Freezing Your Credit

In the age of paperless transactions, identify theft is something that virtually all of us are susceptible to. If your identity is stolen, the consequences can be severe, and in some cases, can take years to recover from. One way to be proactive against fraud and defend yourself from identity theft, is to freeze your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. 

Placing a credit freeze on your credit report will stop identity thieves from being able to open new accounts, lines of credit, or make any large purchases in your name, regardless of whether or not they have your Social Security number or any other sensitive information. 

What a credit freeze means

A credit freeze is a process that shuts off access to your credit reports at your request. Without your verified consent, your delicate information cannot be acquired. This means that if someone were to attempt to apply for credit in your name, your report would come up as “frozen,” and therefore the creditor would not be able to see the information needed for the application to be approved.

You can unfreeze your credit at any time by using a PIN or a password. 

Reasons to freeze your credit

It might be a good idea to freeze your credit if you’re experiencing any of the following situations:

  • Your data has been compromised in a data breach: It happens. If you’ve been a victim of a data breach and personal information related to your identity has been leaked or made vulnerable to cyber criminals, a credit freeze can offer you some extra protection. 
  • You have reason to think you’ve been a victim of identity theft: Perhaps you’ve checked your credit recently and noticed open accounts that you don’t recognize. Maybe you’ve been getting phone calls from collections agencies requesting payments from accounts you know you didn’t open. While a credit freeze won’t be able to stop them from using accounts a thief has already opened, it can stop them from opening any more. 
  • You want to protect your child from identity theft: According to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, parents and legally guardians of children 16 years old and younger have the right to open a credit account for their child with the sole purpose of putting a freeze on it to protect them from identity theft. 

How to freeze your credit 

The process of freezing your credit is simple but does require a few steps. You will need to get in touch with each of the three major credit bureaus one by one and request a credit freeze:

  • Experian: Contact by phone at 800-349-9960 or go to their website.
  • Equifax: Contact by phone at 888-397-3742 or go to their website.
  • TransUnion: Contact by phone at 888-909-8872 or go to their website.  

The credit bureaus will ask you for your Social Security number, your date of birth and other information to verify your identity.

Once you freeze your credit, your file will be unattainable even if a thief has sensitive information such as your social security number or date of birth. If you need to use your credit file, you can unfreeze your credit report at any time. 

How to unfreeze your credit

Once you’ve frozen your credit file, it will be remain blocked until you decide that you would like to unfreeze it. You will need to unfreeze your credit report in order to open a new line of credit or make a major purchase. 

Unfreezing your credit file is simple. All you will need to do is go online to each credit bureau website and use the personal identification number (PIN) that you used to place the freeze on the account. If you don’t want to complete this task online, you can also unfreeze your credit file over the phone or through postal mail. 

When the unfreezing process is done online or by phone, it is completed within minutes of submitting the request. However, if you send your request via mail, it will take much longer. 

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to unfreeze your credit through all three of the major credit bureaus if you don’t want to. For instance, let’s say you plan to apply for credit somewhere. You can ask the creditor which credit bureau it will go through to pull up your report, and only unfreeze that one credit bureau. 

You may also have the option to unfreeze for a specific amount of time. Once the time is up, your credit file will automatically freeze again. 

Credit freeze pros and cons

There are a few reasons why you might want to freeze your credit in this day and age, but just like with anything else, there are pros and cons to credit freezing. Here is a general breakdown of the benefits and downfalls of putting a freeze on your credit report:

Pros:

  • It prevents thieves from opening new lines of credit: With a credit freeze placed on your account, no one will be able to open a new line of credit or any other type of account requiring a credit check using your personal data. Anyone trying to commit fraud will be stopped in their tracks as soon as lenders notice that the report is frozen. 
  • It won’t affect your credit score: Freezing your credit report will not damage your credit score. Additionally, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, freezing your credit report could actually protect your credit score from being damaged due to fraud. 
  • It’s free: It used to be the case that some credit freezes would cost a fee, but that is no longer the way it works. 

Cons

  • It requires some effort: Putting a credit freeze on your credit report takes some effort. You will need to get in touch with all three credit bureaus. 
  • You will need to remember your PINs: A PIN is required to lift or freeze your credit report. If you lose it, you will need to jump through extra hoops to create a new one.

It can’t stop thieves from accessing your existing accounts: Credit freezes can only stop fraudsters from opening new accounts using your information. If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze can’t block thieves from committing fraud with your current accounts. This means that thieves can still make a purchase using a credit card they stole from you.

Freezing Your Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/becon, Â©iStock.com/Xesai, Â©iStock.com/Kerkez

The post Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn

In a recession it’s common for many people to rely on credit cards and loans to balance their finances. It’s the ultimate catch-22 since, during a recession, these financial products can be even harder to qualify for.

This holds true, according to historical data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It found that during the 2007 recession, loan growth at traditional banks decreased and remained deflated over the next four years. 

Credit can be a powerful tool to help you make ends meet and keep moving forward financially. Here’s what you can do if you’re struggling to access credit during a weak economy.

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

How Does a Financial Downturn Affect Lending?

Giving someone a loan or approving them for a credit card carries a certain amount of risk for a lender. After all, there’s a chance you could stop making payments and the lender could lose all the funds you borrowed, especially with unsecured loans. 

For lenders, this concept is called, “delinquency”. They’re constantly trying to get their delinquency rate lower; in a booming economy, the delinquency rate at commercial banks is usually under 2%. 

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. There are all sorts of reasons a person might stop paying their loan or credit card bills. You might lose your job, or unexpected medical bills might demand more of your budget. Because lenders know the chances of anyone becoming delinquent are much higher in a weak economy, they tend to restrict their lending criteria so they’re only serving the lowest-risk borrowers. That can leave people with poor credit in a tough financial position.

Before approving you for a loan, lenders typically look at criteria such as:

  • Income stability 
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Credit score
  • Co-signers, if applicable
  • Down payment size (for loans, like a mortgage)

Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

5 Ways to Help Get Your Credit Application Approved 

Although every lender has different approval criteria, these strategies speak to typical commonalities across most lenders.

1. Pay Off Debt 

Paying off some of your debt might feel bold, but it can be helpful when it comes to an application for credit. Repaying your debt reduces your debt-to-income ratio, typically an important metric lenders look at for loans such as a mortgage. Also, paying off debt could help improve your credit utilization ratio, which is a measure of how much available credit you’re currently using right now. If you’re using most of the credit that’s available to you, that could indicate you don’t have enough cash on hand. 

Not sure what debt-to-income ratio to aim for? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests keeping yours no higher than 43%. 

2. Find a Cosigner

For those with poor credit, a trusted cosigner can make the difference between getting approved for credit or starting back at square one. 

When someone cosigns for your loan they’ll need to provide information on their income, employment and credit score — as if they were applying for the loan on their own. Ideally, their credit score and income should be higher than yours. This gives your lender enough confidence to write the loan knowing that, if you can’t make your payments, your cosigner is liable for the bill. 

Since your cosigner is legally responsible for your debt, their credit is negatively impacted if you stop making payments. For this reason, many people are wary of cosigning.

In a recession, it might be difficult to find someone with enough financial stability to cosign for you. If you go this route, have a candid conversation with your prospective cosigner in advance about expectations in the worst-case scenario. 

3. Raise Your Credit Score 

If your credit score just isn’t high enough to qualify for conventional credit you could take some time to focus on improving it. Raising your credit score might sound daunting, but it’s definitely possible. 

Here are some strategies you can pursue:

  • Report your rent payments. Rent payments aren’t typically included as part of the equation when calculating your credit score, but they can be. Some companies, like Rental Kharma, will report your timely rent payments to credit reporting agencies. Showing a history of positive payment can help improve your credit score. 
  • Make sure your credit report is updated. It’s not uncommon for your credit report to have mistakes in it that can artificially deflate your credit score. Request a free copy of your credit report every year, which you can do online through Experian Free Credit Report. If you find inaccuracies, disputing them could help improve your credit score. 
  • Bring all of your payments current. If you’ve fallen behind on any payments, bringing everything current is an important part of improving your credit score. If your lender or credit card company is reporting late payments a long history of this can damage your credit score. When possible speak to your creditor to work out a solution, before you anticipate being late on a payment.
  • Use a credit repair agency. If tackling your credit score is overwhelming you could opt to work with a reputable credit repair agency to help you get back on track. Be sure to compare credit repair agencies before moving forward with one. Companies that offer a free consultation and have a strong track record are ideal to work with.

Raising your credit isn’t an immediate solution — it’s not going to help you get a loan or qualify for a credit card tomorrow. However, making these changes now can start to add up over time. 

4. Find an Online Lender or Credit Union

Although traditional banks can be strict with their lending policies, some smaller lenders or credit unions offer some flexibility. For example, credit unions are authorized to provide Payday Loan Alternatives (PALs). These are small-dollar, short-term loans available to borrowers who’ve been a member of qualifying credit unions for at least a month.

Some online lenders might also have more relaxed criteria for writing loans in a weak economy. However, you should remember that if you have bad credit you’re likely considered a riskier applicant, which means a higher interest rate. Before signing for a line of credit, compare several lenders on the basis of your quoted APR — which includes any fees like an origination fee, your loan’s term, and any additional fees, such as late fees. 

5. Increase Your Down Payment

If you’re trying to apply for a mortgage or auto loan, increasing your down payment could help if you’re having a tough time getting approved. 

When you increase your down payment, you essentially decrease the size of your loan, and lower the lender’s risk. If you don’t have enough cash on hand to increase your down payment, this might mean opting for a less expensive car or home so that the lump sum down payment that you have covers a greater proportion of the purchase cost. 

Loans vs. Credit Cards: Differences in Credit Approval

Not all types of credit are created equal. Personal loans are considered installment credit and are repaid in fixed payments over a set period of time. Credit cards are considered revolving credit, you can keep borrowing to your approved limit as long as you make your minimum payments. 

When it comes to credit approvals, one benefit loans have over credit cards is that you might be able to get a secured loan. A secured loan means the lender has some piece of collateral they can recover from you should you stop making payments. 

The collateral could be your home, car or other valuable asset, like jewelry or equipment. Having that security might give the lender more flexibility in some situations because they know that, in the worst case scenario, they could sell the collateral item to recover their loss. 

The Bottom Line

Borrowing during a financial downturn can be difficult and it might not always be the answer to your situation. Adding to your debt load in a weak economy is a risk. For example, you could unexpectedly lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. Having an added monthly debt payment in your budget can add another challenge to your financial situation.

However, if you can afford to borrow funds during an economic recession, reduced interest rates in these situations can lessen the overall cost of borrowing.

These tips can help tidy your finances so you’re a more attractive borrower to lenders. There’s no guarantee your application will be accepted, but improving your finances now gives you a greater borrowing advantage in the future.

The post How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s DC Home Is Available To Rent—for $18K a Month

Ivanka Jared DC rental up for rentrealtor.com, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here’s a real estate tip for folks joining the incoming Biden administration: A rental vacancy has opened up in the tony DC neighborhood of Kalorama—an area known for foreign diplomats and political heavy hitters.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, ex-presidential adviser Jared Kushner, have decamped for Florida, following in the footsteps of her father, former President Donald Trump.

Now, the couple’s former rental is in search of a new tenant. It’s available to lease for $18,000 a month.

The recently renovated home with six beds and 6.5 baths has all kinds of style points. It’s billed as “one of the most well-known and photographed houses on the planet—given its recent tenants.”

During the Trump years when the upscale abode served as the DC home of the first daughter and her family, it attracted protests and candlelight vigils, according to the Washingtonian. The 2017 gathering shown below was to protest Trump’s immigration policies.

On the other hand, the Washington Post recently reported that the mansion’s bathrooms were off limits to the couple’s Secret Service detail. As a result, the security team had to rent a nearby studio apartment at a rate of $3,000 a month—which ended up totaling more than $100,000 over the years, according to the Post.

Bathroom access aside, the 1923 home has been “meticulously maintained by the landlord and former notable tenants,” the listing asserts. Details of the 7,300-square-foot layout include crown moldings, recessed lighting, and wood floors throughout.

Plus, the “very contemporary” interiors boast high-end finishes and electrical updates made within the past four years.

And you might catch a glimpse of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in the neighborhood. The couple live just a “stone’s throw away,” the listing notes. That proximity to power might appeal to a house hunter joining the Biden administration.

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Watch: The D.C. Neighborhood That Power Brokers Ivanka Trump and the Obamas Call Home

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While new listing photos aren’t yet available, the images from 2017 showcase a modern, minimalist living space in a neutral palette decorated with abstract art.

Stone stairs lead to the front door.

realtor.com

Exterior shot of a deck

realtor.com

The living room features a fireplace and plenty of space for oversized furniture. The sleek kitchen with a long, white island looks to have everything you need to whip up a meal (or unpack takeout). The kitchen also has room for a table and adjoins a family room.

A formal dining room features a fireplace and recessed lighting. The master suite includes French doors, another fireplace, and cool tones.

Down south, the home’s former residents are apparently leasing a luxury condo in Miami, according to the Wall Street Journal. But their long-term plans look to involve a 2-acre lot they reportedly purchased on uaexclusive Indian Creek Island for the jaw-dropping sum of $32 million.

Rodrigo Valderrama with Keller Williams Capital Properties holds the rental listing.

The post Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s DC Home Is Available To Rent—for $18K a Month appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

7 Key Home-Buying Numbers to Know When Shopping for a House

There’s a lot that goes into buying a new home, starting with finding the right one all the way down to finalizing the paperwork. Somewhere in that process, you’ll likely find yourself trying to decipher myriad new terms and figuring out what they mean for you.

We’ve compiled this list of seven key numbers you’ll need to know when buying a home — plus the details on how understanding these terms can help you land your dream home.

Here are seven all-important home-buying numbers to know.

1. Cost per Square Foot

One of the first numbers you’ll encounter when shopping for homes is cost per square foot. While this number is based on a relatively simple calculation, it’s an important one to understand since ultimately it helps you determine how much house you’re getting for your money.

“Cost per square foot is simply the list price divided by the number of livable square feet,” said Tyler Forte, founder & CEO of Felix Homes. “This number is important because it allows a homeowner to compare the relative price of homes that are different sizes.”

But there’s more to consider, he said. “While cost per square foot is an important metric, you should also consider the layout of the home. In many cases, a home with an open floor-plan may seem larger even if it has a smaller livable square footage.”

Forte defines livable square footage as any interior space that’s heated and cooled, which is why a garage wouldn’t necessarily fit the bill. One of the best ways to understand how much home you can afford is to break it down by cost per square foot, which will vary from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood.

Work with your real estate agent to understand the differences in cost for various properties to map out what areas and homes are within budget.

2. Earnest Money Deposit

Once you’ve found a home you like enough to bid on, you’ll quickly start hearing about something called an earnest money deposit (EMD). This is a type of security deposit made from the buyer to the seller as a gesture of good faith.

The amount of the EMD is set by the seller, typically running anywhere from 1% to 2% of the home’s purchase price. The key thing to keep in mind about EMDs is that they represent your commitment to buying the home, and can be useful in making a compelling offer in a competitive sellers’ market.

“An earnest money deposit is very important because it’s the skin in the game from the home buyer,” said Realtor Jason Gelios of Community Choice Realty. “If a home buyer is up against other offers, the EMD can make or break them getting the home.”

“I’ve seen lower offers won due to a higher EMD amount, because sellers view the higher EMD as a more serious buyer,” he added.

The money you put toward your EMD comes off the purchase price for the home, so there’s no reason to be stingy. If you really love the house and have the available cash, you might even consider offering more than the deposit amount your seller is asking. Either way, be sure to start saving up for your EMD early and factor it into any other cash you set aside for your down payment.

3. Interest Rates

Since most home purchases involve a mortgage, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with current interest rates. Interest rates dictate how much you’ll pay your lender every year to borrow the amount of your mortgage, so you’ll want to shop around for the best deal.

“Your interest rate is the annual percentage rate you will be charged by the lender, and the lower the rate you receive, the lower your monthly payment,” said real estate developer Bill Samuel of Blue Ladder Development. “You should speak with a handful of lenders when starting the process and get a rate quote from each one.”

While interest rates are mostly determined by your creditworthiness (aka credit score) and the type of loan you’re getting, they’ll still vary between lenders. Even a half-point difference in rates can amount to a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment — as well as the grand total you pay for your house.

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4. Credit Score

Speaking of credit scores, you’ll want to know yours before you get serious about buying a home. Since your credit score helps determine the type of mortgage (and mortgage rate) you qualify for, you need to meet the basic minimum credit score requirements before diving headlong into buying a home.

Forte broke down the term a little more: “A credit score is the numerical grade a rating agency assigns to you,” he says. “Commonly referred to as a FICO score, this grade is made up of many factors such as credit utilization, and the length of your credit history.”

If your credit score is low (under 600), spend some time figuring out why and how you can boost it. Just remember, the better your credit score, the better your interest rate — and the more money you’ll save in the long run.

5. Debt-to-Income Ratio

Another personal finance term that comes into play when buying a home is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Much like creditworthiness, this number is used by lenders to determine how much of a loan you qualify for and at what rate.

“When looking to get approved for a mortgage, a buyer should know what their debt-to-income ratio is,” said Gelios. “This is the amount of debt you owe per month as compared to your gross monthly income.”

For example, if you earn $6,000 per month but have to pay $3,000 in bills, this would be a debt-to-income ratio of 50%. Gelios says lenders typically view any DTI above 40% as high risk, and with good reason. If over half of your income is accounted for in bills, that would make it significantly harder to make a big mortgage payment every month.

Understanding your DTI isn’t just good for lenders, it also helps put your personal finances in perspective when deciding how much house you can afford.

6. Down Payment

The all-important down payment: Many homebuyers use this number to help them determine when they’re actually “ready” to buy a home — based on how much of a down payment they have saved up.

“A down payment is the amount you contribute to the transaction in cash,” said Forte. “Most home purchases are a combination of cash in the form of a down payment and a loan from a mortgage company.”

The old rule of thumb on home purchases was to put down 20%. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. (Home price $250,000, time 20% = $50,000. Ouch.) For many buyers, a 20% down payment just isn’t feasible — and that’s okay. Forte said the down payment can be as low as 3% of the sales price with a conventional loan, although 10% is more typical.

Remember that any amount you pay up front will ultimately save you money in interest on your mortgage — and putting more money down will lower your monthly payment. Take some time to calculate what your monthly mortgage payment will be based on various down payments. That way you’ll know exactly what to expect and how much of a down payment you should aim to save up.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind that for any down payment of less than 20%, you may be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), another expense that adds to your monthly payment. 

7. Property Taxes & Other Expenses

Long before you close on a home, you need to be ready for ongoing expenses such as property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and any potential HOA fees. These expenses tend to slip through the cracks, but it’s important to know about them before you become a homeowner.

“One of the most overlooked and underestimated numbers when buyers actually locate a home and win an offer on it is the tax amount,” said Gelios. “Too many times, I’ve seen real estate agents list what the seller is paying in taxes at that time. If time allows, a home buyer should contact the municipality and ask for a rough estimate as to what the taxes will be if they closed on the home in X month.”

Since taxes almost always increase when homes change ownership, it’s good to get an updated quote before those payments become your responsibility.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

16 Small Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Finances

Pretty brunette with moneybox in hands

You have all kinds of financial goals you want to achieve, but where should you begin? There are so many different aspects of money management that it can be difficult to find a starting point when trying to achieve financial success. If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Progress can be made in tiny, manageable steps. Here’s are 16 small things you can do right now to improve your overall financial health. (See also: These 13 Numbers Are Crucial to Understanding Your Finances)

1. Create a household budget

The biggest step toward effective money management is making a household budget. You first need to figure out exactly how much money comes in each month. Once you have that number, organize your budget in order of financial priorities: essential living expenses, contributions to retirement savings, repaying debt, and any entertainment or lifestyle costs. Having a clear picture of exactly how much is coming in and going out every month is key to reaching your financial goals.

2. Calculate your net worth

Simply put, your net worth is the total of your assets minus your debts and liabilities. You’re left with a positive or negative number. If the number is positive, you’re on the up and up. If the number is negative — which is especially common for young people just starting out — you’ll need to keep chipping away at debt.

Remember that certain assets, like your home, count on both sides of the ledger. While you may have mortgage debt, it is secured by the resale value of your home. (See also: 10 Ways to Increase Your Net Worth This Year)

3. Review your credit reports

Your credit history determines your creditworthiness, including the interest rates you pay on loans and credit cards. It can also affect your employment opportunities and living options. Every 12 months, you can check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com. It may also be a good idea to request one report from one bureau every four months, so you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year without paying for it.

Regularly checking your credit report will help you stay on top of every account in your name and can alert you to fraudulent activity.

4. Check your credit score

Your FICO score can range from 300-850. The higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that two of the most important factors that go into making up your credit score are your payment history, specifically negative information, and how much debt you’re carrying: the type of debts, and how much available credit you have at any given time. (See also: How to Boost Your Credit Score in Just 30 Days)

5. Set a monthly savings amount

Transferring a set amount of money to a savings account at the same time you pay your other monthly bills helps ensure that you’re regularly and intentionally saving money for the future. Waiting to see if you have any money left over after paying for all your other discretionary lifestyle expenses can lead to uneven amounts or no savings at all.

6. Make minimum payments on all debts

The first step to maintaining a good credit standing is to avoid making late payments. Build your minimum debt reduction payments into your budget. Then, look for any extra money you can put toward paying down debt principal. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

7. Increase your retirement saving rate by 1 percent

Your retirement savings and saving rate are the most important determinants of your overall financial success. Strive to save 15 percent of your income for most of your career for retirement, and that includes any employer match you may receive. If you’re not saving that amount yet, plan ahead for ways you can reach that goal. For example, increase your saving rate every time you get a bonus or raise.

8. Open an IRA

An IRA is an easy and accessible retirement savings vehicle that anyone with earned income can access (although you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½). Unlike an employer-sponsored account, like a 401(k), an IRA gives you access to unlimited investment choices and is not attached to any particular employer. (See also: Stop Believing These 5 Myths About IRAs)

9. Update your account beneficiaries

Certain assets, like retirement accounts and insurance policies, have their own beneficiary designations and will be distributed based on who you have listed on those documents — not necessarily according to your estate planning documents. Review these every year and whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage.

10. Review your employer benefits

The monetary value of your employment includes your salary in addition to any other employer-provided benefits. Consider these extras part of your wealth-building tools and review them on a yearly basis. For example, a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) can help pay for current health care expenses through your employer and a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you pay for medical expenses now and in retirement. (See also: 8 Myths About Health Savings Accounts — Debunked!)

11. Review your W-4

The W-4 form you filled out when you first started your job dictates how much your employer withholds for taxes — and you can make changes to it. If you get a refund at tax time, adjusting your tax withholdings can be an easy way to increase your take-home pay. Also, remember to review this form when you have a major life event, like a marriage or after the birth of a child. (See also: Are You Withholding the Right Amount of Taxes from Your Paycheck?)

12. Ponder your need for life insurance

In general, if someone is dependent upon your income, then you may need a life insurance policy. When determining how much insurance you need, consider protecting assets and paying off all outstanding debts, as well as retirement and college costs. (See also: 15 Surprising Insurance Policies You Might Need)

13. Check your FDIC insurance coverage

First, make sure that the banking institutions you use are FDIC insured. For credit unions, you’ll want to confirm it’s a National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) federally-covered institution. Federal deposit insurance protects up to $250,000 of your deposits for each type of bank account you have. To determine your account coverage at a single bank or various banks, visit FDIC.gov.

14. Check your Social Security statements

Set up an online account at SSA.gov to confirm your work and income history and to get an idea of what types of benefits, if any, you’re entitled to — including retirement and disability.

15. Set one financial goal to achieve it by the end of the year

An important part of financial success is recognizing where you need to focus your energy in terms of certain financial goals, like having a fully funded emergency account, for example.

If you’re overwhelmed by trying to simultaneously work on reaching all of your goals, pick one that you can focus on and achieve it by the end of the year. Examples include paying off a credit card, contributing to an IRA, or saving $500.

16. Take a one-month spending break

Unfortunately, you can never take a break from paying your bills, but you do have complete control over how you spend your discretionary income. And that may be the only way to make some progress toward some of your savings goals. Try trimming some of your lifestyle expenses for just one month to cushion your checking or savings account. You could start by bringing your own lunch to work every day or meal-planning for the week to keep your grocery bill lower and forgo eating out. (See also: How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket)

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With the new year here, it’s time to take control of your financial goals. From creating a household budget, to calculating your net worth, or setting a monthly savings amount, we’ve got 16 small steps you can take to improve your finances. | #personalfinance #moneymatters #budgeting


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How to Teach Your Teen to Budget Like a Pro

It amazes us how quickly our girls are growing up. Next month when school starts up again, we’ll have a fourth-grader and a kindergartener.

Even though we have some time before they are ready to move out of the house, we want to spend time now prepare them for the big transition. As a parent, you probably feel the same way too. 

One crucial piece of a financial foundation kids and in particular, teens, need to master is learning to budget (and sticking with it),

While they’re home now, you have a fantastic opportunity to get them comfortable with handling their money.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips from fellow parents and experts in the personal finance space to make teaching this life skill a bit easier less stressful for you and your teen!

Teach Your Teen to Budget for Real Life

Teens or not, whenever most people hear the word budget, they also hear the word ‘no’. To them, budgets feel like a strict diet. Just as fad diets fail, an unrealistic or extreme budget will more than likely discourage your teen and they will quit.

The first step before you even talk about the numbers is to discuss exactly what a successful and sustainable budget should be. When done right, a budget is something that helps you move your money towards your goals. Explain to them that at its root, budget is simply a plan about what they’d like to do.

You want a budget that can cover:

  •     Essential bills
  •     Future goals
  •     Discretionary expenses

When your teen’s budget covers those goals, they’re not only putting their finances in a good spot, but they’re moving closer to their specific long term dreams.

Creating a Doable Budget (They’ll Actually Enjoy!)

Once your teen(s) understands how a budget works, it’s important for them to create a budget that they can use in the real world. You can honestly budget however you want, but an easy budget to get your teen started is the 50/20/30.

Quite simplify, the 50/20/30 budget puts money into those three main buckets:

  •     50%  goes towards essentials
  •     20% towards savings (or investing)
  •     30% for fun and discretionary expenses

I appreciate how easy and flexible this budget can be. You can adjust the percentages for your teen’s needs, but it gives them some ballpark idea of how to portion their finances when they are out on their own.

How do you start them out on this budget?

With teens, you may have expenses like clothing or their cellphone bill count as essentials, or you may want to give your child the experience of being responsible for a small, shared family bill while they are still at home.

For older teens, you could even charge them a nominal ‘rent’ to offset their portion of the bills. In some cases, parents give that money back to their child as a gift to help with moving expenses (like for their security deposit) or use as additional savings. 

However you decide, talk it over so your teen understands why you’re doing it this way.

Share Your Family Budget

Creating a budget isn’t complicated, but it can difficult if your teen has no idea what to expect. Knowledge can be empowering.

While we may take it for granted since have to deal with the numbers, but your teen may not be aware of how much it takes to keep the lights on and roof over their heads. If you haven’t already shared your own budget already, now is the time.

Not knowing also puts them at a disadvantage when they start searching for a place or are comparing prices on expenses. Being armed with the numbers makes your teenager a more informed consumer.

When Your Teen Breaks Their Budget

Will there be times where your teenager will mess up with their budget? Probably so. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As parents, we tend to want to protect our kids, but we also have to prepare them for the real world. As Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, pointed out we should let our kids make financial mistakes. 

Wouldn’t it be better for your child to break the clothing budget while they’re still at home allowing you to help guide them through rather than having break their monthly budget while they are on their own and have bills to pay?

Mistakes will happen, they’re a part of life so giving your teen time to work those them and adjust their budget is a blessing for their future selves.

Essential Accounts for Your Teen  to Have

Since we’re talking about budgets, we should also mention some essential accounts you’d want your kid to have so they can practice managing their money.

Opening up student checking and savings accounts (usually free low on fees as well as not having minimum balance requirements) are good foundational accounts for your teen. They can deal with real-world situations pending charges, automatic transfers, and direct deposits.

As Family Balance Sheet founder Kristia Ludwick pointed out, teens should have the skill of balancing a checkbook even if they decide to go all-digital with their banking.

If they work, talk it over together and see if they can open up an IRA and start contributing. It doesn’t have to be much. The idea is to get them familiar and comfortable with the basics of investing.

Even if they put in $25 a paycheck, having them practice setting aside money in their budget for both long and short term goals is an invaluable lesson. You can also encourage them to contribute by offering a match for what they put in.

How Teens Can Easily Stay on Top of Their Money

With several accounts to keep tabs on, your teen is going to need an easy system to track their budget and goals.

With Mint, they can link up their accounts in one secure spot. They can also add their budget along with any savings goals they want to hit and make sure they stick with them.

Hopefully, these ideas and tips will make it easier to help your teen transition into a self-sufficient adult.

The post How to Teach Your Teen to Budget Like a Pro appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com