower at closing.”

So supposing you have $2,000 saved. The foundation could add $4,000 (2-to-1 match), giving you $6,000. In many places, that might easily be enough to see you become a homeowner.

You don’t have to use that money for a VA loan. You could opt for an FHA or conventional mortgage. But, given the advantages that come with VA loans, why would you?

The Dream Makers program is probably the most famous of those offering assistance to vets and service members. But there are plenty of others, many of which are locally based.

For example, residents of New York should check out that state’s Homes for Veterans program. That can provide up to $15,000 for those who qualify, whether or not they’re first-time buyers.

Start your home buying journey here.

State-By-State Home Buyer Assistance Programs

We promised to tell you how to find those thousands of DAPs — and the MCC programs that are available in many states.

It takes a little work to find all the ones that might be able to help you. But you should be able to track them down from the comfort of your own home, online and over the phone.

A good place to start is the HUD local homebuying programs lookup tool. Select the state where you want to buy then select a link and look for “assistance programs.”

Your best starting point is probably the state’s housing finance office though it might be called something slightly different. You should find details of programs or just a list of counties with phone numbers. Call the number where you want to buy, explain your situation and ask for advice. It’s their agents’ jobs to point you to local, state, or national programs that can help you.

If you look in the right place, you could secure some very worthwhile financial help to assist you in buying your first home.

Check today's VA rates by completing this quick online form.

Source: militaryvaloan.com

Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest overnight financial shakeup in our country’s history. Its effects will be felt for years into the future, if not permanently. On the economic front, it’s caused a huge change in consumer spending, largely due to how people’s income and living/working patterns have shifted. 

How Income Is Changing

According to a July report from the Congressional Research Service, the big changes in household income hasn’t affected everyone equally. Those who are hardest-hit already had a lower income to begin with — families with children, and non-white people. For example, 71% of parents earning under $25,000 per year have lost income, compared to only 33% of child-free households earning more than $200,000 per year. 

In other words, the rich are staying rich (and even getting richer), while the poor are getting poorer. And since these high-earners are increasingly working from home, it’s caused massive shake-ups in consumer spending, with winners and losers on all fronts. 

Top Spending Categories of 2020

The average family earned $68,703 (or $5,725 per month) during 2019, according to Census data. We don’t yet know what it’ll be for 2020, although it’ll almost certainly be lower when averaged across the entire population, including those with and without income losses. Here’s how the loss in income is affecting what people are spending their money on. 

Alcohol

Pre-Pandemic: In 2019, the average household spent $579 on alcohol, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Pandemic: In April of 2020, alcohol spending was up by approximately 50%, according to an analysis from The New York Times.

With everyone stuck at home and a looming sense of existential doom everywhere you look, it’s no wonder that spending on alcohol has increased. The way people are buying their alcohol is shifting, too, according to a May 2020 Nielsen report. In-store sales of booze jumped by around 26% compared to the same time a year ago. Online sales were even more popular, with a 477% jump in direct-to-your-door delivery service. 

In addition, people shifted to buying larger packages of alcohol, with a 20% jump in sales of 24- and 30-packs of beer and cider, and a 2% decrease in sales of six-packs. Sales of boxed wine in particular were also up by 44% from the previous year, as was 1.75L Costco-sized jugs of hard liquor, with a 47% increase. 

Groceries

Pre-Pandemic: The average family spent $4,643 on groceries in 2019, according to the BLS.

Pandemic: Grocery spending is up by 10%, according to an October report by The New York Times. 

Whether it’s the sourdough bread craze or cozy comfort foods, many people have gotten a crash course in cooking from home over the past few months. And although groceries have always been a big part of the household budget (especially if you have teenagers), they’re higher now than they’ve ever been before. 

However, you can get your groceries in a lot of ways, and some are booming more than others right now. For example, an earlier survey from The New York Times in April showed that while spending at supermarkets was largely the same compared to the prior year, spending at online grocers was up by 80%, food delivery spending was up by 50%, and spending on meal kits surged by 40%. This isn’t surprising, as many people are still (rightfully) wary of packed grocery stores and are instead opting for the convenience of ready-to-cook-from-home meals.

Real Estate

Pre-Pandemic: The average sales price of a home was $278,800 in August 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Pandemic: The average sales price of a home was 11% higher — $310,600 — in August 2020, according to the (NAR).

You’d think that the largest bombshell in U.S. economic history would derail the real estate markets that were already set off-course by the 2008 recession. So far (and surprisingly so), that hasn’t been the case. Despite the world burning (literally, if you live on the West coast), home prices continue to chug along at an increasing pace. 

There’s been a lot of speculation about why this is. Some experts suggest that high-paid tech workers (those least likely affected by the pandemic), are now free of their tether to high cost-of-living areas and are thus increasingly flooding out into the suburbs along with all of their cash. In particular, properties that are well-designed for working from home (such as those with extra rooms that can double as offices) are in particularly high demand. 

Areas Where Consumer Spending Dropped

As we’ve seen, some industries have picked up. But by and large, consumer spending is down, and here are some of the major industry drops. 

Travel

Pre-Pandemic: The average family spent $2,037 on their summer vacation in 2019, according to an Allianz Insurance survey.

Pandemic: Travel spending is down by 57%, according to October 2020 numbers from Status Money. 

Many of the highest-price travel is done overseas and at expensive places, like Disney World, and on cruise ships. Obviously, those things are out for this year. 

So although you can’t take that expensive Paris vacation you’ve always been dreaming of right now, that’s not stopping a lot of people. In June 2020, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted that 97% of trips would be taken by car, either locally or around the U.S. After all, there are still many world-class natural wonders to see right here at home, whether it’s Yosemite, Old Faithful, or hiking along the Appalachian Trail. 

Clothing 

Pre-Pandemic: The average U.S. family spent $1,883 on apparel during 2019, according to the BLS. 

Pandemic: Clothing spending was down by around 60% in April, according to an analysis from The New York Times.

With so many people working from home via Zoom, you really only need clothes on the top half of your body (be careful not to stand up from your desk though!). Even so, with so many places closed down and no one to see you, people just aren’t spending as much on clothes these days as they used to. 

Some of this spending has recovered. For example, while The New York Times recorded a decline of around 60% on clothing spending in April, it had recovered a bit to just a 20% decline by October. Sales of cosmetics were also down by 14%, at least for cosmetics brand L’Oreal. According to a JP Morgan analysis, certain cosmetics were particularly hard-hit, with fragrances, luxury makeup, and professional supplies down by 25%. 

Restaurants

Pre-Pandemic: The average U.S. family spent $3,526 on dining out in 2019, according to the BLS.

Pandemic: Restaurant spending is down by 15%, according to The New York Times.

COVID-19 is particularly transmissible in enclosed environments with a lot of packed people that are touching their faces. It’s no wonder that restaurants have emerged as a flare in the debate between safety vs. the economy. After all, the restaurant industry alone employs 15.6 million people, according to the National Restaurant Association. 

But just as with anything else, the impact isn’t equally spread across all types of restaurants. According to a May survey by McKinsey & Company, casual and fine dining saw the biggest declines of 70% to 85%, while pizza companies actually did better than usual, with up to a 5% increase in sales from the previous year. 

How Spending Will Change Over the Holidays

Last year, the average consumer spent $1,048 on holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, a survey by Power Reviews shows that 73% of people expect to spend about the same amount on holiday shopping as last year, despite the present state of the economy.

One thing that is changing, though, is that more people will shop online this year, and earlier, too. According to the same Power Reviews survey, 64% of people are planning on doing more online shopping this year, and around 25% of people are planning on getting an early head start. This is largely due to concerns about inventory and shipping delays. 

The post Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Uber is offering its subscription service for half-off

If you’re a frequent Uber user, odds are you’ve heard of Uber Pass. Much like Lyft Pink, the subscription service offers discounted rides and free food delivery for a monthly fee. Since launching in 2018, the program expanded to more than 200 cities across the U.S., including New York City, Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, Honolulu, …

Source: thepointsguy.com

Newly Renovated, 1915-Built Townhouse in Park Slope Asks $4.4 Million

A four-bedroom townhouse with park views and tons of charm has recently hit the market, and we’re dying to tell you all about it. The listing, brought to market by Compass’ Michael J. Franco, is right next to Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s second largest park, and has plenty of outdoor space (and a rooftop deck to boot).

The townhouse sits in one of Brooklyn’s trendiest, most desirable neighborhoods — Park Slope — with its leafy streets lined with brick and brownstone townhouses, many of which were built near the turn of the 20th century and have been lovingly updated over the decades by young families migrating from Manhattan. Much like its neighboring properties, the 2,600-square-foot townhome at 15 Prospect Park was originally built more than a century ago in 1915 and retains its old-world charm — but has been carefully updated to meet modern standards of living.

beautiful townhouse in prospect park, Brooklyn
Park Slope townhouse on the market for $4.4 million. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco

With 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, a generously sized living room, and a finished basement, the Brooklyn townhouse also comes with a few rare features for a New York home: ample outdoor space and private parking (that includes a private garage and its own driveway).

The layout is split on three levels, with the first floor housing a large living room and open dining room — both with distinctive pre-war features like classic moldings and arches — and a renovated kitchen that opens up to a lovely terrace.

inside a beautiful pre-war townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Beautiful living space with distinctive pre-war features like arches and moldings. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco
dining room of a pre-war townhouse in park slope, Brooklyn
Beautiful living space with distinctive pre-war features like arches and moldings. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco
renovated kitchen in Brooklyn townhouse
The renovated kitchen. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco
lovely terrace of a pre-war townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn
The Park Slope townhouse has a lovely terrace. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco

The second floor is home to 3 bedrooms and a sizeable landing which is perfect for either a library or a home office, while the third floor is dedicated to the primary bedroom suite and its massive walk-in closet, renovated bath with skylights and soaring ceilings, with a separate sitting area/den. The third level also provides access to the townhouse’s own rooftop deck, which adds more outdoor space and looks like a perfect place to entertain guests.

bedroom of a charming brooklyn townhouse in park slope
Bedroom opens up to Prospect Park views. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco
bathroom with skylight in brooklyn townhouse
 Renovated bath with skylights and soaring ceilings. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco
roof deck of a brooklyn townhouse in park slope
Rooftop deck of the $4.4 million townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Image credit: Compass//Michael J. Franco

The property is listed for $4,400,000 with Compass associate real estate broker Michael J. Franco.

More beautiful New York City homes

This Brooklyn Condo Has a Dreamy Backyard that Will Make You Forget You’re in the City
Trophy Apartment Once Owned by Composer Leonard Bernstein Asks $29.5 Million
These 5 Unique Listings Will Remind You of Everything that Makes NYC Real Estate Special
This $16M NYC Penthouse Has Unobstructed Views of Central Park and the Manhattan Skyline

The post Newly Renovated, 1915-Built Townhouse in Park Slope Asks $4.4 Million appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

Source: fancypantshomes.com

529 Plans: A Complete Guide to Funding Future Education

Do you have kids? Are there children in your life? Were you once a child? If you plan on helping pay for a child’s future education, then you’ll benefit from this complete guide to 529 plans. We’ll cover every detail of 529 plans, from the what/when/why basics to the more complex tax implications and investing ideas.

This article was 100% inspired by my Patrons. Between Jack, Nathan, Remi, other kiddos in my life (and a few buns in the oven), there are a lot of young Best Interest readers out there. And one day, they’ll probably have some education expenses. That’s why their parents asked me to write about 529 plans this week.

What is a 529 Plan?

The 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged investment account meant specifically for education expenses. As of the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (in 2017), 529 plans can be used for college costs, K-12 public school costs, or private and/or religious school tuition. If you will ever need to pay for your children’s education, then 529 plans are for you.

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529 plans are named in a similar fashion as the famous 401(k). That is, the name comes from the specific U.S. tax code where the plan was written into law. It’s in Section 529 of Internal Revenue Code 26. Wow—that’s boring!

But it turns out that 529 plans are strange amalgam of federal rules and state rules. Let’s start breaking that down.

Tax Advantages

Taxes are important! 529 college savings plans provide tax advantages in a manner similar to Roth accounts (i.e. different than traditional 401(k) accounts). In a 529 plan, you pay all your normal taxes today. Your contributions to the 529 plan, therefore, are made with after-tax dollars.

Any investment you make within your 529 plan is then allowed to grow tax-free. Future withdrawals—used for qualified education expenses—are also tax-free. Pay now, save later.

But wait! Those are just the federal income tax benefits. Many individual states offer state tax benefits to people participating in 529 plans. As of this writing, 34 states and Washington D.C. offer these benefits. Of the 16 states not participating, nine of those don’t have any state income tax. The seven remaining states—California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, and North Carolina—all have state income taxes, yet do not offer income tax benefits to their 529 plan participants. Boo!

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This makes 529 plans an oddity. There’s a Federal-level tax advantage that applies to everyone. And then there might be a state-level tax advantage depending on which state you use to setup your plan.

Two Types of 529 Plans

The most common 529 plan is the college savings program. The less common 529 is the prepaid tuition program.

The savings program can be thought of as a parallel to common retirement investing accounts. A person can put money into their 529 plan today. They can invest that money in a few different ways (details further in the article). At a later date, they can then use the full value of their account at any eligible institution—in state or out of state. The value of their 529 plan will be dependent on their investing choices and how those investments perform.

The prepaid program is a little different. This plan is only offered by certain states (currently only 10 are accepting new applicants) and even by some individual colleges/universities. The prepaid program permits citizens to buy tuition credits at today’s tuition rates. Those credits can then be used in the future at in-state universities. However, using these credits outside of the state they were bought in can result in not getting full value.

You don’t choose investments in the prepaid program. You just buy credit’s today that can be redeemed in the future.

The savings program is universal, flexible, and grows based on your investments.

The prepaid program is not offered everywhere, works best at in-state universities, and grows based on how quickly tuition is changing (i.e. the difference between today’s tuition rate and the future tuition rate when you use the credit.)

Example: a prepaid credit would have cost ~$13,000 for one year of tuition in 2000. That credit would have been worth ~$24,000 of value if used in 2018. (Source)

What are “Qualified Education Expenses?”

You can only spend your 529 plan dollars on “qualified education expenses.” Turns out, just about anything associated with education costs can be paid for using 529 plan funds. Qualified education expenses include:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Room and board (as long as the beneficiary attends school at least half-time). Off-campus housing is even covered, as long as it’s less than on-campus housing.

Student loans and student loan interest were added to this list in 2019, but there’s a lifetime limit of $10,000 per person.

How Do You “Invest” Your 529 Plan Funds?

529 savings plans do more than save. Their real power is as a college investment plan. So, how can you “invest” this tax-advantaged money?

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There’s a two-part answer to how your 529 plan funds are invested. The first part is that only savings plans can be invested, not prepaid plans. The second part is that it depends on what state you’re in.

For example, let’s look at my state: New York. It offers both age-based options and individual portfolios.

The age-based option places your 529 plan on one of three tracks: aggressive, moderate, or conservative. As your child ages, the portfolio will automatically re-balance based on the track you’ve chosen.

The aggressive option will hold more stocks for longer into your child’s life—higher risk, higher rewards. The conservative option will skew towards bonds and short-term reserves. In all cases, the goal is to provide some level of growth in early years, and some level of stability in later years.

The individual portfolios are similar to the age-based option, but do not automatically re-balance. There are aggressive and conservative and middle-ground choices. Thankfully, you can move funds from one portfolio to another up to twice per year. This allowed rebalancing is how you can achieve the correct risk posture.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Using a 529 Plan

The advantages of using the 529 as a college investing plan are clear. First, there’s the tax-advantaged nature of it, likely saving you tens of thousands of dollars. Another benefit is the aforementioned ease of investing using a low-maintenance, age-based investing accounts. Most states offer them.

Other advantages include the high maximum contribution limit (ranging by state, from a low of $235K to a high of $529K), the reasonable financial aid treatment, and, of course, the flexibility.

If your child doesn’t end up using their 529 plan, you can transfer it to another relative. If you don’t like your state’s 529 offering, you can open an account in a different state. You can even use your 529 plan to pay for primary education at a private school or a religious school.

But the 529 plan isn’t perfect. There are disadvantages too.

For example, the prepaid 529 plan involves a considerable up-front cost—in the realm of $100,000 over four years. That’s a lot of money. Also, your proactive saving today ends up affecting your child’s financial aid package in the future. It feels a bit like a punishment for being responsible. That ain’t right!

Of course, a 529 plan is not a normal investing account. If you don’t use the money for educational purposes, you will face a penalty. And if you want to hand-pick your 529 investments? Well, you can’t do that. Similar to many 401(k) programs, your state’s 529 program probably only offers a few different fund choices.

529 Plan FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions about 529 education savings plans. And I even provide answers!

How do I open a 529 plan?

Virtually all states now have online portals that allow you to open 529 plans from the comfort of your home. A few online forms and email messages is all it takes.

Can I contribute to someone else’s 529?

You sure can! If you have a niece or nephew or grandchild or simply a friend, you can make a third-party contribution to their 529 plan. You don’t have to be their parent, their relative, or the person who opened the account.

Investing in someone else’s knowledge is a terrific gift.

Does a 529 plan affect financial aid?

Short answer: yes, but it’s better than how many other assets affect financial aid.

Longer answer: yes, having a 529 plan will likely reduce the amount of financial aid a student receives. The first $10,000 in a 529 plan is not part of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) equation. It’s not “counted against you.” After that $10,000, remaining 529 plan funds are counted in the EFC equation, but cap at 5.46% of the parental assets (many other assets are capped higher, e.g. at 20%).

Similarly, 529 plan distributions are not included in the “base year income” calculations in the FAFSA application. This is another benefit in terms of financial aid.

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Finally, 529 plan funds owned by non-parents (e.g. grandparents) are not part of the FAFSA EFC equation. This is great! The downside occurs when the non-parent actually withdraws the funds on behalf of the student. At that time, 50% of those funds count as “student income,” thus lowering the student’s eligibility for aid.

Are there contribution limits?

Kinda sorta. It’s a little complicated.

There is no official annual contribution limit into a 529 plan. But, you should know that 529 contributions are considered “completed gifts” in federal tax law, and that those gifts are capped at $15,000 per year in 2020 and 2021.

After $15,000 of contributions in one year, the remainder must be reported to the IRS against the taxpayer’s (not the student’s) lifetime estate and gift tax exemption.

Additionally, each state has the option of limiting the total 529 plan balances for a particular beneficiary. My state (NY) caps this limit at $520,000. That’s easily high enough to pay for 4 years of college at current prices.

Another state-based limit involves how much income tax savings a contributor can claim per year. In New York, for example, only the first $5,000 (or $10,000 if a married couple) are eligible for income tax savings.

Can I use my state’s 529 plan in another state? Do I need to create 529 plans in multiple states?

Yes, you can use your state’s 529 plan in another state. And mostly likely no, you do not need to create 529 plans in multiple states.

First, I recommend scrolling up to the savings program vs. prepaid program description. Savings programs are universal and transferrable. My 529 savings plan could pay for tuition in any other state, and even some other countries.

But prepaid tuition accounts typically have limitations in how they transfer. Prepaid accounts typically apply in full to in-state, state-sponsored schools. They might not apply in full to out-of-state and/or private schools.

What if my kid is Lebron James and doesn’t go to college? Can I get my money back?

It’s a great question. And the answer is yes, there are multiple ways to recoup your money if the beneficiary doesn’t end up using it for education savings.

First, you can avoid all penalties by changing the beneficiary of the funds. You can switch to another qualifying family member. Instead of paying for Lebron’s college, you can switch those funds to his siblings, to a future grandchild, or even to yourself (if you wanted to go back to school).

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What if you just want you money back? The contributions that you initially made come back to you tax-free and penalty-free. After all, you already paid taxes on those. Any earnings you’ve made on those contributions are subject to normal income tax, and then a 10% federal penalty tax.

The 10% penalty is waived in certain situations, such as the beneficiary receiving a tax-free scholarship or attending a U.S. military academy.

And remember those state income tax breaks we discussed earlier? Those tax breaks might get recaptured (oh no!) if you end up taking non-qualified distributions from your 529 plan.

Long story short: try to the keep the funds in a 529 plan, especially is someone in your family might benefit from them someday. Otherwise, you’ll pay some taxes and penalties.

Graduation

It’s time to don my robe and give a speech. Keep on learning, you readers, for:

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

-Ben Franklin

Oh snap! Yes, that is how the blog got its name. Giving others the gift of education is a wonderful thing, and 529 plans are one way the U.S. government allows you to do so.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog