Options for Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is a trade-off. It’s about incentivizing graduates to work in low paying or otherwise undesirable positions in exchange for erasing or significantly reducing their student loan balance. Without these programs, important community institutions would be severely understaffed.

If you’re a teacher or education student reading this, those criteria probably sound familiar.

Many school districts struggle to fully staff their schools, especially when it comes to certain positions. Loan forgiveness programs are one of the best ways for them to attract job candidates and retain them for long enough to make an impact.

Teachers have several options when it comes to loan forgiveness. Here’s what you should know about each one.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is the only federal loan forgiveness program specifically designed for teachers. Math or science teachers who teach in secondary schools or special education teachers can have up to $17,500 worth of loans forgiven. Any other kind of teacher can only receive up to $5,000 worth of loan forgiveness.

The program has strict requirements. Teachers must hold a license or certification in their state and teach for five consecutive years in a school that primarily serves low-income students. A list of eligible schools is available here.

Teachers qualify even if they work at different schools for each of the five years, but each of those schools must be eligible.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness is only available for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, as well as Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. Perkins loans are not eligible.

If you have a Direct Consolidation Loan or a Federal Consolidation Loan that includes a Perkins loan, that portion won’t be eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness. PLUS or graduate school loans are also not eligible for Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) is arguably the best forgiveness option for teachers. Unlike the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, borrowers don’t have to work consecutive years to qualify. This is especially helpful for teachers who take a year or two off.

Teachers can work for an elementary or secondary school, in either a public or private school setting. They must work at least 30 hours a week to qualify. After 120 qualifying payments, they can apply to have their remaining loan balance forgiven. There is no limit on how much will be discharged, and teachers won’t owe taxes on the forgiven amount.

Only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF. If you have FFEL or Perkins Loans, you’ll have to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan to qualify.

Teachers should submit the PSLF employer certification form every year, which will verify the employer and calculate how many qualifying payments have been made.

PSLF can be used with Teacher Loan Forgiveness, but borrowers will only receive credit for one program at a time. If $5,000 of your loans is forgiven after five years through Teacher Loan Forgiveness, those five years’ worth of payments will not count toward PSLF.

While working toward PSLF, teachers will have to choose from one of the income-driven repayment plans. These options will lower your monthly payment.

Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation

Teachers with Perkins loans can have their loan balance entirely discharged. To be eligible, they must work full-time in a school with low-income children or as a special education teacher. Teachers can also become eligible by teaching a subject that has a shortage of teachers in their state.

Private school teachers and those who have two part-time teaching jobs also qualify. Preschool and kindergarten teachers may only be eligible if their state considers those grades to be part of elementary education.

Unlike PSLF or the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, teachers can earn partial loan forgiveness. They’ll get 100% forgiveness after five years of service.

Here’s how much will be forgiven each year:

  • 15% forgiven after one year of work
  • 15% forgiven after two years of work
  • 20% forgiven after three years of work
  • 20% forgiven after four years of work
  • 30% forgiven after five years of work

State Forgiveness Programs

Your state may have its own teacher forgiveness program. Go here to see what options are available. You can also try Googling your state and “teacher forgiveness program” and see what comes up. You may have to teach in an underserved area or teach a specific subject to qualify.

Options for Private Student Loans

Teachers with private loans rarely have access to loan forgiveness. Here are some options available to them:

Refinance private loans

If you want to save money on private loans, your best option is to refinance to a lower interest rate.

Private lenders often require a credit score of 650 or higher to qualify for a refinance. Some lenders may also have an income requirement, but this depends on the specific lender. For example, LendKey accepts borrowers with low salaries.

When you refinance private loans, make sure you understand the term you’re signing up for. For example, if you have five years left on your private loans and refinance to a 10-year term, you may end up paying more interest over the life of the loan because the term is doubled.

If you can afford it, keep making the same payments as you were before. Assuming you haven’t significantly changed your budget or lost your source of income, this should be doable. Keeping the same payment rate will let you repay the loan faster and save on interest.

Take out a home equity loan

If you’re a homeowner, you can withdraw extra equity from your house and use it to repay your student loans. Generally, you’ll need to have 80% or more equity in the home to qualify.

Home equity loans may have lower interest rates and longer terms than private student loans. It may also be easier to qualify for a home equity loan because the bank has collateral behind it.

The downside to this strategy is that if you default on a home equity loan, the bank may repossess your house. Comparatively, refinancing your private student loans has much lower stakes.

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What Is a Stafford Loan and How Do You Qualify?

How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

If you’re in search of financial help for higher education, you may have explored different scholarships and grants to pay the way. Gifted money is a great way to pay for school without having to worry about paying it back after graduation. However, if you don’t have all your expenses covered through scholarships and grants, you might need to consider student loans to fill in the gaps. If you’re exploring federal aid, Stafford loans might be an option. Here’s what they are, how much they cost and how to know if you qualify.

What Is a Stafford Loan?

A Stafford loan is a federal student loan provided by the government to help pay for your education while you’re attending a university, community college, trade or technical school. 

Stafford loans are now referred to as direct subsidized loans or direct unsubsidized loans. The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is who pays for the accrued interest of the loan while you’re in school and how much you may be able to borrow.

A subsidized loan is only available to undergraduate students in financial need. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest that adds up on your behalf while you’re in school at least half-time, as well as during the six-month grace period after graduation and during deferment or forbearance periods. The limit on how much you can borrow is $3,500 for the first year, $4,500 for the second and $5,500 for the third and fourth years. The aggregate loan amount is capped at $23,000, which is lower than unsubsidized loans.

An unsubsidized loan is available for both graduate and undergraduate students and isn’t based on financial need. The student is responsible for the interest that builds up while in school. Payments could be more costly than those for a subsidized loan because of that accrued interest.

If a subsidized loan doesn’t cover all your college costs, you can take out an unsubsidized loan, too. The aggregate loan amount for unsubsidized loans is capped at $31,000 for undergraduate students considered dependents and whose parents don’t qualify for direct PLUS loans. Undergraduate independent students may be allowed to borrow up to $57,500, while graduate students may be allowed to borrow up to $138,500.

These types loans have fixed interest rates determined by the government, come with a fee and allow the student to borrow for up to 150% of the length of the program they’re enrolled in. For example, if you’re attending a four-year college, you would be able to borrow these loans for up to six years.

How to Qualify for a Stafford Loan How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

What you need to get a Stafford loan depends on your financial standing.

Students or parents of the student must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Next, you’ll receive an award letter that details if you qualify for a Stafford loan. Your financial need determines if you’ll get a direct subsidized loan. If you don’t qualify, then you may receive a direct unsubsidized loan.

If you do qualify for one of these loans and you’re ready to accept the federal aid, you’ll need to submit a Mastery Promissory Note (MPN). This is a legal document which states that you promise to pay back your loans in full, including any fees and accrued interest, to the U.S. Department of Education. The school of your choice will determine how much money you’re eligible to receive and the funds go straight to your school – not to you. Since you can receive money based on your need or school enrollment – not your credit score – only your application is required.

Stafford Loan Alternatives

If you’ve exhausted all of your financial aid options, it might be time to explore other means to pay for school.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct Plus loans are federal loans that are available to graduate or professional students, or parents of undergraduate students. They require a credit check and you might be required to make payments while you or your child is in school. However, you could request deferment and make payments after you or your child graduates or drops below half-time.

Private Student Loans

If you can’t get any further federal aid, you may consider private student loans. Instead of coming from the U.S. Department of Education, these types of loans are issued from private issuers, such as banks, credit unions or online lenders.

If you’re not sure where else to look, contact your school’s financial aid office. It may have scholarships, grants or other small loans available that you might qualify for.

The Bottom Line

How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

College is expensive and not everyone can afford to pay for it out of pocket. Tapping into financial resources, including Stafford loans like subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as direct Plus loans and private student loans, may help. Don’t be afraid to contact your school’s financial aid office for even more resources to pay for school.

Tips for Student Loan Borrowers

  • If you’re not sure of the best strategy for securing student loans, consider working with a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Interest rates for private student loans are often higher than those for federal loans. If you or your child is struggling to pay private student loans, consider student loan refinance rates available now.

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I Dropped Out of College: My Student Loan Repayment Options

No one intends to drop out of college. If you show up to campus for your freshman year, chances are you plan to graduate in four years and use your degree to land a job. Maybe you even have the whole thing mapped out, step-by-step.

But then life happens. Whether it’s a family emergency, deteriorating health, stress burnout, or just the realization that college isn’t the right choice, plenty of people choose to drop out of their university every year. The problem is, your student loans don’t go away just because you never ended up with a degree.

So how should someone in this position approach student loan repayment? Are there any unique considerations to take into account? Here’s what you need to know.

Choose an Income-Based Repayment Plan

If you have federal student loans, you’re eligible for the same repayment options available to borrowers with a degree.

You may currently be on the standard 10-year repayment plan, which will have the highest monthly payments and the lowest total interest. You have the option of switching to a less expensive option if you’re struggling with those payments. Use the official repayment calculator to see which plan lets you pay the least.

When you choose an extended, income-based, or graduated repayment plan, you’ll pay more interest overall than if you stuck with the standard plan. If you’re not working toward a specific forgiveness program, then it’s best to switch back to the standard plan as soon as you can afford it to minimize the interest.

Refinance Private Loans

Private student loans have fewer income-based repayment options than federal loans, and they rarely offer deferment or forbearance options. But you can refinance private loans for a lower interest rate, even if you dropped out.

There are a few lenders that service borrowers with uncompleted degrees.

These may include:

  • MEF
  • RISLA Student Loan Refinance
  • EDvestinU
  • PNC
  • Wells Fargo
  • Purefy
  • Discover Bank
  • Advance Education Loan
  • Citizens Bank

To be a good candidate for a student loan refinance, you must have a high credit score and no recent bankruptcies or defaults on your credit report. You also need a low debt-to-income ratio, and some lenders may have income requirements.

Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz of SavingforCollege.com said borrowers are unlikely to be good refinance candidates immediately after college because lenders usually require a minimum amount of full-time employment.

If you dropped out recently, you may want to wait a year before trying to refinance private loans. During that time, check your credit score through Mint, pay all your bills on time, avoid opening new loans or lines of credit, and pay your credit card bill in full every month.

Explore Deferment and Forbearance

Once you leave school, you’re eligible for a six-month grace period where federal student loan payments are put on hold. You won’t accrue interest during this time if you have subsidized loans, but you will if you have unsubsidized loans.

If you still need more time after the grace period has expired, you can apply for deferment or forbearance. Borrowers have to apply for deferment and forbearance manually and wait to be approved.

Deferment and forbearance are both federal programs that let borrowers avoid paying their student loans while still remaining current. The main difference between the two options is that interest will not accrue on your loan balance during deferment, but it will accrue during forbearance. For that reason, it’s harder to qualify for deferment.

Be careful about putting your loans in deferment or forbearance for a long time. The interest that accrues will capitalize, meaning it will be added to your loan’s principal. This will increase your total monthly payments and could delay your debt payoff timeline.

Apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a program that encourages borrowers to choose a non-profit or government job. In exchange, your remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 10 year’s worth of payments, which do not have to be consecutive. It’s even available to borrowers who dropped out and never finished a degree.

“PSLF is always an option because it’s employer-dependent,” said student loan lawyer Joshua R. I. Cohen.

PSLF is only available for federal loans, and only those loans that are part of the Direct Loan Program. If you have FFEL or Perkins loans, you’ll have to consolidate them as part of the Direct Consolidation Program. This process will render them eligible for PSLF.

Be sure not to consolidate loans that are already part of the Direct Loan Program. If you’ve already been making payments, consolidating loans will restart the clock on PSLF, and you could lose credit for eligible payments you’ve already made.

The employer you work for must also be an eligible non-profit or government entity. Only full-time employees qualify for PSLF, which excludes part-time workers and independent contractors.

To be eligible for PSLF, you should fill out the employment certification form every year. This form asks for your employer’s contact information, your employment status, and more.

Once you submit the form, you should receive a notice verifying your employer and how many eligible payments you’ve made. Doing this every year will make it easier when you apply for forgiveness after your 120 payments have been made.

“It also gives borrowers an opportunity to dispute any errors or undercounts well before they reach eligibility for loan forgiveness, giving them plenty of time to address disputes,” said student loan lawyer Adam S. Minsky.

Borrowers can save money while working toward PSLF by choosing an income-based repayment plan instead of the standard 10-year plan. They also won’t owe taxes on the forgiven amount, so it’s best to choose the least expensive monthly option.

Try to Discharge Your Loans

If you couldn’t complete college because the department you were studying in closed, or your school committed fraud, you may be a good candidate for discharging your student loans completely. If this happened to you, contact a student loan lawyer who can help you file a case.

 

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What Is a Parent PLUS Loan?

Parent PLUS Loans

Paying for college is a challenge, and rising tuition costs certainly don’t help. According to College Board, the average cost of a four-year private college has increased by more than $3,000 over the last five years. Scholarships, grants and work-study programs can help bridge the gap, but it’s best to have a robust savings to back you up. Since some parents don’t want their child to take on too many loans themselves, the federal government created Parent PLUS loans. They stand out from other programs thanks to a fixed interest rate and flexible repayment options. Here we discuss what exactly a Parent PLUS loan is, how it works and whether you should get one.

Parent PLUS Loans Defined

Let’s start with the basics. A Parent PLUS loan is a federal student loan offered by the U.S. Department of Education Direct Loan program. Unlike other Direct Loans and most student loans in general, Parent PLUS loans are issued to parents rather than students. Also eligible for issue are stepparents, dependent graduate students and other relatives.

Whoever takes out the loan holds the sole legal responsibility for repayments, regardless of personal arrangements. This is very different than a parent cosigning his or her child’s student loan. The maximum PLUS loan amount is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received, which could equal tens of thousands of dollars per year. For PLUS loans distributed between July 2018 and July 2019, the interest rate is 7.60%. As such, the decision to get a Parent PLUS loan should not be taken lightly.

Who Should Get a Parent PLUS Loan?

Parent PLUS Loans

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid, about 3.5 million parents and students have borrowed a collective $83.9 billion using Parent PLUS Loans from the federal government. To qualify for a Parent PLUS loan, you must be the parent of a dependent undergraduate student, dependent graduate student or professional student enrolled at least half-time in a participating college or university.

You and your child must also meet the general eligibility rules for federal student aid, such as proving U.S. citizenship and demonstrating need. Male students must be registered with the Selective Service. As with other Direct PLUS loans, you usually can’t secure a Parent PLUS loan if you have an adverse credit history. The Department of Education won’t approve a borrower with charged-off accounts, accounts in collections or a 90-day delinquent account with a balance of $2,085 or more.

You shouldn’t apply for a Parent PLUS loan just because you qualify. In fact, it’s usually best if a student gets all of the Direct Loans he or she is eligible for first. These loans tend to have lower interest rates and fees. A parent could always help his or her child with student loan repayments, anyway.

You should really only apply for a Parent PLUS loan if your child needs more financial aid than he or she has received from other sources. It’s also important that both students and parents are on the same page about expectations and repayment plans.

Pros of Parent PLUS Loans

Flexible Loan Limits

Identified generally as “cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received,” Parent PLUS loans can be used toward tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, equipment, transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses. They do not have the same limits imposed on them as other federal student loans do. This makes Parent PLUS loans a great supplement if you have a mediocre financial aid package. Of course, you should still be cautious not to take on debt you won’t be able to pay back. Our student loan calculator can help you decide how much you should borrow.

Fixed Interest Rate

As with other federal student loans, the interest rate on a Parent PLUS loan stays the same throughout the life of the loan. It won’t alter based on national interest rates, the prime rate or other factors. Every July, the Department of Education sets the Parent PLUS loan interest rate based on that year’s 10-year treasury note. The fixed interest rate makes it easy for borrowers to predict expenses, make both short- and long-term financial goals and set a budget.

Multiple Repayment Options

Parent PLUS loans are eligible for several different repayment plans, one of which should work for you. This flexibility makes them one of the most accommodating programs for funding a college education. Check out your choices below:

  • Standard Repayment Plan: The most common option, which allows for fixed monthly payments for 10 years.
  • Graduated Repayment Plan: This starts with small payments that gradually increase over 10 years. In theory, this should coincide with growing income levels.
  • Extended Repayment Plan: This provides fixed or graduated payments over 25 years, as opposed to 10.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment: Borrowers pay 20% of their discretionary income or what they’d pay on a 12-year plan, whichever is lower. They also qualify for student loan forgiveness if they still have a balance after 25 years.

Cons of Parent PLUS Loans

Parent PLUS Loans

Loan Origination Fee

Interest isn’t the only expense you’ll encounter with Parent PLUS loans. There’s also a loan origination fee. The fee amount is a percentage of the loan, and it varies depending on the disbursement date of the loan. For loans after October 1, 2018 but before October 1, 2019, the fee is 4.248% of the loan amount. That means that if you borrow $30,000 using a Parent PLUS loan, you’d pay a fee of $1,274.40.

This fee is proportionately deducted from each loan disbursement, which essentially reduces the amount of money borrowers have to cover education-related costs. Since many private student loans don’t have a fee, it’s worth looking into private options to determine which loan has the lowest borrowing costs.

Relatively High Interest Rate

Currently set at 7.60%, Parent PLUS loans certainly don’t have the lowest rate out there. If you have strong credit and qualify for a better rate, you might consider a different loan that will cost less in the long run. Direct Subsidized Loans currently carry a 5.05% interest rate, while Direct Unsubsidized Loans are at 6.60%. On the other hand, some private lenders have interest rates as low as 2.795%.

Limited Grace Period

Parent PLUS loan repayment normally begins within 60 days of loan disbursement, but borrowers have the option to defer repayment. This will last while their child is still in school and for six months after he or she graduates or if the student drops below a half-time enrollment status. Not only is this much less time than borrowers of other loan programs receive, but interest will also continue to accrue during the deferment period.

How to Apply for a Parent PLUS Loan

If a Parent PLUS loan seems right for you, file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at FASFA.ed.gov. Depending on the school’s application process, you will request the loan from StudentLoans.gov or the school’s financial aid office.

If you receive approval for a Parent PLUS loan, you will get a Direct PLUS Loan Master Promissory Note (MPN). You’ll have to review and sign the MPN before sending back. Funds are typically sent straight to the school, but you or your child may receive a check. All of the money must be used for educational and college-related purposes.

Tips for Your College Finances

  • Every state in the country offers one of more higher education tuition assistance programs called 529 plans. For many prospective college students and their families, this may be one of the best ways to overcome the incredibly high costs of a university degree. What’s better yet is that you can get a plan from any state, not just the one you reside in.
  • It’s extremely common for financial advisors to have some level of background knowledge in funding for higher education. The SmartAsset financial advisor matching tool can pair you up with as many as three such advisors in your area.

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The REO Guide: 10 Steps to Buying a Bank-Owned Home

The REO Guide: 10 Steps to Buying a Bank-Owned Home

Many potential homebuyers and investors overlook bank-owned properties, but for buyers who take the time to understand the REO process, these homes can be a significant opportunity.

Some homebuyers are intimidated by foreclosed and bank-owned homes because they often require more renovations — and a different type of negotiation — than other options on the market. However, some REO properties come at a significant discount, and, if you’re willing to work through some of the nuances of the post-foreclosure market, you can set yourself up for a great deal.

What is a Real Estate Owned (REO) Property?

REO, which stands for “Real Estate Owned,” is a term applied to foreclosed properties whose ownership has transferred to the bank or lender.

In order to become an REO property, it must go through these general steps:

  1. Loan Default. The homeowner/borrower defaults on (fails to make) their mortgage payments for a certain length of time, with the qualifying amount usually specified in the mortgage terms.
  2. Foreclosure. The lender initiates legal proceedings against the borrower to foreclose on the property.
  3. Auction. The property is then offered to the public at a foreclosure auction and typically sold to the highest bidder. If the property sells to a third party at the auction, the bank or lender recoups some of the cost of the outstanding loan balance, interest and fees from the sale of the property.
  4. REO Status. If the home fails to sell at auction to a third party, possession typically passes to the lender and it becomes a Real Estate Owned (REO) property. The lender prepares to sell it, which may involve evicting occupants and removing outstanding liens attached to the property.

REO properties are attractive to homebuyers or real estate investors for several reasons. In many cases, lenders are motivated sellers who do not want to sit on their REO inventory, and (depending on the bank’s history with the property) these homes may be priced at a discount. However, other factors — like the home being sold “as is” — may affect the ultimate price, so it’s important to work through the process methodically to make sure you account for every variable.

10 Steps to Buying REO Properties

The process for buying an REO home is similar to the standard home buying process, but there are a few key exceptions to keep in mind. Whether you’re buying the home to live in or as an investment, these 10 steps should help set you up for success with bank-owned properties.

Step 1: Browse Available REO Properties

Before you get too far into the process, take a look at the properties available in your target market or price range. There are several ways for prospective homebuyers to browse available REO properties:

  • Bank and lender listings: Lender-specific listings, such as PennyMac REO listings, show all available bank-owned properties from a certain lender.
  • Multiple Listing Service: Lenders and Realtors® often use the Multiple Listing Service to list REO properties, making it easy to find options from multiple lenders in one place.
  • Real estate agent: A real estate agent will be able to find REO offerings from multiple lenders in your desired area.
  • Online services: Other online services, such as Zillow, offer tools to look up foreclosures by certain characteristics or in certain areas. Some of these tools are free to use, while others may charge a fee.

Step 2: Find a Lender and Discuss REO Financing

Once you’ve found a property you are interested in, talk to a lender about your financing options. This is particularly important because of the timing of the REO homebuying process; lenders are motivated to sell and want to get these homes off of their books, so the more prepared you are with financing, the better.

One thing that can speed up the REO homebuying process is getting pre-approved by the lender that owns the home. With this pre-approval, the lender that owns the REO property will know that you are financially qualified to purchase the property, making them more likely to accept your offer.

Step 3: Find a Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Who Knows REO Homes

A buyer’s agent is a great partner to have while you navigate the home buying process. Your buyer’s agent helps make sure you are finding the best properties at the best possible prices, and they will use their experience to guide you through every stage of the process. Your agent should also be able to tell you if you need to hire anyone else, such as an attorney or an inspection service, depending on your state and situation.

If you are specifically interested in REO properties, try to find a buyer’s agent who works with REO properties frequently. This way, your real estate agent knows the ins and outs of negotiating with a lender, how to calculate the cost of necessary repairs, how to work within the lender’s timeline and how to prepare you for what comes next.

Step 4: Refine Your List of Lender-Owned Properties

Once you are working with a buyer’s agent, you can start narrowing down your list of REO properties. Some major characteristics that should be taken into account include the following:

  • Listing price
  • Significant repairs needed (and the overall impact on price)
  • Location (and proximity to a school, workplace, or other desired area)
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Quality of neighborhood and surrounding areas
  • Community resources in the area, such as parks, gyms, places of worship, etc.
  • Lender-specific contingencies or requirements

Once you have taken your “must have” features into account, if you are left with multiple properties, refine your list based on “nice to have“ features like a large yard, a finished basement or an in-ground pool. Share your favorite homes with your agent, who can set up tours for properties at the top of your list.

Step 5: Get an Appraisal on Your Ideal Property

Some REO homes go for a great price, but buying a bank-owned home is not an automatic bargain. An REO property may be discounted based on an undesirable location or severe damage, or it can be overpriced based on comparable sales in the area or the lender’s desire to recoup the money spent. Either way, it’s a good idea to consider getting an appraisal so you know how the true value compares to the asking price.

An appraisal will help you get an objective estimated value, which you can compare to the bank’s asking price to see if the price is fair. During the appraisal, a licensed appraiser will take inventory of major systems (i.e., HVAC, plumbing), the structural integrity of the home, and check the prices of comparable homes in the area.

Note: An appraisal, which tries to estimate true home value, is different from a home inspection, which tries to take inventory of current and potential issues. An appraisal will help you decide whether or not the asking price is fair; an inspection will help you understand the repairs and renovations needed, which is critical for a bank-owned home.

Step 6: Make an Offer

Once you’ve found a property that is right for you, it’s time to make an offer.

Your agent will help you decide what kind of offer is likely to be accepted, put together the offer and submit it to the lender. Depending on the lender, you may need to submit special contract forms or paperwork. It is also common to attach an earnest money deposit check to your offer. This check (commonly 1-2% of the purchase price) is usually held in an escrow account until the purchase is finalized.

Make sure to consider the inspection process as you are making your offer. You may choose to make the offer contingent on inspection so you are protected if the inspection uncovers significant (and potentially dangerous) issues. If necessary repairs are well-documented, you can use that documentation to make your case for a low offer. Talk to your agent to understand your options when it comes to inspection contingencies.

Step 7: Have the Property Inspected

An inspection should be part of buying any home, but it is crucial for bank-owned homes. Real estate owned properties are typically sold “as is,” meaning the homebuyer is on the hook for any repairs — including major structural issues — that need to be fixed. An REO home may have been vacant for weeks or months, it may be neglected due to the homeowner’s financial trouble, or the previous owners may have removed items or damaged the property before vacating. Additionally, it’s possible that the property has gone through non-permitted renovations.

With that in mind, you need to be 100% sure you know what needs to be fixed before finalizing the loan. Having a home inspection done is the best way to take a thorough inventory of what repairs need to be made. The cost of these repairs should be added to the asking price so you have a better idea of what the home will cost you (and whether it’s still a good deal after repair costs are factored in).

In some cases, the lender may conduct an inspection when the home becomes bank-owned. If so, make sure you get a copy of the inspection report and review it thoroughly to decide if it is comprehensive enough to help make your decision.

Step 8: Negotiate Details

For better or worse, negotiating with a lender for a bank-owned home is different from negotiating with a homeowner.

On one hand, dealing with a bank instead of a homeowner means you don’t have to worry about emotional attachments to the home influencing the decision. You are also usually dealing with a very motivated lender who wants to get rid of the property (especially if it’s been on the market more than 30 days).

On the other hand, banks typically take longer to respond to an offer (or a question) than a homeowner because the offer must be reviewed by several individuals or companies. When the lender does respond, they will expect you to respond quickly to keep the process moving.

Working with a lender also means jumping through more corporate hoops. Banks are also more likely to present a counter offer because they must demonstrate they tried to get the best possible price for the property. In addition, the lender may ask you to sign a purchase addendum (which you should thoroughly review with your real estate agent or lawyer) and your final offer may be contingent on corporate approval.

Step 9: Finalize Your Loan

Now that you have submitted an offer, several things will be going on at once: the home inspection, negotiations with the bank, and the finalizing of your loan. During this time, you will be filling out paperwork and sharing information with your lender to ensure your loan is the right fit for the offer you have submitted.

Now is also the time to verify the status of the title. The bank typically clears the title before selling a bank-owned home but you can never assume this is the case. Contact the lender to see if the title has been cleared. If not, the lender may have a title company standing by to perform these services. If you are expected to do so yourself, hire a title company to run a full, insured title search before closing the deal.

Step 10: Closing

Once all of the paperwork is in place, you’ve wired in your down payment and your loan funds are in place, it’s time to close.

Closing on an REO property is similar to any other closing, with a few notable exceptions. If you’re unable to close by a predetermined closing date, the lender may charge a penalty for each day beyond the deadline. (You can try to avoid these delays by getting pre-approved for a loan and getting assurance that your financing will come through by a given date.)

At the closing, you and the lender representative will sign the documents necessary to transfer the house into your name and to finish your mortgage. After you’ve signed everything and the money goes to the right place, you’ll get the keys and a new title: homeowner.

Is an REO Home the Right Fit For You?

A bank-owned home can be a great opportunity for homebuyers or investors to find a good deal — but only if you’re willing to be patient and thorough. Dealing with a lender rather than an individual seller may mean slower response times and a more difficult negotiation, but it can lead to a potentially lower price from a motivated seller that has already handled outstanding taxes.

Browse PennyMac REO listings to see available bank-owned properties from PennyMac, or call a PennyMac Loan Officer to discuss your options today.

Source: pennymacusa.com

The Cost of Off-Campus Rent at Top Colleges

Which university costs more: Harvard, Yale or MIT? It’s relatively easy to compare tuition and even dorm fees — but off-campus housing costs are harder to pin down. They also can make a big difference in the tab for a higher education.

In fact, 80 percent of the towns where elite colleges are located, based on U.S News & World Report’s newly released Best Colleges of 2017, have median rents above the national median of $1,408 a month, according to a new Zillow analysis.

The median rent in Cambridge, MA, where Harvard University and MIT students gravitate for off-campus housing, is $2,594 a month, while Yale University students who live off campus in New Haven, CT, pay just over half that: $1,428 a month.

Those figures don’t account for the size of the rental unit or for roommate situations, but they do reflect the starkly different real estate markets in Cambridge and New Haven.

Although off-campus housing costs might not come into play until sophomore or junior year, they’re worth weighing into the college-cost equation.

InfographicBlogBody

“As students and their parents are filling out applications this fall and are crunching the numbers on financial aid and student loans, they should also factor in cost of housing,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief marketing officer. “Looking at both on- and off-campus housing prices, and thinking through whether they’ll likely live with roommates or alone, will help them gauge an accurate picture of the student loans and financial aid they will need in order to obtain their degree.”

Beating the Bay Area blues

Housing around Stanford University was the highest among top-ranked colleges. Reflecting the Bay Area’s astronomical housing costs, the median rent in Palo Alto is a whopping $6,139 a month.

However, Stanford houses almost all of its undergraduates in university housing, where they pay about $14,600 for room and board for the school year. Some 60 percent of Stanford’s graduate students live on campus and pay $12,300 for rent plus $5,800 for food.

The university provides a subsidy for the other grad students, so that their cost of living approximates that of students living on campus, according to Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications at Stanford.

Chicago sings a sweeter tune

Most college towns are not as pricey as Palo Alto — and they’re great places to live, according to Peter Cassel. He’s in Hyde Park, the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Chicago, and is director of community development for Mac Properties, the biggest landlord in that neighborhood.

Hyde Park is that rare South Side Chicago neighborhood that’s known for being safe — in part because the university has its own police force.

It also offers a tremendous quality-of-life boost, whether you’re a student or not. “From my perspective, to choose to live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a large university in it seems crazy,” Cassel said.

He enjoys the people who are attracted to the university. “They create a level of diversity and enthusiasm that is very positive.” And he relishes the amenities that pop up around it. “There’s some sort of music program going on every night of the week. There’s a local neighborhood symphony, a radio station, multiple local theater groups – all of which in some way are supported by the university.”

Mac Properties offers one-bedroom apartments in Hyde Park that start at about $1,200 a month. That’s better than the Chicago median of $1,687 a month — but still higher than South Bend, IN, where the University of Notre Dame is located, and Winston-Salem, NC, which Wake Forest University calls home. Median rents there are $723 and $994, respectively.

Bargains aren’t out of the question

Medians are by definition in the middle, though, which means some students will find deals.

Jessica Dougherty beat the $1,286 median rent in Durham, NC, when she was a graduate student at Duke, No. 8 on the U.S. News and World Report list. She paid just $900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. It didn’t include Internet or cable, but she did have an in-unit washer and dryer, and was a three-minute bus ride to the building where most of her classes were.

Dougherty graduated last year and moved to a place that costs $1,370 a month. It’s a little farther from work, but the complex has both saltwater and chlorinated pools, plus trash “valets” who pick up garbage at her door at 8 p.m. every night.

Friends are jealous, Dougherty reports, and Durham’s best restaurants and other offerings are just down the street.

Related:

  • Quiz: Can You Match the State With Its Popular Rental Features?
  • Ms. Independent: Top 10 Cities Where Millennials Are Living Alone
  • Leaving the Nest: College Students and Renters Insurance

Source: zillow.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

Stop Comparing Yourself To Others And Live Your Own Life

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others often? Here are reasons you should stop comparing yourself to others and start living your own life.I think we can probably all agree that your life might be different if you decided to stop comparing yourself to others.

Over the years, I’ve compared myself to others plenty of times. I’ve compared myself to others when it came to school, looks, money, and more. I know that sounds bad, but without acknowledging that, it would be hard to stop.

Many people compare themselves to others too.

In fact, everyone has done it at one point in their life.

People often compare themselves to others to determine how well they are doing in life and base their personal value on that. However, that usually doesn’t lead to feeling too good about yourself. Plus, who actually wants to judge themselves in a negative way?

While in some circumstances it can be motivating and inspiring to compare yourself to others, but in most circumstances it is negative and can lead to:

  • Debt, such as when you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses and buy the same expensive things that other people are buying.
  • A feeling of defeat, like when you feel that you aren’t as good as someone else.
  • Unhappiness, in that the process of comparing yourself to others is neverending.
  • A waste of time. If you spend all of your time comparing yourself to others, you will never have enough time to do what you really want. Comparing yourself to others can take valuable time and moments away.

To put it simply, by comparing yourself to others, you are holding yourself back.

Now, I know that just telling you to stop comparing yourself to others is easier said than done. In today’s world, with social media and how everything seems to be on full display for the world, it can be easy to compare yourself to others.

But, you need to stop doing it in a negative way.

By doing so, you’ll be able to move on with your life, reach your goals, be happy for others, and more.

Sure, you may not be able to reach a goal as quickly as someone else or it may require more hard work, but that doesn’t mean that everything is impossible for you. Everyone is on a different path, and there are people who are better or worse off than you.

Instead of comparing your path to those around you, you should focus on what you can do to make your dream a reality.

Here is how you can stop comparing yourself to others.

 

Understand why comparing yourself to others can hold you back.

The first step to stop comparing yourself to others is to realize that comparisons are often negative and that most of the time they do not help.

You should think about why you feel the need to compare yourself to others, and think of how that may be impacting you. By realizing these things, you’ll be able to move forward and stop wasting your time with comparisons.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

If you want to learn how to feel better about yourself, this is so important!

 

Be happy for others.

Instead of feeling jealous or like it’s a competition between you and whoever you are comparing yourself to, you should just be happy for the success of others.

Good things can happen to other people, it doesn’t mean that your life is any less important. Plus, by being happy for others, you’ll learn to accept yourself and let more positivity into your life.

 

Be motivated, not competitive.

Instead of feeling jealous or competitive when comparing yourself to someone else, you should instead turn that emotion into inspiration and/or motivation.

The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone, you could think about how you could possibly do something similar (only if that’s what you truly want to do, of course). You can use their achievements as inspiration for your own life and goals.

As you can see, comparing yourself to someone else doesn’t have to be entirely bad, as long as you use that process for positives means.

 

Take a break from social media.

Social media can be fun and all, but for the most part, you are just seeing carefully selected pieces of someone’s life.

While that can be great, some people allow it to drag them down.

If you find yourself feeling jealous or negative when you are on social media, then you may want to take a break from it until you figure out how to turn that self-doubt into inspiration. This way, you can stop comparing yourself to others.

 

Be confident.

You may find yourself comparing yourself to others because you lack self confidence.

Some believe that confidence is something people are born with and that a person cannot learn how to be confident.

I used to feel the same way. While I’m not as confident as I would like to be, I am a fairly confident person and I believe that has helped me a lot in life. That sounds odd to say, but I am confident enough to say it!

I believe that gaining confidence can help you as well. Learning how to be confident can lead to getting the job you want, making more money, reaching your dreams, public speaking, meeting new people, networking, managing a business or employees, traveling the world, and more.

As you can see, gaining confidence can help a person in many, many different ways.

Plus, by being confident with yourself, you will learn how to stop comparing yourself to others because you’ll already believe in yourself.

Learn more at Be More Confident And Get What You Want In Life.

 

Take control of your finances.

Money is a leading cause of comparison.

Often, you may feel stuck with your current life because of some sort of financial reason. This happens to all of us.

And, this may lead to comparing yourself to others.

By paying off your debt, making more money, not living paycheck to paycheck, budgeting better, and more, you may feel free to reach for your dream life because you won’t feel controlled by your finances.

Related article:

  • 10 Great Ways To Gain Control Of Your Finances and Reach Financial Freedom
  • Are You Making Your Life Difficult? 18 Ideas To Simplify Your Life
  • How To Reach Your Goals

 

Be positive and happy with who you are.

Many people find themselves comparing themselves to others because they feel unlucky or sad about their situation.

Everyone has something that might make them sad, angry, scared, etc., and I understand that in some circumstances it can be quite difficult to see the positive or to be happy for yourself.

However, no matter how life may be going for you, I believe that a positive outlook can help to improve your life. It’s all about being grateful for what you already have.

Being negative causes limitations. If you think you cannot do something, then you most likely will not. Negative thoughts can make you feel stuck, they can make you feel like there is no way out of your problems, and that you have zero options.

On the other hand, being positive can help you realize that you are able to do things, that you are in control of your life, and that little things will not kill you. Being positive will also help you move on and deal with stressful situations better.

 

There is no such thing as the perfect life.

No one is perfect.

Once you realize that, you’ll find that comparing yourself to others is wasted time because everyone has a different path, including you.

Instead, you should accept your past and present, and realize that you can make changes for the future if you desire to do so.

Remember, you should never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. You don’t know what they’ve been through, and instead you should be happy for other people’s accomplishments.

 

Think about your dream life.

To stop comparing yourself to others, you may want to think about your dream life. This may help you realize that everyone’s on a different path, and that you should be creating your own path to reach happiness and success.

You should think about different things such as:

  • What does it take to reach your dream life? Do you need to go to school? Pay off debt? Learn something new?
  • What will your action plan be?
  • Why is what you’re currently doing no longer working for you?
  • What excuses are you currently making?
  • What are the risks? What will you have to overcome to reach your dream life?
  • What are the positives of reaching your dream life? What is success to you?

Remember, don’t compare yourself with others!

How could you stop comparing yourself to others? How has it impacted your life?

The post Stop Comparing Yourself To Others And Live Your Own Life appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check)

Writing a check. It’s one of those things you always wanted to know how to do right but were probably too afraid to ask. Well, fear no longer: in this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of check-writing, from how to fill out the lines you need, to knowing when it’s best to use a check — and when it’s not. We’ve also included a printable practice check at the bottom of the article so you can give it a shot before filling out a real one.

In this article, we’ll cover everything from how to write a check to the best situations to use one. Read through if you want to know everything you need to about writing a check, or click on a link below to jump straight to the section you’re most interested in.

  • What Is a Check?
    • Where Can I Get a Checkbook?
  • How Do You Fill Out a Check?
    • What Do I Do After Writing a Check?
  • Check Writing Security Tips
  • Alternatives to Writing a Check
  • Wrapping up

Before we get into the details of learning how to fill out a check, let’s start with the basics.

What Is a Check?

A check is basically a statement in writing that you agree to pay some amount of money to whomever you’re making the check out to. It lets the bank know that they can withdraw those funds from your financial accounts and direct deposit it into the payee’s account (that’s the person who you’re paying). If you’re unsure about how much to keep in checking for checks you may be writing, check out our post on that for a brief explanation.

When to use a check

Checks are useful in a variety of situations. You can use a check to:

  • Pay your monthly rent
  • Make a large purchase without a card
  • Send money as a gift
  • Pay for groceries
  • Pay for hired work like a housekeeper or gardener

Basically, they’re good for situations where you’re paying large sums of money that wouldn’t be convenient to pay for in cash, and where you’d rather not use a credit or debit card.

Where can I get a checkbook?

You can usually get a checkbook straight from your bank for free or a small fee, and they’re also available from retailers like Costco and Walmart. Custom checks are also available online from sites like Checks.com, but be careful where you order from, as some sites may not be secure — or could even be a scam.

Before you get started making payments with checks, however, you’ll need to know how to fill one out.

How Do You Fill Out a Check?

Knowing how to write a check is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. First, take a look at this graphic that shows the way that all the necessary fields of a check should be filled out.

filling in a check

Next, we’ll walk through each step to make sure you know what goes into filling out each line. We get it — it’s a little nerve racking signing over money to someone on a little piece of paper. Knowing how to fill it out correctly will give you more confidence the next time you have to send a check.

  1. Start with the payee, the person who you’re sending money to. There’s usually text that reads “pay to the order of” beside a line that you’ll fill in. On that line, simply write the first and last name of the person who you’re paying, or the name of the company you’re paying if it’s not an individual person. Be sure that you spell everything correctly, as misspelling a name could result in the check not going through.
  2. Fill in the amount in words that you are paying your payee. This part is a little weird, since you usually write numbers out in numerals, but it’s an important security step. The dollar amount should be written in words, and any cents can be written as a fraction out of 100. For example, if you were paying your landlord $925.50 for rent and utilities, you’d write out “Nine hundred twenty five dollars and 50/100.”
  3. Fill in the amount in numbers in the box on the top right of the check. This is a bit easier. In the case of the example above, you’d just write out $925.50. Often, the dollar sign is already written on the check, so you just have to make sure that the numerals are written out correctly. Important note: be sure that you double-check that the amount you wrote in words matches the amount you wrote in numerals.
  4. The optional memo line is located on the bottom left of the check. Though leaving this blank won’t invalidate the check, it’s usually smart to include a brief description so that your payee knows what the money is for. For example, in the rent check example, including “September rent” on the memo line is a good way for you and your landlord to keep track of your rent payments.
  5. The date is on the top right of the check. Fill in the date of the day you fill out the check — this ensures that you and your recipient can keep track of when the payment occurred.
  6. Sign your check on the line on the bottom right. This line shows that you have officially agreed to pay the listed amount. Be sure that the name you sign matches the one on file with your bank or the check may not be valid. It’s also a good idea to have a consistent signature, that way there’s little doubt you’ve authorized the check.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to know how to fill out a check. If you need a little practice filling out a check before you’re ready to send one, try out our printable practice check.

Note: In addition to the parts that you’ll fill in, a check includes the routing number and account number for the bank account that it’s withdrawing from. You don’t need to worry about those when you learn how to write a check, but when you receive your checkbook, be sure to double check that the number match your bank. You want to know which bank account your check will be drawing from when it’s cashed.

What Do I Do After Writing a Check?

Once you’ve written the check, make sure to note in a check register the amount that you’ve paid. Check registers are often included in the backs of checkbooks, but you can also keep a separate one if that is more convenient for you.

Whether you use a paper register or a digital one, it’s important to record how much you’ve paid because, until your payee cashes the check and it’s processed at your bank, your account will still list those funds as available. Recording the amount that you’ve paid gives you a more accurate picture of the amount that is in your checking account, and will be necessary when it’s time to balance your checkbook.

Note: Making sure to track cash and checks is always an important way to stay on your budget. While you will likely be able to see your credit card purchases online as soon as they happen, checks and cash don’t leave as easy a trail. Maintaining a written log and using an app like Mint are helpful ways to keep an eye on the full picture of your spending as you wait for checks to clear.

Check Writing Security Tips

Because checks are physical pieces of paper, they aren’t password protected and aren’t as easy to track as electronic payments (more on that in the next section). So, there are some security risks that you should keep in mind if you plan on using your checkbook.

Check writing security basics

That said, checks are generally a secure way of paying for things if they’re filled out carefully and properly. Check out these tips before filling out your check to ensure that you aren’t scammed or defrauded.

  • Never leave a check blank. There’s a reason signing your check was the last step listed above. If you sign a check and hand it over without a dollar amount specified, your payee can simply enter whatever quantity they wish and withdraw that from your bank account. The same goes for the payee line. If you had a signed check made out for $500 without a payee, and it slipped out of your bag, anyone could pick it up, enter their name, and pay themselves. Be sure that you always wait until you know the dollar amount and payee before you sign your check.
  • Use a pen. For the same reasons you wouldn’t want to hand anyone a blank check, it’s a good idea to use pen when filling it out. A check written in pencil could be easily tampered with, so be sure your writing is clear and permanent to avoid check fraud.
  • Try out the line method. Following the same reasoning, you wouldn’t want someone to turn your check for $500 into a check for $5500. You can prevent this by drawing a line from the edge of the space where you’ve written the amount to the start of your first letter. Follow this up by filling the entire numerical quantity box with the numerals for your amount.
  • Keep a record. Whether you opt for a checkbook that makes carbon copies of every check you write, or simply record all your transactions in a check register, keeping a handy list of all your paid checks is a good way to make sure you notice if something goes wrong. It’s also just helpful when you’re trying to sort out how much money you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on.

Checks are generally a secure way to pay for things, but they might not be your best option for every situation.

Alternatives to writing a check

Alternatives to Writing a Check

Writing a check might be a useful way to make a payment in some situations, but in today’s world of tech, card payments and online banking, there’s often an easier and more secure alternative to pay or transfer funds.

Check alternatives

Here are some situations where you might use a check along with some alternatives that could be a better option.

  • Paying rent. There are plenty of landlords who keep things old school and only accept checks. However, many contemporary apartment complexes or apartments owned by property management companies will invest in an online payment portal for their residents. If you have the option to set up a payment portal, this is a much safer way of paying rent — plus, it eliminates the cost and hassle of mailing a check.
  • Making a large purchase. Credit cards are scary, but they often are a much better way of making large purchases. This is because many credit cards offer perks like cash back or airline miles, and consistently paying off your balance can seriously boost your credit. Plus, credit cards have stronger fraud protection than checks.
  • Buying groceries. Credit cards are also a great option here. Many grocery stores, or retailers that also sell groceries, offer credit cards themselves. These can be used to gain points or discounts, lowering your grocery bill monthly.

Wrapping up

Knowing how to write a check can be a handy and secure way to pay for something if you do it correctly. The guidelines in this post should help you start writing checks safely and carefully, and if you need a little extra practice, try out our printable practice check below. It’s a good way to feel confident before you put your pen (never pencil!) on the next check you write.

Blank check

 

The post How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check) appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com