Can an Inherited IRA Be Rolled Over?

IRA documents

If you inherit an individual retirement account (IRA) from a spouse, you can treat it like your own IRA or roll it over into a traditional IRA you already have. If you are the beneficiary of an IRA inherited from someone other than your spouse, the options are different. You can’t roll it over into an existing IRA. However, you can transfer it into a new IRA, if you satisfy certain requirements. In either case, failing to follow the rules can result in the IRA being treated as a taxable distribution. A financial advisor can guide you as you deal with an inherited IRA so that you don’t needlessly incur any tax liabilities.

Inheriting an IRA From a Spouse

The owner of an IRA can designate anyone to be the beneficiary of an IRA or other account after the owner’s death. Often, the beneficiary is the surviving spouse. Then the beneficiary has some choices.

First, the surviving spouse can name himself or herself as the owner of the inherited account. In this event, it will be as if the surviving spouse had always owned the account. The same distribution rules will apply.

Second, the new owner can roll it over into an existing IRA. This can be a traditional IRA or, after conversion, a Roth IRA. Any taxable distributions can be rolled over into another plan, such as a qualified employer retirement plan, a 401(a) or 403(b) annuity plan or a state or local government’s 457(b) deferred compensation plan.

If the rollover route is selected, it can be accomplished by a direct trustee-to-trustee transaction.

Or it can be done by taking the funds from the account as a distribution and then depositing the funds into another IRA within 60 days. Waiting longer than 60 days to re-deposit the funds into an IRA risks having the distribution taxed like income.

The most desirable way is to use the direct trustee-to-trustee transaction. This can be set up in advance if the wishes of the original owner regarding the inheritance are known.

The age of the beneficiary determines how the inherited IRA will be taxed. That means, for instance, any distributions before age 59 ½ will get charged a 10% penalty in addition to being subject income taxes. And starting at age 72, the beneficiary will have to start taking the annual required minimum distributions (RMDs.) If a beneficiary was 70.5 or older on Dec. 31, 2019, he or she has to start taking RMDs immediately.

Inheriting From a Non-Spouse

Man working on household finances

If you inherit an IRA from someone other than your spouse, you can’t just roll it over. In this case, the usual approach is to open a new IRA called an inherited IRA. This IRA will stay in the name of the deceased person and the person who inherited it will be named as beneficiary. The inheritor can’t make any contributions to the inherited IRA or roll any funds into or out of it.

The funds can’t just stay in the inherited IRA forever, or even until the new beneficiary reaches the age at which they’d have to start being withdrawn. In most cases, all the funds have to be distributed within 10 years of the original owner’s death. If it’s a Roth IRA, all the interest usually has to be distributed within five years of the owner’s death.

Rather than opening an inherited IRA, the person who inherited the IRA can take a lump sump distribution. Even if the person is younger than 59 ½, the distribution won’t be subject to the usual 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. However, the distributed funds will be subject to income taxes.

Bottom Line

Retired couple on a beachInheriting an IRA from a spouse means the beneficiary can simply name himself or herself as new owner of the account and treat it as if it had been theirs all along. Or the bereaved spouse can roll the funds into a new account. If the inheritor is someone other than a spouse, the usual approach is to set up an inherited IRA, keeping the original owner’s name on the account and naming the inheritor as the beneficiary. But sometimes it makes more sense to disclaim an inherited IRA if, for example, the inherited funds would mean the beneficiary’s estate would be so large it would incur the federal estate tax. In the event an IRA is disclaimed, the funds would go to other beneficiaries named on the account.

Tips for Handling IRAs

  • If you inherit an IRA or expect to – especially if your benefactor is someone other than your spouse – consider discussing the best way to handle it with an experienced financial advisor. Finding one 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 who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One factor in deciding whether to claim and how to claim an inherited IRA is how much you will get from Social Security. That’s where a free, easy-to-use retirement calculator comes in very handy.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/designer491, ©iStock.com/shapecharge, ©iStock.com/dmbaker

The post Can an Inherited IRA Be Rolled Over? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How To Fight an Eviction During the Coronavirus Pandemic

EvictionPeter Dazeley / Getty Images

Eviction may soon become a reality for millions of American renters.

In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act prohibited landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent in homes with federally backed mortgages. But this program ended on July 24.

As a result, an estimated 20% of the 110 million Americans who rent their homes are at risk for eviction by Sept. 30, according to a report by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a group of economic researchers and legal experts working to better understand the housing, homeless, and community recovery during the pandemic.

“We anticipate a flood of evictions because many tenants won’t be able to pay the back rent, and it will be due,” says Deborah Thrope, deputy director at the National Housing Law Project, a housing and legal advocacy nonprofit.

“The eviction moratorium is simply a pause. It’s not rent cancelation,” Thrope says.

But even if you’re struggling to pay rent, this doesn’t mean an eviction is your only choice. Here’s an overview of some of the steps you can take to fight an eviction.

Talk to your landlord ASAP

“The best advice I can give tenants when their financial situation starts to deteriorate is to communicate with your landlord,” says Marina Vaamonde, a real estate investor in Houston and founder of HouseCashin. “Their willingness to have a discussion is the only way tenants can come to a resolution without going to court.”

According to a recent survey of landlords by the American Apartment Owners Association, 67% said they would be willing to offer tenants a rent deferment if they needed it.

So if you know you can’t make your next rent payment, reach out to your landlord as soon as possible. Waiting until after you get an eviction notice may be too late, and your landlord may be less likely to work with you. Your landlord could also already be in the process of filing the eviction with the court, and have paid fees to do so, which may make him more likely to follow through.

“There are a number of things you can negotiate with your landlord,” Thrope says. Some options to consider include a rent repayment agreement, shortening the terms of your lease, or possibly getting out of your lease altogether.

Learn how COVID-19 moratoriums apply to you

Eviction laws vary drastically across the country at the state and even city level, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all even more complicated. Along with the CARES Act eviction moratorium, states and municipalities issued their own mandates to pause evictions. So make sure to read up on the eviction laws in your area specifically to better understand what your landlord is legally allowed and not allowed to do.

“Once you understand your legal rights, you’ll know your options,” Thrope says. “We have this patchwork of policy all across the country right now, so it’s important to know the local law and tenant protections.”

One resource for finding out the statutes of local eviction laws is the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which created a nationwide database. The group has also developed a state-by-state COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard, tracking states’ responses to evictions and during the pandemic.

NHLP also has local and national online resources for renters and homeowners during the pandemic.

Make sure your landlord gives you adequate notice

Landlords usually have the legal right to evict tenants for not paying rent, violating a lease, causing damage to the property, or engaging in illegal activity at the home.

Most states require landlords to give an adequate notice of eviction with a deadline to pay rent or move out and the amount owed. If you don’t meet the deadline, the landlord can file a lawsuit to evict you.

But if landlords don’t provide adequate notice of eviction, Vaamonde says a judge will often throw out the case.

In Texas, for example, landlords must provide an official three-day notice to vacate the property with the reason for the eviction, and can file an eviction hearing with the court if the tenant doesn’t respond or move out.

Landlords are also prohibited from taking extreme actions during the eviction process, like changing the locks or cutting off utilities.

Attend your eviction hearing

After being closed because of the pandemic, eviction courts are beginning to reopen across the country, and are moving cases through quickly to clear up the backlog of evictions.

If your landlord files for an eviction in court, you will receive a notice to appear for the hearing. It’s important to show up, especially if you hope to fight the case. You have the right to examine and present evidence and bring witnesses, Thrope says.

“Showing up to the eviction hearing at the courthouse is the only way to receive some form of leniency,” Vaamonde says. “If the landlord wants you out of his property, the judge is the only one with the authority to defer your eviction.”

Since the pandemic has made showing up to court more difficult and dangerous, many proceedings are being held virtually, with tenants expected to appear by phone or videoconference. This may be easier for some tenants, but Thrope says in other cases, it can interfere with due process for some tenants who may not have access to the technology. It also makes it more difficult to look over evidence or converse with attorneys. Make sure you know when, where, and how you’re supposed to show up in court to make sure you do what you can to present your case.

“We hope that courts understand that this is a public health crisis, and that people sheltering in their homes is one of the remedies,” Thrope says. “To put people on the street right now is only going to exacerbate this crisis, so we hope courts will do the right thing.”

Consult an attorney

Fighting an eviction alone is overwhelming for many tenants since the process is so complex. Thrope urges tenants facing eviction to hire an attorney or contact local legal aid organizations.

“Reach out for legal assistance,” she says. “That’s really important because you need to understand what protections you can avail yourself locally.”

A lawyer can help explain whether you’re protected by the CARES Act or other local mandate, as well as how regular eviction laws apply in your situation and what exactly you need to do to fight an eviction.

A lawyer will also help you gather documentation to use as evidence, such as proof of past rent payments or that you lost your job, and any communication that you had with your landlord.

“Most tenants are not represented,” she says. “Some tenants may be savvy enough to [represent themselves], but it’s a legal process. We have the right to counsel, and it’s really critical here.”

The post How To Fight an Eviction During the Coronavirus Pandemic appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

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

More money, less happiness: When money makes you miserable

More money, less happiness: When money makes you miserableMoney, the conventional wisdom says, doesn’t buy happiness. Modern psychology seems to back this up, with studies suggesting that beyond an income of $75,000, money doesn’t make you any happier.

This conclusion is simultaneously obvious and counter-intuitive.

As an abstract principle, most us acknowledge that money doesn’t buy happiness. But, at the same time, we all want more of something material — a nicer house, nicer vacations, the ability to live in a certain neighborhood or eat at fancier restaurants — that we think would make us happier. (If you’re J.D., you think maybe season tickets to your favorite team might make you happier.)

So, we’re left with a conundrum. Or, rather, a series of conundrums: Does income in excess of $75,000 make us happier? And if not, why not?

When Money Makes You Happier

In answer to the first question, I believe that all else equal — and as we’ll see below, this is a huge qualifier, as things are rarely equal — more money generally makes you happier.

To be clear, money won’t solve every problem. If you’re lonely or bitter or angry, for instance, more money won’t make you any happier. But just because money doesn’t solve every problem doesn’t mean that money won’t solve any problems.

Money can make many things easier, or better. With more money you can:

  • Build a nest-egg.
  • Pay off your house or car.
  • Go on more vacations.
  • Have more kids.
  • Be a stay at home parent.
  • Eat better food.
  • Retire early.

With more money, you can do any number of other things that people enjoy and that make them happier. And if you’re a victim of systemic poverty, more money can change your world.

As much as we pay lip-service to the idea of money not making us happy, it often does, and it’s okay to admit this. It doesn’t make us materialistic or greedy to want retirement savings, a nicer home, a paid-off car, or a trip to Europe.

When Money Makes You Miserable

Assuming that you buy the premise that (in theory) more money should (generally) make us happier, it raises the question of why (in practice) income beyond $75,000 annually doesn’t make us any happier.

I think the explanation for this seemingly irreconcilable conflict is that most people spend the extra income poorly. Most people use money ways that make them less happy.

Their Job Makes Them Miserable.

People who earn a lot of money often assume that they’re paid well because of their intelligence and skills. And that is undoubtedly often the case.

But often they’re paid well in whole (or in part) because they’ve accepted a very difficult, demanding job that pays well precisely because it makes people unhappy! A job with long hours, lots of stress, lots of travel and time away from family and friends will generally pay well, but also significantly impair happiness.

It shouldn’t then be surprising that people with high incomes are often unhappy. The high income and unhappiness have the exact same origins.

They Spend Money on Things That Bring Them No Happiness.

People are generally conformists. Drive through a rich neighborhood, and you’ll see people dressed similarly, driving similar cars, going on similar vacations.

This isn’t just a happy coincidence, that all these kindred spirits serendipitously found each other and formed a happy community. Rather, people succumb to keeping up with the Joneses and continually buy stuff — not because they enjoy it, but because they’d be embarrassed not to have it.

To a large extent, individuals let their peers dictate how they spend their time and money. Living on somebody else’s terms — living somebody else’s life — is not a recipe for happiness, and if you do it, extra money won’t make you any happier. You’ll be spending it how other people want you to, not how you want to.

They Take on More Debt.

When people begin to earn more money, they generally upgrade their lifestyle — buy a nicer home and buy a nicer car. The problem is, they don’t pay cash for these things. Rather, they use their new, higher income as a means to borrow more money. Far from providing financial security, the extra income often makes their financial position more precarious.

Instead of using the extra income to buy freedom and peace of mind — which would make them happier — they incur more debt, which makes them more anxious than ever, with the added fear that if they lose their job, they’ll be humiliated at having to ratchet back their newly lavish lifestyle.

Extra money won’t make you happy if it tethers you to a heavily indebted lifestyle.

The Bottom Line

The lesson here is simple: If you come into more money, it can make you happier — provided that you use it in a way that provides you security, freedom, and sincere pleasure, not merely conformist consumption.

Money, in short, is neutral. It’s a tool that can make you happier, or less happy, depending on how you choose to spend it.

Money will make you happier only if you choose to spend it in accordance with your values and your preferences. Nobody — not your parents, not your friends, not your neighbors, and certainly not a blogger! — knows what makes you happy better than you do. But, this doesn’t stop people from assuming that they know what is best for you: what neighborhood you should live in, what car to drive, what education you “owe” your kids. If you listen to them, more money won’t make you any happier; in fact, it may make you less happy, because you’re working hard and incurring debt to live out somebody else’s life.

Our family’s life is a microcosm of this.

In our twenties, my wife and I both had good jobs in a large city. We had it made by what society values, but we weren’t very happy; we worked long hours at demanding jobs. We did however live frugally relative to our incomes.

Burnt out on our jobs, we eventually moved to a smaller city and my wife quit her job so that we could have three kids that she stayed home with. Those were expensive decisions, both in terms of cash outlays and opportunity cost. But they were good decisions; we had less money, but far more joy.

This trade-off was only possible because we had spent many years saving our money, deferring gratification — ignoring a culture that told us to spend as a reward for our hard work — so that when we finally spent the money, we spent it on something that we valued, namely our family. It was the best decision that we’ve ever made (all the credit goes to my wife!), but it was only possible to live that way in our thirties because of how we had spent, or more accurately not spent, in our twenties.

The point isn’t that we’re so smart, and that you should have a bunch of kids too. It is in fact the opposite: I have no idea what your best life is.

But then again, neither does anybody else besides you. If you find the courage to decide for yourself what you value, and you use money wisely to pursue your goals and your dreams, you will find that, contrary to popular opinion, money will buy you happiness.

Source: getrichslowly.org

A Parent’s Guide to Setting a Successful Budget for a College Student

The post A Parent’s Guide to Setting a Successful Budget for a College Student appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

 You are getting ready to send your child off to college. Before you start helping them pack their belongings, there is one thing you need to do.

You need to help them create a budget. You need to teach them how to manage their money so they can learn the tools they’ll use long after they graduate.

WHY DO COLLEGE STUDENTS NEED A BUDGET?

The truth is everyone needs a budget. It does not matter your age. If you are dealing with money, a budget is necessary.

  1. Allows you to control your money. Rather than your money telling you what it wants to do, you get to tell your money where it needs to go. You are always in control when you have a budget.
  2. It teaches financial skills. A budget helps ensure that expenses such as rent, tuition, food, insurance, transportation, and housing are paid – before spending money on the fun stuff. (It also helps to make sure you don’t spend more than you make.)
  3. Makes you aware of where your money goes. When you use a budget, you see how you spend. It is very simple to see if too much is going toward dining out when you should be building your savings.
  4. Helps you track your goals. You need to cover expenses but you should also work on building savings at the same time. Your budget allows you to not only see those goals but track them in real time.

DOESN’T A BUDGET MEAN YOU CAN’T HAVE FUN?

Not at all! If anything, your budget will allow you to have guilt-free fun.

For example, the budget may allow you to spend $50 a week dining out. That means you can go to dinner with friends once (possibly twice) a week and enjoy yourself. You won’t be left wondering how you are now going to make rent.

WHAT TYPE OF BUDGET SHOULD YOUR STUDENT USE?

There are various methods of budgeting such as the 50/30/20 and the zero-based budget. For most college students, the zero-based is the simplest and easiest to follow.

The reason is that you track everything. You give every penny a job. That means if you earn $1,500 for the month that you “spend” the entire $1,500.

You will first cover the needs (food, shelter, transportation) and then your wants. If there is money “leftover” after this is done, it can be added to your savings.

You can use other types but if you have never budgeted before, using this method is the simplest.

WHAT SHOULD A COLLEGE STUDENT INCLUDE IN A BUDGET?

The budget will vary for each person, as the income and expense will be different. However, these are the most common categories that need to be included in a budget:

  • Rent
  • Renter’s insurance
  • Car payment
  • Car insurance (also saving for annual renewal fees)
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Utilities (phone, electricity, gas, water, etc.)
  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Entertainment (movies, games, concerts)
  • Dining out
  • Emergency fund savings

Again, you may have items that are not included above or see some that you do not need.

However, the most important thing of all is that every penny is given a job. Account for everything you will spend each month so you never have too much month and not enough money.

HOW DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF YOUR BUDGET?

For most college students, apps or digital trackers are the best options.  But, before you rush and sign up, keep the following in mind.

  1. Cost. Many apps are free and they will work perfectly fine. Other apps have a monthly fee attached to them. If you plan to use one of them, make sure you include that as one of your regular expenses. However, do not let the cost alone be a single factor when it comes to clicking the sign-up button.
  2. Security. Your security trumps all else. You need to make sure the app uses encryption as well as two-factor authorization.

Some of the best apps include:

  • Mint
  • You Need a Budget (YNAB)
  • PocketGuard
  • Mvelopes

However, your student may also like the traditional paper and pencil method – and that is OK as well.

Find the right one that works best for your student. That is all that matters.

TEACHING THEM TO BUDGET

Knowing you need a budget and where to track it is just the beginning. You need to teach your child how to budget.

Start by looking at each category that they need on their budget. You may already know the cost for each category but if not, you may need to make phone calls or do research to know.

For example, you know the rent for the apartment is $850 a month but how much are the average utilities? Ask the manager for these costs so you can include them in the budget.

Next, decide how much they want to allow themselves to spend on food. Show them how much a meal costs for a single person at each restaurant you eat at so they can create an average.

You will then have them decide how much “fun money” they want to include as well. You can base this on them wanting to go to the movies two times a month, one concert a month, or attending three events.

Now you can see the expenses for your student. Add their income to the budget and deduct the expenses. They will see if they are operating in the black (money left over) or in the red (spending more than they make).

Show them how to adjust the numbers by increasing their savings or lowering the amount they can spend on clothes – until the budget equals zero. Zero meaning they are spending every penny they earn.

And making them keep track now will help ensure they stay on track well into the future.

 

 

 

The post A Parent’s Guide to Setting a Successful Budget for a College Student appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Paying Off Debt to Buy a House

A brown brick house at sunset

When you buy a house, a big part of a lender’s decision whether to approve your mortgage rests on whether or not you can afford it.If you have a lot of debt, the monthly payments on those obligations chip away at the total amount you can pay each month on a mortgage.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to buy a house if you’re in debt. It’s just a bit more challenging. If you want to stop paying rent and enter the exciting world of homeownership, here’s how you can pay off debt to buy a house.

1. Calculate Your Debt to Income Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio, often called DTI ratio, is a measurement that compares the amount of debt you have to your income. It helps determine how much you can actually afford when it comes to mortgage payments.

How Much Debt Can You Have and Still Qualify for a Mortgage?

Most lenders won’t approve you if your DTI is higher than around 43%.

For example, let’s say you make $52,000 a year. This means your gross income each month is around $4,333. If half your paycheck is devoted to paying off debts, then about $2,166 of your income goes towards paying off your various debts.

By these numbers, your DTI would be 50%. The bank would probably not approve you for a mortgage since your DTI is higher than the maximum 43%. To fix this problem, you can do one of two things: start making more money and/or lower your monthly recurring debt payments.

2. Find Ways to Decrease Your Debt

Consolidate Loans

Qualifying for a mortgage partially depends on what part of your monthly gross income is paid towards the minimum amount due on recurring bills. These might include credit card bills, student loan payments, car loans and other payments. Consolidating can be a way to reduce that amount.

What does consolidating mean? Consider an example where you have five credit card payments each month. Consolidating them means that instead of making five separate payments to individual lenders, you make onepayment each month.

If your credit is good enough, you may be able to get a consolidation loan with better terms. That means your one consolidated payment may be lower than the five payments combined. You can consolidate student loans, too, and get the same potential benefits.

After you’ve consolidated, you can re-calculate your DTI ratio. If it’s lower, you may fall below the DTI threshold required to be approved for a mortgage.

Pay Off or Pay Down Some Debt

If you make an effort to pay off or pay down some of your existing debt, this can help decrease your DTI ratio and make your financial picture look more favorable to lenders. It may be best to concentrate on paying off recurring debts, such as credit cards, to help your chances.

Is It Best to Pay Off Debt Before Buying a House?

There’s no one right answer to this question. It can depend on your mortgage lender. Your mortgage lender may want you to pay off debt before making a down payment while others may be okay with your DTI and want a larger down payment. If you’re under the 43% DTI and have a good credit history, you might consider working with a mortgage lender to find out what your options are.

Credit Repair

If any debts listed on your credit report aren’t yours, this could be hurting your overall financial health. Make sure to closely examine the details of your credit report and make sure the accounts listed are actually ones you’re responsible for. If you do notice errors on your credit report, you can work to repair your credit by disputing the entries.

3. Find Ways to Increase Your Income

One of the ways to make your DTI more favorable is to increase your income. You can usually do this by either getting a better paying job or by getting a second job if you have the means. If you’re married and are applying for a mortgage with your joint income, perhaps your spouse can get a job to help increase their income. One drawback to this solution is that it’s a long-term solution and not a short-term one. Getting a new job, whether primary or secondary, takes time and effort.

4. Consider Making a Down Payment

Contrary to popular belief, a 20% down payment on a home isn’t required in many cases. FHA loans, for instance, only require 3.5% down, and some mortgage lenders may only ask for 5% down on a conventional loan.

However, keep in mind that the more you put down upfront, the less your monthly payments are and the lower your interest rate is likely to be. If you can put more money down, it makes the mortgage more affordable. If you’re hovering at the higher end of an acceptable DTI ratio, that may make a difference.

Looking at the Big Picture

When you’re ready to buy a house, it’s important to consider your level of debt, how much money you have coming in and your job security. If you’re able to consolidate your debt and get lower monthly payments as a result, your job is well-paying and seems secure and your credit is excellent, you can probably buy a home even if you have other debts.

Assess the Risks

Remember that just because you might qualify for a home loan doesn’t mean you should buy a house. Stretching your limits to meet that 43% DTI ratio can be risky unless you foresee your income continuing to rise oryou know any debt obligations you have are set to be paid off in the future.

Can Paying Off Debt Hurt My Credit Score?

Most of the time, paying off debt has a neutral or positive impact to your credit score. First, you decrease your credit utilization, which accounts for 30% of your credit score. A lower credit utilization can bring up your score. Second, you show the lender that you have the means to pay off debts, which can be a positive factor in whether you’re approved.

However, in a few cases, paying off debt could lower your score. If you pay off old accounts, you could change the age of your credit. How old your accounts are play a role in your score. You could also reduce your credit mix, which also factors into your score.

Neither of these factors plays as large a role as credit utilization, though. And if your mortgage company wants to see you with less outstanding debt, a tiny and temporary hit to your credit score may be worth getting approved for a loan.

To find out more about your credit score and where you stand with financial health, sign up for a free Credit Report Card today. You’ll get feedback about the five major areas that impact your score and how you can improve them before applying for a mortgage.

The post Paying Off Debt to Buy a House appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.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