The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans can make good financial sense, and that’s especially true if your current loans are stuck at a high-interest rate. With a new loan at a lower APR, you could save a bundle of money on interest each month and ultimately pay your student debt off faster. Consolidating several loans into one new one can also simplify your financial life and make keeping up with bills a lot easier.

College Ave and Earnest topped our list, but since student loan refinancing is an incredibly competitive space, you’ll also want to spend time comparing student loan companies to see who offers the best deal. Many lenders in this space offer incredibly low APRs, flexible payment options, borrower incentives, and more. This means it’s more important than ever to shop around so you wind up with the best student loan for your needs.

What You Should Know About Refinancing Federal Student Loans with a Private Lender

The lenders on this list can help you consolidate and refinance both federal student loans and private student loans. However, there are a few details to be aware of before you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

Switching federal loans to private means giving up federal protections like deferment and forbearance. You also give up your chance to qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR). Income-driven repayment plans let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving your remaining loan balances, so this perk isn’t one you should give up without careful thought and consideration.

Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies of 2021

As you start your search to find the best student loan for your lifestyle, take the time to compare lenders and all they offer their customers. While there are a ton of reputable companies offering high-quality student loan refinancing products on the market today, there are also companies you should probably steer clear of.

To make your search easier, we took the time to compare most of the top lenders in this space in terms of interest rates offered, fees, borrower benefits, and more. The following student loan companies are the cream of the crop, so you should start your search here.

Our Top Picks:

  1. Splash Financial
  2. College Ave
  3. Earnest
  4. SoFi
  5. CommonBond
  6. LendKey
  7. Wells Fargo
  8. PenFed Credit Union

Student Loan Refinancing Company Reviews

1. Splash Financial

Splash Financial may be a newer company in the student loan refinancing space, but their offerings are competitive. This company lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and their variable rates currently start at just 2.25% APR.

Not only are interest rates offered by Splash Financial industry-leading, but the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate so far. Their cutting-edge technology also lets you apply for your loan and complete the loan process online, meaning less hassle and stress for you as the borrower.

Check Out Splash Financial’s Low Rates

2. College Ave

College Ave offers student loan refinancing products that can be tailored to your needs. They offer low fixed and variable interest rates, for example, and you’ll never pay an application fee or an origination fee. You can even qualify for a discount if you set your loan up on autopay, and a wide range of repayment schedules are available.

College Ave also offers a wide range of online calculators and tools that can help you figure out how much student loan refinancing could help you save and whether the move would be worth it in the end. Considering their low variable rates start at just 2.74% APR, there’s a good chance you could save money by refinancing if you have excellent credit or a cosigner with great credit.

Get Started with College Ave

3. Earnest

Earnest is another online lender that focuses most of its efforts on offering high-quality student loans. This company lets you consolidate debt at a lower interest rate than you might find elsewhere, and you get the option to pick a monthly payment and repayment period that works with your budget and your lifestyle.

While you’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the lowest interest rates, loans from Earnest come with variable APRs starting at 1.81% and low fixed rates starting at just 3.45%. To qualify for student loan refinancing with Earnest, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650 and a strong employment and income history. You also need to be current on all your bills and cannot have a bankruptcy on your credit profile.

Refinance and Save with Earnest

4. SoFi

Also make sure to check out student loan refinancing company SoFi as you continue your search. This online lender offers some of the best student loan refinancing products available today, including loans with no application fee, origination fee, or hidden fees.

SoFi lets you apply for and complete the entire loan process online, and they offer live customer support 7 days a week. You can also check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, which makes it easier to see how much you could save before you commit.

Get Pre-Approved with SoFi in Less than 2 Minutes

5. Commonbond

Commonbond is another online student lender who lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. With student loan refinancing from Commonbond, you could easily save thousands of dollars on interest with a new fixed interest rate as low as 3.21%. Repayment terms are offered for 5 to 20 years as well, letting you choose a new monthly payment and repayment timeline that works for your needs.

You can apply for your new loan online and note that these loans don’t come with an origination fee or any prepayment penalties. Your loan could also qualify for forbearance, which means having up to 24 months without payments during times of financial hardship.

Apply Online with Commonbond

6. LendKey

LendKey offers private student loans and flexible student loan refinancing options to serve a variety of needs. You can repay your loan between 5 and 20 years, and their refinance loans don’t charge an origination fee.

You can use this company’s online interface to check your rate without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and variable APRs start at just 2.01% for graduates with excellent credit. LendKey loans also receive 9.3 out of 10 possible stars in recent reviews, meaning their customers are mostly happy with their decision to go with this company.

Save Thousands by Refinancing with LendKey

7. Wells Fargo

While Wells Fargo is mostly popular for their banking products, home mortgage products, and personal loans, this bank also offers student loan refinancing products. These loans let you consolidate student debts into a new loan with a low variable or fixed interest rate, and you can even score a discount for setting your loan up on autopay.

Terms for Wells Fargo loans are available anywhere from 5 to 20 years, meaning you can choose a repayment schedule and monthly payment that suits your needs. Wells Fargo also lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Get Started with Wells Fargo

8. PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union offers unique student loan products powered by Purefy. You might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate that could lead to enormous interest savings over time, and PenFed lets you choose a repayment term and monthly payment that fits with your budget and lifestyle.

You can apply for student loan refinancing on your own, but PenFed Credit Union also allows cosigners. Low fixed interest rates start at just 3.48% APR, and you can check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Learn More about PenFed Credit Union

What To Look For When Refinancing

If you decide you want to refinance your student loans, you’ll be happy to know the refinancing market is more robust than ever. A variety of lenders offer insanely attractive loan options for those who can qualify, although you should know that student loan companies tend to be very finicky about your credit score. Some also won’t let you refinance if you didn’t graduate from college, or even if you graduated from an “unapproved” school.

While you should be aware of any lender-specific eligibility requirements before you apply with any student loan company, there are plenty of other factors to look out for. Here’s everything you should look for in a student loan refinancing company before you decide to trust them with your loans.

Low Interest Rate

Obviously, the main reason you’re probably thinking of refinancing your loans is the potential to save money on interest. Lenders who offer the lowest rates available today can potentially help you save more, although it’s important to consider that you may not qualify for the lowest rates available if you don’t have excellent credit.

Cosigner Requirements

Also consider that most lenders will offer better rates and loan terms if you have a cosigner with better credit than you have. This is especially true if your credit isn’t great, so make sure to ask family members if they’re willing to cosign on your new student loan if you hope to get the best rate. Just remember that your cosigner will be jointly liable for repayment, meaning you could quickly damage your relationship if you default on your loan and leave them holding the bag.

Low Fees or No Fees

Student loans are like any other loan in the fact that some charge higher fees or more fees than others. Since many student loans come with an application fee or an origination fee, you’ll want to look for lenders that don’t charge these fees. Also check for hidden fees like prepayment penalties.

Discounts Available

Some student loan companies let you qualify for discounts, the most popular of which is a discount for using autopay. If you’re able and willing to set up automatic payments on your credit card, you could save .25% or .50% off your interest rate depending on the lender you go with.

Rate Check Option

Many of the top student loan refinancing companies on this list make it possible to check your interest rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is a huge benefit since knowing your rate can help you figure out if refinancing is even worth it before you take the time to fill out a full loan application.

Flexible Repayment Plan

Also make sure any lender you go with offers some flexibility in your repayment plan and your monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure refinancing aligns with your long-term financial goals and your monthly budget, and it’s crucial to choose a new loan with a monthly payment you can live with.

Most lenders in this space offer repayment timelines of up to 20 years, which means you could spread your payments over several decades to get a monthly payment that makes sense with your income. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan when you take a long time to pay it off, so you may want to consider prioritizing a faster payment plan.

The Bottom Line

Student loan refinancing may not sound like a lot of fun. However, taking the time to consider all your loan options could easily save you thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a lot of debt at a high interest rate. By consolidating all your student loans into a new one with a lower APR, you could make loan repayment easier with a single payment and save a ton of money that would otherwise go to straight to interest without helping you pay off your loans.

The first step of the loan process is the hardest, however, and that’s choosing a student loan refinancing company that you trust. The lenders on this list are highly rated, but they also offer some of the best loan products on the market today.

  • Work with College Ave, our top pick, to refinance your student loan.

Start your search here and you’re bound to wind up with a student loan you can live with. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of the loans that are available and how much you might save if you decide to refinance later on.

The post The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is on the rise. Millions of Americans are in over their heads. They’re losing sleep, losing control, and worried about what the future will hold. But there are solutions, and consolidation is one of the best.

Consolidation works by “consolidating” multiple debts into one. It’s the perfect solution for mounting debt, one that doesn’t destroy your credit score, liquidate your assets, or make it difficult to acquire mortgages and personal loans in the future.

With that said, let’s look at some of the best ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

The idea of debt consolidation essentially boils down to acquiring a large, low-interest loan and using that to repay multiple high-interest debts. If your credit score is high enough, you can get that loan yourself, clear your credit card debts, and then focus on repaying the loan.

Do It Yourself Consolidation Explained

The average credit card APR is close to 20%. If you have a balance of $10,000 and a monthly payment of $300, this APR will cost you over $4,700 in total interest and your debt will be repaid in just over 4 years. If you were to acquire a $10,000 personal loan at a respectable rate of 8% over the same 4 years, you’ll pay just under $1,800 in interest.

That’s a saving of nearly $3,000 over 4 years, and it’s based on an 8% rate (lower rates are available) and on the assumption that you don’t accumulate any credit card penalty fees or penalty APRs, which are very common on rolling balances.

Pros

  • You Will Save Money: As noted above, this process could save you a lot of money over the long-term and will also free up some additional cash in the short-term.
  • Complete Control: You don’t have to worry about company fees and service charges; you don’t need to concern yourself with hidden terms. With this credit card consolidation option, you are in complete control.
  • Easy on Your Credit Score: While your credit score will take an initial hit because of the loan inquiry and the new account, as soon as you use that loan to clear your credit card debts you should see an improvement. Just remember to keep those cleared cards active, otherwise, your credit utilization ratio will drop.

Cons

  • Good Credit Needed: For this option to be viable, you will need an excellent score. Anything less and you may struggle to be accepted for a low-interest loan. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with growing credit card debt, the odds of you having a flawless credit score are pretty slim.
  • On Your Own: While there are benefits to doing everything by yourself, it can also be a little time consuming, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be intimidating.

Option 2: Work with a Debt Management Company

Credit counseling agencies can help you manage your debt by working with your creditors. A new payment structure will be created, and your money will go straight to the agency, after which it will be released to your creditors.

Debt Management Consolidation Explained

To begin the process, search for reputable debt management services in your area. They will assess your situation and determine if you are a good fit for the program. Some charge fees, some don’t, but all will serve as an intermediary between you and your creditors.

Every month you will make a single payment and the money will then go to your creditors. The agency will negotiate reduced payments by bringing the interest rates down and removing fees, therefore making these debts cheaper and more manageable.

Pros 

  • Professional Help: Get quality support from an experienced debt management company, one that will assume control and take the stress away.
  • Cheap: This is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways to clear your credit card debt, greatly reducing your total interest repayments.

Cons

  • Fees: Some debt management companies charge fees for their services, although these tend to be nominal and you’ll still save more money in the long-term.
  • Canceled Contract: If you fail to make one of the agreed-upon repayments, your creditors may cancel the improved contract and revert back to the previous terms, erasing all the agency’s hard work.

Option 3: Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is a promotion offered on new credit cards. It invites you to move your balance from your current card to a new one, and in exchange, it offers a period of 0% interest. 

You will need to pay a balance transfer fee, and this is typically charged at between 3 and 5% of the total transfer amount, but it’s often one of the cheapest and easiest ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Consolidation Explained

As an example of how balance transfers work, let’s imagine that you have three credit cards, each with a maxed-out balance of $10,000 and an APR of 20%. If you’re repaying $300 a month, that’s $900 a month and in 4 years and 2 months, you’ll pay around $14,000 in interest to clear the full $30,000.

Alternatively, you can move all three balances onto a single balance transfer card with a $30,000 limit. Immediately, that balance could grow to $31,500. If you continue paying $900 a month and the balance transfer period lasts for 18 months, the balance will be just $15,300 when interest begins to accrue again. And if you use that 18-month period to initiate a debt repayment strategy, you could clear it in full and avoid paying any interest.

Pros 

  • Multiple Balances Can be Consolidated: You can consolidate multiple credit card balances, providing you’re not moving them to the same creditor.
  • No Interest Repayment: If you plan it properly, you can repay your balance in full before accruing any interest.
  • Available to Everyone: Credit cards are generally easier to acquire than low-interest personal loans and you won’t need an excellent credit score to get a good one.

Cons  

  • Higher Interest: The interest rate and fees may be higher once the 0% balance transfer period ends. If you use the intro period to avoid repayments and not to clear your debt, you could find yourself in serious trouble when interest begins to accumulate again.
  • Large Limits May be Difficult: The bigger your current credit card balances are, the harder it will be to get a balance transfer card with a large enough limit.
  • Fees: Although it’s a great option for consolidating credit card debt, it’s not completely free, as you’ll pay an initial balance transfer fee.

Option 4: Debt Consolidation Loans

Some companies offer specific loans tailored toward debt consolidation. These options work a lot like personal loans, as they are large loans designed with consolidation in mind. However, there are a few key differences, including the fact you don’t need an excellent credit score.

Debt Consolidation Loans Explained

The ultimate goal of debt consolidation loans is not to save you money in the long-term or to reduce the debt period. In fact, it does the opposite. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment and give you a smaller rate of interest, but it does this while increasing the loan period, which means you ultimately pay more money over the term.

Pros

 

  • More Money Every Month: Your monthly payments will be reduced, freeing up some extra cash to use every month.
  • Cleared Debts: Your credit card debts will be cleared in one fell swoop, potentially giving you some financial breathing space.

 

Cons

  • Longer Period: The total length of your debt will be extended, which means you’ll be stuck with the debt for a prolonged period.
  • Cost: While you’ll save some money every month, you’ll do so at the cost of an increased overall balance. Depending on your credit score, you could find yourself paying thousands more in total repayments.

Other Credit Card Debt Consolidation Solutions

If you have a supportive and financially-free family, you can ask them for the money to clear your debts and then promise to repay them in time. 

Of course, this option isn’t without its problems. Firstly, there’s the old adage that you should never lend money to friends or family. It may seem pretty heartless, but it’s a saying steeped in experience. It causes problems, as that debt is right at the bottom of the borrower’s list of priorities and if they’re skipping payments and begging for relief, while at the same time buying new clothes and going out every night, it can anger the borrower.

To avoid these issues, agree to pay them in monthly installments, offer a little interest, and get everything in writing. Make that debt your priority, because by skipping your payments you’ll be hurting your finances and your relationships.

Don’t guilt-trip a friend or family member into lending you money. Don’t ask them unless you have a very close relationship with them, have known them a long time, and know they can easily afford to lend you money. The last thing you want is for them to leave themselves short or to acquire debt just to help you out.

Alternatively, if you own a significant amount of home equity, you can opt for a home equity loan. This will give you a sizeable loan charged at a small rate of interest. It will take longer to repay your mortgage, but by reducing your debt demands you’ll save more money in the long-term.

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails

[UPDATE: Offer(s) below is no longer available through our site. Please visit our credit card marketplace for current offers.DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

If you prefer traveling by train, you’re already familiar with the advantages of riding the rails. You can avoid the hassles of airports and highways, travel in comfort, and take in the scenery as you go.

Many travel credit cards are singularly focused on flights and hotels. But some offer rewards that are just as valuable for train travelers.

Here are four travel credit cards for riding the rails.

1. Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard

Rewards: Three points per dollar on Amtrak purchases; two points per dollar on eligible travel purchases; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $79
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 16.49% to 24.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: This card is designed for regular Amtrak riders.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn triple points on all Amtrak purchases, double points on qualifying travel purchases, and single points on every other purchase. Points can be redeemed for car rentals, hotels, gift cards, and more. But when you redeem for Amtrak travel, you’ll earn a 5% rebate on points. You’ll also receive a free Amtrak companion pass with a yearly renewal once you open your account.
Drawbacks: If you don’t ride Amtrak, this card isn’t for you.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Rewards: Two points per dollar on dining and travel; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Annual Fee:
$95
APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable .
Why We Picked It: All travel purchases earn points that are redeemable for future trips.
For Rail Travel: Your travel purchases, including train tickets and public transportation, will earn double points. There are many redemption options, but you’ll get an extra 25% in value when redeeming points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Drawbacks: There is an annual fee. 

3. Citi ThankYou Premier

Rewards: Three points per dollar on travel; two points per dollar on dining and entertainment; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95.
APR: 
17.49 t 25.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: With triple points on travel, you can rack up rewards quickly.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn three points per dollar on travel, including passenger and commuter railways. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, merchandise, and more.
Drawbacks: There is no sign-up bonus. 

How to Choose a Card for Rail Travel

If you primarily travel by train, you’ll want a card that offers great rewards rates for those expenses. With the exception of Amtrak’s travel credit card, there aren’t many cards on the market that single out trains. However, many cards do count rail travel as part of their overall travel category.

For any card you’re considering, verify that train fare will earn travel rewards and that rail travel is a valid redemption option.

What Credit Is Required for Train Travel Rewards Credit Cards?

The best travel credit cards may require good or excellent credit. Make sure you meet the credit requirements of a card before you submit an application. You can check your credit report card for free at Credit.com.

Image: istock

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

The post Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

The Best Real Estate Advice of 2020: How the Pandemic Transformed Housing This Year

Sisoje/Getty Images; Julie Migliacci; erhui1979/Getty Images; photoman/Getty Images

In some ways, buying a home got a lot easier in 2020, and in a lot of ways, it didn’t. Welcome to the mixed-up, unpredictable, unprecedented pandemic world we’ve all been living through. It’s truly been a year like no other. But no matter which way the pendulum was swinging, realtor.com was here to help you make the best of it.

Whether you were a first-time home buyer house hunting during the pandemic or a seller wondering how to get the best price for your property, we brought expert-approved insights to you all year long.

We’re (finally) just a couple of weeks away from 2021, but to help you head into the new year as a well-informed home buyer, seller, or owner, we thought we’d reflect on the top lessons we learned about real estate this year.

Take a look back at our best real estate advice of 2020, and click each headline to dive deeper into the topics that were top of mind for all of us.

Should I Buy a House During the Coronavirus Crisis? An Essential Guide

Is it safe—and smart—to buy a house during the coronavirus crisis?

erhui1979/Getty Images

As if deciding whether or not it’s time to purchase a home isn’t a tough enough decision, the coronavirus pandemic made everything even more shaky.

Many potential home buyers have been wondering if it’s even safe to shop for a home during a pandemic, and that’s a very fair question. And even if you do succeed in finding a home you like, is this the right time to pull the trigger?

Here’s what our top finance experts had to say about whether now is the time to buy.

Can’t miss tip: Mortgage rates reached historic lows in 2020, but experts believe they’ll rise quickly in 2021. Now may be a good time to buy if you want to lock in those low interest rates.

6 Home Upgrades Buyers Want in the COVID-19 Era

Photo by mercer INTERIOR

It’s no secret to sellers that refreshing the inside and outside of your home is a great way to bring in potential buyers—and multiple offers. But in 2020, the world became a different place, and stay-at-home orders, plus the closures of schools, restaurants, and gyms, made us look at homes much differently.

Knowing they’d be spending much more time at home (working, schooling, exercising, and just about everything else that used to be done elsewhere), buyers started prioritizing features they might have overlooked in the past.

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Watch: Talking About the Top Real Estate Markets for 2021

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Find out what new upgrades buyers are seeking in the COVID-19 era—and what formerly hot upgrades are now so 2019.

Can’t miss tip: Home buyers in 2020 and beyond are looking for a place where a lot can happen—and maybe all at once. This means the once-desired open floor plan is now a turnoff, and separation of space is where it’s at.

Is It Safe To House Hunt During the Coronavirus Crisis? This Is What You Must Know

Is it safe to house hunt during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sisoje/Getty Images

Safety is still top of mind for most active home buyers and sellers.

While the majority of real estate agents are doing everything they can to lessen the risk for their clients, there are still some home buyers who just don’t feel comfortable taking on the process in-person.

Read along as we explain every part of the process that can now be done remotely, and how to make sure it works for you.

Can’t miss tip: A good home-buying experience always starts with choosing the right real estate agent, and it was never more true than in 2020. If you’re looking for a virtual home-buying experience, it’s important to connect with a real estate agent who knows exactly how to make it work to your advantage.

It Just Makes Cents! 7 DIY Home Improvement Projects That Promise Serious ROI

Help improve your chances of making a real estate profit by taking on one of these DIY projects.

photoman/Getty Images

If you found yourself with a little extra time on your hands this year, you may have decided to take on a few DIY home improvement projects. Because you were at home already!

It makes sense, then, that you’d wonder which ones would give you the biggest return on investment—the home projects that will earn you more money when you decide to sell. No one wants to waste their time on fruitless labor, so check out which DIY projects tend to promise the biggest payoff.

Can’t miss tip: It’s not always those giant projects that yield the biggest profit. One expert says bells and whistles don’t always pay off, and instead recommends homeowners take on several, smaller projects for a better ROI.

5 Bad Omens That Could Curse Your Home—and Jeopardize Your Sale

Are you feeling superstitious? These bad omens could hurt the sale of your home.

mediaphotos/iStock

If you’re trying to sell your home, it’s important you take everything into consideration—and we mean everything.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in omens or not. There are a lot of potential home buyers who do, which means seeing a bad token could be a complete deal breaker, no matter how much they love your home.

Click through to find out what some of the more common bad omens are, so you can get to work clearing them out of your space.

Can’t miss tip: Those adorable rocking chairs on your front porch might seem like a warm welcome to you, but if the wind blows and they rock, it may send some home shoppers running. Thankfully, there’s something you can do to keep it from happening, without moving your chairs to the garage.

First-Time Home Buyer Confessions: ‘How We Beat 32 Offers and Got the House’

Here’s how one couple beat out 32 other buyers—without offering the most money.

Julie Migliacci

Every home buyer’s worst nightmare is finding a dream house and having to battle other buyers for it. But what if there were 32 other buyers?

That’s exactly what happened to these buyers, and they came out victorious—even without placing the highest bid. Keep reading to find out exactly how they made it happen.

Can’t miss tip: Today’s real estate market is very fast-moving in many areas, which means there’s very little time (if any) between viewing a house you love and placing an offer. Study up on the neighborhoods you’re shopping in, so you’re ready to make an informed decision on the spot.

5 Coronavirus Real Estate Myths Everyone Thinks Are True—Debunked

coronavirus real estate myths
Don’t believe everything you hear—including these coronavirus real estate myths.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

It’s true that COVID-19 has turned the real estate market on its head, but that doesn’t mean you should believe everything you hear. In fact, falling for some of the real estate myths may cause a potential home buyer or seller to miss out on a golden opportunity. Read on to find out what’s being said, and what’s actually factual.

Can’t miss tip: You may have heard that home prices are plummeting because of COVID-19, meaning it’s not a good time to list your house. In actuality, the opposite is true thanks to low interest rates.

5 Weird Reality Checks You’ll Get If You Buy a Country Home

buying a home in the country
Buying a home in the country is not always as peaceful as you might think.

Akabei / Getty Images

Due to the pandemic, this year found many city dwellers moving out of the city into quieter, less populated areas. That means sprawling yards, quiet neighbors, dark nights, and lots of peace, right? Truth be told, country life isn’t always idyllic. In fact, it has some strange quirks that you may not expect.

Find out what happened when one city dweller bought a rural home and discovered that even in the country, things can get weird.

Can’t miss tip: Country living is all about co-existing with woodland critters, so if you move out of the city, be prepared to share your space—both inside and out—with deer, mice, and other wildlife.

The post The Best Real Estate Advice of 2020: How the Pandemic Transformed Housing This Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How Tapping Home Equity Can Pay the Taxes on a Roth IRA Conversion

Single Family Home with Beige Clapboard Exterior and Trees in Autumn Colors (Foliage) in Sleepy Hollow, Hudson Valley, New York. OlegAlbinsky/iStock

The benefits of incorporating a Roth IRA into your retirement strategy are often praised by financial advisers, citing the ability for money to grow tax-free for decades and provide tax-free income in retirement. While a Roth IRA conversion is one way to take advantage of this savings tool, the tax implications of converting investments from a traditional retirement account to a Roth IRA typically deter most people. Yet the effects of new legislation and persistent market volatility make a Roth IRA conversion worth considering, and paying for it doesn’t have to break the bank.

A Roth IRA conversion uses assets from a traditional or rollover IRA, 401(k), SEP or Simple IRA to fund a Roth IRA. Unlike regular contributions to a Roth IRA, which are constrained by income limitations and annual contribution caps, there are no restrictions when converting retirement assets to a Roth IRA. Any amount can be converted regardless of your age, income, or employment status. But the Roth IRA conversion doesn’t come without a cost.

When you convert pre-tax assets in a traditional retirement account to your Roth IRA, the conversion is treated as income and you must pay taxes on the assets converted. The amount you pay in taxes depends on your income tax bracket for the year. In some cases, a substantial conversion in one year could boost taxable income by multiple brackets. To help manage that liability, a series of partial conversions over several years could be planned to keep the distributions within a targeted tax bracket.

For many retirees, income from a traditional IRA or 401(k) can create a tax headache, especially when required minimum distributions (RMDs) raise their tax bracket. That’s where a Roth IRA comes in.

A Roth IRA provides the flexibility to take tax-free withdrawals in retirement when you want and in whatever amount you want. This is unlike other retirement accounts that have RMDs beginning at age 72. The RMDs are taxable income, which means that in addition to your tax bracket they can also impact your Medicare premium bracket and the taxation of your Social Security benefit, whereas distributions from the Roth IRA will not.

This year the CARES Act temporarily pauses RMDs from traditional retirement accounts. So, if you are 72 or older and you don’t take your RMD then your income will be lower. This provides a potential opportunity to make a larger conversion while maintaining the same income tax rate.

Additionally, since the Secure Act of 2020 eliminated the stretch provisions for inherited retirement plans, the Roth IRA is also a great estate planning tool. Non-spousal heirs can no longer take distributions over their life expectancy, but rather all distributions must be taken within 10 years. While this is true as well for an inherited Roth IRA, the distribution would not be a taxable event.

The cost of an IRA conversion can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Conventional wisdom is to pay the resulting tax bill with non-taxable assets from outside the retirement plan. Using plan assets would defeat the purpose of the conversion as you will permanently give up a portion of the capital that is accumulating on a tax-free basis. In addition, if you’re under age 59 ½, the portion of plan assets used to pay for the conversion could also be subject to a 10% tax penalty.

If you have the cash on hand, that’s likely the best way to cover the tax implications. But depending on the size of the conversion and your tax bracket, the up-front costs could be significant. Another option is to take out a loan against your life insurance policy. While this permanently reduces the policy value if not repaid, the loan doesn’t count as taxable income so long as the policy isn’t surrendered, doesn’t lapse, and the amount owed doesn’t exceed the premiums paid. If any of these do occur then the tax implications will likely be even larger than the taxes paid on the Roth IRA conversion.

Considering a reverse mortgage

Alternatively, tapping into your home equity can provide the means to pay the taxes. You could leverage current low interest rates and get a home equity line of credit (HELOC), though many banks have stopped accepting applications for HELOCs in recent months. Additionally, a HELOC will require a monthly mortgage payment, decreasing your cash flow.

For homeowners age 62 or older, a reverse mortgage could pay the tax liabilities from the Roth IRA conversion, creating tax and cash-flow flexibility and potentially a higher net worth.

With a reverse mortgage, the available line of credit grows and compounds at a value that is tied to current interest rates. This can be particularly beneficial with a series of partial Roth IRA conversions as it provides a growing resource to pay future tax bills. The line of credit also provides flexibility to convert a greater portion of your retirement assets during market plunges, so you only pay taxes on the lower value at the time of the conversion and not on any gains in the Roth IRA when the markets recover.

Since there are no principal or interest payments required for as long as you live in your home, the line of credit from a reverse mortgage provides the liquidity to pay for the Roth IRA conversion with no impact on household cash flow or the need to sell other invested assets.

A good rule of thumb is to use a reverse mortgage if your home equity is less than or equal to the value of the retirement assets you plan to convert. If the home represents a major portion of your net worth, a reverse mortgage may not be the best option to cover the tax bill. In this case, the reverse could better serve as a tax-free source of supplemental income, or to pay for in-home care, or other retirement expenses that distributions from the smaller invested assets may not be able to cover.

Evaluating the use of a reverse mortgage also depends on the projected costs in comparison with the projected returns. For example, if interest rates on a reverse line of credit are at 3%, and your home appreciates at a 3% rate, you could borrow 50% of your home equity and still maintain a 50% retained equity position throughout the duration of the loan. Even if the home only appreciated at a 1% rate, you would still have a retained equity position.

Projected returns on the Roth IRA conversion would also need to be evaluated. For simplicity’s sake, let us assume you borrow a total of $250,000 from your reverse line of credit to pay the tax bills on $1 million conversion. If you accrue interest on the line of credit balance at a 3% rate and the Roth IRA grows at a 6% tax-free rate, the return could be quite compelling over time.

Of course, there are no guarantees on any projections, which is why you should consult a financial professional and evaluate your specific situation. A number of “what if” scenarios should be considered including changes in interest and tax rates, home and investment growth rates, and legacy desires. These considerations will help determine if using a reverse mortgage to take advantage of the benefits of a Roth IRA conversion could be a retirement strategy that makes sense for you.

The post How Tapping Home Equity Can Pay the Taxes on a Roth IRA Conversion appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt?

Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.

Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.

Check Your Eligibility

Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:

  • Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
  • Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.

To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.

Assess Your Current Financial Situation

Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.

However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.

Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk

Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.

Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.

The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.

Pros:

  • Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
  • Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
  • Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
  • Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.

Cons:

  • Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
  • Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
  • Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
  • Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.

1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates

Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.

2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending

Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.

3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt

Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.

4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt

If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.

5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card

If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.

6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing

To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.

As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.

This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.

Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.

The post Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Average credit card interest rates: Week of January 6, 2021

The average credit card interest rate is 16.05%.

After a historic 2020 caused credit card rates to plunge by more than one and a quarter percentage points between December 2019 and December 2020, the national average credit card APR began 2021 near a three-year-low. For the sixth consecutive week, average rates on brand-new credit cards remained at 16.05%, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

None of the cards included in the weekly rate report revised new APRs this week. As a result, consumers shopping for a new card continued to enjoy some of the lowest average rates available to borrowers since 2017.

Slow start to 2021 may signal stable year for credit card rates

Changes to new credit card offers have become relatively rare in recent months as most lenders tracked by CreditCards.com leave card APRs untouched.

Last spring, nearly all major lenders except for Capital One, cut APRs on all brand-new cards by 1.5 percentage points – in tandem with the Federal Reserve’s emergency rate cuts. The Fed chopped its benchmark interest to near zero in March in response to economic weakening from the coronavirus pandemic. When the Federal Reserve revises its benchmark interest rate, most lenders revise APRs on new and current offers by the same amount.

Since March, few lenders have independently revised APRs. With federal interest rates as low as they can go, widespread rate changes have also stopped completely and are unlikely to return any time soon.

As a result, the national average card APR has stubbornly remained within rounding distance of 16% since spring, budging by less than a tenth of a percentage point between April and December.

Over the past seven months, in particular, card APRs have been especially stable. Among the 100 card offers tracked weekly by CreditCards.com, for example, only a handful of card offers have changed since early summer.

A small number of credit card lenders hiked APRs on select cards in the last few quarters of 2020 after briefly matching the Fed’s emergency rate cuts.

For example, Wells Fargo, Citi and American Express all matched the Fed’s rate cuts. But they each later bumped up the APRs on some of their most popular cash back and balance transfer cards within months of cutting rates. In most cases, though, the lenders only hiked rates on one or a few cards.

Meanwhile, an even smaller number of lenders tracked by CreditCards.com pushed up APRs on select subprime and retail credit cards. For example, U.S. Bank substantially increased the APR on its primary secured credit card, while the retailers Nordstrom and Cabela’s hiked APRs on their namesake store cards.

The changes to new credit card offers were too few and far between, though, to significantly dent the national average.

See related: Best credit cards

Borrowers are likely to enjoy low rates for some time

The relative stability in rates echoes previous post-recession years when federal interest rates were at rock bottom. Between 2010 and 2015, for example, lenders rarely revised the lowest available APR on brand-new cards. As a result, the national average card APR – which is based on cards’ lowest available rates – remained within rounding distance of 15% for more than six years.

The Federal Reserve has signaled that it will likely leave its benchmark interest rate near rock bottom for at least another year. So new cardholders likely have some time to pay off their debt before higher interest rates kick in.

See related: How do credit card APRs work?

CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report

Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 16.05% 16.05% 16.03%
Low interest 12.77% 12.77% 12.83%
Cash back 15.85% 15.85% 16.09%
Balance transfer 13.85% 13.85% 13.93%
Business 13.91% 13.91% 13.91%
Student 16.12% 16.12% 16.12%
Airline 15.53% 15.53% 15.48%
Rewards 15.76% 15.76% 15.82%
Instant approval 18.38% 18.38% 18.65%
Bad credit 25.30% 25.30% 24.43%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. issuers and representing every card category listed above. (Introductory, or teaser, rates are not included in the calculation.)
Source: CreditCards.com
Updated: January 6, 2021

Historic interest rates by card type

Some credit cards charge even higher rates, on average. The type of rate you get will depend in part on the category of credit card you own. For example, even the best travel credit cards often charge higher rates than basic, low interest credit cards.

CreditCards.com has been calculating average rates for a wide variety of credit card categories, including student cards, balance transfer cards, cash back cards and more, since 2007.

How to get a low credit card interest rate

Your odds of getting approved for a card’s lowest rate will increase the more you improve your credit score. Some factors that influence your credit card APR will be out of your control, such as the length of time you’ve been handling credit.

However, even if you’re new to credit or are rebuilding your score, there are steps you can take to ensure a lower APR. For example:

  1. Pay your bills on time. The single most important factor influencing your credit score – and your ability to win a lower rate – is your track record of making on-time payments. Lenders are more likely to trust you with a competitive APR – and other positive terms, such as a big credit limit – if you have a lengthy history of paying your bills on time.
  2. Keep your balances low. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible with your credit and don’t overcharge. As a result, credit scores take into account the amount of credit you’re using, compared to how much credit you’ve been given. This is known as your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your ratio, the better. For example, personal finance experts often recommend that you keep your balances well below 30% of your total credit limit.
  3. Build a lengthy and diverse credit history. Lenders also like to see that you’ve been successfully using credit for a long time and have experience with different types of credit, including revolving credit and installment loans. As a result, credit scores, such as the FICO score and VantageScore, factor in the average length of your credit history and the types of loans you’ve handled (which is known as your credit mix). To keep your credit history as long as possible, continue to use your oldest credit card so your lender doesn’t close it.
  4. Call your lender. If you’ve successfully owned a credit card for a long time, you may be able to convince your lender to lower your interest rate – especially if you have excellent credit. Reach out to your lender and ask if they’d be willing to negotiate a lower APR.
  5. Monitor your credit report. Check your credit reports regularly to make sure you’re being accurately scored. The last thing you want is for a mistake or unauthorized account to drag down your credit score. You have the right to check your credit reports from each major credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Source: creditcards.com