When you’re setting up a home office for remote work, keep these key principles from ergonomic experts in mind. Your body—and your productivity—will thank you.
Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.
But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”
Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:
Strive for an ergonomically correct home office
Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.
If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.
As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.
“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”
There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.
“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”
Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?
Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace
When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.
If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.
Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.
But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.
“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.
In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.
Establish the ideal setup for your workstation
Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.
“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”
If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.
If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.
“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”
Choose your furniture wisely
Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.
If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.
When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.
The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.
That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.
It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.
One more chair takeaway from Loesing?
“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”
Adjust your furniture and equipment
As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.
While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:
Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.
If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”
When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.
While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.
“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”
Stand if it suits you
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.
“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”
You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.
Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.
For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.
Don’t forget the ambience and accessories
Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.
Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.
As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.
Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.
After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.
One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.
Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive
Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.
Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.
Imagine this: You’ve gone to collegeâeven grad schoolâto pursue a career path you always thought you wanted. But after a few years and many tuition dollars spent, it suddenly hits you: If you have to write one more press release, it might push you over the edge. If this is the case, it’s time to prepare for a career change.
Transitioning careers is not unusual. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the American Staffing Association, 38 percent of working adults say they are likely to change careers within the next year. The only problem is, if you are unsure of how to make a career change and whether it will be financially sound, you might be hesitant to make the leap.
âNo one wants to change careers without knowing the chances of success,” says Mark Anthony Dyson, host of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, a show designed to help those in career transition. “Adequate preparation can make all the difference.”
âPreparation in every formâfrom updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling careerâwill be a huge factor in your career-change success.â
“How do I make a big career change with this adequate preparation,” you ask?
Learning how to prepare for a career change financially and finding out which skills you’ll need in your new career are great places to start. Take these steps to understand your career intentions, then determine the best financial strategies for achieving them:
Figure out if a career change is right for you
Before preparing for a career change, start by doing an honest self-assessment on whether or not a switch is right for you. This is important, says Dyson, because you’ll want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of changing careers versus exploring a job transition within your current field. Doing the latter might make more sense for you if you aren’t quite ready to go through a full-blown career transition. Either way, taking the time for self-reflection will help you get to your desired career path sooner.
When you are thinking about how to make a career change and if it’s the right time for you, Dyson suggests asking yourself these questions:
What are the professional and financial impacts if I stay on my current career path? A quick list of pros and cons might help your analysis.
Are there other opportunities in my current field that I haven’t yet considered? Talk to a human resources professional or research online to understand the qualifications, salaries and opportunities for advancement within your area of expertise.
What does my ideal career look like?
Do I currently have the skills and experience that can transfer to a new career?
What are the possible financial and professional outcomes if my new career doesn’t work out?
Kelan Kline, a jail deputy turned personal finance blogger for The Savvy Couple, felt stifled by his previous job and the limitations it imposed on his time. He believed that in order to achieve career growth and increase his money-making potential, he would have to change careers. “I knew I was done working for others altogether,” Kline adds.
You may not think you have the skills and experience necessary to transition into a new career, but a tip to prepare for a career change is to consider the skills that have led to your career success thus far. That’s what 10-year human resources veteran Lisa Cassella did when she decided a new career direction was in order and wanted to follow her passion for real estate.
“As hiring and program manager for a senior living facility, I met face-to-face with with people everyday,” says Cassella, now a licensed real estate salesperson for the brokerage firm Compass. “Sometimes you have to have some difficult conversations,” she continues. “It’s the same in real estate. But for the most part, you are helping peopleâwhich is what I enjoy and a strong connection between both careers.”
Sasha Korobov, a career and success strategist, agrees that a tip for preparing for a career change is to use your current skills as a foundation for a new career. Having undergone a career change herself, she advises people to âreally think about what you want to do next, and see if you can start getting those skills and experience in the job you’re already in.”
Once you understand your motives and capabilities, you’ll have the groundwork for what needs to come next: smart ways to financially support yourself through the transition.
Prepare yourself financially for making the switch
One of the best things you can do when figuring out how to make a career change is to have a financial plan. Depending on how you approach your career change, the steps that you take to move to a new industry could impact your finances in various ways.
For example, when you start out in a new industry, you might be taking a lower level position than what you had in your previous career. This may come with a dip in income, for which you will need to adjust your budget as you progress in your new career.
If you plan to take any time off before you make the switch, you may experience a gap in income. “You have to think about how many months of income you need to save to get over that hump,” Cassella says. Cassella planned in advance so that she had at least six months of income in the bank before she made the switch to her new career.
Another consideration when you prepare for a career change is whether there is a cost investment required in moving to the new career you have chosen. For example, you might need to spend money on additional education, training, certifications and other measures before you can move into your new role. Your financial plan will have to consider dips in income that could occur if you need to reduce your hours or quit working in order to get the training and education your new career requires, Korobov says. Cassella had to get licensed before moving into real estate sales. She quit her job and took a two-week course, then immediately took the state test.
If your career change means starting your own business venture, you may have to prepare for all of the financial scenarios mentioned above. Your income might decrease as you establish your own business and gain traction, for instance. You might also have to pay for things that were once provided to you by an employer, such as supplies, computer equipment, software and health insurance.
Because of these potential challenges, having a savings plan is key when considering tips to prepare for a career change.
Fine-tune your savings to prepare for a career change
No matter which path you choose, preparing for a career change may present you with some financial risk. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have savings set aside to manage the transition. With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change, says finance blogger Kline.
Here are Kline’s tips to prepare for a career change and the areas he focused on most when he prepared for his professional move:
Reduce unnecessary expenses. As you work on how to make a career change, consider cutting back on discretionary spending such as eating out, entertainment and vacations, and set that money aside for your career change. Don’t already have a budget to track your expenses? Now is the perfect time to start one.
Pick the right type of savings account. You’ll want to put the money you save from reducing your expenses into the best type of account to support your career transition. A high-yield savings account, such as the Discover Online Savings Account, will help you grow your savings. For a long-term savings strategy, a Discover Certificate of Deposit might be a great fit.
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Start an emergency fund. Similar to establishing a budget and picking a savings account, if you haven’t already started an emergency fund, now is the time to create one (or add to it if you already have some momentum with your rainy day savings). An emergency fund can help you prepare for unexpected expenses and the financial risks involved in changing careers. Experts suggest that you keep at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.
Pay down debt. If you are able to pay down debt, such as student loan and credit card debt, it will free up cash to save toward your career transition. Pay more than the monthly minimum to reduce or eliminate the debt altogether as you prepare for a career change.
With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change.
Approach your new career at a gradual pace
For some, a slower transition, with moonlighting or side hustling until they are ready to go full time, has proven effective. When Jeff Neal started his online retail site selling bait and live feeders, he was still a full-time project manager in e-commerce, but not passionate about his day-to-day. He was able to use his skills from this position to build his own online ventures.
Neal says he started his online business as a side hustle, with the intention of always having a full-time job keeping his household afloat. He has now been able to transition into being a full-time internet entrepreneur.
Korobov, the career and success strategist, also started to prepare for her career change with a part-time entrepreneurial venture that grew out of corporate coaching. “I wanted to go into business for myself as a career strategist for women, and I knew that having corporate coaching experience would fast-track my credibility with a lot of potential clients,” she says.
“I began offering workshops and brown-bag lunches at my office,” Korobov continues. This experience was a valuable lesson for Korobov in how to make a career change, helping her boost her confidence and allowing her to tweak her workshops as she got more experience.
One of Korobov’s biggest tips to prepare for a career change that she learned firsthand: “Your entrepreneurial ventures, even if done part-time, can make the transition into your career smoother, while giving you extra income to help with your financial preparation process.”
Ensure your path to career-change success
Making a career change can seem like a huge risk, since you don’t really know if it will work out in your favor. But with research and readiness, you can confidently prepare for a career change. Dyson, of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, can’t emphasize enough that âpreparation in every formâfrom updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling careerâwill be a huge factor in your career-change success.”
Understanding your goals and expectationsâand trusting your gutâbefore you begin is a big step in the right direction. Says Cassella of her move into real estate: “It just made a lot of sense for me and my family. My expectations are that once I really get going, there is no limit to what I can make.”
The post Taking the Leap: How to Make a Career Change and Land on Your Feet appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
If youâve got savings goals on your mind, then you know they come in all sizes and time horizons.
As you consider all of your options for hitting those goalsâfrom savings accounts to stocks and bonds to stuffing your cash under the mattressâcertificates of deposit stand out among the pack thanks to their competitive rates and safety.
âThe reason that people are really drawn to CDs is that you can get a higher return than you would get in either a traditional checking account or traditional savings account,â says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
Steady returns, in fact, are among the top benefits of CDs. Plus, Palmer adds that CDs are usually FDIC-insured, typically up to $250,000 for each depositor (or the maximum allowed by law).
With all those benefits in mind, you might still be wondering if a CD is the right fit for your savings strategy. So, what is a certificate of deposit and how does it work?
What is a certificate of deposit?
A certificate of deposit provides a guaranteed rate of return (the interest rate) on your money as long as you agree not to withdraw the funds you deposited (the principal) until after a specified amount of time (the term).
âItâs best for someone who doesnât need their money immediately,â Palmer says. âIn exchange for that longer period of time where your money is inaccessible, you earn a higher return.â
How does a certificate of deposit work?
Before you can start using certificates of deposit to keep your savings growing at a fixed rate, it helps to know how CDs work. Itâs time to familiarize yourself with this one-of-a-kind savings product.
âThe reason that people are really drawn to CDs is that you can get a higher return than you would get in either a traditional checking account or traditional savings account.â
CD minimum deposit
While you can find savings accounts with no minimum deposit requirement, most banks require a minimum deposit to open a certificate of deposit. As you learn how certificates of deposit work, note that minimum deposits can vary depending on the financial institution, but at Discover itâs $2,500.
Once you open a CD, your money grows until it matures at the end of its term. Discover CD terms start at three months, and the longest term available is 10 years.
In addition to getting a higher rate than you can on many savings accounts, CD rates are fixed, which means thereâs no risk of the rate going down during the term. (Keep in mind they canât go up, either.) Generally, the longer the CD term, the higher the interest rate you can lock in for your money.
CD early withdrawal penalty
Understanding CD early withdrawal penalties is key to answering the âHow does a certificate of deposit work?â question.
You can typically find competitive rates for CDs because your financial institution is counting on having that money for the full term. For that reason, if you pull out any money in your CD before the term ends, you could be hit with a penalty.
The early withdrawal penalty often depends on the length of the CDâs term, and itâs a good idea to check with your bank to understand its specific withdrawal penalties.
Got the gist of what a certificate of deposit is? Now itâs time to put this account to work toward your unique savings goals.
How can you use CDs in your own savings strategy?
Because CDs are offered across a wide range of terms, you have the opportunity to get creative with how you take advantage of them. Whether your savings goals are big or small, long- or short-term, thereâs a CD savings strategy that will work for you.
Using CDs for short-term goals (less than three years)
âCDs are good for short-term or near-term liquidity needs,â says Philip Gibson, an associate professor of finance.
Letâs say you want to have money ready to spend on an engagement ring a year from now. Putting that money into the stock market could be risky, because if there were a market dip, youâd be out of luckâand you wouldnât be the only one disappointed!
Instead, Gibson says, you can put that money into a 12-month CD and ensure that it will be there a year from now.
How does a certificate of deposit work out to be a better short-term option than cash, you ask? Money within a CD will have grown thanks to the competitive interest rate. Cash, Gibson points out, typically loses value over time due to inflation.
However, CDs arenât ideal for storing cash that you might need at a momentâs notice. Remember: If you pull out your money from a CD before the end of its term, you could be on the hook for an early withdrawal penalty. If quick access is a priority, youâd be better off using a checking account or savings account.
Using CDs for medium-term goals (3-5 years)
CDs can be an effective way to save for medium-term goals, but you need to choose your CD term wisely.
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âYou want to make sure the CD term you choose matches the time horizon of your goal,â Palmer says.
For example, if youâll need that money for a down payment on a home in three years, it would make sense to put your money into a CD with a three-year term. A three-year CD would likely give you a higher return than a one- or two-year CD, and your money will be accessible when you are ready to buy a house.
Palmer adds that because money in CDs is only accessible after they mature at the end of their terms, youâll want to make sure you have three to six months of emergency savings available for unexpected short-term needs before opening a CD with a three- to five-year term.
Using CDs for longer-term goals and retirement
The longer your time horizon for your goals, the more time you have to take advantage of the power of compounding in a CD. Plus, given how certificates of deposit work, longer terms usually have higher interest rates.
If youâre looking even further ahead to retirement, you can open an IRA CD. IRA CDs give you the same reliable growth of regular CDs with the tax advantages of IRAs.
Using a CD ladder to support multiple goals
While the above examples show how CDs work to save for specific financial goals, there is a way to use CDs to continually grow your savings as you reach multiple savings goals with varying time horizons. At the same time, with this strategy you can:
Keep your funds liquid.
Take advantage of interest rates if they go up.
Lock in the higher CD rates associated with longer terms.
Itâs called a CD ladder, and Palmer says this CD strategy is growing in popularity among savvy savers.
With a CD ladder, you donât try to guess exactly when youâll need your funds to be available. Instead, you open multiple CDs with varying maturity dates.
âYou might have one CD that matures in six months, one that matures in a year and then another in 18 months,â Palmer says. âThat means that the terms keep coming due, and you continually have access to your money.â
Every time a new CD matures, you have the option of putting that money toward something you have been saving for, such as a house.
If you arenât ready to use that money when a CD matures, then you simply open a new CD with a longer term than any CDs you currently have. That new CD is added to the âladder,â and your money grows at longer-term rates as older CDs approach maturity.
Once you get into a groove with a CD ladder, you can enjoy all the benefits of CDs without worrying about finding a single CD that perfectly matches up with your financial goals.
Ready to get started with a CD?
Now that you have a handle on what a certificate of deposit is and how CDs can work for you, itâs time to get your savings plan started.
Learn how a Discover Certificate of Deposit can help you reach your savings goals, with flexible terms from three months to 10 years.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post This is How CDs Workâand How You Can Use Them to Grow Your Savings appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
So youâre at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. Youâre scrimping. Youâre saving. Youâre dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.
But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?
Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.
So, how do you think through this decision? Youâll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, youâll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.
This process will take some time, but itâs well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, youâll be able to confidently go forth knowing youâre making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.
Honestly assess these aspects of your finances
Financial security is always important if youâre trying to determine when youâre ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:
How secure is your income?
Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when youâre thinking of buying a house right now.
If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that youâll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.
If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.
Do you have enough money saved?
After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor youâll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, itâs not necessaryâfar from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.
How much house can you afford?
The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesnât stretch you too thinâexperts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.
With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.
How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance andâif you donât have the savings to put down 20%âprimary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.
Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. Youâll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.
Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether itâs a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you donât want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.
How is your credit?
Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate youâre offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.
What is your debt-to-income ratio?
Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lowerâin the 33% to 36% range.
Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If youâre renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.
After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when youâre ready to buy a home and whether nowâs the time for you to dip into the market.
Consider key market factors
Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.
Where are housing prices?
As youâre looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.
Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventoryâmeaning the fewer houses availableâthe higher prices will be, Tucker says.
Whatâs going on with interest rates?
When youâre ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because youâre spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.
This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are lowâyou get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.
How does employment look nationally?
Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headedâif prices will drop or rise soonâcheck out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.
But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.
You donât need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.
Think about your future plans
After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.
âFor buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,â Ziegler says. âIf theyâre just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.â
Itâs unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.
That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?
While youâre thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?
These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and itâs not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, youâll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.
If youâve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, itâs time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.
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