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Category: Financial Planning

Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

The post Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Is a Jumbo Loan? Finance Your Property in a Competitive Market

After years of building a stellar credit history, you may have decided you’re finally ready to invest in that vacation home, but you don’t have quite enough in the bank for that eye-catching property just yet. Maybe you want to begin your investment journey early so you don’t have to spend years bulking up your life’s savings.

If an aspiring luxury homeowner can’t sufficiently invest in a property with a standard mortgage loan, there’s an alternative form of financing: a jumbo mortgage. This mortgage allows those with a strong financial history who may not necessarily be a billionaire to get in on the luxury property market. But what is a jumbo mortgage (commonly known as a jumbo loan), and how exactly does it work?

Jumbo Loan Definition

A jumbo loan is a mortgage loan whose value is greater than the maximum amount of a traditional conforming loan. This threshold is determined by government-sponsored enterprises (GSE), such as Fannie Mae (FHMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC). Jumbo loans are for high-valued properties, like mansions, luxury housing, and homes in high-income areas. Since jumbo loan limits fall above GSE standards, they aren’t guaranteed or secured by the government. As a result, jumbo loans are riskier for borrowers than conforming mortgage loans.

Jumbo loans are meant for those who may earn a high salary but aren’t necessarily “wealthy” yet. Lenders typically appreciate this specific group because they tend to have solid wealth management histories and make better use of financial services, ensuring less of a risk for the private investor.

Due to the uncertain nature of a jumbo loan, borrowers need to present an extensive, secure credit history, as well as undergo a more meticulous vetting process if they’re considering taking out a jumbo loan. Also, while jumbo loans can come in handy for those without millions in savings, potential borrowers must still present adequate income documentation and an up-front payment from their cash assets.

Like conforming loans, jumbo loans are available at fixed or adjustable rates. Interest rates on jumbo loans are traditionally much higher than those on conforming mortgage loans. This has slowly started shifting over the last few years, with some jumbo loan rates even leveling out with or falling below conforming loan rates. For example, Bank of America’s 2021 estimates for a 5/1 adjustable-rate jumbo loan were equivalent to the same rate for a 5/1 adjustable conforming loan.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has set the new baseline limit for a conforming loan to $548,250 for 2021, which is an increase of nearly $40,000 since 2020. This new conforming loan limit provides the new minimum jumbo loan limits for 2021 for the majority of the United States. As the FHFA adjusts its estimates for median home values in the U.S., these limits adjust proportionally and apply to most counties in the U.S.

Certain U.S. counties and territories maintain jumbo loan limits that are even higher than the FHFA baseline, due to median home values that are higher than the baseline conforming loan limits. In states like Alaska and Hawaii, territories like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and counties in select states, the minimum jumbo loan limit is $822,375, which is 150 percent of the rest of the country’s loan limit.

Jumbo Loan Rates for 2021

Ultimately, your jumbo loan limits and rates will depend on home values and how competitive the housing market is in the area where you’re looking to invest.

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan: Pros and Cons

The biggest question you might be asking yourself is “do the risks of a jumbo loan outweigh the benefits?” While jumbo loans can be a useful home financing resource, sometimes it makes more sense to aim for a property that a conforming loan would cover instead. Here are some pros and cons of jumbo loans that might make your decision easier.
Pros:

  • Solid investment strategy: Jumbo loans allow the investor to get a solid jump-start in the luxury real estate market, which can serve as a beneficial long-term asset.
  • Escape GSE restrictions: Jumbo loan limits are set to exceed those decided by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, so borrowers have more flexibility regarding constraints they would deal with under a conforming loan.
  • Variety in rates (fixed, adjustable, etc.): Though jumbo loan rates differ from conforming loan rates in many ways, they still offer similar options for what kinds of rates you want. Both offer 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed, 5/1 adjustable, and numerous other options for rates.

Cons:

  • Usually higher interest rates: Though jumbo loans are known for their higher interest rates, the discrepancies between those and conforming loan rates are starting to lessen each year.
  • More meticulous approval process: To secure a jumbo loan, you must have a near air-tight financial history, including a good credit score and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Higher initial deposit: Even though jumbo loans exist for those who are not able to finance a luxury property from savings alone, they still require a higher cash advance than a conforming loan.

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan- Pros and Cons

How To Qualify for a Jumbo Loan

As we mentioned before, jumbo loans require quite a bit more from you in the application process than a conforming loan would.

First and foremost, most jumbo lenders require a FICO credit score of somewhere around 700 or higher, depending on the lender. This ensures your lender that your financial track record is stable and trustworthy and that you don’t have any history of late or missed payments.

In addition to the amount of cash you have sitting in the bank, jumbo lenders will also look for ample documentation of your income source(s). This could include tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and any documentation of secondary income. By requiring extensive documentation, lenders can determine your ability to make a sufficient down payment on your mortgage, as well as the likelihood that you will be able to make your payments on time. Usually lenders require enough cash assets to make around a 20 percent down payment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, lenders will also require that you have maintained a low level of debt compared to your gross monthly income. A low debt-to-income ratio, combined with a high credit score and sufficient assets, will have you on your way to securing that jumbo loan in no time.

Furthermore, you will also likely need to get an appraisal to verify the value of the desired property, in order to ensure that the property is valued highly enough that you will actually qualify for a jumbo loan.

Key Takeaways:

  • Jumbo loans provide a solid alternative to those with a steady financial history who want to invest in luxury properties but don’t have enough in the bank yet.
  • A jumbo loan qualifies as any amount exceeding the FHFA’s baseline conforming loan limit: $548,250 in 2021.
  • Jumbo loan rates are typically higher than those of conforming loans, although the gap between the two has begun to close within the last decade.
  • To secure a jumbo loan, one must meet stringent financial criteria, including a high credit score, a low DTI, and the ability to make a sizable down payment.

For any financially responsible individual, it’s important to always maintain that responsibility in any investment. Each decision made should be carefully thought out, and you should keep in mind any future implications.

While jumbo loans can be a valuable stepping stone to success in competitive real estate, always make sure your income and budget are in a secure position before deciding to invest. You always want to stay realistic, and if you aren’t interested in spending a few more years saving or financing through a conforming loan, then a jumbo loan may be for you!

Sources: Investopedia | Bank of America | Federal Housing Finance Agency

The post What Is a Jumbo Loan? Finance Your Property in a Competitive Market appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Best Time to Buy a Car

Timing is everything and when it comes to buying a car, that saying couldn’t be more true. Negotiating and haggling with car salesmen can reduce the price of what you have to pay for a new whip. But if you want to get the best deal on a car, you’ll need to know when to show up to the dealership. Whether you’re buying a used vehicle or a brand new ride, we’ll tell you the best time of year to buy a car. Being that the purchase of a car is rather pricey, consider meeting with a financial advisor in your area to discuss your finances beforehand.

When Is the Best Time to Buy a New Car?

If you’re on a budget, one of the best times to buy a new car is the end of a model season. New car models are often introduced each year between late summer and early fall. While you might miss out on some new features, buying a new car in August or early September may save you some money.

Waiting until the end of the year to buy a new car can work in your favor as well. Many car dealers offer year-end sales in an effort to get rid of older vehicles and make room for new inventory. Buying a new car on a holiday like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve is another way to get a deep discount.

If you can’t wait until December to get a new car, you might want to buy a car at the end of the month or the end of a quarter. If a salesperson hasn’t sold very many vehicles in weeks, he or she might be willing to compromise and lower the price of the car you want to buy. Even if a salesman has managed to sell multiple cars throughout the month, he might want to close one last deal in order to meet a sales goal or score a bonus.

Shopping for a car at the end of the day may or may not be effective. If you stop by a dealership an hour before it’s set to close, a salesperson may be open to negotiating so that he or she can end the day on a high note. But if he or she is used to working long hours, your sales associate may not be that flexible.

The Best Time to Buy a Used Car

Best Time to Buy a Car

A recent study from iseecars.com ranked the best times to buy a used car. At the top of their list are holidays including Black Friday, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Columbus Day. The months of November and December are also considered good times to purchase a used car.

According to the study, the months of April, May and June are some of the worst times to buy a used car. Specifically, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are bad days for used-car buyers. But the No. 1 worst day to purchase a used car is the Fourth of July.

When Not to Buy a New Car

Generally, one of the worst times to buy a new car is in the spring. During this time of year, you’ll see more people on car lots looking to soak up some sun and cash in their tax refunds. Other bad times to shop for new cars are whenever a particular vehicle is popular among consumers and whenever a new car model has been released.

Some people seem to think that buying a car on a rainy day is a good idea. But that approach usually doesn’t work. In fact, you can expect car dealerships to be filled with people when there’s bad weather simply because people tend to believe that they’ll find great deals on rainy days.

Bottom Line 

Best Time to Buy a Car

The best time of year to buy a car ultimately depends on your personal preferences and how much you’re willing to spend on a vehicle. If you’re rolling in dough and you want your car to have top-of-the-line features and amenities, you might want to buy a car as soon as a new model comes out. But if you’re trying to shave hundreds of dollars off your purchase price, experts say that it’s best to head to the dealership at the end of a period in the fall or winter, like the end of the month, quarter or year.

Our advice? When it comes to buying cars and getting your way at the dealership, it helps to know what you’re looking for. Doing plenty of research and knowing the make and model that you want your car to have can make it easier to figure out when to purchase your new vehicle.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Finances

  • If you find yourself having some financial struggles, perhaps it’s time to have an outside resource step in to help you out. Financial advisors typically have extensive experience in a number of important areas of finance, like tax planning, retirement planning, budget planning and more. SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can set you up with as many as three suitable advisors in just 5 minutes. Get started now.
  • The best way to manage your money on both a short- and long-term scale is to create a firm budget. SmartAsset’s budget calculator can help you figure out exactly where you’re overspending.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/cosmin4000, ©iStock.com/ViewApart, ©iStock.com/kali9

The post When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

The post 7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life

As the dust slowly begins to settle and we observe businesses putting their action plans in place to recover, we all sit and wonder what this may look like for us. How will I recover from this? How am I going to cover these unexpected expenses? How will I increase my earning potential? Whether you’re navigating the muddy waters of being unemployed, furloughed, return to office plans or continue working remotely – we have many things to consider as time continues to quickly progress. How should we handle debt? Are there any more relief programs or funding? How can we pick up the pieces and properly recuperate what may have been lost? Use the tips below to jumpstart your journey of reclaiming your finances.

Identify your financial focuses

Over the course of this year, many financial goals that were initially set needed to be tweaked or came to a screeching halt altogether. While it would be nice if we could rectify the many financial aspirations we have for ourselves and our families all at once, it’s simply not realistic. To alleviate the impounding pressure many have had to experience for a good chunk of time this year, it’s best to identify two to three key areas of focus. Not only does narrowing your focus help direct where your efforts should lie, it removes unnecessary stress so that a plan of attack can be created and executed upon. For example, if you would like to begin rebuilding your emergency fund, savings or simply get caught up on bills and other overhead expenses – make sure the actionable steps you take align with the overarching goal. This helps create tunnel vision to execute on the goal while quieting the noise of things that can be tackled at a later time. You owe it to yourself and your finances to see these goals through to the finish line.

Revisit your budget and make adjustments as necessary

Many think of budgeting like that pesky chore you put off every single week. It’s that ‘thing’ you know needs to be done, but you always find something else to do instead. However, once it’s done – you’re always glad that you did it. Even if you have to have an adult temper tantrum, pull out the pen and paper (once again) to compare your income with expenses. Has your income increased or decreased? Are there expenses that are no longer on the list? Are there certain wants or luxuries that can be temporarily put on hold until things settle down? Take all of these factors into consideration when recalibrating your budget. Since there’s an increased amount of time indoors, are there any spending habits you’ve noticed that have been on the rise? If these questions are not easily answered, commit to reviewing the last few months of your bank statements. Do you notice more to-go food orders? An increased amount of emotional or impulsive purchases? Be honest with yourself and your habits so that you can address and make changes to healthily rebuild your finances.

Adjust debt payoff plan

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to contact your creditors – consider this as a reminder! It’s imperative you maintain an open line of communication with all lenders. These conversations can potentially lead to various options being available to assist you in your debt payoff process. Remember to keep in mind that you are not the only person experiencing financial hardship, so let pride become a thing of the past and be candid. Are there relief options during the pandemic? Are interest rates being lowered because of the current climate? If I were to miss a payment, what are the consequences? Are negative remarks being reported to the credit bureaus? Be very clear in your delivery. There are thousands and thousands of people attempting to pick up the pieces on their money journey. Take some time to check all creditor accounts for the most recent balances. From there, create (or readjust) your plan based on your personal circumstances. If it’s easier to tackle the smallest debt, shift your attention to those accounts. If catching up and restoring good standing with utilities and other overhead expenses need to be addressed first, do that. There is no right or wrong way to approach your plan; just don’t adopt the spirit of avoidance.

Monitor your credit score regularly

There’s been a huge surge in personal data being compromised due to the pandemic. To protect yourself and your credit score, be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report from at least one of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and review regularly. Normally, you are allotted one free credit report every year – however, because of the pandemic you can now request your report weekly at no cost to you until April 2021. We all know there’s a lot on all of our plates, but this can be incorporated in your weekly routine to make sure information stays accurate. During your review if there’s anything that’s false, submit a dispute and be sure to have any supporting documentation that can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, life can present a lot of challenges that we may not be fully prepared for in our ever-changing adulthood journey. This pandemic has shined a light on the areas in our lives that can use some more time, intention and attention. Instead of beating ourselves up about the lack of preparedness, let’s be sure to make adjustments now so no matter what happens with the economy or the state of this country it does not have such a huge, negative impact to our financial goals. Let’s face it – even in the midst of tragedy, this year equipped us with a different level of endurance and resilience. It reminded us what really matters and where our energy should really be dedicated to. Start where you are and do what you can. Refrain from comparing your personal money story to someone else’s. We all have unique situations and obligations that influence our saving and spending plans. Dust yourself off, grant yourself grace and begin a new chapter in your financial journey.

 

The post How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

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