5 Things to Consider Before Getting a Personal Loan

Consider This Before Getting a Personal Loan – SmartAsset

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It’s a new year and if one of your resolutions is to get out of debt, you might be thinking about consolidating your bills into a personal loan. With this kind of loan, you can streamline your payments and potentially get rid of your debt more quickly. If you plan on getting a personal loan in 2016, here are some key things to keep in mind before you start searching for a lender.

Check out our personal loan calculator.

1. Interest Rates Are Going Up

At the end of 2015, the Federal Reserve initiated a much anticipated hike in the federal funds rate. What this means for borrowers is that taking on debt is going to be more expensive going forward. That means that the personal loan rates you’re seeing now could be a lot higher six or nine months from now. If you’re planning on borrowing, it might be a good idea to scope out loan offers sooner rather than later.

2. Online Lenders Likely Have the Best Deals

The online lending marketplace has exploded in recent years. With an online lender, there are fewer overhead costs involved, which translates to fewer fees and lower rates for borrowers.

With a lower interest rate, more money will stay in your pocket in the long run. Lending Club, for example, claims that their customers have interest rates that are 33% lower, on average, after consolidating their debt or paying off credit cards using a personal loan.

Related Article: How to Get a Personal Loan

3. Your Credit Matters

Regardless of whether you go through a brick-and-mortar bank or an online lender, you  likely won’t have access to the best rates if you don’t have a great credit score. In the worst case scenario, you could be denied a personal loan altogether.

You can check your credit score for free. And each year, you have a chance to get a free credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you haven’t pulled yours in a while, now might be a good time to take a look.

As you review your report, it’s important to make sure that all of your account information is being reported properly. If you see a paid account that’s still showing a balance, for example, or a collection account you don’t recognize, you’ll need to dispute those items with the credit bureau that’s reporting the information.

4. Personal Loan Scams Are Common

As more and more lenders enter the personal loan arena, the opportunity for scammers to cash in on unsuspecting victims also increases. If you’re applying for a loan online, it’s best to be careful about who you give your personal information to.

Some of the signs that may indicate that a personal loan agreement is actually a scam include lenders who use overly pushy sales tactics to get you to commit or ask you to put up a deposit as a guarantee against the loan. If you come across a lender who doesn’t seem concerned about checking your credit or tells you they can give you a loan without doing any paperwork, those are big red flags that the lender may not be legit.

Related Article: How to Avoid Personal Loan Scams

5. Not Reading the Fine Print Could Cost You

Before you sign off on a personal loan, it’s best to take time to read over the details of the loan agreement. Something as simple as paying one date late could trigger a fee or cause a higher penalty rate to kick in, which would make the loan more expensive in the long run.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/DragonImages, ©iStock.com/Vikram Raghuvanshi, ©iStock.com/MachineHeadz

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Can You Buy a House if You Owe Taxes?

January 23, 2020 &• 4 min read by Chris Birk Comments 16 Comments

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Looking for the perfect home on the real estate market? Unfortunately, it can be tricky if you have unpaid taxes. Failing to pay your federal income taxes can lead to the Internal Revenue Service placing a lien on your property or your assets. These legal tools protect the government’s ability to get its money. They also set off alarm bells for lenders.

Can you buy a house if you owe taxes? The good news is that federal tax debt—or even a tax lien—doesn’t automatically ruin your chances of being approved for a mortgage. But you do usually have to take steps to resolve the issue before a lender will look favorably upon your mortgage application.

Can You Buy a House If You Owe Taxes?

It’s still possible, but you could have to actively work on the tax debt before a bank will approve a home loan. It might be best to pay off the lien before you fill out a loan application. But if that’s not something you’re able to do, you still might be able to forge ahead, provided you’ve actually tried to make a dent in that debt.

The specific details of your situation come into play, though. And lenders typically have slightly different requirements and documentation needs, so you’ll need to work closely with your bank or mortgage lender. If you know you have tax debt you can’t pay immediately, be honest about it so the lender can let you know what you may need to accomplish to be approved.

Can You Get an FHA Loan If You Owe Back Taxes?

Yes, you may be able to get an FHA loan even if you owe tax debt. But you’ll need to go through a manual underwriting process to make this happen. During this process, the lender looks for proof that you have a valid agreement to repay the IRS. It also requires that you have made on-time payments on this agreement for at least the last three months.

Obviously, FHA loans aren’t only contingent upon your tax debt status. You’ll also have to meet any other requirements, including those related to income and credit history.

Can Military Borrows with a Tax Lien Get a Home Loan?

Lenders can view liens differently depending on the loan type and other factors. But in general, military borrowers with a tax lien may be able to obtain VA mortgage preapproval if:

  • They have an acceptable repayment plan with the IRS and have made on-time payments for at least the last 12 consecutive months.
  • They can satisfy all debt-to-income ratio requirements with that monthly tax repayment included.
  • They note their outstanding tax lien on the standard loan application.

Can You Buy a Home If You Owe Other Types of Tax Debt?

If you owe state taxes or property taxes, you could also put your dreams for homeownership at risk. The rules vary slightly for each situation, but any type of debt you owe can cause your lender to consider you a higher-risk applicant. Even if you’re approved for the mortgage, your interest rate may be higher.

The best bet with any type of tax debt is to pay it off as quickly as possible. And if you can’t resolve it before you apply for a mortgage, at least reach out to the agency you own to make arrangements.

Research and Preparation Are Important

Whether you want to buy a home while you owe federal taxes or you’re certain your credit report is squeaky clean, take time to prepare before applying for a mortgage. You may be surprised by an error or negative item on your credit report, for example. It’s better to fix credit issues before you try to buy a home than be side-swiped by them during the process.

After taking steps to pay off or make three to 12 timely payments on your taxes, check your credit reports. Then, use your score and other information to find out what types of mortgage rates you might qualify for. This helps you understand whether or not it’s the right time to apply for a loan and buy a new home. If you’re in the market for a mortgage loan, look at the options available from the lenders on Credit.com.

The Bottom Line on Buying a Home When You Have Tax Debt

So, if you’re a prospective homebuyer with a tax lien, a good first step is making sure your track record shows at least a year’s worth of on-time payments. Pay it off in full if possible, but if that’s a tall order, know that you might have diminished purchasing power and a rockier road until the slate is clean.

In the meantime, you should also be keeping tabs on your overall financial progress by checking your credit reports regularly. You can get these reports free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and you can get your free credit score from Credit.com.

Monitor your credit scores for increases or drops. Taking an active role in your credit can help you get on track to buy a home, especially when you’re facing certain financial hurdles such as a tax lien.


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Working with Mortgage Brokers: Tips and Advice

The process of finding and buying a home can be complicated and stressful, but you don’t have to go it alone. A real estate agent can help you to find the right house; a mortgage broker can help you get the best deal. 

Everyone understands what the former does and why they need them, but many first-time buyers often overlook the services of a mortgage broker.

The question is, what is a mortgage broker, what services can they provide you with and should you work with one?

What is a Mortgage Broker?

A mortgage broker acts as an intermediary between you and the mortgage lender. The broker has your best interests at heart, working with the lender to help you secure the home loan you need at an interest rate you can afford.

Mortgage brokers are fully licensed and regulated. They know enough about mortgage companies to understand what makes them tick and help you secure the best rate from the many different lenders out there.

The broker will pull your credit report, gather documents pertaining to your income, creditworthiness, and affordability, and work as the middleman throughout. Once you find the best mortgage lender for you, the broker will help you file the loan application and work closely with the mortgage underwriters to ensure everything runs smoothly.

As a first-time homebuyer it can be very helpful to have someone like this on your team. It can feel like you’re entering the home loan process blindfolded, with little more than references and advice from friends and family to guide you. 

It’s not a hugely complicated process, but when it’s your first time, a lot of money is at stake, and you’re trying to juggle your everyday life with all these new demands, it can feel overwhelming.

How do They Get Paid?

A mortgage broker can be paid by the borrower, but more often than not they are paid by the lender. The mortgage lender pays the broker anywhere from 0.50% to 2.75% of the total mortgage amount on average. This means that on a $100,000 loan, the broker could be earning $500 to $2,750.

It can seem like a lot of money for one mortgage acquired for one buyer. However, once you consider all the work that goes into this process and the length of time it takes, as well as the fact that mortgage brokers are highly specialized individuals, it begins to look like a bargain. More importantly, you’re not the one paying the fees, so you don’t need to worry about them.

If you have any experience with affiliate companies or lead generation, it’s kind of the same thing, but on a much grander scale. Simply put, the mortgage lender needs customers and they get those customers through the broker, rewarding them with a small share of the profits in exchange.

Are Mortgage Brokers Fair?

You could be forgiven for thinking that mortgage brokers are only interested in earning money and will steer you down whatever path earns them the highest share. However, their only goal is to find the right mortgage rates for you and as long as you get a mortgage in the end, they won’t care. 

They’re getting paid either way and it doesn’t benefit them to focus on a single lender. They’ll look at all mortgage products and loan options; they’ll compare all lenders, and they’ll remain with you throughout the mortgage process. That’s all that matters, and you don’t need to worry about favoritism.

Mortgage Brokers vs Loan Officer

The main difference between a mortgage broker and a mortgage loan officer is that the former works as a middleman between you and the lender, while a loan officer works directly for the lender and is paid a salary by them.

A loan officer is also employed by just one mortgage lender, while a mortgage broker works with multiple lenders. 

Do I Need a Mortgage Broker?

The mortgage process can take a lot of time and it’s time that you might not have. If you’re busy and you’re going into this process blind, we recommend working with a mortgage broker or at least looking at ones in your area to see what sort of benefits they can provide you with.

In any case, whether you’re working directly with big banks and credit unions or going through a mortgage broker, it’s important to study the interest rates and closing costs closely. Are you getting cheaper rates but paying huge closing costs? Are you paying over the odds for your origination fee just to get a few fractions shaved off elsewhere?

A mortgage is something that may stay with you for several decades, and if you make a bad decision now, you could pay thousands or tens of thousands extra in that time. 

Always check the loan terms before you sign on the dotted line and commit to the home purchase. It’s also important to understand the house prices in your area and to have a good grasp of the current housing market. If there is any doubt that the market is about to go into freefall, you may be better off waiting for a year or two. 

Real estate is usually a sound investment that increases in value over time, but if you buy at the height just before a crash, that house may lose a lot of its value in a short space of time and take years to recover.

Finding a Mortgage Broker

We usually don’t advocate asking friends and family for advice when it comes to things like this. After all, the internet exists, and you can “ask” millions of people for their opinions at the press of a button, so why would you focus on one person?

However, when it comes to local mortgage brokers, this is one of the best tactics. You trust your friends and family to give you an honest opinion and when you don’t have a lot of reviews to read through and a lot of information to check, that opinion could be invaluable.

This works best if you have multiple people to ask. The problem is, many of them probably had a good experience and as they likely only worked with one mortgage broker, they’ll probably only gave that one recommendation to make. So, compare recommendations from different friends, see if any of them match, and pay more attention to the friends who have worked with several different mortgage brokers.

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What Happens if You Lie on Your Taxes?

November 21, 2019 &• 5 min read by Kat Tretina Comments 0 Comments

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NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more.

According to the IRS, the average tax refund in 2018 was $3,103. When you hear that number and then do your own taxes, you expect your refund to be close to that amount. If it’s not–or worse, you owe money–it can be tempting to fudge the numbers to increase your refund. However, misrepresenting yourself on your return is tax fraud, and it has grave consequences.

Consequences of lying on your taxes can include:

  • Being audited
  • Fines and penalties up to hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • Jail time

Learn more about the penalties below and how to avoid them.

Will I Get Caught if I Lie on My Taxes?

The IRS gets all of the W-2s and 1099s that you receive, so it knows if you don’t report all of your income. Even if the income you’re trying to hide came in the form of cash payments, your financial activity can send up a red flag with the IRS that might trigger an audit.

What Is an IRS audit?

An IRS audit is an extensive review of your taxes and financial records to ensure you reported everything accurately. Though most people have a less than 1% chance of being audited, it’s not worth the risk.

Undergoing an audit is a time-intensive and costly process that involves providing years of documentation and even in-person interviews. If the IRS audits you, you can hire a professional to represent you and your interests.

While the IRS may have only flagged one return for audit, it can review any return from the past six years. If it finds more issues, it can add penalties and fines for every year with problems. If you made tax mistakes for the past several years, you could end up owing thousands for taxes you misrepresented.

Can You Go to Jail for an IRS Audit?

While being audited in itself doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, if you’re found guilty of tax evasion or fraud, that’s a different story. The outcome of an audit is a determining factor in whether or not you will be charged with an offense that carries jail time.

What Is the Penalty for an Incorrect Tax Return?

If the IRS finds errors on your return and audits you, the penalties and fines assessed can be steep.

According to Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax and Consulting, lying on your taxes to reduce your tax bill or boost your refund may end up costing you more in the long run.

“If you don’t pay your tax liability by the due date, the IRS will charge you a late payment penalty. Even if you file on time, you may still be charged a late payment penalty if you under-report your income and the IRS find out,” Zimmelman said.

In addition to that penalty, the IRS can also charge you interest on the underpayment. “If you’re found guilty of tax evasion or tax fraud, you might end up having to pay serious fines,” said Zimmelman.

While tax evasion or tax fraud is normally imagined as something that affects high earners and big executives, even those with lower incomes need to be careful. When describing the penalties for tax fraud, the IRS does not differentiate between income amounts or how much you underpaid your taxes. If you falsify any information on a return, it can fine you up to $250,000.

Can the IRS Put a Person in Jail?

In addition to owing thousands of dollars in penalties, fees and interest, you may also face criminal charges that result in jail time. While the IRS itself cannot jail offenders, the courts can.

Criminal investigations and charges start when an IRS auditor detects possible fraud during an audit of your returns. Courts convict approximately 3,000 people every year of tax fraud, signaling how serious the IRS takes lying on your taxes.

How Long Is the Jail Sentence for Lying on a Tax Return?

The length of the sentence for lying on a tax return depends largely upon the specific details of your situation. These details determine the exact charge against you. That determines the penalties you may face.

The odds of the IRS charging you for fraud is relatively small. Even if you are investigated, the chances of you facing a criminal charge are pretty slim. However, with the potential consequences being as severe as they are, lying on a tax return is not worth the risk just to get a little extra money in your refund.

Are There Other Ramifications of Lying on Your Taxes?

In addition to massive fines, penalties and potential jail time, lying on your taxes to reduce your income can have other negative ramifications. For example, it can impact your ability to secure lines of credit.

“If you under-report your income, it might hurt you when you try to buy a house or apply for a personal loan,” said Zimmelman. “You might not get it if it looks like you cannot afford to pay it back, so lying on your taxes may hurt in that respect.”

When mortgage companies and banks review your application, they request copies of your tax returns to check your total income. If you lied about your income to lower your tax liability, your full income won’t be on the return. That means you may be denied for the loan you need, hurting your financial future.

Moreover, failing to file a return at all can completely tank your credit report. So, not only do lenders not have an accurate picture of your income, they see a less than stellar credit report as well.

How Can You Get More on Your Tax Return Legally?

Nobody likes owing money to the IRS at the end of the year or getting a miserly refund. However, tax fraud is a serious crime. Glossing over your income, boosting your deductions or any other form of “fudging numbers” is lying on your tax return, and that’s tax fraud.

That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with owing or receiving less than you desire. There are a number of legal ways to get a bigger tax refund.

Even if none of those avenues are open to you, it’s still better to tell the truth. Saving yourself a little money at filing time can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It may even land you in jail.

Save yourself the headache and report your information accurately and on time. And, make sure you know what you need to do to avoid common mistakes made on taxes.


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Does Unemployment Affect My Credit Score?

This content is for the first stimulus relief package, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (The CARES Act), which was signed into law in March 2020. For information on the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the stimulus relief package currently pending legislation, please visit the “New Coronavirus Relief Package: What Does it Mean for You and a Second Stimulus Check” blog post.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the economy in many different ways. One of the biggest changes has been changes to employment for many people. In some cases, many have been laid off. In other cases, people have been furloughed or had their hours reduced. The number of people receiving unemployment compensation has also hit record numbers. In this article, we’ll take a look at how filing for unemployment and/or receiving unemployment compensation can affect your credit score.

How does unemployment compensation affect your credit score?

The process for filing for unemployment is different in each state. Generally, you will need to file paperwork with your state’s unemployment office, either in person or online. The amount of unemployment compensation you receive generally depends on the salary you earned at your most recent job.

The CARES Act of 2020 made several changes to the unemployment process. First of all, it waived the requirement that several states had in place where one must be actively looking for work to receive unemployment compensation. It also broadened the definition of who was eligible for unemployment and gave an extra $600/week to most people receiving unemployment compensation.

The good news is that filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation does NOT appear on your credit report. Generally, credit reports will not update your employment information unless you apply for new credit. And remember, only information about your financial accounts affects your credit score.

Is filing for unemployment bad for your credit?

As we discussed, the mere act of filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation is not bad for your credit. Being on unemployment does not affect your credit score and in most cases will not even appear on your credit report at all.

Where being unemployed can hurt your credit is all of the ancillary effects from being without a job. Generally speaking, unemployment compensation is less than the salary that you were receiving (though the extra $600 from the CARES Act has changed that for some people.) With less income, that will obviously have a big impact on your overall household budget

What can damage your credit while you’re unemployed? 

Even though the act of filing for unemployment or receiving unemployment compensation does not affect your credit score, your credit can still be damaged while you’re unemployed. Two of the factors that make up your credit score are your total balances and your credit utilization ratio. Both of these can be affected if your finances are impacted due to a loss of income.

If you find yourself to continue living below your means while your income is reduced, it is likely that you may end up with higher balances on your credit cards. This results in the increase of your credit utilization ratio, leaving a negative impact on your credit score. 

How to protect your credit when on unemployment

There are a few steps you can take to help protect your credit while unemployed. The key here is to minimize the effects that being without your regular salary has on the rest of your finances. 

One good way to protect your credit while on unemployment is to make sure to have a solid emergency fund. Ideally, you should aim to have 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund. But if you haven’t been able to create one yet, it’s no help saying that you should have! If your emergency fund or savings won’t cover your time without employment, you have a few options.

  1. Cut down on your expenses
  2. Ask a favor from close friends or family 
  3. Accept that your credit score will be impacted

The good news is that if your time with a limited income is short, your credit score should bounce back in no time as well! 

Does unemployment affect your ability to get new credit/loans?

Yes, it will have a significant impact on your ability to get new credit cards or other loans. Most places that offer credit ask for your current employment status. This makes sense since they need to assess your ability to repay the loan or credit that they are offering.

Different banks and creditors will have different policies for evaluating the information that you provide to them. In many cases, the bank will ask for proof of employment, such as your paystubs. This is especially true when trying to qualify for a home mortgage. If you’re not able to provide current pay stubs, this can have an impact on your ability to get a home loan, even if you’ve already been pre-qualified or approved. 

Hopefully, this information was helpful if you are in a situation where you are wondering how unemployment affects your credit score.

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