Retirement readiness: Hitting the retirement preparation sweet spot

(BPT) – A recent study by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College suggests an alarming state of awareness about retirement readiness: Of surveyed households, 33 percent realize they are not well prepared, 19 percent are not well prepared but don’t know it, and 24 percent are well prepared but don’t know it.

For the Americans at risk of not being able to maintain an adequate retirement lifestyle, it’s critical to take action. For the households that are well prepared and don’t know it, they risk sacrificing a comfortable retirement. Understanding the behaviors associated with good retirement planning, in turn, can help you get a better sense of where you stand. Consider the following behaviors, which are more likely to be modeled by those who are well prepared for retirement.

Asset accumulation

A high-level approach to ensuring adequate retirement assets is to save a minimum of 10 percent of your gross income each year. You may need to save even more depending on your asset accumulation goals and how many years you have left to save before retirement.

If you would rather have a dollar goal, multiply your annual income goal by 25 to arrive at the amount you should try to save. For example, if after considering Social Security and any pension payment, you want $30,000 more of annual income in retirement, you will need to save $750,000. Lower goals mean you need to withdraw at a faster rate and increase the risk you will deplete your assets too soon.

Budgeting

Not all budgets need to detail specific spending items. Rather, you can consider yourself working within a budget if you know that each year you are saving and not creating new debt (and paying off legacy debt for your education or home). If you want to squeeze out more savings, a line-by-line review of spending may well be fruitful.

Personal debt

Many of us are saddled with personal debt from college and graduate school. This debt has become so burdensome that the customary progression to home ownership has been delayed for many. The debt has also had a domino effect on the ability to save for retirement. Paying down personal debt should be job one. Other personal debt, such as for a car purchase, should be avoided, minimized or paid down as quickly as possible. Credit card debt, which carries high interest rates, should be avoided entirely. Remember, each dollar of debt limits your ability to save for the future.

Mortgage debt

It used to be commonly accepted that you pay off your mortgage before retirement, but more and more retirees are entering retirement with mortgage debt. The old rule remains the best approach, since any indebtedness in retirement will limit your ability to react and adjust to poor investment return on your assets.

Social Security

With traditional pension plans less commonly offered by employers, Social Security has become an even more important source of guaranteed lifetime retirement income. By waiting to age 70, you can increase the benefit payment significantly, which is also the base for annual Social Security cost-of-living increases for the rest of your life. That increased Social Security benefit may also increase the benefit that a surviving spouse will receive after you die. Unless you have a health care issue that could reduce your life expectancy and no spouse who might need a spousal benefit based on your earnings record, claiming Social Security early is the greatest retirement planning mistake made.

Health care

Health care is the single greatest cost in retirement, and various studies estimate the cost to be $250,000 or more for a healthy 65-year-old couple. The cost of health care will be even greater to the extent one retires before age 65 and Medicare eligibility. Moreover, health care costs can vary and may come sooner than expected. The best plan, then, is to work until at least age 65 and understand that health care is a unique challenge in retirement. To the extent possible, utilize Health Savings Accounts and bank any unused amounts annually to build up a tax-free health care fund for retirement.

Income planning

No later than 10 years before your planned retirement, you should be translating your retirement assets into an annual or monthly retirement income stream. Start with your Social Security and any pension plan payments as your income base, and then consider how much income your other assets can safely generate. Depending on this analysis, you may want to consider purchasing an annuity to make more of your retirement income guaranteed and avoid the twin risks of poor investment return and living longer than expected.

Consider also that many of your retirement assets have an embedded tax liability. You will need to look through your retirement assets to determine after-tax income, since your food, rent and cable bills are paid with after-tax money. Only by seeing your after-tax income can you decide if you have enough to live on.

Annual financial wellness check-ups

During your early working years, you are likely to be focused on debt reduction and asset accumulation. As you get closer to retirement, you will need to focus on the strategies associated with Social Security, health care and income generation. At all times you should annually revisit your goals and make adjustments, as needed, to how much and where you are saving, how much you are spending, how aggressively you are investing, and when your target retirement date is.

Modeling such behaviors will make it more likely you will be well prepared for retirement. By doing so you will also make it more likely that you are properly assessing the state of your retirement readiness and not over- or underestimating your financial health.

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Seeking a smartphone? Here are 10 things to look for

(BPT) – There are many choices when shopping for a smartphone these days, and the differences can be very subtle. Here are some of the key things you’ll want to look at to make sure you find the one that works best for your needs.

Operating System (OS): There are two different operating systems to choose from. iOS works with iPhones, while Android operates with a wider variety of smartphones, like those from Samsung or Motorola. In general, iOS is considered easier to use, but you need to have an Apple device. Android gives you more options, plus the ability to customize with third-party software and widgets.

Screen size: Get the right screen for the things you’ll want to do. Buy a phone with a screen smaller than 5.5 inches if one-hand use is important to you or if you have smaller hands. Get a bigger screen if you like to watch a lot of videos or play games, or simply want to have an easier time navigating on your touchscreen.

Camera: Most people now use their phones as their primary camera, so the right selection here will be especially important. More and more smartphones boast cameras with at least 12 mega-pixels, so don’t go by only that stat. Instead, focus on individual camera specs and features like dual lenses or the ability to edit and enhance photos.

Display: For a phone’s display, color quality and brightness matter more than resolution. Pay attention to how bright the display is, if it will be easy to see outdoors, and how colorful the panel is. The latest phones offer high dynamic range (HDR) for displaying even more colors.

Design: Determining good smartphone design is purely subjective. Many people prefer a metal or glass design; others, plastic. If you’re concerned about durability, look for a phone that is water-resistant. A handful of phones also now feature a shatterproof glass display, and many include a Gorilla Glass display to protect it from short drops (A protective case will help with that, too.).

Processor: Even midrange phones now offer satisfactory performance for nearly any user level or basic task. A good processor inside a phone will translate to faster open times for apps, smoother navigation and quicker photo editing.

Battery: Many factors, including the screen size, processor and operating system, determine how long a smartphone lasts on a charge. A decent benchmark is to look for a smartphone with a battery capacity of at least 3,000 mAh. Any phone that lasts longer than 9 hours of straight 4G LTE use is considered very good.

Storage: Given that some apps and games can easily take up more than 1GB of storage, not to mention how many high-res photos and videos smartphone owners are capturing, go for as much internal storage as possible. Some models offer just 8Gb or 16Gb; however, the minimum on premium handsets these days is usually 32GB. Adding a micro SD card can also help expand your storage. This option is available on many Android phones.

Price: Don’t pay for more than you need. The latest iPhone and premium Android phones start around $650, and can easily run you $800 or more. But there are great options below $500, and even some solid choices for less than $200.

Carrier: A smartphone requires a talk and data plan. Choose a service provider that offers what you’ll really use. Avoid expensive, one-size-fits-all plans. Consumer Cellular, for example, offers a wide variety of smartphone choices from entry level to top of the line, along with talk and data plans that cost their average customer less than $25 a month, with no contracts.

Let today’s top technology work for you! It’s a competitive marketplace, so by shopping wisely, you’re sure to find a smartphone that keeps you happily connected at a great price.

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Considering disability benefits? Answer these questions first

(BPT) – Age and chronic illness can take a toll. A June 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the costliest health conditions in the U.S. include: heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke and type 2 diabetes. An estimated 117 million people have one or more chronic health conditions.

These health issues also place in the top 10 conditions of former workers who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Social Security disability is an important alternative for former workers who can no longer work because of a severe health condition. The average SSDI recipient worked 22 years before they experienced a life-changing disability.

“More people are living with chronic illness, and many people do OK with treatment and rehabilitation,” said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of Allsup, a disability benefits representation organization. “But other people have to stop working when their health just won’t let them continue.”

About 154 million workers have paid FICA taxes and have disability insurance coverage through the SSDI program. If you know someone who may qualify, check out the Refer a Friend program. Following are answers to the top five questions about applying for disability benefits.

1) Who applies for disability benefits? People who have experienced a work-disrupting severe health condition that will last for 12 months or longer, or is terminal. They may have a health condition, such as arthritis, a severe spinal condition, cancer, or have experienced a stroke or car accident. On average, former worker recipients are 54 years old. Last year, about 2.3 million former workers with disabilities applied for disability benefits.

2) When should I apply for disability benefits? Generally, you should apply when you cannot work because of your health condition. As soon as you must stop working, it makes sense to apply for Social Security disability benefits if you have solid medical evidence. If you are uncertain of when to apply, you can find help from a disability representation organization that provides free assessments of your likelihood of qualifying for the program.

3) Why should I apply for disability benefits? Most people apply for disability benefits because they need the monthly income. Plus, there are several additional benefits. You can get extra dependent benefits if you have a child under 18. You can get Medicare after 24 months of receiving cash SSDI benefits. You also protect your retirement benefits, and you can receive incentives to return to work. “It’s important not to give up on the idea of returning to work, eventually, because it’s much better for your finances in the long run,” Stein said.

4) How do I apply for disability benefits? Much like filing taxes, you have different options when applying for disability benefits. You can try it on your own, or enlist the help of a professional representative who understands what the Social Security Administration needs to process your claim. Most people who apply on their own are denied at the application level, and must appeal. Having a representative early in the process can improve your chances of approval and help ensure your application is completed properly. Most people have a representative for their hearing.

5) How much money will I receive? Your monthly benefit will be calculated based on your past work earnings and the amount of FICA taxes you paid on those earnings. You can find online calculators that will help you get an estimate of what you can expect to receive before you apply for SSDI.

It can take a long time to receive benefits because the Social Security disability program has stringent rules and several steps in the claim review process.

“Many people make the mistake of waiting to apply for disability,” Stein said. “They deplete their savings, they borrow from their 401(k) plan, and they make other big sacrifices — before they apply for disability benefits. It makes it that much harder when they have to wait months or even years for Social Security to review their claim.”

An important consideration is applying for disability with a representative, Stein said. “If you can receive disability benefits at the very beginning, with your application — you can save yourself many months of time for appeals and possibly avoid a hearing on your disability claim.”

For more information, visit FileSSDI.Allsup.com.

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Woman visibly stressed while reviewing family finances

Solving 5 pain points in the homebuying process

(BPT) – When it comes to buying a home, the beauty of the process is truly in the eye of the beholder. Some people see the opportunity to start a new life, live their dreams and make memories that will, quite literally, last a lifetime. Others get caught up in the problems associated with the home purchasing process, including its myriad pain points, some of which are listed below.

Whichever path you follow, buying a home should be one of the most exciting moments in your life, so follow along to see which pain points in the process you might encounter, and what you can do about them.

1. Packing and moving

According to research from loanDepot, almost 66 percent of respondents listed packing and moving as one of their biggest moving stressors. To combat this problem, start packing early and you’ll avoid the mad dash at the end. You should also seek friends to help you move your items with a promise of a party at the end. The money you spring for pizza will be well worth it.

2. Timing the move

Timing is crucial during a move, so it’s no surprise that 63 percent of those surveyed listed it as one of their greatest stressors. To take the stress out of your situation, it helps to plan for a delay. Rent a storage locker or set up a relative who can host you in a pinch just in case things don’t align as you plan. Plan for the worst and chances are you won’t need your backup plan.

3. Not selling your home quick enough

This is often a product of supply and demand, but your real estate agent should be able to give you a realistic expectation of when your home should sell with current market timing based on realistic comps available in your region. Be honest with them as to when you need your home to sell and be ready to lower your price if absolutely necessary. If getting rid of your old house is paramount, lowering your price to its minimum acceptable value can help make that happen.

4. Coordinating the inspections and paperwork

Inspections and paperwork take time, so your best bet here is to make sure you have time available and protected on your calendar. Once again, your real estate agent can be a valuable resource to guide you through all of the paperwork and inspections that must be completed. They may also have some advice on who to contact to hurry the process along. Once you’ve got the proper information, reach out immediately. The sooner you make contact, the sooner you can get on their calendar and get this necessary work done.

5. Not being able to meet your financial obligations

Whether it’s the down payment for your home or the mortgage itself, buying a new house carries with it a considerable financial obligation — probably the largest you will ever enter into — and that’s certainly cause for stress. Since it’s such an important purchase, not any loan will do. You want to find the best loan opportunity you can. loanDepot can help. loanDepot matches borrowers through technology and high-touch customer care with the credit they need. This allows you to use loanDepot to look for potential loans outside your immediate market and even compare loans to find the best plan for you — a must with a purchase as important as your new home. So don’t delay. Connect with our lending experts today and take some of the stress out of your homebuying process.

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Useful tips to help caregivers navigate the cost of care

(BPT) – When a patient receives bad medical news, it can be a paralyzing moment. It’s easy to see how any serious diagnosis can shatter someone’s life into a million pieces, but we often overlook what’s happening to the caregiver who’s devoting their time and energy to provide care. On top of the physical and emotional demands, the financial cost of caregiving is unavoidable.

What makes someone a caregiver? American caregivers support patients in a variety of ways. They can be young or old, live close by or miles away and provide care full time or part time. Many of us are caregivers – for our children, parents, siblings or even close friends. Maybe you are a caregiver who provides “hands-on” care now, but may be called upon to provide financial assistance in the future. It’s crucial for caregivers to make wise financial decisions about caregiving — for their loved ones and just as importantly, for themselves.

At 34 years old, Danielle Fontanesi had to give up her job as a full-time attorney so she could care for her husband, Matt. Matt was fighting acute myeloid leukemia and needed around-the-clock care while recovering from a stem cell transplant. Fontanesi wasn’t able to go back to work for more than a year, and found it challenging to find a new job given her employment gap, which cost her more than $175,000 in lost income. The cost of relocating next to a major cancer center where Matt was treated was also substantial.

“Not only did I lose income, I lost a year of career progression,” says Fontanesi. “We still had to pay our rent, car payments and hospital expenses, while not having income during this period.”

According to Gwen Nichols, MD, Chief Medical Officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society(R) (LLS), Fontanesi is far from alone in her financial plight.

“Again and again, we find that caregivers make huge financial sacrifices to care for their loved one,” Nichols says. “When you tally up the losses, it’s quite astounding: loss of wages, loss of health insurance, loss of retirement savings and the list goes on. These hold serious financial consequences for caregivers.”

Over time, the economic burdens of long-term medical care can create added distress for patients and caregivers that is often called “financial toxicity.” Financial toxicity occurs when growing out-of-pocket healthcare costs lead to serious financial problems. Out-of-pocket costs can include anything from hospital stays or outpatient services to medical equipment and medications.

To help caregivers navigate the cost of cancer care for themselves and their loved ones, Nichols offers these important tips:

Encourage your loved one to seek a second opinion: When appropriate, caregivers should help their loved one seek a second opinion. A second opinion can help ensure an accurate diagnosis, which can then guide your loved one’s treatment plan. An accurate diagnosis enables resources to be directed in a way that offers your loved one the greatest potential benefits, both in terms of a better health outcome as well as financial impact. When weighing multiple treatment options or in circumstances of uncertainty, it’s also helpful to gain a second opinion to help inform the best course of care and avoid the detrimental health effects and costliness of incorrect or unnecessary treatments.

Help start a dialogue: It’s crucial to have an open conversation with healthcare providers about financial pressures. You and your loved one should partner with their medical provider to understand the cost of certain services and treatments. This information can help empower you and your loved one to make the right decision for you and your family. For example, your loved one may be able to choose among treatments or select providers or treatment centers that offer the same or even greater potential benefit, but at a lower cost.

Be an advocate for change: Your voice as a caregiver is valuable, and can help shape discussions about the cost of care. Whether you act as an individual or part of an organized effort by a patient advocacy organization, you can make an impact by sharing your story about the financial hardships you’ve experienced. These firsthand accounts are vital for spurring action. To learn more about LLS Advocacy and how you can raise awareness about the cost of cancer care, visit www.lls.org/be-an-advocate.

Take advantage of available resources: Caregivers are often hesitant to seek help and are often unaware of the many resources available to them at their fingertips. LLS has free resources and support services such as online chats with medical experts, support groups, help with financial pressures, referral to other helpful local and national resources, and more. To learn more, visit www.lls.org/support/caregiver-support.

Nichols also notes that it’s crucial to take time for self-care and remember that your family is your first resource, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them for help. There are many ways for friends and family to lighten the load in this challenging time: assisting with home repairs, running errands, or preparing a meal. These kind gestures go a long way when there’s financial strain. After all, if you sacrifice your own health and well-being, you won’t be at your best to effectively care for a loved one.

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3 ways to save money on diabetes medications

(BPT) – Controlling the “ABCs of diabetes” — A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — is difficult enough, but when you add that second C — costly medications — it’s easy to see how one’s levels can spiral out of control quickly.

According to the American Diabetes Association, for the 30 million people living with diabetes in the U.S., health care costs are more than double (2.3 times) the costs of those without diabetes. This is due to the ever-increasing costs of medications to treat diabetes and the chronic conditions that often accompany the disease, namely high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In fact, between 2002 and 2013, the cost of insulin has tripled, and newer cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering medication costs are also on the rise.

Now consider that in the U.S., more than 2 million children and adults living with diabetes do not have access to health insurance, and millions more are in high-deductible plans that can require high out-of-pocket costs. Lack of access to diabetes medications can lead to avoidable doctor visits, hospitalizations, amputations and even death.

The good news is there are several ways to save money on diabetes care without compromising on quality.

First, shop around. Medication prices can vary greatly by pharmacy.

Second, if you are not using insurance to cover the cost of prescription drugs, there are many ways to obtain prescription assistance. One way to start saving money immediately is with Inside Rx, available at https://insiderx.com, a free discount drug card program, which provides deep discounts on certain brand-name diabetes medications, including insulin and drugs that treat co-existing conditions such as high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Third, explore pharmaceutical assistance programs. Most pharmaceutical companies also offer financial assistance programs to persons who have trouble affording their medications and supplies.

By doing some research into these types of discount programs and databases, it may be possible to save thousands of dollars a year, while controlling your diabetes and enhancing your quality of life.

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3 technology tips for last-minute gift giving

(BPT) – The holidays are a favorite time of year for many. We love decorating our homes, baking cookies, donating to our favorite charities, and listening to those classic songs we only get to enjoy a few short weeks each year. There’s all the holiday parties and celebrations. And of course, a big part of the season includes buying gifts for those we care about.

There’s a lot that’s crammed into the holidays, so finding the time to get to everything we want and need to do can feel challenging. Fortunately, technology can help!

Check out these gifting tips to help you save time and stay within budget this year.

Free up some room in your sleigh.

If you’re traveling for the holidays, the trip itself often has an impact on the gifts you purchase. But it doesn’t have to. If a long flight or drive made you shy away from larger gifts in the past, choose to buy online and ship your gifts to your final destination this year. Many of these services also offer gift wrapping and because the package is already being shipped, you don’t need to delay your trip waiting for your package to arrive.

No minute like the last minute.

This holiday season forget old fashioned cash and checks. There’s a new way to gift money right from your mobile banking app with Zelle®. Forget about going to the ATM, or having to find a stamp and then wait for the person to go cash your check. Zelle enables you to send money quickly, safely and easily with your mobile phone to almost anyone with a bank account in the U.S. Best of all, the funds are available to your loved one typically within minutes[1] when both parties are already enrolled. Most likely, you already have Zelle as part of your mobile banking app; otherwise, you can still use Zelle by downloading the Zelle app for Android and iOS.

Getting the elves together.

You have that special friend who deserves the designer purse and you know how much it would mean to her. You round up your girlfriends and pool your money together. You can use Zelle to split the cost of the gift with everyone. All you need is their email address or U.S. mobile phone number[2]. Zelle lets you request money with just a few taps on your mobile phone, making it easy to pool your resources and get the perfect gift for that special person on your list.

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also be hectic, particularly if you haven’t finished your shopping. Technology can help you make every minute count. Utilize some of the tips above and hopefully your holiday shopping and the festivities will be a littler merrier for you and your loved ones.

To learn more about Zelle and its participating financial institutions, visit www.zellepay.com.

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[1] Transactions between enrolled users usually take minutes. Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

[2] Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

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Women in agriculture are challenging stereotypes

(BPT) – About a third of the nation’s farmers are women, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And most of these women are working family farms, since 99 percent of all American farms are family-owned and operated. Just under 1 million women farmers contribute $12.9 billion to the nation’s economy and are responsible for farming more than 301 million acres.

More women are seeking careers in agriculture, and they’re breaking stereotypes about what their roles can be. Many women in the agriculture industry are farmers who grow crops and raise animals, while others are helping advance agriculture by fulfilling non-traditional roles:

Seed sales representative

Megan Moll grew up working on her family’s farm in central Michigan. Today, as a sales representative for Syngenta, she supports a network of independent seed advisers who sell the company’s corn hybrids and soybean varieties. She started with the company as an intern. “If you want to go after it, go after it,” Moll advises women who may be considering a career in agriculture. “Don’t let anything stop you.”

Grape growers and winemakers

In 1999, Brenda Wolgamott and her husband, Duane, entered the wine-growing business; and in 2002, they created their own label — Marin’s Vineyard — named for their daughter, Marin Wolgamott. At age 14, Marin began delving into the science of winemaking, learning how to test grapes for sugar and pH levels in a lab, so she could provide the service to neighbors who would otherwise have to send their grapes to far-off labs for testing. Today, she is the winemaker for the vineyard. Marin’s experience and career path demonstrate “there are different avenues to get in,” she says. “Whether you want to do chemistry or love to get your hands dirty in the cellar, everyone’s job in the winery is always appreciated.”

TV host and photographer

Born and raised in rural Iowa, Marj Guyler-Alaniz graduated from Grand View University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, photography and journalism, and immediately went to work in agriculture for a crop insurance company. Inspired to draw attention to the roles of women in agriculture, she founded FarmHer, an online social community for women farmers. She now hosts the award-winning television show “FarmHer on RFD-TV.” “I think showing women who are successfully farming or ranching plants a seed in the younger generation,” Guyler-Alaniz says. “Younger girls who are interested in getting into agriculture or carrying on a family tradition can see for themselves that they can do it.”

Agrobacterium researcher

At a time when few women went to college, let alone pursued a higher degree in a scientific field, Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., had the curiosity and drive to bring about major change. When one of her students turned in a paper suggesting bacteria that caused a common plant disease could actually transfer a portion of its DNA to the afflicted plant, Chilton thought his theory was wrong. In the spirit of the scientific method, she tested it and instead found her student’s theory to be true. Her research laid the groundwork for transforming how scientists conduct plant genetic research. Her work in plant biotechnology has significantly affected the global agriculture industry. “I give young people today the same advice I’ve given throughout my career,” Chilton says. “Pursue what you love and what fascinates you, and the rest will follow.”

To learn more about women in agriculture and farm news, visit SyngentaThrive.com.

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22 million strong: 4 ways to make VA loans work for you

(BPT) – If you’re a veteran, active military member or reservist, you’ve likely heard about all the benefits offered with VA home loans.

Since 1944, some 22 million vets have taken advantage of the powerful U.S. program enabling affordable low-interest mortgages that require no down payments, no mortgage insurance payments and no prepayment penalties. Last year alone, the federal government issued 705,474 VA-guaranteed home loans adding up to some $179 billion — a 12 percent increase over 2015, representing the biggest year ever.

“We have definitely reached that tipping point where veterans know we are no longer ‘My father’s VA,’” Mike Frueh, chief of staff of the ‎Veterans Benefits Administration, told the Huffington Post last year. “The pace of changes … in our program has increased dramatically the past few years. We are agile, we are responsive and we are definitely meeting their needs.”

When considering such a mortgage, however, you’ll want to confirm the amount of “entitlement” that applies to you — in other words, the percentage of your loan the VA will repay if you must default. That’s important, since it will determine the maximum loan you can secure for buying your house. The key numbers to find are your basic and bonus VA entitlements; the former can be found through the Veterans Information Portal and the latter through your loan officer.

In general, VA loan institutions can finance vets or soldiers with mortgages at four times their entitlement amounts. Fortuitously, all first-time users of VA home loan benefits start with enough combined entitlement ($104,250) to purchase a house via a mortgage ranging from $144,000 to $417,000. However, the maximum is higher in high-cost counties including some in California, New York and New Jersey. That same guarantee allows military borrowers to refinance mortgages even when they lack home equity. That said, all borrowers must still meet the income, credit and other requirements established by the lending institution to which they’re applying.

Need more specifics? Here’s what else you should know:

1. Half-civilian couple? No worries

Civilian-servicemember couples need not worry.

Vets may secure loans based on their full entitlements if they’re buying a loan by themselves or with a non-veteran spouse.

2. Buying with a buddy? A little muddy

Purchasing with a non-servicemember non-spouse, conditions can vary.

Vets seeking to buy a home with another person who’s not their spouse can only secure a VA home loan based on half their entitlement amount. If a vet is buying with another (non-spouse) vet, a down payment may be required.

3. Benefits don’t double

Purchasing together and merging your entitlements.

Two vets taking out a mortgage together can each use only half their total entitlements, combining them so that the maximum mortgage will likely be $417,000. However, each can use the other half of their entitlement to buy another property.

4. Fund, pay, repeat

After payoff, renew and reuse.

After paying off a loan, a veteran can use his entitlement to buy another property once again.

Don’t hesitate to use your record of service to secure VA loan benefits superior in many ways to civilian loans. Others are doing so in increasing numbers.

“The VA loan program’s 22 millionth loan guarantee comes during a period of tremendous growth, not to mention tremendous promise,” wrote Chris Birk in the Huffington Post. “Market share for this program once hung in the low single digits. Today, VA loans account for about 10 percent of the mortgage market, and the VA expects loan volume to increase 36 percent over the next five years alone.”

Interested in reaping the benefits of a VA mortgage? LoanDepot can walk you through the home buying process so you can move forward with the next phase of your life. Call us at 1-888-983-3240 to learn more.

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The time is right to seek new income opportunities

(BPT) – Whether you plan to watch the ball drop in Times Square this New Year’s Eve or be in bed by 10 p.m., one thing is certain: a new year is coming, and with it comes a chance for change. It’s a time to reflect on what works best for you and reset your course for the coming year. Research shows that 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and after spending the holidays indulging in food and festivities, it’s not surprising that the most popular resolutions include weight loss, improved fitness and healthier eating.

As the holiday bills start coming in, it’s also common for people to focus on getting their finances into better order. The Federal Reserve Board discovered in a survey of working Americans that nearly half of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for a $400 emergency. If that’s a concern for you, consider joining the 44 million Americans who have found ways to make money in addition to their main source of income. Common options include waiting tables, working retail, becoming a rideshare driver and direct selling.

Direct selling, also called direct-to-consumer sales, has been around for over 160 years, and companies like WorldVentures, Avon, Tupperware and Amway have been offering new business opportunities to independent sales representatives since they opened. The direct-sales business is still booming, with a record 20.5 million people involved in the U.S. alone in 2016. The estimated direct retail sales of $35.54 billion in 2016 was the second-highest in direct-selling history.

Is working in direct sales right for you? Benefits of working in the industry can include:

* Flexibility — You determine your schedule, and you choose to work as many — or as few — hours as you want. If you have a knack for direct selling, you could ultimately make it your main source of income.

* Personal growth and development — Take advantage of the tools and training offered by your direct selling company to help you build your business.

* Companionship — Connect with fellow sales representatives and prospective customers, any of which can lead to lasting relationships.

Passion for travel and financial freedom prompted Wayne Nugent, founder and “chief visionary officer” of WorldVentures, to launch his direct sales business in 2005. “We’ve been changing the way people take vacations for more than a decade, all while helping our independent representatives discover their potential and experience more in life,” says Nugent. “We have a world-class product and we embrace a culture of success.”

WorldVentures, a direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships, is just one of many opportunities waiting for you. Whether you decide to go into direct sales, housesitting or part-time bartending, the possibilities for supplemental income are limited only by your imagination.

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