7 Pros and Cons of Investing in a 401(k) Retirement Plan at Work

A 401(k) retirement plan is one of the most powerful savings vehicles on the planet. If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers one (or its sister for non-profits, a 403(b)), it’s a valuable benefit that you should take advantage of.

But many people ignore their retirement plan at work because they don’t understand the rules, which may seem confusing at first. Or they worry about what happens to their account after they leave the company or mistakenly believe you must be an investing expert to use a retirement plan.

Let's talk about seven primary pros and cons of using a 401(k). You’ll learn some lesser-known benefits and get tips to save quickly so you have plenty of money when you’re ready to kick back and enjoy retirement.

What is a 401(k) retirement plan?

Traditional retirement accounts give you an immediate benefit by making contributions on a pre-tax basis.

A 401(k) is a type of retirement plan that can be offered by an employer. And if you’re self-employed with no employees, you can have a similar account called a solo 401(k). These accounts allow you to contribute a portion of your paycheck or self-employment income and choose various savings and investment options such as CDs, stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds, to accelerate your account growth.

Traditional retirement accounts give you an immediate benefit by making contributions on a pre-tax basis, which reduces your annual taxable income and your tax liability. You defer paying income tax on contributions and account earnings until you take withdrawals in the future.

Roth retirement accounts require you to pay tax upfront on your contributions. However, your future withdrawals of contributions and investment earnings are entirely tax-free. A Roth 401(k) or 403(b) is similar to a Roth IRA; however, unlike a Roth IRA there isn’t an income limit to qualify. That means even high earners can participate in a Roth at work and reap the benefits.

RELATED: How the COVID-19 CARES Act Affects Your Retirement

Pros of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan at work

When I was in my 20s and started my first job that offered a 401(k), I didn’t enroll in it. I was nervous about having investments with an employer because I didn’t understand what would happen if I left the company, or it went out of business.

I want to put your mind at ease about using a 401(k) because there are many more advantages than disadvantages.

I want to put your mind at ease about using a 401(k) because there are many more advantages than disadvantages. Here are four primary pros for using a retirement plan at work.

1. Having federal legal protection

Qualified workplace retirement plans are protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a federal law. It sets minimum standards for employers that offer retirement plans, and the administrators who manage them.

ERISA offers workplace retirement plans a powerful but lesser-known benefit—protection from creditors.

ERISA was enacted to protect your and your beneficiaries’ interests in workplace retirement plans. Here are some of the protections they give you:

  • Disclosure of important facts about your plan features and funding 
  • A claims and appeals process to get your benefits from a plan 
  • Right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty if the plan is mismanaged 
  • Payment of certain benefits if you lose your job or a plan gets terminated

Additionally, ERISA offers workplace retirement plans a powerful but lesser-known benefit—protection from creditors. Let’s say you have money in a qualified account but lose your job and can’t pay your car loan. If the car lender gets a judgment against you, they can attempt to get repayment from you in various ways, but not by tapping your 401(k) or 403(b). There are exceptions when an ERISA plan is at risk, such as when you owe federal tax debts, criminal penalties, or an ex-spouse under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. 

When you leave an employer, you have the option to take your vested retirement funds with you. You can do a tax-free rollover to a new employer's retirement plan or into your own IRA. However, be aware that depending on your home state, assets in an IRA may not have the same legal protections as a workplace plan.

RELATED: 5 Options for Your Retirement Account When Leaving a Job

2. Getting matching funds

Many employers that offer a retirement plan also pay matching contributions. Those are additional funds that boost your account value.

Always set your 401(k) contributions to maximize an employer’s match so you never leave easy money on the table.

For example, your company might match 100% of what you contribute to your retirement plan up to 3% of your income. If you earn $50,000 per year and contribute 3% or $1,500, your employer would also contribute $1,500 on your behalf. You’d have $3,000 in total contributions and receive a 100% return on your $1,500 investment, which is fantastic!

Always set your 401(k) contributions to maximize an employer’s match, so you never leave easy money on the table.

3. Having a high annual contribution limit

Once you contribute enough to take advantage of any 401(k) matching, consider setting your sights higher by raising your savings rate every year. For 2021, the allowable limit remains $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over age 50. A good rule of thumb is to save at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Most retirement plans have an automatic escalation feature that kicks up your contribution percentage at the beginning of each year. You might set it to increase your contributions by 1% per year until you reach 15%. That’s a simple way to set yourself up for a happy and secure retirement.

4. Getting free investing advice

After you enroll in a workplace retirement plan, you must choose from a menu of savings and investment options. Most plan providers are major brokerages (such as Fidelity or Vanguard) and have helpful resources, such as online assessments and free advisors. Take advantage of the opportunity to get customized advice for choosing the best investments for your financial situation, age, and risk tolerance.

In general, the more time you have until retirement, or the higher your risk tolerance, the more stock funds you should own. Likewise, having less time or a low tolerance for risk means you should own more conservative and stable investments, such as bonds or money market funds.

RELATED: A Beginner's Guide to Investing in Stocks

Cons of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan at work

While there are terrific advantages of investing in a retirement plan at work, here are three cons to consider.

1. You may have limited investment options

Compared to other types of retirement accounts, such as an IRA, or a taxable brokerage account, your 401(k) or 403 (b) may have fewer investment options. You won’t find any exotic choices, just basic asset classes, including stock, bond, and cash funds.

However, having a limited investment menu streamlines your investment choices and minimizes complexity.

2. You may have higher account fees

Due to the administrative responsibilities required by employer-sponsored retirement plans, they may charge high fees. And as a plan participant, you have little control over the fees you must pay.

One way to keep your workplace retirement account fees as low as possible is selecting low-cost index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) when possible.

One way to keep your workplace retirement account fees as low as possible is selecting low-cost index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) when possible.

3.  You must pay fees on early withdrawals

One of the inherent disadvantages of putting money in a retirement account is that you’re typically penalized 10% for early withdrawals before the official retirement age of 59½. Plus, you typically can’t tap a 401(k) or 403(b) unless you have a qualifying hardship. That discourages participants from tapping accounts, so they keep growing.

The takeaway is that you should only contribute funds to a retirement account that you won’t need for everyday living expenses. If you avoid expensive early withdrawals, the advantages of using a workplace retirement account far outweigh the downsides.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

5 Key Property Features When House Hunting

5 Key Property Features When House Hunting

When shopping for a home, many of us know our basic focal points, such as identifying the right neighborhood or finding a house with the ideal number of bedrooms and bathrooms. These factors are important, but there are other home features (some very large and some very small) that can greatly contribute to the enjoyment of your new home. Let’s make sure you don’t miss any of them.

Here are five opportunities to maximize the benefits of your purchase that go beyond just the house and why each one deserves your consideration.

click to enlarge

Home Buying Consideration #1: The Garage

Garages are a very important feature for many homebuyers, and can even end up being a dealbreaker for some buyers. More than a parking spot, garages provide valuable storage and project space, as well as a way to protect your vehicles from all types of damage. When you are first shopping for a home, you may know that you want a garage, but you may not have considered all of the variables that go into the garage design, and which choice is right for you.

Garage Design: Why it Matters

When evaluating garage design, it’s important to start by considering what you may want to use the space for, and what external factors (such as weather) might impact your use. Here are several major garage design aspects to keep in mind as you house hunt.

Rental space: Depending on the size and layout of your garage, is there space that could be rented out full time, or used as a short-term rental to generate additional income? That extra income could be directed towards your mortgage payment.

Storage opportunities: Does the garage have room to store what you need to reduce in-home clutter? Is there space for shelves, or even room in the rafters?

Potential property value increase: According to the sales comparison approach (SCA), one of the most recognizable forms of valuing residential real estate, a “finished” garage that feels like an extension of the home’s indoor living space is one of several features that can increase overall home value. You may also want to consider the possibilities of eventually remodeling a bland garage in an otherwise perfect home.

Attached vs. Detached Garages: Pros vs. Cons

One of the biggest distinctions in garage design is whether a garage is attached or detached. Often influenced by lot shape (narrow lots on an alley often have detached garages, wider lots with a driveway often have attached garages) or the age of a home, having a detached or attached garage has both advantages and disadvantages.  

Attached Garages: Pros

  • Convenient access to your cars, storage, and other items, particularly if you live in an area with an extreme climate 
  • Attached garages are often less expensive to build, and can be climate controlled by accessing the electrical and HVAC systems that are part of the home
  • As attached garages are the most popular type of garage, having one typically increases the value of your home

Attached Garages: Cons

  • If you’re thinking of adding one, it may not be possible to fit on a narrow, urban lot
  • Since they offer direct access to the home, they can be a security and fire risk  
  • They can be hard to add onto or expand, and any additions or changes might require more expensive permits and extensive inspections
  • Adding an attached garage, particularly to a vintage home, may look strange or otherwise detract from the exterior look of the home
  • Noisy garage activities may be heard more inside the home

Detached Garages: Pros

  • More flexibility in size, layout and location, lot size and shape permitting
  • It’s easier to add room for cars, storage, and projects, and to add onto if needed
  • Less fire and security risk to your home 
  • Less of an impact to the look or curb appeal of your home
  • Can increase the resale value of your home

Detached Garages: Cons 

  • Particularly in bad weather, less convenient in terms of access 
  • Will require separate utilities, HVAC, and more
  • May not be allowed by your HOA or city permitting office

Now that we’ve examined the garage, let’s take a look at another key feature — what’s going on with the front and backyard?

Home Buying Consideration #2: The Yard

No longer limited to just a lawn, yards have now become an extension of the home. A convenient, well-designed outdoor living space is something that many homeowners desire. Yards can be great spaces for entertaining and are often much less expensive to create than comparable indoor entertaining spaces. Here are some important yard elements to consider. 

Trees and landscaping: Important for both aesthetic and practical reasons, trees and landscaping can increase your yard’s appeal. A mature, well-designed landscape is valuable, as it represents an investment of both time and money. 

Outdoor kitchen: Whether you are grilling for two or entertaining 200, an outdoor kitchen makes cooking fun and convenient. 

Fireplace or fire pit: This stylish focal point makes it easy to keep enjoying your yard, even after dark or in cooler weather. 

Automatic sprinklers, drip system, and misting system: Automatic sprinklers and drip systems can keep your yard looking lush for a low cost, and are particularly valuable in dry climates. Misting systems can also keep you cool on hot days. 

Deck or Patio: A stylish outdoor surface makes it easy to enjoy your yard, and many new construction materials require little to no maintenance. 

Shed: Well-designed sheds can go beyond storage, offering everything from a private workspace to extra space for guests to sleep. 

So, you’re considering the finer points of a yard. But what about adding a body of water to that yard for cooling off on hot days? Here’s the pros and cons of investing in a water element for your next home.

Just starting your home search? Here’s the best time to begin.

Home Buying Consideration #3: The Pool

Pools and hot tubs are perhaps the most controversial of all outdoor home features. Some homebuyers totally avoid them, and some won’t look at a house without them. Which side are you on? Here are some factors to consider. 

Backyard Pool and Hot Tub: Pros 

  • Pools and hot tubs can be aesthetically pleasing
  • Both are also useful for entertaining
  • In warmer climates, pools can provide a way to enjoy the outdoors comfortably
  • If you like to swim, engage in other aquatic exercises regularly for fitness, or use a hot tub for muscle and joint pain, having your own can be convenient
  • In hot climates where pools are common (i.e., Arizona, California, Florida), having a pool can significantly increase the resale value of your home 

Backyard Pool and Hot Tub: Cons

  • Both pools and hot tubs require regular maintenance that includes chemicals, cleaning, and repair
  • Many families with small children do not want a pool at home due to safety concerns
  • Your insurance cost may be higher, and your utility bills may go up as well, particularly for heating a pool 
  • When it is time to sell your home, there are many buyers who will not want a house with a pool

A pool is a big decision that comes with both maintenance and benefits alike. You can always opt for a different kind of water feature, like a backyard stream. But if you’re looking to streamline your life, investing in home tech devices is almost a no-brainer.

Home Buying Consideration #4: The Appliances and Tech Gadgets

As technology improves and designs continually evolve, having up-to-date appliances and other devices in your home has become increasingly important. For example, while attractive kitchens are near the top of many house-hunters’ wish lists, there are items within those kitchens that can help — and items that can hurt — when it comes to increasing a home’s value.

Appliances That Can Help Property Value

Commercial-grade appliances: Particularly in high-end properties, many buyers expect to see appliances from luxury or professional brands. 

Smart devices: Thermostats, fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, security cameras, door locks, and doorbells are just a few of the relatively new smart home devices that homebuyers are now beginning to appreciate and even expect.

Appliances That Can Hurt Property Value

Old and energy inefficient: These power-sucking products will cost you in both your utility bill, and the resale value of your home. 

Homes totally lacking certain appliances: Is your property missing a dishwasher, indoor laundry, or other key features? This can be a major turn-off for buyers who don’t want to have to complete a complicated remodeling and installation project. 

Mismatched appliances: Appliances from different eras or in different colors can make your kitchen look unfinished and low-quality, even if your other finishes are fantastic.

Looking to stock up on home amenities? We’ve targeted the seasonal best deals for doing so.

Now that you’ve considered the key interior and exterior components of your dream home, there’s one last important element to contemplate: the driveway.

Home Buying Consideration #5: The Driveway

Walkways and driveways connect your home to the outside world and play a crucial role in the curb appeal of your residence. Although often overlooked, they are important home features that can be messy and expensive to replace or update. 

If you are evaluating the driveway at a potential home, or considering an update at your current home, the first choice you will need to make is whether you want asphalt or concrete. Both have benefits and drawbacks that may vary depending on your climate, landscape, and usage needs.

Today, many homeowners and buyers are also looking for something beyond the basics, with driveway design trends including elaborate paving materials, irregular shapes, and additional features like extra parking for guests.

Know the Tricks, Now Land the House

Although these five features may not be your first considerations in the house-hunting process, they are important elements that you will use or interact with nearly every day. Add them to your consideration list, and you will be sure to end up in a customized home that you enjoy and treasure. If you’ve found your ideal home with all the right features, reach out to a PennyMac Loan Officer today or apply online to get pre-approved for the loan that’s right for you.

Source: pennymacusa.com

What Should My Mortgage Credit Score Be?

You don’t have a separate rating called a mortgage credit score, but lenders do look at your score, credit history and several other factors when deciding whether to approve you for a home loan. Contrary to what some people think, though, you don’t necessarily need an excellent or good credit score to get a home loan. How high your score is depends on your current financial situation, down payment and other factors.

What Does My Credit Score Need to Be for a Mortgage?

The short answer is that it depends. Mortgage lenders will do a hard inquiry on your credit to see the score and the details behind it. Your credit score is typically a good first impression on how risky of an investment you are. Mortgage lenders don’t want to be left holding the keys to your home if you don’t or can’t make regular monthly payments, or if you make late payments, on your home loan.

Factors that can impact whether your credit score is high enough to be approved for a mortgage include:

  • What type of home loan you’re seeking
  • How much other debt you have
  • The details of your credit history, such as positive and negative items reported to the credit bureaus
  • The size of your down payment

FHA mortgage loans may be among the easiest loans to get in terms of credit score requirements. Individuals who qualify as first-time home buyers under FHA (Federal Housing Administration) backed lending programs may be able to qualify for mortgage approval with a credit score as low as 580 and a low down payment of only 3.5%. In cases where buyers can put forward 10% or more for a down payment, some lenders may approve individuals with FICO scores as low as 500.

For more conventional loans—those that meet the underwriting standards put forth by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mac—approval usually requires a good credit score. At minimum, these types of loans usually require a FICO score of around 620, but that assumes other factors are in your favor. A lower down payment or higher credit utilization, among other things, could mean you need a higher credit score to secure mortgage approval.

What Is a Decent Credit Score for a Mortgage?

The answer is probably 620 or higher. You do want to minimize any surprises during the mortgage application and home buying process. Take the following steps to avoid this risk.

  • Get a look at your credit score and report. If you have bad credit, consider taking steps to improve your credit score.
  • Dispute or work with a credit repair company to fix any inaccuracies on the report before you apply for a mortgage.
  • Evaluate whether your credit history and score positions you to achieve your homeownership goals now or if you should take time to improve your score organically first.
  • Research the mortgage process so you understand how it works.
  • Consider working with a mortgage broker if you’re uncomfortable with the entire process. These pros can often help you understand which type of mortgage is right for you and how to qualify for it.

Can You Buy a House with a Credit Score of 590?

You may be able to qualify for an FHA or nontraditional home loan with a low credit score. Your chances of doing so are higher if you can tie your low score to a single issue and you otherwise have a strong credit history. You can also increase your chances by lowering your credit utilization rate, having a low debt-to-income ratio and saving up to put a large percent down when you buy the home.

Should You Get a Mortgage with Your Current Credit Score?

Ask yourself this important question: Are you so preoccupied with whether you can get approved for a mortgage with your current credit score that you forgot to ask yourself whether you should?

Your credit score impacts more than whether or not a lender approves you for a home loan. It also impacts your loan and term options, which can impact the overall cost of the home. One of the most important parts of the mortgage that may be tied directly to your credit score is the interest rate.

A good or bad credit score can mean a shift up or down for your mortgage interest rate. And even a fraction of a percent in either direction can drastically change how much you pay for your home. Consider the examples below, which are applied to a $200,000 home loan for a term of 30 years.

  • An interest rate of 3.92% equals payments of $946 per month and a total home cost of $340,427 over 30 years.
  • An interest rate of 4.42% equals payments of $1,004 per month and a total home cost of $361,399 over 30 years.
  • An interest rate of 4.92% equals payments of $1,064 per month and a total home cost of $382,999 over 30 years.

Just a difference of 1% can result in savings (or losses) of more than $40,000 over the life of your mortgage. Use Credit.com to check credit score and credit report card to make sure your credit score is as high as possible before you start the mortgage application process.

The post What Should My Mortgage Credit Score Be? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons

Man holding large wad of bills

A wealth tax is a type of tax that’s imposed on the net wealth of an individual. This is different from income tax, which is the type of tax you’re likely most used to paying. The U.S. currently doesn’t have a wealth tax, though the idea has been proposed more than once by lawmakers. Instituting a wealth tax could help generate revenue for the government but only a handful of countries actually impose one.

Wealth Tax, Definition

A wealth tax is what it sounds like: a tax on wealth. This can also be referred to as an equity tax or a capital tax and it applies to individuals.

More specifically, a wealth tax is applied to someone’s net worth, meaning their total assets minus their total liabilities. The types of assets that may be subject to inclusion in wealth tax calculations might include real estate, investment accounts, liquid savings and trust accounts.

A wealth tax isn’t the same as other types of tax you’re probably familiar with paying. For example, you might be used to paying income tax on the money you earn each year, self-employment tax if you run a business or work as an independent contractor, property taxes on your home or vehicles and sales tax on the things you buy.

Instead, a wealth tax has just one focus: taxing a person’s wealth. According to the Tax Foundation, only Norway, Spain and Switzerland currently have a net wealth tax on assets. But a handful of other European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, levy a wealth tax on selected assets.

How a Wealth Tax Works

Uncle Sam picks a rich man's coat pocketGenerally, a wealth tax works by taxing a person’s net worth, rather than the income they earn in a given year. In countries that impose a wealth tax, the tax is only levied once assets reach a certain minimum threshold. In Norway, for instance, the net wealth tax is 0.85% on stocks exceeding $164,000 USD in value.

Wealth taxes can be applied to all of the assets someone owns or just some of them. For example, the wealth tax can include securities and investment accounts while excluding real property or vice versa.

Every country that imposes a wealth tax, whether it’s a net tax or a tax on selected assets, can set the tax rate differently. It’s not uncommon for there to be exemptions or exclusions to who and what can be taxed this way.

A wealth tax can be charged alongside an income tax to help generate revenue for the government. The wealth tax rates are typically lower than income tax rates, in terms of the actual percentage rate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean paying less in taxes. Someone who has substantial assets that are subject to a wealth tax, for instance, may end up paying more toward that tax than income tax if they’re able to reduce their taxable income by claiming tax breaks.

Is a Wealth Tax a Good Idea?

In countries that use a wealth tax, the revenue helps to fund government programs and organizations. In some places, such as Norway, revenue from the wealth tax is split between the central government and municipal governments. It would be up to the federal government to decide how wealth tax revenue should be allocated if one were introduced here.

In the U.S., the concept of a wealth tax has been used to argue for a redistribution of wealth. Or more specifically, lawmakers who back the tax have suggested that it could be used to more fairly tax the wealthy while relieving some of the tax burdens on lower and middle-income earners. While wealthier taxpayers may take advantage of loopholes to minimize income taxes, a wealth tax would be harder to work around, at least in theory. That could yield benefits for less wealthy Americans if it means they’d owe fewer taxes.

That sounds good but implementing and collecting a wealth tax may be easier said than done. It’s possible that even with a wealth tax in place, high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth taxpayers could still find ways to minimize the amount of tax they’d owe. And the tax itself could be seen as unfairly penalizing wealthier individuals who own charities or foundations, invest heavily in businesses or save and invest their money instead of using it to buy things like luxury cars, expensive homes or other physical assets.

It’s important to keep in mind that a wealth tax is targeted at people above certain wealth thresholds, so most everyday Americans wouldn’t have to pay it. But it could cause problems for someone who unexpectedly receives a large inheritance that increases his wealth, even if his income remains at the lower end of the scale.

The Bottom Line

Rich man in his private jet

In the U.S., the wealth tax is still just an idea that’s being floated by progressive politicians and lawmakers. Whether a wealth tax is ever implemented remains to be seen and it’s likely that debate over it may continue for years to come. And enforcing one could be difficult if it were ever introduced, if for no other reason than there are many ways for the extremely wealthy to avoid taxes. In the meantime, talking with a tax professional may be the best way to manage your own personal tax liability.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about the best ways to handle taxes as you grow an investment portfolio. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors online. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized financial advisor recommendations. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Managing taxes is an important part of growing wealth and creating an estate plan. The less you pay in taxes, the more money you have to save and invest toward establishing a legacy of wealth. A free income tax calculator is a good way to start figuring what you owe or to get confirmation that  your calculations are correct.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Serhii Sobolevskyi, ©iStock.com/svengine, ©iStock.com/FG Trade

The post Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Should You Transfer Balances to No-Interest Credit Cards Multiple Times?

Karen, our editor at Quick and Dirty Tips, has a friend named Heather who listens to the Money Girl podcast and has a money question. She thought it would be a great podcast topic and sent it to me. 

Heather says:

I had a financial crisis and ended up with a $2,500 balance on my new credit card, which had a no-interest promotion for 18 months when I got it. That promotional rate is going to expire in a couple of months. I have good credit, and I keep getting offers from other card companies for zero-interest balance transfer promotions. Would it be a good idea to apply for another card and transfer my balance so I don't have to pay any interest? Are there any downsides that I should watch out for?

Thanks, Karen and Heather! That's a terrific question. I'm sure many podcast listeners and readers also wonder if it's a good idea to transfer a balance multiple times. 

This article will explain balance transfer credit cards, how they make paying off high-interest debt easier, and tips to handle them the right way. You'll learn some pros and cons of doing multiple balance transfers and mistakes to avoid.

What is a balance transfer credit card or offer?

A balance transfer credit card is also known as a no-interest or zero-interest credit card. It's a card feature that includes an offer for you to transfer balances from other accounts and save money for a limited period.

You typically pay an annual percentage rate (APR) of 0% during a promotional period ranging from 6 to 18 months. In general, you'll need good credit to qualify for the best transfer deals.

Every transfer offer is different because it depends on the issuer and your financial situation; however, the longer the promotional period, the better. You don't accrue one penny of interest until the promotion expires.

However, you typically must pay a one-time transfer fee in the range of 2% to 5%. For example, if you transfer $1,000 to a card with a 2% transfer fee, you'll be charged $20, which increases your debt to $1,020. So, choose a transfer card with the lowest transfer fee and no annual fee, when possible.

When you get approved for a new balance transfer card, you get a credit limit, just like you do with other credit cards. You can only transfer amounts up to that limit. 

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%!

You can use a transfer card for just about any type of debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans. The issuer may give you the option to have funds deposited into your bank account so that you can send it to the creditor of your choice. Or you might be asked to complete an online form indicating who to pay, the account number, and the amount so that the transfer card company can pay it on your behalf.

Once the transfer is complete, the debt balance moves over to your transfer card account, and any transfer fee gets added. But even though no interest accrues to your account, you must still make monthly minimum payments throughout the promotional period.

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%! That could easily wipe out any benefits you hoped to gain by doing a balance transfer in the first place.

How does a balance transfer affect your credit?

A common question about balance transfers is how they affect your credit. One of the most significant factors in your credit scores is your credit utilization ratio. It's the amount of debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your available credit limits. 

For example, if you have $2,000 on a credit card and $8,000 in available credit, you're using one-quarter of your limit and have a 25% credit utilization ratio. This ratio gets calculated for each of your revolving accounts and as a total on all of them.  

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

I recommend using no more than 20% of your available credit to build or maintain optimal credit scores. Having a low utilization shows that you can use credit responsibly without maxing out your accounts.

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

Likewise, the opposite is true when you close a credit card or a line of credit. So, if you transfer a card balance and close the old account, it reduces your available credit, which spikes your utilization ratio and causes your credit scores to drop. 

Only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your credit scores take a dip.

So, only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your scores take a dip. A better decision may be to file away a card or use it sparingly for purchases you pay off in full each month.

Another factor that plays a small role in your credit scores is the number of recent inquiries for new credit. Applying for a new transfer card typically causes a slight, short-term dip in your credit. Having a temporary ding on your credit usually isn't a problem, unless you have plans to finance a big purchase, such as a house or car, within the next six months.

The takeaway is that if you don't close a credit card after transferring a balance to a new account, and you don't apply for other new credit accounts around the same time, the net effect should raise your credit scores, not hurt them.

RELATED: When to Cancel a Credit Card? 10 Dos and Don’ts to Follow

When is using a balance transfer credit card a good idea?

I've done many zero-interest balance transfers because they save money when used correctly. It's a good strategy if you can pay off the balance before the offer's expiration date. 

Let's say you're having a good year and expect to receive a bonus within a few months that you can use to pay off a credit card balance. Instead of waiting for the bonus to hit your bank account, you could use a no-interest transfer card. That will cut the amount of interest you must pay during the card's promotional period.

When should you do multiple balance transfers?

But what if you're like Heather and won't pay off a no-interest promotional offer before it ends? Carrying a balance after the promotion means your interest rate goes back up to the standard rate, which could be higher than what you paid before the transfer. So, doing another transfer to defer interest for an additional promotional period can make sense. 

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game.

However, it may only be possible if you're like Heather and have good credit to qualify. Balance transfer cards and promotions are typically only offered to consumers with good or excellent credit.

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game. And don't forget about the transfer fee you typically must pay that gets added to your outstanding balance. While avoiding interest is a good move, creating a solid plan to pay down your debt is even better.

If you have a goal to pay off your card balance and find reasonable transfer offers, there's no harm in using a balance transfer to cut interest while you regroup. 

Advantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are several advantages of using a balance transfer credit card.

  • Reducing your interest. That's the point of transferring debt, so you save money for a limited period, even after paying a transfer fee.
  • Paying off debt faster. If you put the extra savings from doing a transfer toward your balance, you can eliminate it more quickly.
  • Boosting your credit. This is a nice side effect if you open a new balance transfer card and instantly have more available credit in your name, which lowers your credit utilization ratio.

Disadvantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are some cons for doing a balance transfer. 

  • Paying a fee. It's standard with most cards, which charge in the range of 2% to 5% per transfer.
  • Paying higher interest. When the promotion ends, your rate will vary by issuer and your financial situation, but it could spike dramatically. 
  • Giving up student loan benefits. This is a downside if you're considering using a transfer card to pay off federal student loans that come with repayment or forgiveness options. Once the debt gets transferred to a credit card, the loan benefits, including a tax deduction on interest, no longer apply. 

Tips for using a balance transfer credit card wisely

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires.

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires. Or be sure that the interest rate will be reasonable after the promotion ends.

Shifting a high-interest debt to a no-interest transfer account is a smart way to save money. It doesn't make your debt disappear, but it does make it less expensive for a period.

If you can save money during the promotional period, despite any balance transfer fees, you'll come out ahead. And if you plow your savings back into your balance, instead of spending it, you'll get out of debt faster than you thought possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Homeowners Get a Tax Credit for Buying a House

tax credit for buying a house

 

Being a homeowner comes with all kinds of pros and cons that don’t come with renting. You have a yard, but you have to care for the yard. You have a payment, but you get to deduct your mortgage interest on your tax return! And while the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced or eliminated many of the benefits homeowners used to enjoy, there are a few tax deductions you, as a homeowner, can still claim on your 2018 income taxes, including:

  • Home mortgage points
  • Property tax expenses
  • Mortgage insurance costs

American homeownership has long been subsidized by tax savings, and if your real estate agent didn’t tell you about them, we cover some here or an accountant or tax preparer can tell you more.

“The path to owning a home has a great deal of tax benefits, and a discussion with your tax professional will help to clarify the details,” says William Slade, a certified financial planner in California and enrolled agent licensed by the IRS.

Slade says he is regularly asked if home improvements, such as adding rooms, remodeling and landscaping help reduce taxes. “They don’t when they’re first done, but they may help when the property is sold by increasing the cost basis and lowering the gains tax on the sale,” he says.

Changes for the 2018 Tax Year

New homeowners should know that things have shifted a bit for the 2018 tax year. The standard home mortgage interest point deduction has been modified by the TCJA. More on that lower down.

What hasn’t shifted is that you still have to itemize income tax deductions in Schedule A in order to claim a deduction on home mortgage interest. Schedule A is more complicated than the standard deduction, which you may have taken in previous years. But the savings can make it worth doing.

Itemized deductions for new homeowners include more than just mortgage interest though. Property taxes, private mortgage insurance costs and even charitable contributions can be deducted. To get your mortgage interest deduction, you have to itemize with Schedule A. You can add up these other deductions there and get a bigger overall tax reduction.

Sadly, the previous moving expenses deduction is gone for all but those on active military duty. So, if you just moved in this past year and aren’t serving your country, too bad. No added deduction for you.

Tax Deductions Available for Homeowners

Tax breaks help cushion the impact of mortgage payments. So, take full advantage of those available to you.

The Mortgage Loan Interest Deduction

Mortgage points are prepaid interest on home mortgages. Under the home mortgage points deduction, mortgage loan interest is tax deductible if you itemize. The TCJA capped the deduction on interest paid on up to $750,000 for a qualified home loan taken out after December 15, 2017. Loans taken out before that date still qualify for up to $1,000,000 of deductible interest—the previous cap. Note:  if you use the Married Filing Separately status, you can only claim half of that amount on your own return.

When you itemize your deductions, you can add your mortgage loan interest to the list if you purchased the home before December 15, 2017.  The deduction applies for up to $1 million for loans that you used to improve the home or buy a new home. Purchases made after this date can only deduct interest on $750,000 of the home acquisition debt. This is down $250,000 from previous years. These new tax laws are set to expire in 2025, and after that point, the $1 million limit may return.

Property Tax Deduction

State and local property taxes are still deductible on your federal tax return under the state and local taxes deductions, known as the SALT deduction. TCJA modified this one. For the 2018 tax year, the amount you can claim for your property taxes is limited to $10,000. For many taxpayers, that still covers you well. For those in states with high property taxes, it could dampen deductions considerably.

Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is deductible still. There are changes here too though. PMI is used by people whose home loan or refinance loan is 80% or more of the purchase price, AKA their down payment lower than 20%.

To deduct your PMI for the 2018 tax year:

  • Your loan had to be taken out in 2007 or later
  • The home has to be your primary residence or a second home that you’re renting out
  • Your adjusted gross income (AGI) has been less than $109,000 for any deduction and lower than $100,000 for the full deduction—you can use Schedule A to calculate your deduction amount

Energy Credits

Another lesser-known credit for a homeowner is the energy tax credit, called the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit. This deduction is getting reduced through 2021 but can be claimed using Form 5695. This tax credit is limited to 10% of the cost of your qualifying energy. Items that qualify under this credit include skylights, insulation systems, and certain qualifying appliances like water heaters and central air conditioners. Some restrictions apply.

You can also take advantage of the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This one is a credit for using solar, wind, fuel-cell and geothermal energy sources, including solar water heaters.

The Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit can be used to deduct 30% of the cost of solar, wind, fuel-cell and geothermal equipment at your main home or wind, solar and geothermal equipment at a second home. The deduction is unlimited for all but fuel-cells, which are capped at $500 per each half-kilowatt of capacity or $1,000 per kilowatt.

How Much Can Homeowners Really Save?

The amount of money you can save on your annual income taxes depends on a number of factors including filing status, standard deduction amount, the other itemized deductions you’re claiming and total taxable income. Total savings are a mystery until you itemize while doing your tax forms.

There are also things you can’t deduct when filing your taxes too. These items include any dues you pay to your homeowner’s association, the home owner’s insurance on your home, the appraisal fees you paid when buying your home and the cost of nonenergy-related improvements. Some home improvements can reduce your taxes when you sell your home, but you’ll need to keep good records of everything and hold onto the receipts.

This article was originally published February 23, 2013, and has since been updated by another author.

Image: iStockphoto

The post Homeowners Get a Tax Credit for Buying a House appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Guide to Bar Loans: Pros, Cons, and More

It can take several months to prepare for the bar exam, and they are some of the most important months in an aspiring lawyer’s life. In that time, many students take preparation courses or devote all their time to studying and preparing, increasing their chances of passing the exam and taking that important step.

Bar loans are a type of financial aid offered to students going through this difficult time. A bar loan can provide them with essential living costs, while covering the cost of academic materials and preparation fees. That way, they can focus on what’s important, and don’t have to worry about getting a part-time job and spending time away from their studies.

What is a Bar Loan?

Also known as a bar study loan, a bar loan is a type of private loan offered by private lenders. Unlike federal student loans, they are not backed by the Department of Education and, as a result, are subject to the same standards and criteria as personal loans.

You have two main options for taking out a bar loan. The first is to simply borrow more money than you need during your last year of school, covering you for all costs during that final year and running over into the bar loan afterward. 

Alternatively, you can submit a separate application and acquire your loan via one of the bar loan lenders we have listed below. To determine how much you need, simply calculate your living expenses and other costs and contact a lender.

Pros of a Bar Study Loan

  • Provide you with the freedom to study without worrying about how you’ll afford everything.
  • You can apply even after you have graduated.
  • You can borrow more money than you need, which isn’t always possible with student loans.
  • Move you one step closer to achieving your goal

Cons of a Bar Study Loan

  • Charge higher interest rates than most other student loans
  • You’re not covered or protected like you are with student loans
  • Need good credit to apply

The Best Bar Loans

You can get bar study loans from many major banks, credit unions, and lenders. We have shortlisted a few of our favorites below to help you:

Discover Student Loans

Discover is best known for its credit cards, including the Discover It, which we have highlighted many times on this website. But it also offers a host of additional banking services, including private loans and bar loans.

You can get a loan of between $1,000 and $16,000 for up to 20 years, with both fixed-rates and variable rates available, typically between 7% and 13%. There are no fees for applying, missing payments or pre-paying.

To apply, you must either be in your final year or have graduated within the last 6 months.

Sallie Mae

A trusted lender that has been in the student loan business for decades, Sallie Mae offers up to $15,000 for 15 years, with interest rates as low as 4.5% and as high as 11.56%. You can apply up to 12 months after graduation and there are no loan fees. What’s more, you won’t be asked to make any loan payments while you’re still in school.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo options are a little more restrictive, as you can only borrow a maximum of $12,000 over a maximum of 7 years. What’s more, you need to be enrolled in an eligible school or have graduated within 30 days, so if you graduated more than a month ago then you’ll need to look at one of the two listed above.

Do You Need A Bar Loan?

You need money to get through this period as you likely won’t have time to work and study, and if you try and force it your studies may suffer. If you’re still living at home, as many students are, your parents may cover most of your living costs. Assuming they can also cover your additional expenses, you won’t need a bar loan.

However, if they can’t afford to pay your fees or rent, you’ll need to consider one of the following options:

Side Hustle

While a traditional part-time job can be overly taxing during this busy period, you may have some time to freelance. It is easier than ever to earn a little extra cash by writing, designing, coding, and even doing some simple consulting work.

You’re a lawyer, not a writer, but if you’ve made it this far it means you’ve completed countless essays and assignments and have a good grasp of the English language. You likely can’t compete with professional writers getting the big bucks, but you can certainly compete with those at the bottom end of the scale and earn upwards of $20 an hour for your time.

If the idea of writing doesn’t appeal to you, think about consulting work. Many smaller companies and individuals can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars an hour on legal fees, not when they just need a little legal advice concerning their property or business. Instead, they turn to students who have the knowledge but don’t demand the same high fee.

Ask Your Employer

If you have a job lined up after graduation, your employer may cover some or all of your fees. However, you will need to make a commitment, agreeing to work with them for at least a few years after you have graduated.

Personal Loan

A bar loan is a specialized personal loan and may charge higher fees then you can get with a traditional personal loan. If you have a good credit score, you should consider applying for a traditional loan, comparing this to the bar study loan to see which one offers the best fees.

Bottom Line: A Life-Changing Loan

A bar loan can hurt your credit score and give you even more debt to worry about, but at the same time, it means you won’t have to worry about money while you study and focus on your future.

Ultimately, that’s the main goal here, because as damaging as that extra debt could be in the short term, if you eventually get the job of your dreams then you’ll have more than enough money to clear the balance and focus on your future.

Guide to Bar Loans: Pros, Cons, and More is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com