Self-employed? Tips to help you navigate the mortgage process

(BPT) – Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

When you’re self-employed, you often work harder than anyone else you know. That’s what it takes to be your own boss. While rewarding, it comes with a lot of added responsibility. This is especially true when applying for a mortgage.

“Self-employment can complicate the mortgage process for one very simple but critically important reason,” says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. “Lenders need to know you will have the income to afford a loan payment. This sometimes requires people who are self-employed to provide more detailed information and paperwork than those who are traditionally employed.”

Proof of income

It’s not only good business sense for lenders to know a borrower can afford a mortgage before they make a loan, federal law also requires they do so. The evaluation process typically requires fewer steps for people who aren’t self-employed — those who get a salary for working for another person or company. The lender will review the applicant’s total income, existing debt, credit history and score, as well as other factors, and base the decision on that information.

However, when you’re self-employed, proving your income can be more complex. About 10 percent of people working in America are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you’re among those 15 million people, it can be more difficult for you to document your income and prove you can afford to pay back the amount you’re asking to borrow.

“Lenders may ask self-employed applicants to complete a 4506T form, which allows the lender to look at the applicant’s tax documents, including recent income filings,” Hamilton says. “They will also likely request a professionally prepared profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet for the business to show you have steady income throughout the year between tax-filing times.”

Improving your chances of approval

Fortunately, if you’re self-employed, you can take steps to be better prepared when beginning the mortgage application process. Hamilton and the team at Vanderbilt, which specializes in financing mortgages for manufactured homes, offer some tips:

* Before you apply for a loan, pay off as much debt as possible. Mortgage lenders will consider your debt-to-income ratio, which compares your total income to the total amount you owe.

* Save up a substantial down payment.

* Work to improve your credit score by paying all bills on time and reducing your debt. Payment history and credit-utilization ratio (the total credit you have available compared to the amount you’re actually using) are important factors in determining your credit scores.

“Being prepared before you start a mortgage application and getting your finances in order can help make the mortgage process go much smoother,” Hamilton says. “The mortgage application process is just one step on your journey to home ownership, but it’s an important one.”

To learn more about mortgages for manufactured homes, visit www.VMF.com.

All loans subject to credit approval.

Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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Family moving due to flood

Flood insurance: Does your excuse hold water?

(BPT) – We know the old saying: when it rains, it pours… and when it pours, it floods. With winter snow storms coming to an end, the threat of flooding increases as the snow begins to melt and the rivers and creeks begin to swell. It’s easy to forget about how powerfully destructive water can be. In fact, nine out of 10 natural disasters include flood, making it the number one disaster in the United States according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, only 15 percent of homeowners have flood insurance. From 2006 to 2015, total flood claims cost more than $1.9 billion per year and the average claim was more than $46,000 during that time.

“Even just a few inches of water can cause thousands of dollars in property damage,” says Corise Morrison, executive director of underwriting at USAA. “While it’s possible to mitigate flood damage, complete prevention is nearly impossible. If you don’t take the proper precautions, it can be devastating to your family finances.”

For most homeowners, that means looking into flood insurance. But does it make sense for everyone? As an insurance professional, Morrison has heard all the explanations. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about flood insurance:

“Flood is covered by my homeowners insurance policy.”

Typically, flooding is not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. Therefore, homeowners must purchase a separate policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from their insurer. If the homeowner does have flood insurance, it’s important to regularly reevaluate it to ensure it provides adequate coverage.

“Flood insurance is too expensive.”

To emphasize an earlier point, the average cost of a flood claim hovered around $46,000 from 2011 to 2015. The average annual premium for flood insurance in the U.S. is $650, according to NFIP. Do the math.

“I don’t live in a flood plain so I don’t need flood insurance.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency found that as many as 20 percent of flood claims come from moderate-to-low risk areas. These are areas in which lenders don’t require the purchase of flood insurance. However, “less likely” doesn’t equal “no risk.” Complete this quick self-survey: “Does it rain where I am?” If the answer is yes, consider flood insurance because it can flood anywhere it rains.

“Flood insurance won’t provide me with the coverage I need anyway.”

It is true that the NFIP limits coverage of a single residence to $250,000 for the structure and another $100,000 for contents to the home, but they aren’t the only source for coverage. Excess flood coverage can also be purchased above the $250,000 limit.

“I’ll just wait until it rains.”

Sorry to break this to you, but most insurers require a 30-day waiting period before a policy is effective. Unless your own forecasts rival the best science and technology have to offer, it might be wise to stick to the mantra, “better safe than sorry.”

The consequences for being ill prepared for a flood can be long lasting. Research and carefully weigh the risk to you and your property. Chances are that you’ll find that it might be more reasonable than you thought. Visit USAA.com/flood for more tips and information on flood insurance and what to do before, during and after flooding occurs. You can also visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center for more information or to determine your flood risk.

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Husband and wife talking about finances

5 reasons why talking about money can enhance a relationship

(BPT) – Thinking about combining finances with your significant other? Whether you’re getting married or just thinking about getting serious, talking about money can help couples understand each other and avoid unhappy surprises down the road. Here are five reasons why talking about money can enhance a relationship.

It makes couples happier.

Talking about things like spending, saving and debt may sound business-like and unromantic, but financial experts agree that money is a frequent topic of arguments in many relationships. In fact, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association, almost a third of adults with partners reported that money is a major source of conflict in their relationship.

“What I see when talking with couples is that learning how to resolve money disagreements – and there will be disagreements – helps build important relationship skills,” says Daniel Prebish, director of Life Event Services with Wells Fargo Advisors. “Those skills will be valuable both at the beginning of a relationship and likely for a couple’s entire time together.”

It helps couples connect by understanding what’s going on.

Couples should discuss pros and cons of combining finances versus keeping finances separate. According to research by Wells Fargo & Company, about half of couples choose to combine accounts, while the other half prefers separate accounts. Regardless of where you and your significant other fall in this spectrum, both people in a relationship should understand how their financial habits impact – positively or negatively – the life they are building together.

It helps couples track their short and long term financial goals.

Be open with your significant other about your full financial picture. Questions that can help open the door to meaningful conversations include:

1. Are we paying ourselves first?
2. Do we have a safety net?
3. Are we paying all our bills on time, every time?
4. Have we reviewed our insurance needs in the last year?
5. Do we track our spending to know where our money is going every month?
6. Are we paying down high-interest-rate debt first?
7. Do we know where our credit stands?
8. Are we saving for retirement?

It helps couples afford the “extras” that make life fun.

Building a solid financial future shouldn’t mean forsaking enjoying life. When couples have a common understanding of how they’ll prioritize and manage their day-to-day finances like housing costs, grocery and utility bills, it’s easier to figure out where splurges fit in.

It helps avoid financial surprises.

Hearing your friends shout, “happy birthday” is a welcome surprise. What’s not welcome is suddenly discovering you can’t afford to pay this month’s bills or that retirement is farther away than a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Being up front about money issues and sharing complete financial information with your significant other helps avoid financial surprises that can add unnecessary stress to a relationship.

While discussing money may not feel romantic, it certainly is emotional. So how do you get started? Here are tips:

1. Admit the conversation can feel awkward, but commit to having it anyway.

2. Pick a mutually agreeable time. Your candle-lit Valentine’s dinner may not be the right setting. Pre-arranging the conversation will help ensure both people are mentally prepared.

3. Be open with your significant other. Share your values and opinions about spending and savings habits and goals you would like to achieve together.

4. Work at it. Commit to an annual meeting to talk about money, credit and whether you’re on track to achieve your financial goals.

By opening the lines of communication, you can get on the same financial page before joining financial forces.

(This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and Consumer Lending)

Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, separate registered broker-dealers and non-bank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company. Wells Fargo Consumer Lending Group provides products and services through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and its various affiliates and subsidiaries. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

Findings were a part of the 2016 Wells Fargo &Company’s “How American Buys and Borrows” survey. Over 2000 American adults ages 18 and older were surveyed. Survey results were not published in their entirety.

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Learn the basics to avoid cell phone surprises

(BPT) – It’s easy to be overwhelmed when it comes to choosing a cellphone provider. Everyone claims to offer the best, cheapest and most comprehensive service. It can be especially baffling for seniors who, despite boundless wisdom elsewhere, may be newcomers to this technology.

When you boil it down, it’s actually fairly simple. You need two things: a device that does what you need it to do, and a way to connect that device to a reliable wireless network. And there’s no reason you shouldn’t get it all at a price you can afford.

It’s all about the phone.

The type of phone you choose will determine everything else you need. Will you use it primarily to make and receive calls? Do you want to send and receive text messages? Will you be searching the internet or using social media?

Familiarize yourself with the types of phones on the market, and decide which is the best fit. Cellphones range from simple models offering basic call-and-text functions to sophisticated smartphones, capable of performing a mind-boggling array of tasks. Make sure you’re getting what you really need, and don’t tie yourself to something you’ll quickly outgrow.

Coverage is key.

Your cellphone is only as good as the network it connects to. Before you sign up for service, you’ll want to be sure a provider can deliver coverage to the places you’ll be using your phone the most.

While most providers display general coverage maps in their retail stores or on their website, distinctively local things can impact cellphone reception. Your home’s building materials may create interference, or tall buildings standing between your neighborhood and the nearest cellphone tower could disrupt the signal.

Rather than relying solely on a map, ask around. Check if your neighbors are happy with the quality of their cellular service. Or have friends make calls from your house to hear what the reception and sound quality are like. This could go a long way toward narrowing your choices.

Minutes, texts and data: Solving the plan puzzle.

The last piece of the puzzle will be deciding what type of monthly service to sign up for. Cellphone plans are packaged in a dizzying array of formats, but there are three basic types.

Contract plans bound you to a carrier for a fixed term, usually two years. This means if you’re dissatisfied, there’s no opportunity to change until the contract expires without paying a significant penalty. Prepaid plans allow you to buy a fixed amount of minutes, texts and data, and use them until they run out. At that point you’ll have no service until you purchase more.

No contract, post-paid plans offer a nice mix of both. There’s no long-term agreement, so you can make changes without penalties. Unless you cancel, your plan renews month-to-month, so there’s no worry about running out of minutes and losing your service. There are even special rates just for seniors: Consumer Cellular, who specialize in wireless service for users over 50, offers exclusive discounts to AARP members.

Avoid surprises on your bill.

Before you sign up, ask about any penalties or hidden fees that may apply. Some carriers charge a fee just to activate your service. On contract plans, you’re required to pay a hefty “early termination fee” if you cancel your service early. Find out up front to avoid being ambushed later on.

Whatever you choose, your monthly bill should be straightforward and understandable. You should be able to tell at a glance what period of time the bill covers, what your monthly charge is for accessing the carriers network, the cost of your monthly plan (and what it includes), plus any applicable taxes or fees.

Put yourself in charge.

Shopping for the best deal on your cellphone service is no different than shopping for a dishwasher or an automobile. No one knows better than you do what your needs are.

Just remember: there’s no shortage of wireless carriers in the market, and they’re all vying for your business. Use this advantage wisely — do your homework, ask questions and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t get the answers you want.

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Security in an insecure world

(BPT) – The year 2016 was devastating for some safe deposit box holders. In New York, thieves cut holes in the roofs of three banks and brazenly emptied hundreds of safe deposit boxes, leaving the victims’ pillaged boxes on the roof and strewn around the vault.

A stealthier thief in Florida picked safe deposit boxes in several banks, emptying the contents without damaging the box or leaving any visible sign of the theft.

These are not isolated incidents. On average, there are between 15-18 robberies or burglaries involving bank vaults every year according to the FBI. Millions of dollars of jewelry, cash, gold and family heirlooms are stolen, leaving devastated box holders dealing with unrecoverable losses.

Still the safest

Despite these occurrences, law enforcement agencies, FEMA, the American Red Cross and AARP all recommend safe deposit boxes to store valuable items, heirlooms and documents. A safe deposit box in a vault is superior to home storage even with a safe. Why? Because a residence is almost 20 times more likely to be robbed than a safe deposit box in a bank. And with rental costs starting at around $30 a year, safe deposit boxes remain one of the best values offered by a financial institution.

Required step

Today, most people who rent a safe deposit box assume the bank or a federal agency insures the contents. This is not true, and unfortunately, too many people learn this the hard way.

A standard homeowners policy provides limited coverage for some items in a box, but excludes losses from flood and other risks. They may also have a high deductible.

Specialty insurance designed to cover and protect everything inside of a safe deposit box — including cash, gold and important papers such as wills, titles, deeds, photos and digital backups, is now available. There is no deductible, and risks such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes and earthquakes are covered.

And because you do not need to identify what is stored inside the box to obtain coverage, you can maintain your privacy.

Protect yourself

Clearly, there are events that no vault or safe deposit box can protect against. However, there are steps you should take. Safe Deposit Box Insurance, LLC (SDBIC), the leader in protecting valuable assets in secure boxes, has developed a secure storage quiz on secure storage options.

So, despite there being some high-profile break-ins, a safe deposit box is still the best place to store your documents, family heirlooms and other valuables. But because nothing is 100 percent foolproof, it’s important to do your research, select the right bank and insure the contents of your box through SDBIC.

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