Different Types of Debt

Debt comes in all shapes and sizes. You can owe money to utility companies, banks, credit card providers, and the government. There’s student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and much more. But what are the official categories of debt and how do the payoff strategies for these debts differ?

Categories of Debt

Debt is generally categorized into two simple forms: Secured and Unsecured. The former is secured against an asset, such as a car or loan, and means the lender can seize the asset if you fail to meet your obligations. Unsecured is not secured against anything, reducing the creditor’s control and limiting their options if the repayment terms are not met.

A secured debt provides the lender with some assurances and collateral, which means they are often prepared to provide better interest rates and terms. This is one of the reasons you’re charged astronomical rates for credit cards and short-term loans but are generally offered very favorable rates for home loans and car loans.

If the debtor fails to make payments on an unsecured debt, such as a credit card, then the debtor may file a judgment with the courts or sell it to a collection agency. In the first instance, it’s a lot of hassle without any guarantee. In the second, they’re selling the debts for cents on the dollar and losing a lot of money. In either case, it’s not ideal, and to offset this they charge much higher interest rates and these rates climb for debtors with a poorer track record.

There is also something known as revolving debt, which can be both unsecured and secured. Revolving debt is anything that offers a continuous cycle of credit and repayment, such as a credit card or a home equity line of credit. 

Mortgages and federal student loans may also be grouped into separate debts. In the case of mortgages, these are substantial secured loans that use the purchase as collateral. As for federal student loans, they are provided by the government to fund education. They are unsecured and there are many forgiveness programs and options to clear them before the repayment date.

What is a Collection Account?

As discussed above, if payments are missed for several months then the account may be sold to a debt collection agency. This agency will then assume control of the debt, contacting the debtor to try and settle for as much as they can. At this point, the debt can often be settled for a fraction of the amount, as the collection agency likely bought it very cheaply and will make a profit even if it is sold for 30% of its original balance.

Debt collectors are persistent as that’s their job. They will do everything in their power to collect, whether that means contacting you at work or contacting your family. There are cases when they are not allowed to do this, but in the first instance, they can, especially if they’re using these methods to track you down and they don’t discuss your debts with anyone else.

No one wants the debt collectors after them, but generally, you have more power than they do and unless they sue you, there’s very little they can do. If this happens to you, we recommend discussing the debts with them and trying to come to an arrangement. Assuming, that is, the debt has not passed the statute of limitations. If it has, then negotiating with them could invalidate that and make you legally responsible for the debt all over again.

Take a look at our guide to the statute of limitations in your state to learn more.

As scary as it can be to have an account in collections, it’s also common. A few years ago, a study found that there are over 70 million accounts in collections, with an average balance of just over $5,000.

Can Bankruptcy Discharge all Debts?

Bankruptcy can help you if you have more debts than you can repay. But it’s not as all-encompassing as many debtors believe.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy will discharge most of your debts, but it won’t touch child support, alimony or tax debt. It also won’t help you with secured debts as the lender will simply repossess or foreclose, taking back their money by cashing in the collateral. Chapter 13 bankruptcy works a little differently and is geared towards repayment as opposed to discharge. You get to keep more of your assets and in exchange you agree to a payment plan that repays your creditors over 3 to 5 years.

However, as with Chapter 7, you can’t clear tax debts and you will still need to pay child support and alimony. Most debts, including private student loans, credit card debt, and unsecured loan debt will be discharged with bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy can seriously reduce your credit score in the short term and can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. Your case will also be dismissed if you can’t show that you have exhausted all other options.

Differences in Reducing Each Type of Debt

The United States has some of the highest consumer debt in the world. It has become a common part of modern life, but at the same time, we have better options for credit and debt relief, which helps to balance things out a little. Some of the debt relief options at your disposal have been discussed below in relation to each particular type of long-term debt.

The Best Methods for Reducing Loans

If you’re struggling with high-interest loans, debt consolidation can help. A debt consolidation company will provide you with a loan large enough to cover all your debts and in return, they will give you a single long-term debt. This will often have a smaller interest rate and a lower monthly payment, but the term will be much longer, which means you’ll pay much more interest overall.

Debt management works in a similar way, only you work directly with a credit union or credit counseling agency and they do all the work for you, before accepting your money and then distributing it to your creditors.

Both forms of debt relief can also help with other unsecured debts. They bring down your debt-to-income ratio, leave you with more disposable income, and allow you to restructure your finances and get your life back on track.

The Best Methods for Reducing Credit Cards

Debt settlement is the ultimate debt relief option and can help you clear all unsecured debt, with many companies specializing in credit card debt. 

Debt settlement works best when you have lots of derogatory marks and collections, as this is when creditors are more likely to settle. They can negotiate with your creditors for you and clear your debts by an average of 40% to 60%. You just need to pay the full settlement amount and the debt will clear, with the debt settlement company not taking their cut until the entire process has been finalized.

A balance transfer can also help with credit card debt. A balance transfer credit card gives you a 0% APR on all transfers for between 6 and 18 months. Simply move all of your credit card balances into a new balance transfer card and then every cent of your monthly payment will go towards the principal.

The Best Methods for Reducing Secured Debts

Secured debt is a different beast, as your lender can seize the asset if they want to. This makes them much less susceptible to settlement offers and refinancing. However, they will still be keen to avoid the costly foreclosure/repossession process, so contact them as soon as you’re struggling and see if they can offer you anything by way of a grace period or reduced payment.

Most lenders have some form of hardship program and are willing to be flexible if it increases their chances of being repaid in full.

Different Types of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year

tax benefits of owning a homeTijana Simic / Getty Images

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes.

You may recall the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The result was likely a big change to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While this revised tax code is still in effect today, the coronavirus has thrown a few curveballs. For one, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed filing season by about two weeks, which means it won’t start accepting or processing any 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12, 2021. (So far at least, the filing deadline stands firm at the usual date, April 15.)

In addition to this delay, many might be wondering whether the new realities of COVID-19 life (like their work-from-home setup) might qualify for a tax deduction, or how other variables from unemployment to stimulus checks might affect their tax return this year.

Whatever questions you have, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we run down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Read on to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

“However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000,” says Lee Reams Sr., chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it’s important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

“The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest,” says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you’re paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled.

And note that those amounts just increased for the 2020 tax year. For individuals, the deduction is now $12,400 ($12,200 in 2019), and it’s $24,800 for married couples filing jointly ($24,400 in 2019), plus $1,300 for each spouse aged 65 or older. The deduction also went up to $18,650 for head of household ($18,350 in 2019), plus an additional $1,650 for those 65 or older.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you’re a married couple under 65 who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $1,200 by itemizing.

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Watch: Ready To Refinance? Ask These 5 Questions First

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Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here’s more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it’s important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than your particular standard deduction to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you’re paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.

But here’s some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019—aka the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act—which reinstated certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

“These include the deduction for PMI,” says Laura Fogel, certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 or 2019 tax return in case you missed it in past years.)

Also note that this tax deduction is set to expire again after 2020 unless Congress decides to extend it in 2021.

Why it’s important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,800 standard deduction for married couples under 65. And here’s how much you’ll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you’ll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around (but not for long). The credits for solar electric and solar water-heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The SECURE Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades “such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Fogel.

Why it’s important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, 26% of the expenditure is eligible for the credit (down from 30% in 2019). That figure drops to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. As of now, the credit ends entirely after 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place where they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

For those who can take the deduction, understand that there are very strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here’s more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: The bad news for everyone forced to work at home due to COVID-19? Unfortunately, if you are a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible for the home office deduction under the CARES Act even if you spent most of 2020 in your home office.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stair lifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. So you’ll save cash if your home’s crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can’t use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)

The post 7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Need Cash? 3 Ways To Tap Your Home Equity—and Which One’s Right for You

home equityaluxum / Getty Images

You need to come up with some cash, fast. Maybe you have a leaky roof that desperately needs fixing or you need help paying for your kid’s first semester of college. But where do you turn?

If you’re a homeowner, you have options that involve tapping into your home equity—the difference between what your home is worth and how much you owe on your mortgage.

There are three main ways to tap into home equity, but sorting through those options can be confusing. To help, we’ve boiled down what you need to know about some of the most common home financing options—cash-out refinance, home equity loan, and home equity line of credit—and how to determine which one is right for you.

1. Cash-out refinance

How it works: A cash-out refinance replaces your existing mortgage with a new loan that’s larger than what you currently owe—and puts the difference in your pocket. With a cash-out refinance, you’re able to receive some of your home’s equity as a lump sum of cash during the process.

“This only works if you have equity in your home, either through appreciation or paying down your mortgage,” says David Chapman, a real estate agent and professor in Oklahoma.

Pros: If you need cold, hard cash in your hands, a cash-out refinance can help you get it. You can use this money for whatever you want—upgrades to your house, even a vacation. Another positive? If interest rates are lower than when you first got your loan, you’ll get to lock in lower interest rates than you’re paying now.

“Now is the time to look at a cash-out refinance due to the low interest rate environment,” says Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group.

Cons: You’ll have to pay closing costs when you refinance, though some lenders will let you roll them into your mortgage. The costs can range from 2% to 5% of your loan amount. And, depending on the circumstances, if interest rates have gone up, you could end up with a higher interest rate than your existing mortgage.

Also, you’ll be starting over with a new loan and, unless you refinance into a different type of mortgage altogether, you’ll ultimately be extending the time it takes to pay off your home loan. Even if you get a better interest rate with your new loan, your monthly payment might be higher.

When to get a cash-out refi: A cash-out refinance makes the most sense if you’re able to get a lower interest rate on your new loan. (Experts typically say that at least a 1% drop makes refinancing worth it.)

This option also works well for home renovations, since (ideally) you’ll be increasing your home’s value even more with the updates. In essence, you’re using your home’s existing equity to help pay for even more equity growth.

While you could use your cash-out refinance to pay for anything, financial experts typically advise that you spend the money wisely, on something that you see as a good investment, rather than on something frivolous.

2. Home equity loan

How it works: Unlike a cash-out refi, which replaces your original loan, a home equity loan is a second additional mortgage that lets you tap into your home’s equity. You’ll get a lump sum to spend as you see fit, then you’ll repay the loan in monthly installments, just as you do with your first mortgage. The home equity loan is secured by your house, which means that if you stop making payments, your lender could foreclose on the home.

Pros: With a home equity loan, you get a huge chunk of cash all at once. A home equity loan lets you keep your existing mortgage, so you don’t have to start over from year one. Your interest rate is typically fixed, not adjustable, so you know exactly what your monthly payment will be over the life of the loan. And, another plus is your interest may be tax-deductible.

Cons: Compared with a cash-out refinance, a home equity loan will likely have a higher interest rate. Home equity loans also come with fees and closing costs (though your lender may opt to waive them). Another downside? You’re now on the hook for two mortgages.

When to get a home equity loan: A home equity loan makes more sense than a cash-out refi if you’re happy with your current home loan, but you still want to tap into your home equity, says Andrina Valdes, chief operating officer of Cornerstone Home Lending. It can also be handy for home renovations that add value, though of course you’re free to use it however you want.

“A home equity loan could be used in cases where you may already have a low mortgage interest rate and wouldn’t necessarily benefit from a refinance,” says Valdes.

3. Home equity line of credit

How it works: A home equity line of credit, aka HELOC, is similar to a home equity loan—it’s a second mortgage that lets you pull out your home equity as cash. With a HELOC, however, instead of a lump sum amount, it works more like a credit card. You can borrow as much as you need whenever you need it (up to a limit), and you make payments only on what you actually use, not the total credit available.

Since it’s a second mortgage, your HELOC will be treated totally separately from your existing mortgage, just like a home equity loan.

“With a HELOC, the homeowner will need to make two payments each month—their mortgage payment and the HELOC payment,” says Glenn Brunker, mortgage executive at Ally Home.

Pros: You borrow only what you need, so you may be less tempted to spend this money than a lump-sum home equity loan. You pay interest only once you start borrowing, but you can keep the line of credit open for many years, which means your HELOC can act as a safeguard for emergencies.

HELOCs typically have lower interest rates than home equity loans, and they typically have little or no closing costs. (Again, your lender might offer to waive these fees.) HELOCs are often easier to get because they’re subject to fewer lending rules and regulations than home equity loans.

Cons: HELOCs usually have adjustable interest rates, which means you can’t necessarily predict how much your monthly payment will be. Most HELOCs typically require the borrower to pay interest only during what’s known as the draw period, with principal payments kicking in later during the repayment period. If you don’t plan properly or you lose your job, you might be caught off guard by these higher payments down the road. As is the case with other second mortgages, your bank can foreclose on your house if you stop making payments.

“Once a HELOC transitions into the repayment period, the borrower is required to make both principal and interest payments,” says David Dye, CEO of GoldView Realty in Torrance, CA. “Many borrowers forget about this transition and are often startled by the sudden increase in minimum payments.”

When to get a HELOC: A HELOC makes the most sense if you want the flexibility and peace of mind of knowing you can easily access money in the future, says Mindy Jensen, a real estate agent in Colorado.

“A HELOC is great to have just in case,” says Jensen. “You have access to it, but are not committed to taking it or paying for money you don’t have an immediate need for.”

And compared with an actual credit card, a HELOC has a much lower interest rate, so it’s likely a cheaper financing option for you.

The post Need Cash? 3 Ways To Tap Your Home Equity—and Which One’s Right for You appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com