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ByCurtis Watts

Are Social Security Disability Benefits Taxable?

A disabled woman talks to her accountant about taxes.Social Security benefits, including disability benefits, can help provide a supplemental source of income to people who are eligible to receive them. If you’re receiving disability benefits from Social Security, you might be wondering whether you’ll owe taxes on the money. For most people, the answer is no. But there are some scenarios where you may have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. It may also behoove you to consult with a trusted financial advisor as you navigate the complicated terrain of taxes on Social Security disability benefits.

What Is Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) pays benefits to eligible people who have become disabled. To be considered eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you have to be “insured”, which means you worked long enough and recently enough to accumulate benefits based on your Social Security taxes paid.

You also have to meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled. To be considered disabled, it would have to be determined that you can no longer do the kind of work you did before you became disabled and that you won’t be able to do any other type of work because of your disability. Your disability must have lasted at least 12 months or be expected to last 12 months.

Social Security disability benefits are different from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security retirement benefits. SSI benefits are paid to people who are aged, blind or disabled and have little to no income. These benefits are designed to help meet basic needs for living expenses. Social Security retirement benefits are paid out based on your past earnings, regardless of disability status.

Supplemental Security Income generally isn’t taxed as it’s a needs-based benefit. The people who receive these benefits typically don’t have enough income to require tax reporting. Social Security retirement benefits, on the other hand, can be taxable if you’re working part-time or full-time while receiving benefits.

Is Social Security Disability Taxable? 

This is an important question to ask if you receive Social Security disability benefits and the short answer is, it depends. For the majority of people, these benefits are not taxable. But your Social Security disability benefits may be taxable if you’re also receiving income from another source or your spouse is receiving income.

The good news is, there are thresholds you have to reach before your Social Security disability benefits become taxable.

When Is Social Security Disability Taxable? 

A senior's tax return

The IRS says that Social Security disability benefits may be taxable if one-half of your benefits, plus all your other income, is greater than a certain amount which is based on your tax filing status. Even if you’re not working at all because of a disability, other income you’d have to report includes unearned income such as tax-exempt interest and dividends.

If you’re married and file a joint return, you also have to include your spouse’s income to determine whether any part of your Social Security disability benefits are taxable. This true even if your spouse isn’t receiving any benefits from Social Security.

The IRS sets the threshold for taxing Social Security disability benefits at the following limits:

  • $25,000 if you’re single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er),
  • $25,000 if you’re married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year,
  • $32,000 if you’re married filing jointly,
  • $0 if you’re married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

This means that if you’re married and file a joint return, you can report a combined income of up to $32,000 before you’d have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. There are two different tax rates the IRS can apply, based on how much income you report and your filing status.

If you’re single and file an individual return, you’d pay taxes on:

  • Up to 50% of your benefits if your income is between $25,000 and $34,000
  • Up to 85% of your benefits if your income is more than $34,000

If you’re married and file a joint return, you’d pay taxes on:

  • Up to 50% of your benefits if your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000
  • Up to 85% of your benefits if your combined income is more than $44,000

In other words, the more income you have individually or as a married couple, the more likely you are to have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. In terms of the actual tax rate that’s applied to these benefits, the IRS uses your marginal tax rate. So you wouldn’t be paying a 50% or 85% tax rate; instead, you’d pay your ordinary income tax rate based on whatever tax bracket you land in.

It’s also important to note that you could be temporarily pushed into a higher tax bracket if you receive Social Security disability back payments. These back payments can be paid to you in a lump sum to cover periods where you were disabled but were still waiting for your benefits application to be approved. The good news is you can apply some of those benefits to past years’ tax returns retroactively to spread out your tax liability. You’d need to file an amended return to do so.

Is Social Security Disability Taxable at the State Level?

Besides owing federal income taxes on Social Security disability benefits, it’s possible that you could owe state taxes as well. As of 2020, 12 states imposed some form of taxation on Social Security disability benefits, though they each apply the tax differently.

Nebraska and Utah, for example, follow federal government taxation rules. But other states allow for certain exemptions or exclusions and at least one state, West Virginia, plans to phase out Social Security benefits taxation by 2022. If you’re concerned about how much you might have to pay in state taxes on Social Security benefits, it can help to read up on the taxation rules for where you live.

How to Report Taxes on Social Security Disability Benefits

If you received Social Security disability benefits, those are reported in Box 5 of Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement. This is mailed out to you each year by the Social Security Administration.

You report the amount listed in Box 5 on that form on line 5a of your Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, depending on which one you file. The taxable part of your Social Security disability benefits is reported on line 5b of either form.

The Bottom Line

A disabled man in a wheelchairSocial Security disability benefits aren’t automatically taxable, but you may owe taxes on them if you pass the income thresholds. If you’re worried about how receiving disability benefits while reporting other income might affect your tax bill, talking to a tax professional can help. They may be able to come up with strategies or solutions to minimize the amount of taxes you’ll end up owing.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor as well about how to make the most of your Social Security disability benefits and other income. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help. By answering a few simple questions you can get personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While you don’t have to reach a specific age to apply for Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income benefits, there is a minimum age for claiming Social Security retirement benefits. A Social Security calculator can help you decide when you should retire.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/JannHuizenga, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov

The post Are Social Security Disability Benefits Taxable? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

ByCurtis Watts

10 COVID-19 Stimulus Benefits for the Self-Employed

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, life and business certainly have changed. If you’re self-employed full-time or earn business income on the side of a day job, you may be wondering what economic relief applies to you.  

Let's review what relief Congress passed to help self-employed Americans cope with financial challenges. I’ll review ten key stimulus benefits that apply to solopreneurs and small businesses.

If you're experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus, using some of these new regulations may be the ticket to managing your personal and business finances better.

10 ways the self-employed can get financial relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on March 27 as the largest stimulus legislation in American history since the New Deal in the 1930s. Here are ten ways it provides relief for individual solopreneurs and small business owners.

1. Getting lower interest rates

On March 3, the central U.S. bank, also known as the Federal Reserve or Fed, made a surprising emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point. That’s the largest single rate cut since the financial crisis of 2008. While this move wasn’t part of a coronavirus stimulus package, it was an aggressive cut meant to prepare the economy for problems the pandemic was expected to cause.

An economic recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate will stay near zero through 2023.

In mid-September, the Fed reiterated its promise to keep interest rates near zero until the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines. They indicated that a recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate stays near zero through 2023.

While savers never celebrate low interest rates, they're beneficial to borrowers. In general, the financing charge on variable-rate credit cards and lines of credit goes down in lockstep with interest rates. Carrying a balance on your personal and business credit cards may be slightly less expensive, depending on your card issuer and type. For instance, if your card’s annual percentage rate or APR is 20%, your adjusted rate could go down to 19.5%.

If you have a fixed-rate credit card, the APR doesn’t change no matter what happens in the economy or with federal interest rates. Also, note that if you pay off your balance in full each month, a credit card’s APR is irrelevant because you don’t pay interest on purchases.

2. Having more time to file taxes

Earlier this year, the due date for filing and paying 2019 federal taxes was postponed from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. You didn't have to be sick or negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for this federal tax delay. It applied to any person or business entity with taxes due on April 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension.

Most businesses make estimated tax payments each quarter. Those payment dates have shifted, too. The 2020 schedule gives you more time as follows:

  • The first quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The second quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The third quarter was due on September 15, 2020
  • The fourth quarter is due on January 15, 2021

Individuals and businesses can request an automatic extension to delay filing federal taxes. But it doesn’t give you more time to pay what you owe for 2019, only more time to submit your tax form—until October 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension. Individuals must file IRS Form 4868, and most incorporated businesses use IRS Form 7004.

However, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state income taxes, which have not been postponed. If you need a state tax filing extension, check with your state’s tax agency to determine what’s possible.

Taxes due on any date other than April 15, 2020—such as sales tax, payroll tax, or estate tax—don’t qualify for relief.

3. Getting more time to contribute to retirement accounts

You typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make traditional IRA or Roth IRA contributions for the prior year. But since the CARES Act postponed the federal tax filing deadline, you also have until July 15 or October 15, 2020 (if you requested an extension) to make IRA contributions for 2019.

However, this deadline doesn't apply to retirement accounts you may have with an employer, such as a 401(k). Nor does it apply to self-employed accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP-IRA, which correspond to the calendar year.

4. Getting more time to contribute to an HSA

Like with an IRA, you typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make HSA contributions for the prior year. Under the CARES Act, you now have until July 15 or October 15, 2020, to make HSA contributions for 2019.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan. In early March, the IRS issued a notice that a high-deductible health plan may cover COVID-19 testing and treatment and telehealth services before meeting your deductible. And just as before the coronavirus, you can pay for medical testing and treatment using funds in your HSA.

5. Delaying tax on retirement withdrawals

While you typically must pay income tax on retirement account withdrawals that weren’t previously taxed, the good news is that for a period, you can delay or avoid tax altogether. The CARES Act gives you two options for withdrawals made in 2020:

  • Repay a hardship distribution within three years to your retirement account. You can replace the funds slowly or all at once, with no change to your annual contribution limit. If you take money out but return it within three years, it’s like you never took a distribution.
  • Pay taxes on a hardship distribution from your retirement account evenly over three years. If you can’t pay back your distribution, you can ease your tax burden by paying one-third of your liability for three years. 

Since withdrawing contributions from a Roth retirement account doesn’t trigger income taxes, it’s a good idea to tap a Roth before a traditional retirement account when you have the option.

6. Skipping early withdrawal penalties

Most retirement accounts impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take make withdrawals before age 59.5. Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

For instance, if you, your spouse, or a child gets diagnosed with COVID-19 or have financial challenges due to being laid off, quarantined, or closing a business, you qualify for this penalty exemption. You can withdraw up to $100,000 of your retirement account balance during 2020 without penalty. However, income taxes would still be due in most cases.

The no-penalty rule applies to workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It also applies to IRAs, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs.

Since you make after-tax contributions to Roth accounts, you can withdraw them at any time (which was also the case before the CARES Act). However, the earnings portion of a Roth is subject to income tax if you withdraw it before age 59.5.

7. Getting larger retirement plan loans

Some workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, permit loans. Typically, you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000 and repay it with interest over five years.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year.

For retirement plans that allow loans, the CARES Act doubles the limit to 100% of your vested balance in the plan up to $100,000. It applies to loans you take from your account until late September 2020, for coronavirus-related financial needs.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year. For example, if you have $20,000 vested in your 401(k), you could take a $20,000 loan on September 30, 2020, and delay the repayment term until September 30, 2021. You’d have payments stretched over five years, ending on September 30, 2026. Any amount not repaid by the deadline would be subject to tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note that individual retirement accounts—such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs—don’t allow participants to take loans, only hardship distributions.

8. Suspending student loan payments.

Starting on March 13, 2020, most federal student loans went into automatic forbearance until September 30, 2020, due to the CARES Act. On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

The suspension covers the following types of loans:

  • Direct Loans that are unsubsidized or subsidized
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
  • Federal Perkins Loans

Note that FFEL loans owned by a private lender or Perkins loans held by your education institution don’t qualify for automatic forbearance. However, you may have the option to consolidate them into a Direct Loan, which would be eligible for forbearance. Just make sure that once the suspension ends, your new consolidated interest rate wouldn’t rise significantly.

During forbearance, qualifying loans don’t accrue additional interest. Even if you have federal student loans in default because you haven’t made payments, zero percent interest applies during the suspension period.

Additionally, missed payments during the suspension don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and can’t hurt your credit. Qualifying payments you skip also count toward any federal loan repayment or forgiveness plan you’re enrolled in.

However, if you want to continue making student loan payments during the suspension period, you can. With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

If you’re not sure what type of student loan you have or the pros and cons of consolidation, contact your loan servicer. Even if your student loans are with private lenders or schools, they may offer relief if you request it.

9. Having Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans forgiven

The PPP is part of the CARES Act, and it supports small businesses, organizations, and solopreneurs facing economic hardship created by the pandemic. The program began providing relief in early April 2020, and the application window ended in early August 2020.

Participating PPP lenders coordinated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer loans to businesses in operation by February 15, 2020, with fewer than 500 employees. Loan amounts could be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll up to $10 million; however, annual salaries were capped at $100,000.

For a solopreneur, the maximum PPP loan was $20,833 if your 2019 net profit was at least $100,000. The calculation is: $100,000 / 12 months x 2.5 = $20,833.

When you spend at least 60% on payroll and 40% on rent, mortgage interest, and utilities, you can have those amounts forgiven from repayment. Payroll includes payments to yourself, but you can’t cover benefit costs, such as retirement contributions, or payments to independent contractors.

In other words, a solopreneur could have received a PPP loan for up to $20,833, paid the entire amount to themselves, and not repaid it by having the load forgiven. Using a PPP loan for qualifying expenses turns it into a grant.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, if you have employees, the PPP forgiveness calculations and requirements are more complex. For example, you must maintain reasonable salaries and wages. If you decrease them by more than 25% for any employee (including yourself) who made less than $100,000 in 2019, your forgiveness amount will be reduced. 

PPP loan forgiveness also depends on keeping any full-time employees on your payroll. But if you had employees who left your company voluntarily, requested a cut in hours, or got fired for cause during the pandemic, your loan forgiveness amount won’t be reduced for those situations.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, not all states have issued their rules on taxing PPP forgiveness. So be sure to get guidance if you live in a state with income tax.

You must complete a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and get approved by your lender to qualify for forgiveness. The paperwork should come from your lender, or you can download it from the SBA website at SBA.gov. Most PPP borrowers have from six months after loan disbursement or until the end of 2020 to spend the funds. 

The forgiveness application explains what documents you must include, and they vary depending on whether you have employees. Once you submit your paperwork, your lender has 60 days to decide how much of your PPP loan can be forgiven.

If some or all of a PPP loan isn't forgiven, you typically must repay it within five years at a 1 percent fixed interest rate. You don't have to start making payments for ten months after loan disbursement, but interest will accrue during a deferral period.

10. Getting SBA loans

In addition to PPP loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loans for businesses and solopreneurs facing economic hardship caused by a disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) can be up to $2 million and repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75 percent. You can use these funds for payroll and other operating expenses.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans gives borrowers up to $25,000 for help overcoming a temporary loss of revenue. However, you must have an existing relationship with an SBA Express lender. 
  • SBA Debt Relief is a program that helps you make payments on existing SBA loans for up to six months.

Depending on your state, you may qualify for unemployment assistance, which allows self-employed people, who typically are ineligible for unemployment benefits to get them for a period.

This isn’t a complete list of all the economic relief available for small businesses and solopreneurs. There are federal tax initiatives, funds from local and state governments, and help from private organizations that you may find by doing a search online.

How to manage money in uncertain times

When it comes to surviving uncertainty, such as how COVID-19 will affect the economy, those who have emergency savings will feel much less financial stress than those who don’t. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a cash reserve of at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible. If you don’t have a cash reserve, accumulate savings by cutting non-essential expenses, and even temporarily pausing contributions to retirement accounts. That’s a better option than succumbing to panic and tapping your retirement funds early.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible.

If you find yourself in a cash crunch, contact your creditors before dipping into any retirement accounts you have. Many lenders will be willing to work with you to suspend payments or modify existing loan terms temporarily.

RELATED: How to Reduce Money Anxiety—Compassionate Advice from a Finance Pro

My new book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, covers many strategies to earn more, manage variable income, and create an automatic money system so you can strengthen your financial future. It’s a great resource if you’re thinking about earning side income or have already started a business.

Many economic factors that affect your personal and business finances aren’t under your control. Instead of worrying, look around, and figure out how you can create more income or cut unnecessary expenses. Working on tasks that you can control gives you more clarity and helps manage stress in uncertain times.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

ByCurtis Watts

2021 VA Funding Fees, Loan Limits & Terms: Interview with Mason Buckles

MilitaryVALoan.com sat down with VA mortgage professional Mason Buckles (NMLS #176104) to talk about the ins and outs VA funding fees, loan limits, and allowable VA loan term lengths.

MVL: What exactly is a VA funding fee and why does VA require it?

Mason: The VA Funding Fee is paid directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs and is the vehicle by which they can guarantee this no-money-down loan program. This fee is paid so that VA eligible borrowers can enjoy loan benefits of VA Lending such as no monthly PMI payments and reduced VA to VA refinance charges.

MVL: Do borrowers have to pay the funding fee in cash?

2013 VA Funding Fee Q&A

Interview with Mason Buckles about the 2018 VA home loan funding fee.

Mason: No. Borrowers have the option of either paying the funding fee in full out of pocket or financing the total sum into their total loan amount or any portion thereof.

Request a free VA home loan quote here.

MVL: Can a seller help pay for the VA funding fee?

Mason: A seller can pay the entire funding fee through a seller concession or credit however the cost cannot be split via seller credit and financing. There are limits on the total percentage amount a seller can contribute or credit the borrower at closing.

Related article: Buying a home with a VA loan.

MVL: What are some of the most common factors for funding fees and what types of borrowers do they apply to?

Mason: Here are a couple charts that detail the various funding fee amounts. The percentage relates to the loan amount, not the home’s value or purchase price.

Purchase – First Time Use

Down Payment Active Duty/Retired Guard/Reserve
$0 Down 2.3% 2.3%
5-10% Down 1.65% 1.65%
10% or More 1.4% 1.4%

Check your VA home loan eligibility here.

Purchase – Additional Use

Down Payment Active Duty/Retired Guard/Reserve
$0 Down 3.6% 3.6%
5-10% Down 1.65% 1.65%
10% or More 1.4% 1.4%

Check your VA eligibility.

(Example: 15 yr VA transaction: $0 down, $204,300 loan amount including 2.3% Funding Fee, 3.25% interest rate, 3.697 APR)

Check your VA eligibility.

MVL: Is anyone exempt from the VA funding fee?

Mason: YES

You do not have to pay the VA funding fee if you are a:

  • Veteran receiving VA compensation for a service-connected disability, OR
  • Veteran who would be entitled to receive compensation for a service-connected disability if you did not receive retirement or active duty pay, OR
  • Surviving spouse of a Veteran who died in service or from a service-connected disability.

MVL: What’s the best way for someone to find out what funding fee they have to pay?

Mason: The best way to find out your specific amount is to contact an experienced loan originator for details. Speak to a VA loan officer to check you funding fee amount.

MVL: What happens to the funding fee on a purchase loan for someone who has used their VA loan benefit in the past?

Mason: It is increased to the Additional Use Percentages as referenced in the table provided above.

MVL: Does the subsequent use rule apply for someone who refinances with a VA streamline refinance (IRRRL)?

Mason: No, the funding fee for an IRRRL Refinance loan is currently set at .50 percent.

MVL: Is the funding fee refundable if the buyer refinances or sells the property later on?

Mason: No. The funding fee is non-refundable.

MVL: What is a VA loan limit? Can a buyer open a VA loan for greater than the VA loan limit?

Mason: As of January 1, 2020, VA-eligible borrowers can get any size loan with no down payment. There are no official limits.

But remember, you’ll still have to qualify for the mortgage.

Read more about home buying with a VA loan here.

MVL:  How often do VA loan limits change? Are there any changes coming up?

Mason: The VA loan limits are typically reviewed annually. The most recent changes went into effect January 1, 2020.

MVL: Most people realize they can get a 30 year VA loan, but can someone obtain a loan for a 15 year term? What about a 40 year VA loan?

Mason: VA does offer a 15 year term, however, a 40 year term is not offered at this time.

(Example 15 yr VA transaction: $0 down, $204,300 loan amount including 2.3% Funding Fee, 3.25% interest rate, 3.697 APR)

MVL: Any additional words of wisdom for someone trying to understand funding fees, loan limits, or loan term lengths?

Mason: The best advice is to identify and work with an experienced VA lender. VA loans, while simple in execution, do require a higher level of scrutiny by both your loan originator and the lender’s underwriter themselves. An experienced loan originator should be able to thoroughly explain all facets of VA Lending including the funding fees, underwriting and appraisal requirements, and non-allowable loan costs as well as efficiently close your loan in a timely fashion.

Mason Buckles (WA MLO 176104 and NMLS #176104) is a licensed loan originator with Cobalt Mortgage (WA CL 35653, NMLS 35653) in Kirkland, WA. He has been in the mortgage industry since 2001 and a recipient of Seattle Magazine’s Five Star Mortgage Professional award. Outside of the office, Mason enjoys coaching his son’s basketball team, boating, and traveling.

(To check licensing status of a mortgage loan originator, visit the NMLS website.)

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Source: militaryvaloan.com

ByCurtis Watts

Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know

A person stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking greenery and a blue sky, holding their arms aloft and their fingers making peace signs

There’s no single way to get out of debt that’s best for everyone. Each individual case is as unique as you are.

It’s important to consider your situation when deciding which debt relief plan is the best option for you. To help you weigh those options, we have provided an overview of some of the major options here:

  • Debt avalanche and debt snowball
  • Debt consolidation
  • Credit counseling
  • Debt management plan (DMP)
  • Debt settlement and debt negotiation
  • Bankruptcy

How Debt Relief Programs Affect Credit

The debt that you carry (your credit utilization rate) makes up roughly one-third of your overall credit score. When you pay off debt, your credit score typically improves. This is especially true with revolving credit lines—such as credit cards—where your balance is approaching or hovering around the maximum limit. You want to keep your utilization rate below 30% to avoid negative effects to your credit score.

However, reducing your debt can also lower your credit score—even when it’s a good thing! For example, paying off a loan and closing that account may reduce your credit age or mix of accounts, which account for about 15% and 10% of your credit score, respectively.

The type of debt relief program you use can also positively or negatively affect your credit score. Debt settlement, for example, utilizes some tactics that generally have a more negative effect than other types of debt relief programs. Keeping in mind your current credit standing, the program itself and your credit needs will help you make the best choice.

Start by signing up for the free credit report card from Credit.com. This handy tool provides a letter grade for each of the five key areas of your credit for a quick snapshot of where you stand. You can also dig deeper into each factor to monitor what’s happening with your credit and find areas for improvement.

→ Sign up for the free Credit Report Card now.

The Main Approaches to Debt Relief

Once you have a clear picture of your credit history, you can choose one of the six main approaches to debt relief to help you get out of debt. These include the snowball/avalanche option, debt consolidation, credit counseling, debt management plans, debt negotiation/debt settlement and bankruptcy. Each option has its own advantages and drawbacks as well as its own impact on your credit score, both short term and long term.

Debt Relief Option Immediate Credit Impact Long-Term Credit Impact
Debt Snowballs and Avalanches None Reliably Positive
Debt Consolidation Small impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Credit Counseling None expected None expected
Debt Management Plan (DMP) Moderate impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Debt Negotiation or Debt Settlement Severe damange Slow recovery
Bankruptcy Severe damage Slow recovery

Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Reliably Positive

The debt snowball and debt avalanche approaches are simply methods of repaying your debts. The choice between snowball or avalanche often comes down to a matter of personal choice.

The debt snowball is when you pay off your debts one at a time, starting with the ones that have the lowest balance. This eliminates those debts from your credit record quickly.

The debt avalanche is when you pay off your debts one at a time, but you start with those that have the highest balances instead. While it takes longer to clear debt from your credit history, the debt you clear takes a larger chunk out of your overall balance owed.

As long as you stick to the minimum payments needed on all of your other credit accounts while you work to pay down your debt, this method has little immediate impact on your credit report and a reliably positive one long term.

Debt Consolidation

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Small (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

Debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards can help you manage your debt by combining multiple lines of credit under one loan or credit card. While this helps by making one payment out of several, it’s not a strategy that actually gets you out of debt. It’s more like a tool to help you get out of debt faster and easier.

Consolidation loans often offer lower interest rates than the original credit lines themselves, which enables you to pay off your debt faster. In addition, having one lower monthly payment makes it easier to avoid late or missed payments.

Balance transfer credit cards let you transfer debt from other cards for a minimal fee. These cards sometimes require that you pay off the balance transfer balance within a certain timeframe to avoid being charged interest. If you choose a balance transfer card, be sure you choose one with terms favorable to your situation and needs.

This form of debt relief has its own set of pros and cons. While it can improve your credit utilization ratio by paying off balances that are close to the credit limit, simply moving balances from one creditor to another doesn’t do a lot for your immediate scores. Transferring multiple debts to one balance transfer card may make your utilization rate higher, which could drop your score as well.

At the same time, opening a new account will require a hard inquiry, which will slightly negatively impact your credit score. A debt consolidation loan adds a new account to your credit report, which most credit scoring models count as a risk factor that may drop your score in the short term as well. On the other hand, adding a loan or credit card to your credit history could improve your credit mix. You’ll need to keep all these factors in mind when determining whether a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card is right for you.

Credit Counseling

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None expected
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: None expected

A credit counselor is a professional adviser that helps you manage and repay your debt. Counselors may offer free or low-cost consultations and educational materials. They often lead their clients to enroll in other debt relief programs such as a debt management plan, which generally require a fee and can affect your credit (see below for more information). Bes ure you fully understand the potential impact of any debt relief program suggested by a credit counselor before you sign up. They’re here to help, so don’t be afraid to ask your counselor how a new plan could affect your credit.

Credit counseling can also help you avoid accumulating debt in the first place. By consulting a credit counselor about whether or not a line of credit is advisable given your current situation, for example, you can avoid taking on debt that will affect you adversely. Choosing a good credit counselor for your situation is essential for positive results.

Debt Management Plan

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Moderate (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

A Debt Management Plan is typically set up by a credit counselor or counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to that agency, and the agency disburses that payment among your creditors. This debt management program can affect your credit in several ways, mostly positive.

While individual lenders may care that a credit counseling agency is repaying your accounts, FICO does not. Since FICO is the leading data analytics company responsible for calculating consumer credit risk, that means a DMP will not adversely affect your credit score. Of course, delinquent payments and high balances will continue to bring your score down even if you’re working with an agency.

When you agree to a DMP, you are required to close your credit cards. This will likely lower your scores, but how much depends on how the rest of your credit report looks. Factors such as whether or not you have other open credit accounts that you pay on time will determine how much closing these lines of credit will hurt your score.

Regardless, the negative effect is temporary. In the end, the impact of making consistent on-time payments to your remaining credit accounts will raise your credit scores.

Debt Negotiation or Settlement

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Some creditors are willing to allow you to settle your debt. Negotiating with creditors allows you to pay less than the full balance owed and close the account.

Creditors only do this for consumers with several delinquent payments on their credit report. However, creditors generally charge off debts once they hit the mark of being 180 days past due. Since charged-off debts are turned over to collection agencies, it is important to try to settle an account before it gets charged off.

Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors on your behalf, but their tactics often require you to stop paying your bills entirely, which can have a severe negative impact on your credit score. In general, debt settlement is considered a last resort and many professionals recommend bankruptcy before debt settlement.

Bankruptcy

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Filing for bankruptcy will severely damage your credit score and can stay on your credit report for as long as 10 years from the filing date. However, if you are truly in a place of debt from which all other debt relief programs cannot save you, bankruptcy may be the best option.

Moreover, by working diligently to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy you have a good shot at improving your credit scores. Depending upon which type of bankruptcy you file for—Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13—you will pay back different amounts of your debt and it will take varying timelines before your credit can be restored.

Learning the difference between the three main types of bankruptcy can help you choose the right one. A qualified consumer bankruptcy attorney can help you evaluate your options.

Getting Debt Free

Whichever method of debt relief you choose, the ultimate goal is always to pay off your debt. That way, you can save and invest for your future goals. For some, taking a hit to credit temporarily is worth it if it means being able to finally get their balances to zero.

By monitoring your credit with tools like our free Credit Report Card and keeping your financial situation in perspective, complete debt relief is not only possible but within reach.

The post Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle

Side hustles have always been a good way to earn more money and better your finances. With so many people in debt while wages have fallen flat, they’ve become especially popular over the past decade. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen them shoot ahead in popularity even further. 

According to a recent survey by credit-building platform, Self, just over half of Americans plan to start a side hustle as a direct result of the pandemic. The numbers get really interesting when you break them down by age, too. The majority of Millennials (around 70%) plan to start a side hustle, while only a few — around 20% — of Boomers have the same idea. 

Coronavirus and Unemployment: Changing How People Earn Money

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you already know the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on the economy. Still, it’s worth taking a second look at the numbers. By May 2020, after everything shut down, the number of unemployed people in the U.S. shot up even higher than figures during the Great Depression. It ranged higher than 14 million unemployed people, compared to the Great Depression’s peak of 8.8 million unemployed. The unemployment rate at its peak in 2020 was 16%. 

Today the economy is reopening and the unemployment rate has gone back down, but still stands twice as high as normal — 8% — as of August 2020. Even if you are lucky enough to be back at work today, chances are good that you’re still not earning as much as you were before. Your hours might’ve been reduced, you might’ve missed out on pay raises, or you might’ve suffered a pay cut. 

If you’re still unemployed, the picture isn’t any better. The extra $600 weekly unemployment assistance dropped off at the end of July, leaving many people with normal piddly paycheck amounts. 

Finally, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been totally unaffected by all of this, at least you’ve seen the devastation that can happen and maybe you’re spurred on to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. No matter which segment you fall into, everyone’s seeing how important diversifying your income with a side hustle is right now. 

12 Most Popular Side Gigs of the Year

Whether you call them “side hustles” or not, people have been finding creative ways to earn a little extra on the side ever since economies have existed. But today, with COVID, some side hustles are more popular than others. Here are some of the most popular side gig options this year:

1. Deliver Groceries and Food

With so many people trying to keep their distance, one hot job that’s been booming is food delivery workers — specifically, through apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, Instacart, Shipt, and more. All you need is a car and a smartphone. And while your chances of being exposed to COVID are greater than if you’d found an online gig (please, avoid this one if you’re high-risk!), contact-free delivery options are making it a bit safer. 

2. Transcribe Audio Files

If you’re looking for a good way to boost your typing speed and listen to (potentially) interesting conversations, give transcription a try. You can find partner websites that’ll send you audio files or advertise your services in writer’s groups. All you have to do is type out the audio accurately and send your transcription back to the partner. 

The startup cost on this side gig is low — all you need is a computer and internet, which you might already have if you’re reading this. Beyond that, a small investment in a foot pedal — a hands-free way to start and stop audio — keeps your hands on the keyboard so that you type faster and earn more money in the process. 

3. Tutor a Student

The education system is a mess right now. Many kids are stuck at home and are falling behind in their studies. Parents are at their wit’s end, and looking for ways to help their children grow and stay entertained. That’s where you come in. There are many opportunities to tutor students online, and if you and the other party is comfortable, you can even meet up in person for socially-distanced learning.

4. Pet-Sitting and Dog-Walking

Even though normal travel isn’t really a thing right now, there still are more people than ever travelling locally. Many people can only stay in their home so long without going stir-crazy, after all. A lot of pet sitters are finding that business is booming right now, and you can get in on the action, too. 

Apps like Rover and Wag! make it easy to get started. Even if you can’t watch someone’s pup for them, you can still offer your services as a dog walker and get out of the house while still distancing yourself from other people. 

5. Freelance Writing or Starting a Blog

Do you have an interesting story? Would you like to write about other people who do? If so, now’s a great time to start your own blog or freelance writing side hustle. Blogging takes a lot of work and time before it really pays off, although if it does, you can earn a lot of money. Freelance writing might be more lucrative right off the bat, and you can even leverage your new blog as a way to showcase your writing to earn work with paid clients. 

6. Become a Virtual Assistant

With so many people working entirely online these days, an entire new industry of workers have cropped up: virtual assistants. As a virtual assistant, your job may be as varied as the people who hire you. You might find sources for interviews, keep track of tasks in a database, answer reader emails, make graphics, write blog posts, and more. And since it’s entirely virtual, your potential client list is global. 

7. Take Surveys

This side hustle might not replace your day job, but if you have a few extra minutes while you’re watching TV, baking, or spending endless hours listening in on Zoom meetings, you can earn a bit more cash. There are a lot of places to earn money with surveys, so be sure to try your hand at more than one. 

8. Web and App Development

Techy skills are in demand right now, especially with so many people working online. If you know a bit of code — or want to learn — now’s a great time to get started with this side hustle. You can find work through Fiverr and Upwork, or advertise independently elsewhere. If you know how to develop apps, see if you can come up with any ideas to make quarantine life easier for everyone — that would be a hit for sure. 

9. SEO Developer

The only option most local businesses have to reach potential customers these days is online. But the mom-and-pop pizza shop down the road probably isn’t up to snuff when it comes to advertising on Google and social media. These skills are especially in demand right now, and there are many courses you can take to learn more and start this side hustle immediately. 

10. Write eBooks

Are you good at coming up with stories? If you’ve got some time on your hands and you don’t have any pressing money concerns, writing ebooks can be a great way to set up a passive income strategy that’ll keep paying you throughout the future. Just like with blogging, it can be a risky strategy since it may not pay off immediately. But if you have a passion for words, a creative imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit, this could be a great side hustle for you.

11. Social Media Strategist

Companies often aren’t SEO experts, and they aren’t social media experts either. But if you were raised alongside Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and love mastering the newest social media channels, this could be a great side hustle for you. You’ll need to learn how to work with brands and companies to represent them online so that they sell more products — and in turn, can pay you the big bucks. 

12. Do Odd Jobs

We’ve covered some of the websites you can use to earn money during the pandemic right now, but it bears repeating here. Websites like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, and Upwork have many more opportunities than what we’ve listed here. 

For example, you could help with mowing lawns, helping someone move to a new house, delivering things from stores, designing printable PDFs, teaching someone how to play guitar, and more. The opportunities are endless, and it’s free to browse and see what small odd jobs are available in your area. 

The Bottom Line

The year 2020 will probably go down in most people’s books as one of the worst on record. It’s important to acknowledge the bad that’s happening, but it’s also important to look forward, too. Even in the midst of all of this craziness, there is an opportunity for growth and a way to better your finances. No one can pinpoint when a pandemic will happen, but you can plan your financial response to big events like this. 

The post Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

ByCurtis Watts

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit

Debt consolidation is one of the most effective ways to effectively manage debt. It can greatly improve your debt-to-income ratio and help you get back on your feet. You will have more money in your pocket and less debt to worry about, and while your options are a little more limited if you have bad credit, you can still get a consolidation loan.

In this guide, we’ll look at the ways that a debt consolidation loan will impact your credit score, while also showing you the best ways to consolidate credit card payments and find a credit card consolidation plan that suits your needs.

What is a Debt Consolidation Loan and How Does it Work?

A debt consolidation loan can help you to manage credit card debt and other unsecured debts by consolidating them into one, manageable monthly payment. You get a large loan and use this to clear all your current debts, swapping several high-interest debts for one low-interest loan.

You’ll consolidate multiple payments into a single monthly payment, and, in most cases, this will be much less than what you’re paying right now.

The problem is, creditors aren’t in the business of helping you during your time of need. They’re there to make money, and in exchange for your reduced monthly payment, you’ll get a loan that extends your debt by several years. So, while you may pay a few hundred dollars less per month, you could pay several thousand dollars more over the lifetime of the loan.

Why Consider Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit?

You can use a debt consolidation loan to consolidate credit card debt, clear your obligations, reduce the risk of penalties and fees, and ultimately improve your credit score. What’s more, you may still be accepted for a debt consolidation loan even if you have a poor credit score and a credit report with several derogatory marks.

It’s an option that was tailormade for borrowers with lots of unsecured debt, and it stands to reason that anyone with a lot of debt will have a reduced credit score. Of course, it still helps if you have a high credit score as that will increase your chances of getting a low-interest debt consolidation loan, but even with bad credit, you can get a loan that will reduce your monthly payment.

How Does Debt Consolidation Affect Your Credit Score?

A debt consolidation loan can impact your credit score in a number of ways, all of which will depend on what option you choose:

  • A balance transfer can reduce your score temporarily due to the maxed-out credit card and a new account.
  • If you use a consolidation loan to clear credit card balances, you will diversify your credit report, which can benefit up to 10% of your credit score.
  • If you continue to use your credit cards after clearing them, your credit utilization will drop, and your credit score will suffer.
  • A new consolidation loan account will reduce your credit score because it’s a new account and because the average age of your accounts has decreased.
  • Debt management will reduce your credit utilization score by requiring you to cancel credit cards. This accounts for 30% of your total credit score. 

The good news is that all of these are minor, and the short-term reductions should offset in the long-term. After all, you’re clearing multiple debts, and that can only be a good thing. 

A debt consolidation loan will not impact your score in the same way as debt settlement or bankruptcy.

Alternatives to a Debt Consolidation Loan 

A debt consolidation loan isn’t your only option for escaping debt. There are numerous options for bad credit and good credit, all of which work in a similar way to a debt consolidation loan.

These may be preferable to working with a consolidation loan company, especially if you have a lot of unpaid credit card balances or you’re suffering from financial hardship.

How Does a Debt Management Program Work?

Debt management is provided by credit unions and credit counseling agencies and offered to individuals suffering financial hardship and struggling to repay their debts. A debt management plan typically lasts three to five years and works with unsecured debt only, which includes medical debt, private student loans, and credit cards, but not mortgages or car loans.

A debt management plan ties you to a credit counseling agency, which acts as the middleman between you and your creditors. The agency will help to find a monthly payment you can afford and then negotiate with your creditors. You make your monthly payment through the debt management program and they distribute this to your creditors.

Debt management specialists are experts in negotiation and know how to get creditors to bend to their ways. They understand that lenders just want their money and are keen to avoid defaults and collections, so they remind them that failing to negotiate may increase the risk of such outcomes.

Debt management programs are not free. You will be charged a small up-front fee in addition to a monthly fee. However, the amount of time and money they save you is often worth the small charge.

The only real downsides to a debt management plan is that you’ll be required to cancel most of your credit cards, which will impact your credit score, and if you miss a single payment then creditors will revert to previous terms and your progression will be lost.

A Balance Transfer

You don’t need a debt consolidation loan to consolidate your debt. You can also use something known as a balance transfer credit card. 

A balance transfer allows you to consolidate credit card debt onto a single card. These cards offer you 0% interest for up to 18 months and allow you to transfer multiple credit card balances.

As an example, let’s assume that you have the following credit card balances:

  • Card 1 = $5,000
  • Card 2 = $2,000
  • Card 3 = $3,000
  • Card 4 = $5,000

That gives you a total credit card balance of $15,000. If we assume an APR of 20% and a minimum payment of $500, you will repay over $20,000 in 42 months, with close to $6,000 covering interest alone.

If you use a balance transfer credit card, you will be charged an initial balance transfer rate of between 3% and 5%, after which you will not be required to pay any interest for up to 18 months. Continue making those same monthly payments, and you’ll repay $9,000 before that introductory period ends, which means your debt will be reduced to just $6,000 and can be cleared in 14 months with less than $800 in total interest.

This is a fantastic option if you have a strong credit score, otherwise, you may struggle to find a credit limit high enough to cover your debts. However, it’s worth noting that:

  • Your credit score may take an initial hit due to the new account and maxed-out credit card.
  • The interest rate may be higher, so it’s important to clear as much of the balance as you can before the introductory period ends.
  • You may be charged high penalty fees for late payments.
  • You can’t move credit card debt from cards owned by the same provider.

What About Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement works in a similar way to debt management, in that other companies work on your behalf to negotiate with your creditors. However, this is pretty much where the similarities end.

A debt settlement specialist will request several things from you:

  • You pay a fee (charged upon settlement).
  • You move money to a secure third-party account.
  • You stop meeting your monthly payments.

They ask you to stop making payments for two reasons. Firstly, it will ensure you have more money to move to the third-party account, which is what they use to negotiate with creditors. They will offer those creditors a lump sum payment in exchange for discharging the debt, potentially saving as much as 90%, on top of which they will charge their fee. 

Secondly, the more payments you miss, the more unlikely it is that your account will be settled in full, at which point the lender will be more inclined to accept a sizable settlement.

Debt settlement is not without its issues. It can reduce your credit score, increase the risk of litigation and take several years to complete. However, it’s the cheapest way to clear your debts without resorting to bankruptcy.

You can do debt settlement yourself by contacting your creditors and negotiating reduced sums, but you will need to have a large sum of cash prepared to pay these settlements and you’ll also need a lot of patience and persistence. There are also companies like National Debt Relief that can help, as well a huge number of lesser-known but equally reputable options. 

Who is Eligible for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation?

In theory, you can use a personal loan as a debt consolidation loan. In other words, instead of working with a debt consolidation company and allowing them to set the rates and find suitable terms, you just apply for a personal loan, use it to pay off your debts, and then focus your attention on repaying that loan.

This can work very well if you’re using it to repay credit card debt. The average credit card APR in the US is 16% to 20%, while the average personal loan rate is closer to 6%. A personal loan acquired for this purpose will give you more control over the total interest and repayment term. 

However, while you may pay less over the term, it’s unlikely that you’ll reduce your monthly payments. A debt consolidation loan is designed to provide an extended-term so that the monthly payment will be reduced, and unless you choose a loan with a long term, you won’t get the same benefits.

The biggest issue, however, is that you need a very good credit score to get a loan that is big enough to cover your debts and has interest that is low enough to make it a viable option. This is easier said than done, and if you’re drowning in debt there’s a good chance your credit score will not be high enough to make this feasible. 

Is it Time for Bankruptcy?

If you have mounting credit card debt, personal loan debt, and private student loans, and you’re struggling to make the repayments or clear more than the minimum amount, you may want to consider bankruptcy.

It should always be seen as the last resort, as it can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score and make it difficult to get a home loan, car loan, or low-interest credit card for many years. However, if you’re not confident that debt settlement will work for you and believe you’re too far gone for debt management and consolidation, speak with a credit counselor and discuss whether bankruptcy is the right option.

You can learn more about this process in our guides to Filing for Bankruptcy and Rebuilding your Credit After Bankruptcy.

Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit Homeowners

If you own your home, you have a few more options for debt consolidation. When you use your home as collateral against a loan it’s known as a secured debt. It means the lender can repossess your home if you fail to meet the repayments. This also eliminates some of the risks associated with lending, which means they offer more favorable interest rates and terms.

Home Equity Loan and HELOC

An equity loan is a large personal loan secured against the value tied-up in your home. You can acquire an equity loan when you own a large share of your property, in which case you’re using that share as collateral.

Interest rates are very favorable, and you can receive a consolidation loan that clears all your debts and leaves only a small monthly payment and easily manageable debt in their place.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), works in much the same way, only this time you’re given a line of credit similar to what you’d get with a credit card. You can use this credit to repay your debts, after which you just need to focus on repaying the HELOC.

An equity loan and a HELOC provide the lowest possible interest rates of any debt consolidation loan. However, failure to meet your monthly payments will damage your credit score and place your home at risk.

Cash-Out Refinancing for Consolidation

Cash-Out refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a new, larger mortgage. The difference between these two home loans is then released to you as a cash sum, allowing you to clear your debts in one fell swoop. 

Cash-Out refinancing is often used to fund a child’s college education or a new business, but it’s becoming increasingly common as a form of debt consolidation, helping American homeowners to clear credit card debt and other unsecured debts.

Reverse Mortgages

Reverse mortgages work in a similar way to home equity loans, but with a few key differences. Firstly, they are only offered to homeowners aged 62 or older. Secondly, there is no monthly payment and no other recurring obligations.

A reverse mortgage is only repaid when you sell the home or die. There are also some obligations with regards to maintaining the home and living in it full time, but you don’t need to pay any fees and can use the money gained from this mortgage to clear your debts.

Summary: Consider Your Options

A debt consolidation loan is a great option if you’re struggling with debt. You can try a debt management plan if you have bad credit, a balance transfer if you have great credit, and debt consolidation companies if you’re somewhere in the middle.

But as discussed already, these are not the only options. The debt relief industry is vast and caters for every type and size of debt. Do your research, take your time, and make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option before you decide.

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

ByCurtis Watts

FHA Loan Requirements – Guideline & Limits

FHA loan requirements are simple; they’re different than conventional loan requirements. For a conventional loan, for example, you will need a good credit score. However a FHA loan credit score is only 580.

If you’re a first time home buyer and need a first time home buyer loan to purchase your dream home, then keep reading to find out how an FHA loan is right for you.

Click here to compare the rates if you’re thinking of applying for an FHA loan. It’s totally FREE.

In this article, we will cover several topics around the FHA loan requirements. As a first time home buyer, you will need to be aware of these requirements so that your home-buying process can go as smoothly as possible.

Here’s what we will cover: FHA loan limits, FHA loan rates, FHA loan credit score, FHA lenders, and so many others. In addition, we will address the difference between conventional loan requirements versus FHA loan requirements.

Click here to apply for a FHA loan.

FHA Loan Requirements – Guideline & Limits:

Buying a house through an FHA loan, while exciting, can be daunting, especially as a first time home buyer. Taking a few moments to familiarize yourself with the FHA loan requirements can save you from costly mistakes during the home buying process. Below is an overview of FHA loan process

FHA loan definition

What is an FHA loan? Simply stated, an FHA loan is a loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration. These type of loan are popular among first time home buyers because they allow them to put as low as 3.5% down payment and require a very low credit score.

So if you’re a first time home buyer with a bad credit, then an FHA loan makes more sense.


Feeling Overwhelmed With Your Finances?, You have options and there are steps you can take yourself. But if you feel you need a bit more guidance, simply speak with a financial advisorSmartAsset’s free tool matches you with fiduciary advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you are ready to meet your goals, get started with Smart Asset today.


FHA loan limits

FHA loan limits refers to the maximum amount of loan the FHA will give you. For 2019, for example, in low cost areas, FHA loan requirements have been set in place allowing the maximum amount for a single family home to be $314, 827. Whereas for a four-plex, the maximum amount is $605,525.

FHA loan limits – low cost areas
Single Duplex Triplex Fourplex
$314,827 $403,125 $487,250 $605,525

 

For high cost areas, the FHA loan limits for a single family home is $726, 525 and for a duplex, the FHA limit is $930, 300. Those limits, of course vary depending on your states and they are update annually. So visit your state to determine what the FHA mortgage lending limits are.

FHA loan limits – high cost areas
Single Duplex Triplex Fourplex
$726,525 $930,300 $1,124,475 $1,397,400

Click here to compare current FHA loan mortgage rates

FHA loan vs conventional

When it comes to get a home loan for presumably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make in your life, you certainly have to know the key differences between an FHA loan and a conventional loan. While it’s easier to get approved for an FHA loan, it’s important so that you can make the best decisions.

FHA loan requirements

fha loan requirements
FHA credit score loan requirement

The FHA loan requirements are fairly simple and straightforward. Here’s what they require: 1) You must have a credit score of at least 580.

2) A 3.5% down payment is required. (*note, if your FICO score is between 500 and 579, then you will have to put 10% down payment). 3) You will have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI);

4) Your debt to income ratio must be < 43%. Your debt to income ratio is the percentage of your income that you spend on debt, including mortgage, car loan, student debt, etc..

5) The home you intend to purchase must be your primary residence. You must also occupy the property within 60 days of closing.

Click here to shop for FHA mortgage rates in your area

It can’t be an investment property. However, you can buy a duplex or triplex, live in one unit and rent the other units. As long as you reside in the property, you will satisfy that requirement. Also, the house must meet FHA loan limits (see above).

6) Finally, and of course, you must have a steady income and proof of employment. I will discuss later whether a FHA loan is better than a conventional loan. For more information about FHA loan requirements in general, visit the FHA website.

Conventional loan requirements

The requirements for a conventional loan, however, are much stricter. By the way a conventional loan or traditional loan is not insured by the Federal Housing Administration. But instead it is guaranteed by a private lender such as a bank, credit union, mortgage companies, etc…

Of course whether you will qualify for a conventional loan vary from lenders to lenders, but the following are required:

1) A credit score of at least 680 (of course the higher the score is, the more likely you will get qualified, and the lower your interest rate on the loan will be.

2) A down payment of at least 20% of the house purchase price. If you have less than 20%, you still can get the loan. But the problem is, you will have to take out private mortgage insurance, pay its premiums until you achieve at least 20% equity in the house.

3) Your debt to income ratio needs to be around 36% and no more than 43%.

Should you apply for an FHA loan or conventional loan?

As you can see above, the FHA loan requirements are less strict than the conventional loan requirements. However, which one you choose to apply to depends on your personal circumstances.

But if you are a first time home buyer, there are a lot of good reasons why an FHA loan would seem more appealing to you. For one, the down payment is only 3.5% (compare that with a 20% down payment a conventional loan requires). A down payment is the upfront money you need to to make when buying a home.

As a first time home buyer, saving for a 20% down payment on a house can be a big burden. Homes are expensive. For example, saving for $450,000 home can take you years to accomplish, especially if you have other debt like student debt, credit card debt, car loan, etc… So a 3.5% down payment makes it easier for you to buy your own home.

Second, the FHA loan credit score is only 580. Although, you should always take steps to raise your credit score, sometimes certain changes in your life may leave you with a low credit score. Perhaps, you had to file for bankruptcy which resulted in a low credit score.

Or maybe you never had a credit card, which means that you don’t have an established credit history. Or maybe you’re a victim of identity theft which lowered your credit score. So there are several reasons why you could have a low credit score.

However, that shouldn’t mean you can’t buy a house. That’s why the FHA loan requirements make it easier for folks who otherwise would not have been qualified for a conventional loan.

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ByCurtis Watts

Life Insurance Myths Debunked

Misconceptions and misunderstandings have perpetuated a number of life insurance myths over the years and prevented consumers from getting the cover they need. They see life insurance as something that it’s not, believing it to be out of their reach because of their lifestyle and their budget, or believing that it’s something it’s not.

If you have dependents, want them to live comfortably, and don’t have assets or funds to give them, you need life insurance coverage. And if you have been avoiding life insurance because of something you’ve been told or something you believe, it’s time to dispel those beliefs and get to the truth of the matter.

Myth 1: Life Insurance Premiums are Expensive

One of the most common myths concerning life insurance products is that they are too expensive. It only makes sense, to the uninitiated at least. After all, if they’re promising a death benefit of $200,000 over a twenty-year period, it stands to reason that they would seek to claim at least 25% of that balance to guarantee a profit.

In fact, a recent study found that consumers who had never purchased life insurance overestimated the premium costs by between 400% and 500%. That’s a massive difference.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s and are relatively healthy, you can get 20-year term insurance for less than $20 a month, and if anything happens during that term your beneficiaries will get $200,000. Life insurance companies can afford to offer such huge payouts and low premiums because the chances of a young person dying during that term are very slim.

Assuming you’re paying $20 a month for a 20-year term life insurance policy, this means you’re paying $4,800 over the term, or 2.4% of the total payout. However, the odds of a 20-year-old woman dying during this time are 1.42%, and these odds drop significantly if you remove smoking, drinking, risk-taking, and pre-existing conditions from the equation.

In other words, while it seems like a huge sum and a huge discrepancy, it still falls in favor of the life insurance company.

It’s a similar story for a 30-year-old. The odds of dying during the term are higher, but only just, as they are still less than 3%, leading to higher premiums but a great rate overall.

The older you get, the greater your risks become, but insurance companies want your money. They need you to sign on the dotted line, so they will continue to offer competitive prices. 

Keep this in mind the next time you purchase life insurance and are suspicious of the significant amount of coverage provided in relation to the cost.

Myth 2: It’s All About Money

Financial protection is important. You need a coverage amount that will cover the needs of your loved ones while also securing low premiums to make life easier for you. However, the generosity and cost of life insurance are the only factors to consider.

It’s important to consider the financial rating of the insurance company, which is acquired using a system such as A.M. Best and Moody’s. These ratings are used to determine the financial strength of a company, which is key, because you’re relying on them being around for many years to come and being rich enough to pay your death benefit when you die.

Myth 3: It’s All About the Death Benefit

While term life insurance policies are solely about the death benefit, which is paid upon the policyholder’s death, there are other options available. Whole life or permanent life insurance policies work like savings accounts as well as life insurance policies. They accumulate a cash value over the duration of the policy and the policyholder can cash this sum at any point.

If they do so, they will lose the potential death benefit and the policy will cease to exist, but it’s a good option to have if you ever find yourself in dire need of funds.

Myth 4: Insurers Find an Excuse Not to Pay

There was a time when pretty much all life insurance policies were reviewed upon the policyholder’s death. Thankfully, this changed with the introduction of a contestability period, which begins at the start of the policy and typically runs for up to 2 years.

If anything happens during this time, the policy can and will be reviewed and if any suspicions are raised, it will be contested. However, if this period passes, there is little the insurer can do. More importantly, if the policyholder was honest during the application process and the type of death is covered, the payout will be made.

The truth is that the vast majority of policies do not payout, but this is because the policies expire, the cash value is accepted, or the policyholder outlives the term. For policies that actually result in a death, the majority do payout. 

And why wouldn’t they? A life insurance company can expect to turn a profit via the underwriting process. It doesn’t need to use underhanded tactics or rob your loved ones of a payout to stay in the black.

Myth 5: My Dependents Will Survive Without Me

According to LIMRA, a research organization devoted to the insurance and financial sector, most Americans either have no coverage or not enough coverage. In both cases, they may assume their families will survive without a payout or that a small payout will be enough. There is some logic to this belief as it often comes after they perform a quick calculation, but that calculation is flawed.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that you’re a 35-year man with two children aged 5 and 7 and a 35-year-old wife. You earn $40,000 a year and your wife earns the same. You have a $150,000 house and a $100,000 mortgage.

After doing some quick calculations, you may assume that your wife’s salary will be enough to keep her going and ensure your children are looked after until they are old enough to care for themselves. You don’t have any debt to worry about and the only issue is the house, so you settle on a relatively small death benefit of $100,000.

But you’re making a lot of potentially dangerous assumptions here. Firstly, anything could happen between now and your death. On the one hand, you could comfortably pay off the mortgage, but on the other hand, inflation could rise to a point where $100,000 is a fraction of what it once was, and debts could accumulate. 

Your wife could also lose her job, and if that doesn’t happen when you’re alive and can get more cover, it might happen when you die, and she’s so overcome by grief and the stress of raising two children that she’s forced to give it up.

And then you have to think about your children. What if they want a college education? Can your wife afford that on her own? And what about your funeral or your children’s weddings? What happens if one of them falls ill and incurs huge medical expenses? 

$100,000 is a lot of money to receive as a lump sum, and if you only think in terms of lump sums you may never escape that mindset. But it’s not a single sum designed to be spent freely and enjoyed. It’s a sum designed to last your loved ones for many years and to ensure they are covered for most worst-case scenarios.

By the same token, you shouldn’t assume that your loved ones will survive without you just because you’re not the breadwinner or you have paid off your mortgage. Things can turn ugly very quickly. It only takes a few unexpected bills for things to go south, at which point that house could fall victim to an equity loan, a second mortgage, and eventually be owned by the bank when your loved ones fall behind.

Myth 6: Premiums are Tax Deductible

The premiums of an individual policy are not tax-deductible. However, there are exceptions if the individual is self-employed and using the coverage for asset protection. It’s also worth noting that the death benefit is completely tax free.

Myth 7: You Can’t Get Insurance Above a Certain Age

The older you are, the harder it is to get the financial protection that life insurance can provide. But it’s not impossible, just a little bit more expensive. Your insurance needs increase as you get older and life insurance companies have recognized this. They provide short-term policies specifically tailored to seniors. 

Known as Seniors Life Insurance or Final Expense Insurance, these policies provide a low lump sum payout, often less than $50,000, that can be used to pay for a funeral or to clear debts. You can even pay it directly to the funeral home and arrange your own funeral. 

You may also still qualify for a term life insurance policy. Of course, traditional whole life insurance policies are out of the question, and if you have a health condition you may be refused even a short term policy, but don’t give up before you do your research and check your options. 

This is something that most insurance agents will be happy to help you with.

Myth 8: Young People Don’t Need Life Insurance

Life insurance provides you with peace of mind. It aims to provide cover during a difficult time and ensures that your loved ones have financial support when dealing with your death. If you have dependents, then it doesn’t really matter how old you are. It’s true that you will probably outlive the term if you are young and healthy, but no one knows what’s around the corner.

Death is a certainty; the only question is when, not if. By not purchasing life insurance when you have dependents, you’re rolling the dice and placing their future at risk.

The younger you are, the cheaper the premiums will be and the less of an impact they will have on your finances. What’s more, you can also opt for whole life insurance, locking a rate in early and avoiding the inevitable regrets when you’re 60, don’t have any cover and are being quoted astronomical premiums.

Myth 9: You Won’t Qualify if you are in Bad Health

If you have been diagnosed with a terminal disease, it’s unlikely that any insurer would cover you. However, if you have survived a serious disease or have a pre-existing medical condition, you may still qualify.

It’s all about risk, and if the insurer determines you’re more likely to survive the term than not, they will offer you a policy based on those probabilities. The less healthy they consider you to be, the more premiums you will pay and the lower your death benefit will be. But you can still get a worthwhile policy and it might be a lot cheaper than you think.

Myth 10: If You Have Money, You Don’t Need Insurance

If you have assets to leave your heirs, a life insurance policy is not as important as it might be for a stay at home parent or a low-income couple. However, it still has its uses. 

For instance, many high-income households have a lot of debt, and while the assets can typically cover this debt, it will eat into the estate. There are also estate taxes and legal fees to consider, all of which can significantly reduce the value of the estate.

In this case, a short term policy can provide some additional coverage and ensure that those extra costs are covered.

Myth 11: The Money is Lost if there are no Beneficiaries

If you die with no beneficiaries, the money will likely go to your estate, at which point the probate process will begin. If you have a will, this process will be relatively quick and painless, and your designated heirs will get what they are owed. 

If not, things could get messy and the process will be slow. What’s more, if you have any debts, your creditors will take what they are owed from your estate, including your death benefit.

Adding a beneficiary will prevent all of this, but don’t expect the insurer to contact your beneficiary and let them know. They expect the beneficiary to come to them. It’s important, therefore, to assign at least one (and preferably more) beneficiary and to make sure they know of the existence of the policy.

Summary: Life Insurance Myths Debunked

Now that we’ve debunked the myths concerning life insurance, it’s time for you to get out there and get the cover you need. The type of life insurance you need, and the amount of death benefit you will receive, all depends on your personal circumstances and health. 

This is a subject we have discussed at length here at PocketYourDollars.com, so check out our other guides on the subject.

Life Insurance Myths Debunked is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

ByCurtis Watts

How I Invest

One of the most common questions I receive from readers like you—especially since Grow (Acorns + CNBC) published my story last week—asks me how I invest.

All this theoretical investing information is fine, Jesse. But can you please just tell me what you do with your money.

That’s what I’ll do today. Here’s a complete breakdown of how I invest, how the numbers line up, and why I make the choices I make.

Disclaimer

Of course, please take my advice with a grain of salt. Why?

My strategy is based upon my financial situation. It is not intended to be prescriptive of your financial situation.

I’ve hesitated writing this before because it feels one step removed from “How I Vote” and “How I Pray.” It’s personal. I don’t want to lead you down a path that’s wrong for you. And I don’t want to “show off” my own choices.

I’m an engineer and a writer, not a Wall Street professional. And even if I was a Wall Street pro, I hope my prior articles on stock picking and luck vs. skill in the stock market have convinced you that they aren’t as skilled as you might think.

All I can promise you today is transparency. I’ll be clear with you. I’ll answer any follow-up questions you have. And then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information.

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Are we clear? Let’s get to the good stuff.

How I Invest, and In What Accounts…?

In this section, I’ll detail how much I save for investing. Then the next two sections will describe why I use the investing accounts I use (e.g. 401(k), Roth IRA) and which investment choices I make (e.g. stocks, bonds).

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How much I save, and in what accounts:

  • 401(k)—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $19,500 on employee-deferred contributions in 2020 (for my age group). I aim to hit the full $19,500 limit.
  • 401(k) matching—My employer will match 100% of my 401(k) contributions until they’ve contributed 6% of my total salary. For the sake of round numbers, that equates to about $6,000.
  • Roth IRA—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $6,000 on Roth IRA contributions (for my earnings range) in 2020. I am aiming to hit the full $6,000 limit.
  • Health Savings Account—The U.S. government gives tremendous tax benefits for saving in Health Savings Accounts. And if you don’t use that money for medical reasons, you can use it like an investment account later in life. I aim to hit the full $3,500 limit in 2020.
  • Taxable brokerage account—After I achieved my emergency fund goal (about 6 months’ of living expenses saved in a high-yield savings account), I started putting some extra money towards my taxable brokerage account. My goal is to set aside about $500 per month in that brokerage account.

That’s $41,000 of investing per year. But a lot of that money is actually “free.” I’ll explain that below.

Why Those Accounts?

The 401(k) Account

First, let’s talk about why and how I invest using a 401(k) account. There are three huge reasons.

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First, I pay less tax—and so can you. Based on federal tax brackets and state tax brackets, my marginal tax rate is about 30%. For each additional dollar I earn, about 30 cents go directly to various government bodies. But by contributing to my 401(k), I get to save those dollars before taxes are removed. So I save about 30% of $19,500 = $5,850 off my tax bill.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that 401(k) contributions are taken out prior to OASDI (a.k.a. social security) taxes. That claim was incorrect. 401(k) contributions occur only after OASDI taxes are assessed.

Many thanks to regular reader Nick for catching that error.

Second, the 401(k) contributions are removed before I ever see them. I’m never tempted to spend that money because I never see it in my bank account. This simple psychological trick makes saving easy to adhere to.

Third, I get 401(k) matching. This is free money from my employer. As I mentioned above, this equates to about $6,000 of free money for me.

Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Why do I also use a Roth IRA?

Unlike a 401(k), a Roth IRA is funded using post-tax dollars. I’ve already paid my 30% plus OASDI taxes, and then I put money into my Roth. But the Roth money grows tax-free.

Let’s fast-forward 30 years to when I want to access those Roth IRA savings and profits. I won’t pay any income tax (~30%) on any dividends. I won’t pay capital gains tax (~15%) if I sell the investments at a profit.

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I’m hoping my 30-year investment might grow by 8x (that’s based on historical market returns). That would grow this year’s $6000 contribution up to $48000—or about $42000 in profit. And what’s ~15% of $42000? About $6,300 in future tax savings.

Health Savings Account (H.S.A.)

The H.S.A. account has tax-breaks on the front (36.7%, for me) and on the back (15%, for me). I’m netting about $1300 up-front via an H.S.A, and $4,200 in the future (similar logic to the Roth IRA).

Taxable Brokerage Account

And finally, there’s the brokerage account, or taxable account. This is a “normal” investing account (mine is with Fidelity). There are no tax incentives, no matching funds from my employer. I pay normal taxes up front, and I’ll pay taxes on all the profits way out in the future. But I’d rather have money grow and be taxed than not grow at all.

Summary of How I Invest—Money Invested = Money Saved

In summary, I use 401(k) plus employer matching, Roth IRA, and H.S.A. accounts to save:

  • About $7,100 in tax dollars today
  • About $6,000 of free money today
  • And about $10,500 in future tax dollars, using reasonable investment growth assumptions

Don’t forget, I still get to access the investing principal of $41,000 and whatever returns those investments produce! That’s on top of the roughly $25,000 of savings mentioned above.

I choose to invest a lot today because I know it saves me money both today and tomorrow. That’s a high-level thought-process behind how I invest.

How I Invest: Which Investment Choices Do I Make?

We’ve now discussed 401(k) accounts, Roth IRAs, H.S.A. accounts, and taxable brokerage accounts. These accounts differ in their tax rules and withdrawal rules.

But within any of these accounts, one usually has different choices of investment assets. Typical assets include:

  • Stocks, like shares of Apple or General Electric.
  • Bonds, which are where someone else borrows your money and you earn interest on their debt. Common bonds give you access to Federal debt, state or municipality debt, or corporate debt.
  • Real estate, typically via real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Commodities, like gold, beef, oil or orange juice
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Here are the asset choices that I have access to in my various accounts:

  • 401(k)—my employer works with Fidelity to provide me with about 20 different mutual funds and index funds to invest in.
  • Roth IRA—this account is something that I set up. I can invest in just about anything I want to. Individual stocks, index funds, pork belly futures etc.
  • H.S.A.—this is through my employer, too. As such, I have limited options. But thankfully I have low-cost index fund options.
  • Taxable brokerage account—I set this account up. As such, I can invest in just about any asset I want to.

My Choice—Diversity2

How I invest and my personal choices involve two layers of diversification. A diverse investing portfolio aims to decrease risk while maintaining long-term investing profits.

The first level of diversification is that I utilize index funds. Regular readers will be intimately familiar with my feelings for index funds (here 28 unique articles where I’ve mentioned them).

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By nature, an index fund reduces the investor’s exposure to “too many eggs in one basket.” For example, my S&P 500 index fund invests in all S&P 500 companies, whether they have been performing well or not. One stellar or terrible company won’t have a drastic impact on my portfolio.

But, investing only in an S&P 500 index fund still carries risk. Namely, it’s the risk that that S&P 500 is full of “large” companies’ stocks—and history has proven that “large” companies tend to rise and fall together. They’re correlated to one another. That’s not diverse!

Lazy Portfolio

To battle this anti-diversity, how I invest is to choose a few different index funds. Specifically, my investments are split between:

  • Large U.S. stock index fund—about 40% of my portfolio
  • Mid and small U.S. stock index fund—about 20% of my portfolio
  • Bond index fund—about 20%
  • International stocks fund—about 20%

This is my “lazy portfolio.” I spread my money around four different asset class index funds, and let the economy take care of the rest.

Each year will likely see some asset classes doing great. Others doing poorly. Overall, the goal is to create a steady net increase.

Updating My Favorite Performance Chart For 2019
An asset class “quilt” chart from 2010-2019, showing how various asset classes perform each year.

Twice a year, I “re-balance” my portfolio. I adjust my assets’ percentages back to 40/20/20/20. This negates the potential for one “egg” in my basket growing too large. Re-balancing also acts as a natural mechanism to “sell high” and “buy low,” since I sell some of my “hottest” asset classes in order to purchase some of the “coldest” asset classes.

Any Other Investments?

In June 2019, I wrote a quick piece with some thoughts on cryptocurrency. As I stated then, I hold about $1000 worth of cryptocurrency, as a holdover from some—ahem—experimentation in 2016. I don’t include this in my long-term investing plans.

I am paying off a mortgage on my house. But I don’t consider my house to be an investment. I didn’t buy it to make money and won’t sell it in order to retire.

On the side, I own about $2000 worth of collectible cards. I am not planning my retirement around this. I do not include it in my portfolio. In my opinion, it’s like owning a classic car, old coins, or stamps. It’s fun. I like it. And if I can sell them in the future for profit, that’s just gravy on top.

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Summary of How I Invest

Let’s summarize some of the numbers from above.

Each year, I aim to save and invest about $41,000. But of that $41K, about $15K is completely free—that’s due to tax benefits and employer matching. And using reasonable investment growth, I think these investments can save me $15,000 per year in future tax dollars.

Plus, I eventually get access to the $41K itself and any investment profits that accrue.

I take that money and invest in index funds, via the following allocations:

  • 40% into a large-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into a medium- and small-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into an international stock index fund
  • And 20% into a bond index fund

The goal is to achieve long-term growth while spreading my eggs across a few different baskets.

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And that’s it! That’s how I invest. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or drop me an email.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog

ByCurtis Watts

The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy

If you don’t have the time, the money or the expertise to buy individual stocks or bonds to build your investment portfolio, then consider the best Vanguard index funds.

Index funds are a good way to start saving and investing for retirement.

One reason is because the chance of making more money investing in index funds is far higher than it is investing in individual stocks, especially if you are a beginner investor.

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As the master of value investing, Warren Buffett, once said “a low-cost index fund is the most sensible equity investment for the great majority of investors.” “By periodically investing in an index fund, the know-nothing investor can actually out-perform most investment professionals.”

But how do you find and choose among the best Vanguard index funds? Don’t worry, GrowthRapidly can help make your choice easier.

On this page:

Index funds vs mutual funds

Index funds are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to invest in the stock market. As opposed to a mutual fund, which is actively managed by a fund manager, index funds are passive.

This means that index funds attempt to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index.

So, when you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies.

Index funds don’t jump around; they stayed invested in the market. Again, they simply track the performance of the stock index.

Related: What is a mutual fund?

Whereas with a mutual fund, fund managers might make mistake by not being invested when the market goes up or by being too aggressive when the market goes down.

That doesn’t mean mutual funds are not good investments. In fact, they are great investment vehicles. But when it comes to long term investments, index funds are the best. However, these 8 mutual funds are great for long term investing.

Like a mutual fund, you can buy an index fund through a fund company like Vanguard.

The main advantage of a Vanguard index fund is its low-cost, which is usually less than 1% annually. Another benefit of Vanguard index funds is that they are diversified. Like mutual funds, they invest to multiple companies, thus spreading out the risk.

One of the downside with index funds, however, is that they won’t outperform the market they track.

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Why choosing the best Vanguard index funds to invest your money?

There are thousands of fund companies (such as Fidelity, Schwab, JP Morgan) where you can buy index funds. Different companies have different experiences and expertise with different type of funds. So, it can be difficult to know which one is the best. 

Here are four main factors to consider when looking to buy the best index funds for long term investments: 

  • The company: Is it a reputable and well-known company with a great track record?
  • Fees: Another major factor to consider in picking a fund company is its cost. Excessive fees have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your index fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low fee. 
  • Reasonable minimum investment: Will you be able to invest with as little as $1000?
  • Performance: Although past performance does not guarantee future performance, look for a fund company with a strong record of performing well against its competitors over the short and long term as well.

If you are an intelligent investor who has done his or her research, you will conclude that among the various fund companies out there, Vanguard comes out on top.

Jack Bogle, who recently died and who founded the firm Vanguard Group, invented the index fund in 1976.

Today, Vanguard is one of the World’s biggest and the best investment funds with approximately $5.6 trillion in assets.

Moreover, Vanguard has the best index funds because of their ability to keep their operating fees so low. Vanguard has all types of stock and bond index funds and their fees are the lowest.

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The advantages and disadvantages of Vanguard Index funds. 

Pros of the best vanguard index funds

By now, you know that an index fund is well diversified. But you might know these two other pros that make Vanguard index funds the best:

  • Good return: Vanguard index funds generally delivers a good return because their expenses are relatively low. The average Vanguard Index fund has an expense ratio of 0.2% per year (compare that to the average index fund operating expenses of 1.4% per year.) A 1.2% difference can be a significant difference on your return. Operating expenses are also lower because ongoing research is not needed to identify companies to invest in.
  • Tax-friendly: not only Vanguard index funds have lower operating expenses, which help increase your returns, they are also tax-friendlier when you invest outside of retirement accounts. Because a mutual fund is actively managed, they tend to jump around by selling and buying stocks more frequently. By doing that, it increases a fund’s taxable capital gains distribution. Whereas an index fund stays invested and not trying to jump around.

Cons of the best Vanguard index funds

Despite their low costs and tax-friendliness, their minimum investment while seem reasonable, might not be for the beginner investor with little money to invest.

Most Vanguard index funds requires a $3,000 minimum initial investment. Retirement account investors who plan on starting with less might be at a disadvantage.

Moreover, Vanguard has an overwhelming number of index funds to choose from. That can make it tedious for an investor to decide which ones are the best. But that’s why we have compiled the top Vanguard index funds for you.

The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy in August 2020: 

Now that you know what an index fund is and why investing Vanguard index funds makes good sense, in no particular order, below are 10 of the best Vanguard index funds to add to your investment portfolio.

Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral (VFIAX)

Of all the Vanguard index funds in this list, the Vanguard S&P index fund, which tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500, is perhaps the best Vanguard index fund. One reason is that the fund invest in 500 of largest U.S. companies with a few a midsize stocks.

Some of the big name stocks in this index fund includes Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL). Another reason to select this fund is that the cost is pretty low, (0.04%) if not the lowest of all the index funds.

Index fund cost is an important factor in choosing an index fund to invest in, because fees are deducted from your balance and thus reduced your rate of returns. The last reason to invest in the VFIAX is because the initial minimum investment is also low ($3,000).

So if you’re looking for an index fund that maintains low operating expenses while enjoying a good rate of return, the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral is for you.

Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral

For diversification, you should consider in your investment portfolio some index funds that invests in foreign countries. International funds are diversified because they invest in countries around the world. If so, the Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral fund (VTMGX) is a fine choice.

This Vanguard index fund tracks the performance of the FTSE Developed All Cap ex US Index. It invests in large cap stocks in 24 developed countries. Some of its several blue-chip multinational companies include the Toyota Motor Corp (7203), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A.), Nestle SA (NESN), making it one of the best Vanguard index funds.

This index fund has a minimum investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.07%.

Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral 

While Vanguard index funds invested in U.S. stocks tend to perform better than Vanguard index funds invested in emerging markets, emerging markets in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe should not be overlooked.

If you don’t mind investing in emerging economies, consider checking out the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral (VEMAX), which is currently one of the best Vanguard index funds to buy now.

In fact, some of the big name foreign companies included in this index fund are Alibaba Group Holding Ltd ADR (BABA), Tencent Holdings Ltd (TCEHY), Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (2330.TW), and China Construction Bank Corp Class H (00939).

This investment attempts to track the performance of the FTSE Emerging Markets All Cap China Inclusion Index.

One of the downside of this index fund is that it has an expense ratio of 0.14%, but it still has a low minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX)

The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX) is one of the best Vanguard index funds. It captures the total market.

That means it gives investors broad exposure to the entire U.S. equity market including large cap, mid cap and small cap growth and value stocks.

Some of the big name companies included in this Vanguard fund are: Facebook, Alphabet, JPMorgan Chase, Apple, and Microsoft.

This Vanguard index fund has an expense ratio of 0.04% and a minimum initial investment of $3,000.

So, if you’re looking for a well diversified Vanguard fund and don’t mind a little volatility, this index fund is for you.

Note that you can purchase this index fund as an ETF as well. It start at the price of one share.

Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral

The Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund (VIMAX), which tracks the CRSP U.S. Midcap Index, may be appropriate for you if you have a long term perspective.

That is because the index fund, which consists of midsize and smaller stocks, performs better in the long term rather than the short term, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds to include in your investment portfolio.

The fund targets midsize companies. The minimum investment is $3,000 with an operating expense of 0.05%.

So if you’re looking for a Vanguard index fund to use for retirement investing and you don’t expect to tap into your investment money for 10 years or more, the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund is for you.

Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral

The Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral (VSMAX), as the name suggests invests in stocks of smaller companies.

This index fund tracks the CRSP U.S. Small Cap Index. Some of its holdings include DocuSign, Inc (DOCU), Leidos Holdings Inc (LDOS), Tyler Technologies, Inc (TDY), Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc (ELS), etc…

This index fund, just like the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund, tends to perform better in the long term. Therefore, invest in this Vanguard fund if you don’t plan to use your money within the next five years.

So if you’re looking for a broadly diversified index of stocks of small U.S. companies, the Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral is a good choice. This index fund has a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.05%. 

Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral

If you want to invest in short term bonds to use your money in the next five years to buy a house, or if you plan to withdraw the money from your retirement account, then the Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral fund (VSCSX) is for you.

This bond index fund tracks the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. 1-5 Year Corporate Bond Index.

While you shouldn’t expect a return of no more than 2 to 3% annually on this bond index fund, corporate bonds in general are safe, and this fund is pretty stable.

Because of this stability, this short-term bond index fund makes it an appropriate investment. The Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral has an expense ratio of 0.07% expense and a minimum initial investment of $3000, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds around.

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF

The Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM), as the name suggests, is a “dividend” fund. It attempts to track the performance of the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index.

This index ETF allows investors to earn dividend through growth companies. Some of the big companies with a strong record of paying dividends are AT&T, Intel, and Exxon Mobil.

As of 2/27/2020, this ETF has an expense ratio of 0.06%, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds for income. It starts at the price of one share.

So, if you’re looking for an index fund with the best long term investments growth potential, and you don’t mind the stock market volatility, this income-focused fund is appropriate for you.

Note that the Vanguard High Dividend Yield is also available as an Admiral share with a minimum investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Information Technology

Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund Admiral Shares (VITAX) is a sector fund. This investment attempts to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market/Information Technology 25/50.

Sector funds invest in stocks and/or bonds in specific industries. And the Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund, as the name suggests, focuses only on technology.

Generally, you should avoid sector funds mainly because they lack diversification. However, there is an exception with this Vanguard index fund. It focuses on technology, which makes it one of the best Vanguard funds.

In addition, this index is made up of stocks of large, mid-size, and small U.S. companies within the technology sector.

Nowadays, technology has shaped our daily lives. From computers, TVs, tablets, etc, everything is connected to the internet. Therefore, this means that there is and there will be continued growth in the years ahead.

The top companies included in this Vanguard fund are Apple, Microsoft, Visa, Adobe, PayPal, etc.

This index fund has an expense ratio of 0.10 %, but a minimum investment of $100,000. This can be high for the beginner investor.

However, this Vanguard index fund is available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share. 

Vanguard Real Estate

The Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX) is another sector fund. It focuses on real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are companies that buy office buildings, hotels and other real estate properties.

This Vanguard fund seeks to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 index.

Just as any other sector funds, this Vanguard real estate index fund may lack diversification. So, it makes sense to have this index fund in conjunction with another a more broadly diversified Vanguard fund.

Despite the lack of diversification, however, this fund distributes higher dividend income than other funds, allowing it to be among the best Vanguard index funds for income.

This Vanguard fund has an expense ratio of 0.12%. It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Note that this Vanguard fund is also available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.

Final tips for buying the best Vanguard index funds

In general, index funds are a good investment vehicle to use. So whether you’re looking to invest money for retirement, or you’re looking to add diversification to your investment portfolio, these Vanguard index funds are a great choice for you. They are great quality funds. They produce superior returns comparing to other similar funds.

Indeed, the best Vanguard Index funds will not only save you money in fees throughout the years. But also, these low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will give you a wide exposure to different asset classes.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard index funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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