What Are Bonds – Basics of Investing in Corporate vs. Municipal Bonds

When building a balanced investing portfolio, you’ll want to include bonds in your asset allocation. These assets provide safety and stability, offering relatively slow growth and reliable returns.

As you begin to research which bonds to buy, you’ll realize there are several different types of bonds,  with the two most common being corporate bonds and municipal bonds.

What’s the difference, and what are the pros and cons that come along with investing in each type of bond? Let’s review the basics of bonds and then look at the two types side by side to help you choose which is right for you.

What Are Bonds?

Bonds are a form of fixed-income security known for providing a relatively safe store of value that are often used to offset risk in a well-balanced investment portfolio. Bonds are essentially loans given to the issuer by the investor, making them a debt instrument.

Investors make money by investing in bonds in one of two ways:

  • Coupon Rates. The most common return on investment derived from bonds is known as the coupon rate, or the interest rate on the bond. As with many other types of loans, the investor pays the full face value of the bond upon purchase and receives interest payments until the maturity date of the bond, at which point their initial investment is returned to them.
  • Premium. In some cases, bonds can be purchased at a discount to their face value. When the bond matures, the investor receives the full face value of the asset, providing a return on investment. For example, an investor may purchase a $1,000 bond for $950. Once the bond matures, the full $1,000 is repaid, leaving the investor with $50 in profits.

What Are Municipal Bonds?

Municipal bonds are commonly referred to as muni bonds, or simply munis. These bonds are issued by local governments, generally on the state or county level, and should not be confused with Treasury bonds, which are issued on a federal level and backed by the full faith and security of the U.S. federal government.

There are two common types of munis on the market today:

  1. Revenue Bonds. Revenue bonds are bonds issued by a municipality that are backed by the revenue generated from a specific project. For example, local municipal governments often issue water and sewer bonds, which are paid back with the revenue collected by the local government for the provision of clean drinking water and sewage services to residents within the locality.
  2. General Obligation Bonds. General obligation bonds aren’t backed by any project revenue. Instead, they’re backed by the taxing authority of the issuers at hand and paid back with tax dollars paid for local income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, or any other tax revenue received by the local authorities that issued the muni.

What Are Corporate Bonds?

Rather than being issued by a local, state, or federal government, these bonds are debt instruments issued by corporations; they act as loans made from the bondholder to the corporation that issued the security. There are different categories of corporate bonds, including:

  • Collateral Trust Bonds. Collateral trust bonds use collateral other than real estate to secure the bond. For example, a company may secure bond issues with shares of stock, bonds, or other securities.
  • Debenture Bonds. Debenture bonds are corporate bonds that aren’t secured by any collateral. These bonds are generally issued by corporations with the best credit ratings, because companies with poor credit won’t be able to attract investors to these securities.
  • Convertible Debentures. Convertible bonds give the investor the ability to convert the bond into a specified number of shares at a specified time. For example, a company may sell a convertible bond that may be converted into 25 shares of its common stock after two years. Because these bonds can be converted into common stock, they are generally more attractive to investors, but it’s a tradeoff. These types of bonds generally come with low coupon rates.
  • Guaranteed Bonds. Guaranteed bonds are guaranteed not only by the corporation that issues them, but also by a second company. This greatly reduces the level of risk because another company guarantees to step in and fulfill the obligations of repaying the bond if the original borrower defaults.
  • High-Yield Bonds. High-yield bonds, also known as junk bonds, are bonds that have been rated by rating agencies to be below investment grade. These companies generally have significantly high credit risk and must offer higher yields in order to attract investors.

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Key Factors to Consider

There are several factors you should take into account when making a decision to buy either corporate or municipal bonds. Some of the most important of these factors include the quality of the entity issuing the bond, the tax implications, yield, liquidity, and how the money raised through the issuance of the bond will be used.

Here’s how corporate and municipal bonds compare:

Quality of Issuer

One of the first details you should look into before purchasing a bond or any other debt instrument is the quality of the issuer. Bond issuers will have different credit ratings, meaning that when you invest in the securities they’ve made available, you’ll be taking on credit risk.

There are two agencies that provide bond issuer credit ratings: Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Moody’s rating scale ranges from C to AAA, with AAA being the best possible rating. Standard & Poor’s follows a scale ranging from D to AAA, with AAA also being the best possible rating.

Higher ratings mean the bond is generally at lower risk of the issuer defaulting. After all, if the entity that issues the security fails to meet its obligations, those who invest in it stand to lose.

Corporate Bonds Come With Higher Default Rates

Corporate bonds are issued by corporations, and every corporation is different. Some make more money than others, some are managed by better management teams, and some will fulfill their obligations consistently while others fail.

Compared to municipal bonds, instruments issued by corporations come with a higher default risk, making it especially important to pay attention to how rating agencies rate the bond in question before you invest.

The good news is that even corporations rarely default. According to the Corporate Finance Institute, only about 0.13% of corporations that issue a bond will default.

Municipal Bonds Come With Lower Default Risk

Municipal bonds are generally an even safer bet than corporate bonds. According to ETF.com, only about 0.08% of munis end up in default. Because these bonds are issued by local governments, entities known for top-notch credit quality, and generally rated AAA by S&P Global, investors can rest assured that they will be paid as agreed in the vast majority of cases.

Tax Implications

Any time you make money — whether from a side hustle, income from your day job, or investment returns — you typically have to pay taxes. However, not all income is taxed equally. Here are the tax implications you’ll need to consider when deciding whether to invest in corporate or municipal bonds.

How Corporate Bonds Are Taxed

Bonds issued by corporations are often called taxable bonds because earnings generated through these investments will be susceptible to both federal income tax and state income tax at the general income tax rate. The exact rate you’ll pay on your returns depends on your tax bracket.

How Municipal Bonds Are Taxed

Gains generated through investments in municipal bonds are always tax exempt on the federal level and are often tax free on the state level as well. The tax exemption is essentially a “thank you” from both federal and local governments for using your investment dollars to invest in projects that support your community.

While in the vast majority of instances, munis are exempt from state and local taxes, there are some cases in which this is not true. For example, if you purchase a municipal bond offered by a municipality other than the one in which you reside, your local authorities may choose to tax returns on that bond at the standard local income tax rate.

For example, if you live in New York City and you invest in a municipal bond issued by a government body in Florida New York City may charge you its normal local tax rate on the returns generated through that investment.

Yields

Returns on bonds are known as yields, and they vary wildly from one to another depending on the credit of the issuing entity, the maturity date of the bond, and other factors.

Generally speaking, here’s how yields compare between corporate and municipal bonds:

Corporate Bonds Generally Have Higher Yields

Local governments are highly trusted entities that are known for maintaining excellent credit. On the other hand, corporations will vary wildly in financial strength and creditworthiness.

Because corporations are usually less creditworthy than governments, bonds issued by corporations generally offer higher interest rates. After all, if the yields on corporate bonds were the same as the yields on government bonds, nobody would lend to riskier corporations. Who would want to buy a bond from a corporation when the same returns can be generated by investing in lower-risk munis?

Munis Provide Small Gains

Bonds issued by the government come with a lower default risk and therefore are the safer option for investors. However, when investing, safer options generally provide lower returns, and municipal bonds are no exception.

The extremely low default risk is considered in the pricing of these bonds, resulting in lower interest rates, smaller interest payments, and lower overall returns.

That is, until you account for taxes. For example, a high income earner may find that investing in municipal bonds is a better fit because they are exempt from state and federal taxes. By contrast, much of the returns on corporate bonds would be erased by taxes for an investor in the highest tax bracket.

Liquidity

Liquidity should always be a consideration for investors, whether they’re investing in bonds or any other asset. Liquidity refers to the ease or difficulty of converting an investment back into cash if desired.

Investors will find it difficult to convert bonds with low levels of liquidity into cash prior to their maturity dates, while bonds with high levels of liquidity are easy to offload and turn into spendable money on demand.

Corporate Bonds Are Often Less Liquid

While any form of bond can be sold on a secondary market, for a bond to be sold, there must be a buyer. In some cases, investments in high-risk bonds and other bonds issued by corporations may become illiquid if no other investors are interested in purchasing them.

Moreover, bond liquidity decreases in general in times of economic and market positivity. During bull markets, investors tend not to want their money tied up in fixed-income assets, instead focusing on the larger potential for returns offered by stocks.

Municipal Bonds Are Highly Liquid

The municipal bond market is very active, with these bonds often being easier to offload than bonds issued by corporations. That’s because muni bonds are issued by entities that are all but guaranteed to cover their obligations while providing tax benefits, making them attractive investments for high income earners.

How Funds Are Used

Investors are becoming increasingly concerned with the way in which their investments are spent. In fact, there’s an entire movement surrounding social impact investing, or investing in assets that use your funds to make an impact for causes you care about.

So, how exactly is your money spent when you invest in these two different types of bonds?

How Corporations Use Money Raised Through Bond Sales

Corporations may be looking to raise money for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common are:

  • Working Capital. It costs money to make money, and running a business can be a very expensive endeavor. In some cases, corporations will have their money tied up in inventory, new equipment, and other assets necessary to keep it moving in the right direction and need working capital for general purposes. Companies can issue bonds as a way to raise cash for their operational needs today by promising to repay investors in the future.
  • Acquisitions. Companies often acquire one another, merging two companies into one in transactions where the sum of all parts has a greater value than the original assets. However, acquisitions are expensive business, and corporations often need additional funding to execute merger and acquisition agreements.
  • Research. Research and development are major expenses for just about every publicly traded company on the market today. In some cases, corporations will issue bonds in order to fund this research.

How Municipalities Use Money Raised Through Bond Sales

The vast majority of bonds issued by government agencies are issued to fund public projects.

For example, when a major thoroughfare is riddled with potholes or your county’s library is in need of repair, governments often issue bonds in order to cover the costs associated with these projects. Governments can repay investors either through revenue generated by the project they fund or through tax revenues.


The Verdict: Should You Choose Corporate or Municipal Bonds?

As you can see above, there are several reasons to invest in both types of bonds, with each having its own list of pros and cons. As with any other investment vehicle, each type of bond will be suitable for different investors with different goals.

You Should Invest In Corporate Bonds If…

Bonds issued by corporations are best suited for bond investors who have a relatively low income tax burden and are looking to generate larger gains out of their safe-haven investments. These bonds are best suited for investors who:

  • Are In a Low Tax Bracket. Returns from bonds issued by corporations are taxed at the standard income tax rate, which varies wildly depending on the amount of money you earn on a regular basis. As your tax rate increases, bonds issued by corporations become less attractive than tax-exempt munis.
  • Are Willing to Accept Higher Levels of Risk. Based on historical default rates, corporations are nearly twice as likely to default on bond obligations than governments. As a result, corporate bond investors should be comfortable with a higher level of risk.
  • Want to Generate Larger Returns. Due to the higher risk associated with bonds issued by publicly traded companies, these bonds come with higher yields than bonds issued by governments.

You Should Invest In Municipal Bonds If…

Municipal bonds are worth considering if you’re an investor with a generally low risk tolerance, you’re a high income earner and tax implications mean quite a bit to you, or you’re interested in funding public projects with your safe-haven investing dollars. These bonds are best suited for you if:

  • You’re In a High Tax Bracket. High-income earners are taxed at a higher rate. Because bonds issued by the government are generally tax-free investments, they are well suited for investors who have a relatively high tax burden, acting not only as safe havens, but also tax havens.
  • You Have a Low Risk Tolerance. Municipal bonds are about as safe as investments come. Most local governments have never defaulted and enjoy a high credit rating; investments in these entities are very unlikely to result in default.
  • You’re Looking For a Store of Value. Investments in bonds issued by the government are a great store of value, which is what makes them so attractive as safe-haven investments. Even in times of economic concern, these bonds are known to generate returns rather than losses.
  • You’re Interested in Funding Public Projects. Government bonds are used to fund public projects that improve conditions for the community around you. Not only are these investments capable of generating returns and stability, there’s a feel-good effect involved in making these investments.

Both Are Great If…

If you aren’t in the uppermost income tax brackets, have a moderate tolerance for risk, and are looking to generate greater diversification across your safe-haven investments, you might invest in a mix of corporate and municipal bonds. This approach offers you a balance of the larger gains from corporate bonds and the tax benefits from munis. Investors who would benefit most from a mix between the two:

  • Want Higher Returns While Minimizing Tax Burden. By investing in both types of bonds, you’ll reduce your tax burden compared to corporate bond investments alone while enjoying higher earnings potential than provided by municipal bond investments alone.
  • Have a Moderate Tolerance for Risk. Bonds in general — with the exception of junk bonds — are relatively safe investments. However, some assets within the class are safer than others. Mixing corporate investments into your portfolio of municipal investments will lead to a slight increase in the overall risk level across your portfolio. As an investor, you’ll have to be comfortable with that added risk in exchange for the greater returns.
  • Want High Levels of Diversification. Diversification helps to reduce risk across investment portfolios. By investing in multiple assets across multiple categories, investors don’t have to fear detrimental declines should one, or even a handful, of these assets experience losses.

Final Word

Deciding between corporate and municipal bonds is a decision that should be based on your comfort with risk and your needs for yield and liquidity from your safe-haven investments

It’s also important to consider your returns from a tax perspective. Compare the yields on bonds issued by corporations to those on available munis to make sure the increased returns aren’t outweighed by the taxes you’d pay on your gains.

As is always the case, investors should take the time to research the bonds they’re investing in, considering historic returns, the issuer of the bond, and where the money they’re investing is going. By doing your research before making your investment, you’ll rest assured that they fall in line with your goals.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Buying a Home in a Historic District

Historical districts vary a lot place to place, but generally, they’re older neighborhoods that are considered architecturally or historically important. Decisions on which districts are historic or aren’t are mostly made at the city or county level, though state and federal designations also exist. An architecturally important district might contain some of the only surviving original examples of a local architectural style, while a historic district may be protected due to its important role in a city’s development or an association with a specific event or persons. For a district to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the neighborhood must also be at least 50 years old.

Historic DIstrict SignHistoric DIstrict Sign

There are considerable advantages, disadvantages, and considerations when deciding to move into an existing historic district or in establishing a new district. While the allure of being associated with your city’s history is strong, sacrificing some modern amenities and having more control exerted over your property is certainly not for everyone.

Regulations on how much a historic home has been modified vary, even sometimes on a street-by-street level. Most historic districts require registering any remodeling, so you might be able to find out the house’s history there – but your own remodel will likely need to be approved too. Almost all historic districts ban modifying the façade or street-facing exterior of the home. The types of limits you will face vary; you might need to buy historically appropriate windows, use a specific type of roofing or siding, or even keep the paint the same color. Sometimes decorations are restricted or can even be required if your district is part of a seasonal celebration.

These restrictions may seem oppressive, but if managed well, can actually be a significant benefit in the long run. Historical districts generally retain their cohesiveness and curb appeal, with appreciation rates that typically outperform regular communities. Most buyers are drawn to the neighborhood by its history and have a vested interest in participating in their maintenance and rehabilitation. And while there are very likely to be rules governing exterior renovations, you might be able to renovate for a modern interior – which, depending on your own needs and desires, may be a boon or a bane.

Historic homes, also, are more likely than modern homes to have historic room layouts. How Americans use homes has changed dramatically over the years. Many older homes might place less importance on the kitchen, have smaller rooms, or have fewer bathrooms. Very old homes even had the kitchen in a separate building from the main house for fire safety. The floor plan is more likely to be closed off than on a newly built home and to feature rooms modern houses of the same size might not bother with, like a separate den and formal living room or parlor.

Many historic homes also feature more narrow hallways and steeper stairs than their modern counterparts – an important consideration when it comes to moving furniture, for elderly housemates, or getting around with any kind of mobility impediment.

Finding appropriate materials and artisans to carry out a historically accurate renovation can also be challenging and extremely expensive. Houses built in America between 1930 and 1950 may have used asbestos as insulation, a very dangerous and expensive situation to deal with during renovations. Electrical systems may have been installed after the house was first built, creating some unsightly workarounds and potentially inadequate power supply systems. If moving into an old home, develop an inventory of all the electrical appliances that you are going to want to run with their power requirements, then compare that list to the capacity of your home as determined by an inspection by a licensed electrician.

Victorian HouseVictorian House

Other concerns when considering living in a historic district include:

  • Utilities may be higher as you struggle to heat and cool a less energy efficient home.
  • Taxes – you might get a break for restoration work, but your tax rate may be higher.
  • Home insurance can be difficult to find or more expensive due to the relatively higher replacement costs.
  • Research the history of your district and your specific home. Your house might be on the National Registry for less than favorable historical conditions and while that might not stop you from purchasing the property, it might give future buyers pause when you go to resell down the road.

Purchasing a house in an architectural or historical district is a package deal… you are not only hopefully getting a wonderful home that will shelter and nurture your family for years to come, but you are also literally purchasing a slice of your city’s history and story. That linkage can be a wonderful, educational source of pride for your family, or may turn into a grudging obligation depending upon the circumstances of your situation. A knowledgeable Realtor with practical experience buying and selling homes in the immediate area is essential. They will be able to obtain accurate information regarding the history of the home, the neighborhood, and even the process by which a Historical Designation was earned. They can give you valuable insight regarding peculiarities of owning in the neighborhood as well as information regarding potential celebrations and tourism events that you may find yourself drawn into. And as always, take some time to walk the district and talk to your new potential neighbors to get a real feel for what it will take to immerse your family into the history of the region.


Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.

Source: homes.com

Couponing Do’s & Don’ts — How to Save Money Shopping With Coupons

You’ve probably already used coupons at some point in your life. According to a 2020 survey by Statista, almost 90% of respondents reported having used coupons for shopping. Considering that coupons provide a fast, free way to reduce spending on groceries and essentials, it’s clear why coupons are so popular.

But to make your couponing efforts more successful, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks successful couponers use. The last thing you want to do is waste time collecting coupons only to realize none of them is valid when you’re checking out.

If you’re relatively new to couponing, start slowly by bringing a few paper coupons to your next shopping trip. Over time, you can incorporate more of these couponing do’s and don’ts to save more.

Couponing Do’s

Couponing doesn’t have to feel like a marathon or take up hours of your week. By following one or more of these couponing do’s, you can start to trim your monthly spending — and ultimately save more money.

1. Do Know Where to Find Coupons

The most basic step in starting to coupon is to collect them. Ideally, you can gradually build a stash of coupons for the stores and brands you frequently shop so you can always find some savings at the register.

To begin your coupon hunt, plan your weekly meals around sale products if possible. That helps you find discounts without even having to coupon. To find in-store sales, look for digital flyers on grocery store websites.

Another resource is Flipp, a free app that provides weekly flyers, deals, and online coupons for over 2,000 stores. Flipp has weekly flyers for stores like Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart. You can clip deals you find to the in-app shopping list to help you keep track.

Once your virtual or paper shopping list has all the food you need for the week, finish the list with any household essentials you need to restock, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. You’re now ready to track down coupons for everything on your shopping list.

There are several free websites you can use to print paper coupons. These websites include coupon databases and brand websites like:

Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot, and Valpak also have mobile apps that let you find and redeem digital coupons at the register. If you don’t want to spend time and money printing coupons, apps are your best resource. You can also try other mobile coupon apps like Grocery Pal and The Coupons App, which have digital coupons for grocery stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, Safeway, and Publix.

Between paper and digital coupons, you should find savings on some of the products on your weekly shopping list. If you can’t track down a specific coupon, searching online for the product name plus “coupon” is another tactic to try.

Finally, if you subscribe to a Sunday paper or get coupons and ad flyers in the mail, take a few minutes to scan for coupons you need. If you spot an incredible coupon for a product you buy regularly, you can scoop up a few extra newspapers on discount at a dollar store the following day or look online for the same coupon.

Also, don’t forget to check out those coupons they print out at the register after checkout (sometimes called Catalina coupons). Those are typically based on your specific purchases, so there may be something in there you can use. Others may be percent-off discounts on your total sale price if you spend over a certain amount.

You don’t have to go overboard and find duplicates of every coupon for your shopping list. Find as many as you can, and remember to check expiration dates so you shop in time to save.

2. Do Combine Coupons With Cash-Back Rewards Apps

Coupons usually provide a percent discount or certain dollar-off amount to let you save. But if you want to save even more on your weekly grocery haul, you can use cash-back rewards apps to earn rebates for buying certain products.

Just like searching for coupons, you can research rebate opportunities before heading to the store to earn cash back for products you were going to buy anyway. Popular rewards apps you can use include:

  • Ibotta. Earn cash back for buying specific products from Ibotta partners and uploading your receipt to the app for proof of purchase. Ibotta works with over 1,000 brands, and there are always offers on groceries and everyday essentials. You can redeem cash back through PayPal, Venmo, or free gift cards when you reach $20. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
  • Fetch Rewards. If you like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards is another must-download app. With Fetch Rewards, you earn points for buying products from dozens of popular brands. An advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you can redeem many free gift cards once you reach $3, which is possible in a single shopping trip. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
  • Checkout 51. Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta. Download Checkout 51, select offers to shop for, and upload your receipt to earn rewards. Checkout 51 works at stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart. You get a check when you earn $20 in cash back. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.

There’s still nothing wrong with using paper coupons or mobile coupon apps if that’s all you have time for. But to save even more, it’s worth trying cash-back rewards apps alongside your couponing efforts.

3. Do Sign Up for Store Savings Cards

Sign up for rewards cards at the stores where you shop. Store rewards cards typically provide shoppers with additional savings in the form of reward points or discounts. Plus, some loyalty programs also send additional coupons in the mail.

Reward cards also help you earn more with Ibotta since you can connect cards from retailers like Meijer, Kroger, and Wegmans to your account. Once you connect a card, Ibotta automatically detects whether your purchase qualifies for cash back and pays you.

4. Do Stay Organized to Maximize Savings

Organize coupons to keep them easily accessible when you shop. The last thing you want is to miss a coupon when checking out or — even worse— forget your coupons at home.

Your organizational system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. For casual couponers, a coupon wallet on Amazon costs around $10 and comes with dividers to group coupons into different sections, like meat or produce.

If you prefer managing everything from your smartphone, you can also use the free SnipSnap app to transform paper coupons into digital ones. Once you snap a picture of a paper coupon, Snip Snap uploads it to its database so you can use it while on the go. The app also tracks expiration dates and sends reminders about expiring coupons.

5. Do Know Your Store’s Coupon Policy

Does your grocer double coupons, price-match, accept competitor coupons, or give rain checks if sale goods are out of stock? If you don’t know, research coupon policies online. Grocery stores and general retailers like Walmart and Target outline coupon rules on their websites. To find a policy, use a browser to search for the name of your store of choice plus “coupon policy” (for example, “Kroger coupon policy”) or look for a frequently asked questions section on the website. These policies help you save even more money, and they aren’t always prominently advertised. Things to stay informed about include:

  • Price Matching. Stores don’t like losing a potential sale because a competitor has a slightly lower price tag, so many are willing to price match. Price matching is when a store adjusts its price to match a sale at another local store.
  • Competitor Coupons. Your store may accept competitors’ coupons, but you should clarify who their competitors are. For example, Publix accepts coupons for competitors’ private-label products, whereas Meijer doesn’t take competitor coupons at all. But some stores are more specific than Publix. Lowes Foods accepts competitor coupons only from select competitors, like Aldi, Food Lion, Target, and Walmart.
  • Rain Checks. When you want to buy an out-of-stock product, some stores issue rain checks, which guarantee the current price when it’s back in stock. But many stores have specific rules for rain checks. For example, Publix only issues one rain check per household per day (in addition to other, sometimes product-specific restrictions).

6. Do Know Local Stores’ Best Deals & Sale Patterns

You can get the most out of any coupon when you shop at the stores with the best deals for that product type, such as canned goods or toiletries.

That requires paying attention as you shop around. Over time, you learn each local store’s pricing quirks and sale patterns. For example, perhaps your local Walmart’s bakery section regularly puts bread and bagels on sale during certain days of the week. Or maybe your town’s Kroger has better prices and more frequent discounts on frozen meals than your local Publix.

As you learn this type of information, you can be more selective about where you shop for individual products. You don’t have to waste time and gas shopping at multiple stores for a single grocery trip, but for specific products, it can make sense to coupon at stores that are more likely to have deals or just better prices on that product category.

7. Do Start Slowly

When you first start couponing, it feels intimidating if you’re redeeming dozens of coupons and have a lot of numbers to crunch.

For your first few shopping trips, focus on the highest-value coupons, the ones you know are worth using. That might look like bringing three 50%-off coupons or your highest-dollar-value-off coupons.

You can even try using coupons on sale products, but don’t get too creative until you’re comfortable calculating whether things are good deals and handing over coupons at the register.

8. Do Try Stacking Coupons

Combining a coupon with a store sale is a simple way to stack savings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just stacking coupons with sale prices. Stores like Dollar General, Meijer, and Target let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupons to save even more.

For example, if Target has Planters peanuts on sale for $2, you can use a $1 Target coupon for Planters products and a $1 Planters manufacturer’s coupon to score a free can of peanuts. You can find store coupons online or in your favorite store’s weekly flyers.

If you can’t get something for free, try stacking coupons with store sales and apps like Ibotta to maximize savings.

For example, there’s a 50%-off clearance sale on a $3.99 Red Baron pepperoni pizza, bringing the price down to $2. If you have a $1 manufacturer coupon, the price is just $1. But since Ibotta has a $0.75 rebate on Red Baron pepperoni pizza, you just scored an entire pizza for only $0.25.

To top it all off, shop with a cash-back credit card to earn even more. The goal of couponing is to find deals whenever possible and get creative to stretch the value of every dollar you spend.

9. Do Use the Overage

When your coupons exceed the sale price of a product, it produces an overage. While that doesn’t invalidate the coupons, most often, that means you get the product for $0.

However, certain retailers apply overages toward other products in your shopping cart. For example, say you get an overage of $0.50 on a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix by using a manufacturer coupon and sale price. Overage-allowing retailers apply the $0.50 overage to another product in your cart.

Walmart and Kroger are two major retailers that apply overages to your cart. And Walmart is one of the few retailers that pays cash back for overages (except on purchases made using government benefits, so save coupons for purchases you make when you’re not using your SNAP and WIC benefits). Kroger issues overages on a merchandise return card (essentially, a Kroger gift card). If you’re in doubt, look up your store’s coupon policy online to learn about overage rules.

10. Do Present Coupons in the Right Order

You can maximize your savings by handing the cashier your coupons in a specific order. For example, if you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, use that coupon first. Otherwise, your other coupons might negate the $5 coupon by discounting the total amount of the sale to less than $20.

Some stores automatically apply your coupons correctly, so the order doesn’t always matter. But to be safe, give the cashier the price-minimum coupon before you use any other coupons.

11. Do Get in & Get Out

Know what you plan to buy before you go to the store, and stick to your shopping list.

If you stay in the store too long, you become susceptible to their marketing ploys, and you may end up spending more money. Get in, get the deals, and then get out.

If you shop during less busy grocery shopping hours, like during the week or at night, your trips will also be faster than battling weekend shopping crowds.

12. Do Stock Up

If you spot an incredible couponing opportunity on nonperishable goods or products you use frequently, it’s generally a smart move to stock up. It ensures you benefit from the deal as much as possible and lets you use more coupons before they expire. It’s an excellent way to set up long-term emergency food and supply storage.

Stacking coupons and store sales lets you score the lowest price possible when stocking up. For example, if Green Giant canned corn is on sale for $0.99 per can and you have several BOGO coupons or manufacturer coupons for $0.50 off per can, you can stock up on as many cans as possible to build your food storage for less than half the regular price.

Some stores limit the number of sale products you can purchase at once. If a store puts a limit on something and you need more of it, visit other store locations to create your stockpile.

Stocking up also lets you be pickier about when you use coupons. For example, if you run out of toilet paper, shop your emergency pantry first. You can replace your emergency supplies when you’re able to stack a sale and a coupon rather than buying full-price TP without a coupon.

That’s especially important for edible pantry goods. Canned and dried foods last a long time, but even they eventually go bad. This method ensures your emergency supplies are always safe to eat. If you have to throw them away, you won’t save any money (and may be in trouble if you need them during a bona fide emergency).

But before you come home with 30 cans of creamed corn, make sure you have a place to store it. You can convert a small area of your home, like a guest room closet or second bathroom linen closet, into your emergency pantry.

13. Do Donate the Excess

When couponing, you sometimes encounter scenarios where you can get so much of a free or cheap product that you can’t even use it all before it expires. It’s still a better deal than purchasing without a coupon, but the thought of letting all that product go bad doesn’t sit well with most people.

Instead of turning down an incredible deal, look into ways to donate excess couponing successes to people in need. Charities like homeless shelters, food banks, and women’s shelters make excellent candidates for donations. You can also reach out to local churches and community outreach programs to see if they need certain supplies.

You may even be able to take a charitable contribution tax deduction.


Couponing Don’ts

If you ever watched shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” successful couponing looks like hours of dumpster diving for coupon flyers, endless clipping, and (in some cases) being way too frugal.

But couponing doesn’t have to become your full-time job. You don’t need to make things overly complex either. As long as you follow couponing best practices and avoid some common couponing mistakes, your savings can benefit without transforming your living room into a coupon-clipping factory.

1. Don’t Shop Without a Meal Plan

Shopping with a meal plan is an often overlooked couponing tip, but it’s crucial to saving money. If you don’t have a plan to use the products you’re buying each week, you’re more likely to waste food.

Additionally, shopping without a menu makes you more likely to buy convenience food: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and other fast meals. While these are delicious, they’re not conducive to eating healthy on a budget.

When building your shopping list, plan dishes that line up with products you have coupons for. For example, you find a $1-off coupon for two bags of Sargento cheese, a $0.25 coupon for Classico pasta sauce, and a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Mueller’s pasta. You can plan to make lasagna for dinner one night that week and macaroni and cheese as a side for another meal.

Or perhaps you find a coupon for an ingredient that’s central to many dishes, like chicken or ground beef, that also happens to be on sale. You can plan to make several recipes that use that ingredient, then stack the sale and coupon for even more savings.

If that sounds intimidating, affordable meal-planning services like $5 Meal Plan provide a month’s worth of dinner recipes and various breakfast and lunch ideas for only $5 per month.

2. Don’t Use a Coupon on a Full-Price Product

If you use a $1-off coupon on a full-price two-pack of SlimFast protein drinks for $5.68, you still pay $2.34 per beverage. But if you wait until SlimFast is on sale, you can save even more money. For example, if SlimFast goes on sale for 20% off, you can buy two drinks for $4.54, use your coupon, and pay $3.54, or $1.77 each, saving nearly 40% on your purchase.

That’s why operating with an emergency pantry is such a good idea. If you need to restock on an ingredient or product that day, you have to use coupons even if you miss a sale (or worse, pay full price without a coupon). But if you can afford to wait, you can save money in the long run by shopping during sale periods and with coupons more often.

3. Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s on Sale

Don’t let sale prices trick you into buying something you don’t typically use just because it looks like a deal. If you use coupons without thinking, you inevitably buy things that are a waste of money or products that expire before you have a chance to use them.

Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet and defeats the whole purpose of couponing. That said, if you find a fantastic deal on something you can donate, there’s nothing wrong with couponing for charity.

4. Don’t Be Brand-Loyal

Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brand should you buy? The answer: whichever one you can get the cheapest using your coupons.

Many people start couponing because of a major life event, like job loss, pregnancy, or too much debt. Those aren’t the times to be brand-loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on deals because you prefer specific brands.

And sometimes, the cheapest bet is to go with the store brand, even if it means passing up on a coupon or sale for another brand.

For example, at Walmart, the Great Value line is extensive, covering a range of affordable grocery products and everyday essentials. If your coupons can’t beat Great Value, it’s probably best to save them for another time.

Plus, many retailers give coupons for their own brands through register coupons and coupon mailers, so you can still find ways to save on already affordable store brands.

5. Don’t Use Every Coupon

Some coupons don’t represent real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal doesn’t result in much savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to a better deal than the store brand. Wait for a better coupon and another sale.

Sometimes, you also have good coupons nearing their expiration dates but no sales on the goods you need. Let them expire. You don’t have to use the coupons, especially if you have to buy a brand name at full price to do so.

Couponing is about saving money, not getting good deals on brand-name products.

If you really need something, buy one or two of them now and wait for a sale to buy in bulk.

6. Don’t Waste Time

It’s easy to fall into the couponing trap of spending so much time searching for deals and preparing to shop that you’re turning couponing into a part-time job (there are better side gigs to make extra money).

Start by asking yourself how much time you want to dedicate to couponing. The answer could be 15 minutes on Sunday to look through coupon apps or a couple of hours every week to do more thorough research.

With a time commitment in mind, you should also work efficiently. Some tips to save time when couponing include:

  • Only clipping paper coupons you know you’re going to use
  • Turning clipping into a family activity (don’t forget safety scissors for the younger ones)
  • Linking store loyalty cards with apps like Ibotta to avoid preselecting rebates before shopping

You can also order groceries online and use coupons to save both time and money. Online grocery shopping gives you plenty of time to scout deals and coupons and do the math without feeling pressured. It also saves you from clever marketing tactics that induce impulse buys. They try to do the same things online, but you have more time to talk yourself out of it. And you can typically use the same or similar coupons online you do in stores.

For example, at Kroger, you can load digital coupons onto your Kroger Plus card and have them automatically apply to your online grocery order. And if you pick up the order, you can also use paper coupons (Kroger only accepts their own digital coupons for delivery). Just make sure you hit any free pickup minimums to ensure you’re really saving.

As long as couponing is enjoyable and effective, you’re on the right track. Plus, as you gain experience, you’ll find certain coupon apps or websites work best for your shopping habits and become even more efficient at growing your coupon supply.

7. Don’t Print Coupons You Don’t Use

Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save money. But you still use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper.

Many people print every online coupon available and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them. Save any you’re interested in but don’t need as a PDF or browser bookmark.


Final Word

In many ways, learning to coupon is a series of stages. At first, you use a few tips that are convenient to save, like buying products you have coupons for. As you become more comfortable, you start to mix in tricks like coupon stacking and simply using more coupons per shopping trip. If you start loving the process, you eventually graduate to extreme couponing, where it’s possible to score entire grocery hauls for almost pennies on the dollar if you get it right.

Whatever stage you’re in, the goal of couponing is to save more of your money. How much time you spend on it is up to you.

Source: moneycrashers.com

What To Expect in the 2019 Housing Market

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How to Navigate This Year’s Housing Market

There can be little doubt that 2018 was a turbulent year in the housing market. With the Fed raising rates, lack of inventory, and some experts proclaiming that we are at “peak housing,” many sellers and buyers put off major transactions, hoping for a better year in 2019. But will they reap the benefits of a wise decision?

It may be too early to tell. However, that hasn’t stopped several experts from weighing in on what to expect as the 2019 housing market starts to heat up. We may still be in winter’s icy grasp, but it’s not too soon to start dreaming about what the hot season will look like this year, with spring right around the corner. Here’s what to expect from the 2019 housing market.

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Interest Rates for Mortgages

It’s a rare occurrence when nearly everyone in the mortgage industry agrees on something, especially when that something is the future of mortgage rates. So then, 2019 is looking to be a rare year. As reported at the close of last year on The Mortgage Reports, nearly every lending agency in the United States is expecting rates to rise above five percent for the year, with most predicting that rates will be somewhere between 5.1% and 5.3%.

Interestingly, Fannie Mae was the only holdout, predicting rates below five percent (4.8%). So, regardless of which agency you put your faith in, you can still expect to pay north of 5% on any mortgage you can qualify for in the year to come – rates higher than we’ve seen in more than a decade.

Generational Shifting Will Continue to Drive Buying and Selling Patterns

Buying and selling patterns are complex and driven by a great many factors. Over the past few years, one big factor has been the ongoing shift in generations, as two of the biggest demographic groups (by age, anyway) that our country has ever seen, enter and begin to shift out of the housing market.

Baby boomers are downsizing, moving from their big empty nests, or refinancing with reverse mortgages and other lending products, while Millennials are entering the housing market in surprising numbers. This is happening, of course, despite lack of inventory, rising rates, and the fact that they are carrying the heaviest debt burden of any young generation in history. Regardless, these two trends will continue to push both buying and selling patterns.

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Lack of Inventory Will Remain a Factor in Many Markets

The other carryover from 2018 that will continue to affect the housing market in a major way is lack of inventory. Thanks as well to many factors, record numbers of aging Americans are holding onto their homes or downsizing into smaller homes, rather than moving into shared housing situations as their forebears did at similar ages.

This, coupled with the after-effects of the 2008 housing crisis and many other economic factors too complex for a blog post of this kind, has led to a situation where there is far more demand for housing than available inventory can satisfy. And, while this may be great for some sellers, it may also end up having an overall cooling effect (especially when coupled with rising rates) on the market as a whole.

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Buying or Selling This Year? Hold On For a Wild Ride in 2019

2019 may not be the smoothest year that the housing market has ever seen, but there’s more to the year to come than predictions of doom would seem to suggest. While inventory may be an ongoing issue and rates are expected to continue to rise, there are still plenty of people entering and exiting the housing market to make for a great year of selling and buying.

It may be harder for some buyers to find (and afford) exactly what they want, but it won’t be impossible, especially in light of the near constant state of economic growth we’re currently experiencing.


Ben is a real estate agent and freelance writer. He’s lived on the east coast his entire life and is just as “at home” on a snowboard as he is in the office. When not writing about local real estate markets and researching hot new tips for homeowners, he can be found working on his home renovation projects with help from his wife Melissa and their kids, Josh and Cheyenne.

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Source: homes.com

How to Refinance Your Home Mortgage – Step-by-Step Guide

Deciding to refinance your mortgage is only the beginning of the process. You’re far more likely to accomplish what you set out to achieve with your refinance — and to get a good deal in the meantime — when you understand what a mortgage refinance entails.

From decision to closing, mortgage refinancing applicants pass through four key stages on their journey to a new mortgage loan.

How to Refinance a Mortgage on Your Home

Getting a home loan of any kind is a highly involved and consequential process.

On the front end, it requires careful consideration on your part. In this case, that means weighing the pros and cons of refinancing in general and the purpose of your loan in particular.

For example, are you refinancing to get a lower rate loan (reducing borrowing costs relative to your current loan) or do you need a cash-out refinance to finance a home improvement project, which could actually entail a higher rate?

Next, you’ll need to gather all the documents and details you’ll need to apply for your loan, evaluate your loan options and calculate what your new home mortgage will cost, and then begin the process of actually shopping for and applying for your new loan — the longest step in the process.

Expect the whole endeavor to take several weeks.

1. Determining Your Loan’s Purpose & Objectives

The decision to refinance a mortgage is not one to make lightly. If you’ve decided to go through with it, you probably have a goal in mind already.

Still, before getting any deeper into the process, it’s worth reviewing your longer-term objectives and determining what you hope to get out of your refinance. You might uncover a secondary or tertiary goal or benefit that alters your approach to the process before it’s too late to change course.

Refinancing advances a whole host of goals, some of which are complementary. For example:

  • Accelerating Payoff. A shorter loan term means fewer monthly payments and quicker payoff. It also means lower borrowing costs over the life of the loan. The principal downside: Shortening a loan’s remaining term from, say, 25 years to 15 years is likely to raise the monthly payment, even as it cuts down total interest charges.
  • Lowering the Monthly Payment. A lower monthly payment means a more affordable loan from month to month — a key benefit for borrowers struggling to live within their means. If you plan to stay in your home for at least three to five years, accepting a prepayment penalty (which is usually a bad idea) can further reduce your interest rate and your monthly payment along with it. The most significant downsides here are the possibility of higher overall borrowing costs and taking longer to pay it off if, as is often the case, you reduce your monthly payment by lengthening your loan term.
  • Lowering the Interest Rate. Even with an identical term, a lower interest rate reduces total borrowing costs and lowers the monthly payment. That’s why refinancing activity spikes when interest rates are low. Choose a shorter term and you’ll see a more drastic reduction.
  • Avoiding the Downsides of Adjustable Rates. Life is good for borrowers during the first five to seven years of the typical adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) term when the 30-year loan rate is likely to be lower than prevailing rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. The bill comes due, literally, when the time comes for the rate to adjust. If rates have risen since the loan’s origination, which is common, the monthly payment spikes. Borrowers can avoid this unwelcome development by refinancing to a fixed-rate mortgage ahead of the jump.
  • Getting Rid of FHA Mortgage Insurance. With relaxed approval standards and low down payment requirements, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage loans help lower-income, lower-asset first-time buyers afford starter homes. But they have some significant drawbacks, including pricey mortgage insurance that lasts for the life of the loan. Borrowers with sufficient equity (typically 20% or more) can put that behind them, reduce their monthly payment in the process by refinancing to a conventional mortgage, and avoid less expensive but still unwelcome private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • Tapping Home Equity. Use a cash-out refinance loan to extract equity from your home. This type of loan allows you to borrow cash against the value of your home to fund things like home improvement projects or debt consolidation. Depending on the lender and jurisdiction, you can borrow up to 85% of your home equity (between rolled-over principal and cash proceeds) with this type of loan. But mind your other equity-tapping options: a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

Confirming what you hope to get out of your refinance is an essential prerequisite to calculating its likely cost and choosing the optimal offer.


2. Confirm the Timing & Gather Everything You Need

With your loan’s purpose and your long-term financial objectives set, it’s time to confirm you’re ready to refinance. If yes, you must gather everything you need to apply, or at least begin thinking about how to do that.

Assessing Your Timing & Determining Whether to Wait

The purpose of your loan plays a substantial role in dictating the timing of your refinance.

For example, if your primary goal is to tap the equity in your home to finance a major home improvement project, such as a kitchen remodel or basement finish, wait until your loan-to-value ratio is low enough to produce the requisite windfall. That time might not arrive until you’ve been in your home for a decade or longer, depending on the property’s value (and change in value over time).

As a simplified example, if you accumulate an average of $5,000 in equity per year during your first decade of homeownership by making regular payments on your mortgage, you must pay your 30-year mortgage on time for 10 consecutive years to build the $50,000 needed for a major kitchen remodel (without accounting for a potential increase in equity due to a rise in market value).

By contrast, if your primary goal is to avoid a spike in your ARM payment, it’s in your interest to refinance before that happens — most often five or seven years into your original mortgage term.

But other factors can also influence the timing of your refinance or give you second thoughts about going through with it at all:

  • Your Credit Score. Because mortgage refinance loans are secured by the value of the properties they cover, their interest rates tend to be lower than riskier forms of unsecured debt, such as personal loans and credit cards. But borrower credit still plays a vital role in setting their rates. Borrowers with credit scores above 760 get the best rates, and borrowers with scores much below 680 can expect significantly higher rates. That’s not to say refinancing never makes sense for someone whose FICO score is in the mid-600s or below, only that those with the luxury to wait out the credit rebuilding or credit improvement process might want to consider it. If you’re unsure of your credit score, you can check it for free through Credit Karma.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio. Mortgage lenders prefer borrowers with low debt-to-income ratios. Under 36% is ideal, and over 43% is likely a deal breaker for most lenders. If your debt-to-income ratio is uncomfortably high, consider putting off your refinance for six months to a year and using the time to pay down debt.
  • Work History. Fairly or not, lenders tend to be leery of borrowers who’ve recently changed jobs. If you’ve been with your current employer for two years or less, you must demonstrate that your income has been steady for longer and still might fail to qualify for the rate you expected. However, if you expect interest rates to rise in the near term, waiting out your new job could cancel out any benefits due to the higher future prevailing rates.
  • Prevailing Interest Rates. Given the considerable sums of money involved, even an incremental change to your refinance loan’s interest rate could translate to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars saved over the life of the loan. If you expect interest rates to fall in the near term, put off your refinance application. Conversely, if you believe rates will rise, don’t delay. And if the difference between your original mortgage rate and the rate you expect to receive on your refinance loan isn’t at least 1.5 percentage points, think twice about going ahead with the refinance at all. Under those circumstances, it takes longer to recoup your refinance loan’s closing costs.
  • Anticipated Time in the Home. It rarely makes sense to refinance your original mortgage if you plan to sell the home or pay off the mortgage within two years. Depending on your expected interest savings on the refinance, it can take much longer than that (upward of five years) to break even. Think carefully about how much effort you want to devote to refinancing a loan you’re going to pay off in a few years anyway.

Pro tip: If you need to give your credit score a bump, sign up for Experian Boost. It’s free and it’ll help you instantly increase your credit score.

Gathering Information & Application Materials

If and when you’re ready to go through with your refinance, you need a great deal of information and documentation before and during the application and closing processes, including:

  • Proof of Income. Depending on your employment status and sources of income, the lender will ask you to supply recent pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements.
  • A Recent Home Appraisal. Your refinance lender will order a home appraisal before closing, so you don’t need to arrange one on your own. However, to avoid surprises, you can use open-source comparable local sales data to get an idea of your home’s likely market value.
  • Property Insurance Information. Your lender (and later, mortgage servicer) needs your homeowners insurance information to bundle your escrow payment. If it has been more than a year since you reviewed your property insurance policy, now’s the time to shop around for a better deal.

Be prepared to provide additional documentation if requested by your lender before closing. Any missing information or delays in producing documents can jeopardize the close.

Home Appraisal Blackboard Chalk Hand


3. Calculate Your Approximate Refinancing Costs

Next, use a free mortgage refinance calculator like Bank of America’s to calculate your approximate refinancing costs.

Above all else, this calculation must confirm you can afford the monthly mortgage payment on your refinance loan. If one of your aims in refinancing is to reduce the amount of interest paid over the life of your loan, this calculation can also confirm your chosen loan term and structure will achieve that.

For it to be worth it, you must at least break even on the loan after accounting for closing costs.

Calculating Your Breakeven Cost

Breakeven is a simple concept. When the total amount of interest you must pay over the life of your refinance loan matches the loan’s closing costs, you break even on the loan.

The point in time at which you reach parity is the breakeven point. Any interest saved after the breakeven point is effectively a bonus — money you would have forfeited had you chosen not to refinance.

Two factors determine if and when the breakeven point arrives. First, a longer loan term increases the likelihood you’ll break even at some point. More important still is the magnitude of change in your loan’s interest rate. The further your refinance rate falls from your original loan’s rate, the more you save each month and the faster you can recoup your closing costs.

A good mortgage refinance calculator should automatically calculate your breakeven point. Otherwise, calculate your breakeven point by dividing your refinance loan’s closing costs by the monthly savings relative to the original loan and round the result up to the next whole number.

Because you won’t have exact figures for your loan’s closing costs or monthly savings until you’ve applied and received loan disclosures, you’re calculating an estimated breakeven range at this point.

Refinance loan closing costs typically range from 2% to 6% of the refinanced loan’s principal, depending on the origination fee and other big-ticket expenses, so run one optimistic scenario (closing costs at 2% and a short time to breakeven) and one pessimistic scenario (closing costs at 6% and a long time to breakeven). The actual outcome will likely fall somewhere in the middle.

Note that the breakeven point is why it rarely makes sense to bother refinancing if you plan to sell or pay off the loan within two years or can’t reduce your interest rate by more than 1.5 to 2 percentage points.


4. Shop, Apply, & Close

You’re now in the home stretch — ready to shop, apply, and close the deal on your refinance loan.

Follow each of these steps in order, beginning with a multipronged effort to source accurate refinance quotes, continuing through an application and evaluation marathon, and finishing up with a closing that should seem breezier than your first.

Use a Quote Finder (Online Broker) to Get Multiple Quotes Quickly

Start by using an online broker like Credible* to source multiple refinance quotes from banks and mortgage lenders without contacting each party directly. Be prepared to provide basic information about your property and objectives, such as:

  • Property type, such as single-family home or townhouse
  • Property purpose, such as primary home or vacation home
  • Loan purpose, such as lowering the monthly payment
  • Property zip code
  • Estimated property value and remaining first mortgage loan balance
  • Cash-out needs, if any
  • Basic personal information, such as estimated credit score and date of birth

If your credit is decent or better, expect to receive multiple conditional refinance offers — with some coming immediately and others trickling in by email or phone in the subsequent hours and days. You’re under no obligation to act on any, sales pressure notwithstanding, but do make note of the most appealing.

Approach Banks & Lenders You’ve Worked With Before

Next, investigate whether any financial institutions with which you have a preexisting relationship offer refinance loans, including your current mortgage lender.

Most banks and credit unions do offer refinance loans. Though their rates tend to be less competitive at a baseline than direct lenders without expensive branch offices, many offer special pricing for longtime or high-asset customers. It’s certainly worth taking the time to make a few calls or website visits.

Apply for Multiple Loans Within 14 Days

You won’t know the exact cost of any refinance offer until you officially apply and receive the formal loan disclosure all lenders must provide to every prospective borrower.

But you can’t formally apply for a refinance loan without consenting to a hard credit pull, which can temporarily depress your credit score. And you definitely shouldn’t go through with your refinance until you’ve entertained multiple offers to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Fortunately, the major consumer credit-reporting bureaus count all applications for a specific loan type (such as mortgage refinance loans) made within a two-week period as a single application, regardless of the final application count.

In other words, get in all the refinance applications you plan to make within two weeks, and your credit report will show just a single inquiry.

Evaluate Each Offer

Evaluate the loan disclosure for each accepted application with your objectives and general financial goals in mind. If your primary goal is reducing your monthly payment, look for the loan with the lowest monthly cost.

If your primary goal is reducing your lifetime homeownership costs, look for the loan offering the most substantial interest savings (the lowest mortgage interest rate).

Regardless of your loan’s purpose, make sure you understand what (if anything) you’re obligated to pay out of pocket for your loan. Many refinance loans simply roll closing costs into the principal, raising the monthly payment and increasing lifetime interest costs.

If your goal is to get the lowest possible monthly payment and you can afford to, try paying the closing costs out of pocket.

Choose an Offer & Consider Locking Your Rate

Choose the best offer from the pack — the one that best suits your objectives. If you expect rates to move up before closing, consider the lender’s offer (if extended) to lock your rate for a predetermined period, usually 45 to 90 days.

There’s likely a fee associated with this option, but the amount saved by even marginally reducing your final interest rate will probably offset it. Assuming everything goes smoothly during closing, you shouldn’t need more than 45 days — and certainly not more than 90 days — to finish the deal.

Proceed to Closing

Once you’ve closed on the loan, that’s it — you’ve refinanced your mortgage. Your refinance lender pays off your first mortgage and originates your new loan.

Moving forward, you send payments to your refinance lender, their servicer, or another company that purchases the loan.


Final Word

If you own a home, refinancing your mortgage loan is likely the easiest route to capitalize on low interest rates. It’s probably the most profitable too.

But low prevailing interest rates aren’t the only reason to refinance your mortgage loan. Other common refinancing goals include avoiding the first upward adjustment on an ARM, reducing the monthly payment to a level that doesn’t strain your growing family’s budget, tapping the equity you’ve built in your home, and banishing FHA mortgage insurance.

And a refinance loan doesn’t need to achieve only one goal. Some of these objectives are complementary, such as reducing your monthly payment while lowering your interest rate (and lifetime borrowing costs).

Provided you make out on the deal, whether by reducing your total homeownership costs or taking your monthly payment down a peg, it’s likely worth the effort.

*Advertisement from Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS 1681276.Address: 320 Blackwell St. Ste 200, Durham, NC, 27701

Source: moneycrashers.com

These are the Hot Markets to Shop for Foreclosed Homes in 2019

5 Places to Find Great Deals on Foreclosed Homes

With home prices on the rise, finding affordable homes to shop among isn’t as easy as it once was. For many, purchasing a home that was recently foreclosed is the perfect solution because these homes are often sold for what is still owed to the bank.

At the end of the day, banks don’t want to be in the real estate business. So, when a home is foreclosed, the bank wants to get it off its hands as quickly as possible. This means you can get a home you otherwise may not have been able to afford for a price that you certainly can.

Even though foreclosures dropped in 2018, there were still a lot of them out there on the market. This means you’ll have plenty of properties to consider if you’re looking to buy this year. To help you in your search, here are five of the hottest markets to shop for foreclosed homes in 2019.

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Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of the country’s biggest cities and it’s filled with opportunities. But unfortunately, it is also the city with the most foreclosure filings. It was one of the hardest-hit cities during the real estate crash of the 2000s and it still hasn’t fully recovered. As of the mid-point of 2018, Chicago had 5,148 homes filed for foreclosure.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

If you’re looking for foreclosures, then you’ll find plenty to love in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia had the second-highest number of foreclosure filings as of mid-2018 with 3,578 homes filing. But, if you look at the percentage of homes in foreclosure, Philadelphia actually tops the list. Whereas Chicago had one-half of one percent of its homes in foreclosure in the first half of 2018, Philadelphia had six-tenths of its homes in foreclosure.

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Cleveland, Ohio

At the mid-point of 2018, Cleveland had 3,208 foreclosure filings. But the bigger picture is the fact that since 2017, the number of filings in Cleveland has jumped by nearly 24%. With Cleveland undergoing a sort of renaissance movement, 2019 is going to be the perfect time to invest in real estate because things are expected to turn around for Cleveland any day now.

Miami, Florida

From 2017 to 2018, foreclosures in Miami jumped by 29%. As of the mid-point of last year, there were 2,801 foreclosure filings. In many ways, Miami is really just a victim of its own expensive real estate market and low median income. In Miami, it is not uncommon for people to leave their homes after a hurricane simply because they can’t afford to repair the damages.

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Houston, Texas

Houston had 2,707 filings as of mid-2018, and this was a jump of nearly 9.5% from the year prior. Houston’s spike in foreclosures is being attributed to the damage caused by hurricane-induced flooding after the city was hit with Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Houston also had the distinction of being home to the most expensive foreclosure in the country at $9.75 million.

Don’t wait until spring to start looking for your summer contractor. Most construction companies worth their value will already have summer projects booked by then! Start early, start now. Do your due diligence and get the contractor you want to do your project. You will enjoy a smoother renovation and an easier summer by planning for it now.


Ben is a real estate agent and freelance writer. He’s lived on the east coast his entire life and is just as “at home” on a snowboard as he is in the office. When not writing about local real estate markets and researching hot new tips for homeowners, he can be found working on his home renovation projects with help from his wife Melissa and their kids, Josh and Cheyenne.

Source: homes.com

What are the Ideal Homes for America’s Generations?

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When it comes to homes, there’s no one size fits all – or in this case, one size fits all generations. Individuals and families age and transition, and so do their real estate needs. While one segment may be snatching up luxury condos downtown, others may be searching for a sprawling estate on land. Knowing what each generation is seeking in their next home will make you a better seller or investor. From Generation Z to Baby Boomers and in between, each group requires specific needs and desires in their homes.

Millennials, Geration X, and Baby Boomers road signs 3d Illustration.Millennials, Geration X, and Baby Boomers road signs 3d Illustration.

Generation Z

By far the youngest of the generations, the vast majority of Generation Z is still in high school with the oldest just now reaching their mid-twenties. You won’t find many Generation Z buyers. Instead, these are the young adults staking claim on the rise of communal multi-family student housing popular in many college towns. Due to secondary education, crippling student loans, and transitional life plans, most are opting to rent rather than buy – primarily due to finances and primarily due to much of their future is still up in the air.

Steve Cook, former VP of Public Affairs at NAR, explains that “though the oldest members of Generation Z are just entering home-buying age (23-25 years old), they have learned a lot from their millennial brothers and sisters”.  A recent PropertyShark study found Generational Zers would sacrifice location and an easy commute, but not space and amenities such as smart appliances and smart homes. He goes on further to state that “Generation Z also prizes parking space far more than energy efficiency in a home, quite the opposite of Millennials”.

You can expect a heavy demand for communal style apartment living as Generation Z leaves on-campus student housing. With demand for convenience, technology, and location, you’ll find these young adults cohabitating for financial reasons and also a desire to be near the hub of the social scene.

Millennials

By and large, this is the group that wants to buy houses – eventually. With the youngest of millennials fresh out of college and the oldest creeping on 40, these young professionals are balancing work life, home life, social scene, finances and budgeting… and student loan debt. Researchers have found that home ownership declined the most significantly in the age group of 30 and below. This decline is attributed to student loan debt and also to a delay in millennials marrying & having children as opposed to previous generations.

Happy, young couple getting keys to new home from realtor.Happy, young couple getting keys to new home from realtor.

Statistically, the millennials that have purchased homes are the ones that have settled down with a family – although there are single millennial homeowners. Whether they’re buying or renting, the Millennial Generation is the driving force in real estate. With over 80 million millennials, this group has the numbers to dictate not only the home buying market but the rental market as well. Specifically, millennials tend to start gravitating towards the suburbs as they age, while the youngest of this generation still opt for downtown city living. While Generation Z is all about the communal multi-family housing, 75% of millennials are opting for single-family homes. Not surprisingly, technology is also a large factor for the Millennial Generation, including green technology.

Generation X

More removed from transitional and communal living, Generation X ranges from mid-thirties to pre-retirement. With almost 62 million people in Generation X, this group has distinctive needs that set them apart from Generation Z and the Millennial Generation. By and large, Generation X has made the trek to a single-family home in the ‘burbs. This generation typically resides in larger homes due to expanding families, multi-generational housing due to aging parents, and also due to increased salaries and financial stability.

With increased financial stability, Generation X can afford to buy nicer, larger homes that sit on spacious lots. This generation isn’t looking to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Instead, this generation may want more land to “play on,” media rooms to lounge in and enjoy at their leisure, and expansive, professional kitchens for entertaining. Interestingly enough, this is also one of the generations that earned their stripes in real estate by buying and surviving (or not) the recession, so as they recover, they may also be more timid in their purchases.

Baby Boomers

Near the top of the largest home buying generation is the Baby Boomer Generation, with 32% recently buying homes. With the youngest boomers in their early 50s and most retired from their careers, this generation is arguably the most financially secure. While many opt to “age in place,” their needs may change over time. Due to age and health, many baby boomers prefer smaller, one-level single-family homes. Boomers are seeking low-maintenance finishes, flexible spaces, and accessible design. Experienced in home buying (and selling), baby boomers are cautious and precise when buying a home. They typically know what they want and don’t want to settle.

An older couple holding hands in front of home in depth of field image.An older couple holding hands in front of home in depth of field image.

Baby boomers are also more likely to pick up stakes from their homestead and head to sunnier destinations like Florida. In part to the boomers, resort market sales increased by over 50% in the last year. The majority of baby boomers are female, over 50% actually, and as they continue to age, a new multi-generational trend has developed – Granny Pods. This new trend allows female boomers to maintain independence while being near family as they age in place.

There Is No One Size Fits All

While one home might fit one generation, it may be totally wrong for the needs of the next generation. Each generation has specific preferences to meet their needs. However, combined these generations are dictating the future of real estate and home design.


Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She’s passionate about the power of real estate. She’s also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.

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Source: homes.com

How to Check Your Credit Score for Free – Lexington Law

You can check your credit score for free in a few simple steps without it affecting your score.

Your credit score — a number between 300 and 850 — represents your creditworthiness. Potential lenders, like a mortgage or credit card company, consider your credit score when determining whether to approve you for a loan. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your credit score and fix any errors right away.

It’s a common misconception that checking your credit score is hard or expensive. In fact, checking your credit score doesn’t have to cost anything. Checking your credit score will give you an inside look at your creditworthiness, and give you a better idea of where you stand when applying for loans.

There are three main ways to check your credit score for free. Choose the route that works best for you.

1. Check with Your Credit Card Company

Many credit card companies allow anyone to check their credit score for free (sometimes even if you’re not a customer!) Depending on the institution, you may be able to check your score for free monthly, weekly, or even daily. You’ll receive a fast, up-to-date credit score, so you know exactly where you stand.

Cards that offer free credit score checking:

2. Request Your Credit Score Through Your Bank

Banks often give out free credit scores to their members. With most banks, your credit score automatically updates every month.

Banks that offer free credit score checking:

3. Sign Up for a Free Online Service

Certain websites and online services offer free credit scores. You’ll likely need to set up an account first, so be careful about which service you choose and make sure it’s not charging you a fee. Depending on the website, you may be able to pull free credit scores every seven to 14 days. Some services also give you the option of credit monitoring.

Sites that offer free credit score checking:

Lexington Law provides and tracks your FICO score when using our paid services. Knowing your FICO score is helpful when rebuilding your credit and preparing for large purchases since it’s used by 90 percent of the top lenders in the United States.

How to Order Your Credit Report for Free

Your credit score and your credit report are two different things. Your credit score is a number from 300-850, while your credit report details all of the different factors (like late payments, credit usage, and age of accounts) that are used to determine your credit score. You should check both your credit score and your credit report on a regular basis.

The three main credit bureaus — Experian®, TransUnion®, and Equifax® — offer one free credit report each year. You can go to Annual CreditReport to request your free reports.

Should you order all three credit reports at once or spread them out? To get a better sense of your creditworthiness and to watch for inaccuracies, you should spread out your free reports. With three free reports each year, you can pull your credit report every four months.

When you review your credit reports, be on the lookout for errors and fraud. Any errors or fraudulent activity should be reported within six months. For instance, if someone uses your identity to apply for a credit card, you should dispute it as soon as possible.

Your credit report is much more detailed than your credit score and includes a list of every credit account you’ve ever opened or closed, including student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards. Your credit report will also show if any of your accounts have been sent to collection agencies.

Does Checking Your Credit Score Damage Your Credit?

It’s a common misconception that checking your credit score hurts your credit, but that’s not true. In fact, “soft” inquiries—like ordering your credit report or checking your score—don’t affect your credit at all. So, if you’re wondering how to check your credit score without affecting it, you don’t have to worry.

Hard inquiries, on the other hand, do impact your credit score. When a mortgage or loan company checks your credit, that’s considered a hard inquiry. So for instance, if you apply for store credit to finance a major purchase, that will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Hard inquiries aren’t bad, but you should limit their number and frequency. For instance, try not to apply for three credit cards at once, because the hard inquiries will be close together. Many hard inquiries in a short period of time could signal to a potential lender that you aren’t a responsible borrower.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Checking your credit score is only one piece of the puzzle. You should know what your credit score is, but what if it’s lower than you’d like? Most mortgage companies look for a score of 600 or higher. If your score is below 600, you may want to improve your score before applying for a mortgage.

Don’t worry: many people have a lower credit score than they’d like. Luckily, there are several ways to improve your credit score in both the short- and long-term.

Fix any credit mistakes: Your credit report may include errors, and you won’t necessarily get an alert from your credit card company when they appear. Unfortunately, these errors can significantly lower your credit score. You can improve your credit score by contacting the credit bureau to have these negative and errors removed.

Pay your late and past-due accounts: Pay off your overdue debt. Late payments on your account are bad for your credit, so be sure to pay off any debts — especially those that have been sent to collection agencies.

Improve your creditworthiness: Keep old accounts open and aim to have a variety of accounts. For example, you may want to have an auto loan and a couple of credit cards. By having older, more diverse accounts, you show potential lenders that you have a healthy payment history.  

Ask for professional help: If you want to improve your credit standing, consider getting professional help. Credit consultants like the ones at Lexington Law can help you make a plan for improving your credit.  

Learning how to stay up-to-date on your credit health is the first step toward handling any credit issues you may have. Knowing how to check your credit score and doing it as often as possible is one of the most important credit habits you can develop and will go a long way toward improving your overall financial health.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com