Tips to prepare your budget before buying a home

(BPT) – It’s virtually impossible to know what size home you can afford if you aren’t fully aware of how much money you are earning and how much you are spending each month.

Start with your income: How much do you bring home after taxes and retirement plan contributions?

Next, look at your expenses: What are your necessary expenses? How much are you paying each month toward your debt? What additional expenses do you have that wouldn’t be deemed “necessary?” How much money do you have left (if any)?

This will help you see how much breathing room is in your current budget, what expenses might be on the chopping block and the space you have for additional home and mortgage expenses when buying a home.

Consider the potential costs of being a homeowner

While rent payments are generally straightforward and predictable, the same can’t always be said for homeownership costs. Your situation can vary depending on a variety of factors, but here are a few things you might need to prepare your budget for.

Property taxes: The amount you pay will depend on the area in which you are purchasing a home. This amount can be subject to annual adjustment by the municipality or local taxing authority.

Homeowners insurance: Lenders will require you to provide proof of coverage before closing. The amount you pay will depend on your level of coverage, your property and the location. Insurance costs can increase from time to time.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) or mortgage insurance premiums (MIP): If your down payment is less than 20 percent on a conventional mortgage, your lender will require you to carry private mortgage insurance. If you have an FHA loan, you’ll be required to pay mortgage insurance premiums throughout the life of the loan.

Home ownership assistance: A company like Unison Home Ownership Investors can strengthen your down payment overnight and eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (see their Unison HomeBuyer program). Using this method will typically save you between 15 and 20 percent per month on your mortgage payment, but you could owe a portion of the appreciation on the home when you sell.

Homeowners association fees: Fortunately, not all homes have a homeowners association to pay into. Purchasing a home with HOA-covered amenities could cost, on average, an additional $200-$400 per month.

Maintenance fees: Ah, the pitfalls of being a homeowner. The costs that would normally fall to a landlord, like fixing broken plumbing or a heater on the fritz, will now fall on your shoulders. Some suggest saving one percent of your home’s value annually for maintenance.

Utility costs: Unless your rent has included the cost of utilities, this is probably already an expense you’re used to. However, if you’re moving into a bigger home with less energy efficient appliances, you should be prepared to see an uptick.

Start living like a homeowner

If you want to avoid experiencing sticker shock after your home purchase is complete, start living like a homeowner now.

Consider your current rental or home-ownership costs and compare them to the costs for a home in your target price point. Can your current budget handle the difference? Are you still able to pay for your necessities plus shore up your financial future through short- and long-term savings? Or do you find yourself feeling desperate by the end of the month?

Not only will this allow you to get used to the change before the stakes are higher, but it can also help you save more money to put toward unexpected costs for your future home purchase.

Determine where to make adjustments

Does living like a homeowner make you a little wary for what’s next? Now is the perfect time to create space in your budget by cutting back expenses and paying down debt.

Now that you know where your money is going, determine the unnecessary leaks. Maybe your monthly food bill is exorbitantly high. Or maybe your subscription services have gotten out of hand. If your priority is purchasing a home — and being financially comfortable in that home — work to cut expenses that are contradictory to that goal.

Next, tackle your debt. There are two big benefits to beefing up your debt repayments now: You can lower your monthly obligation and improve your chances of getting approved for a loan. It’s a win-win.

Read more

7 tips for balancing retirement savings and paying for college

(BPT) – Most people want to help their children pay for a quality college education, but it can be difficult to balance personal financial goals and funding your kids’ educational aspirations. When retirement savings is sacrificed for college costs, it can be a disservice to the entire family.

To help guide you in determining the best way to pay for your kids’ college while still funding your retirement savings, personal finance expert and host of the So Money podcast Farnoosh Torabi offers seven smart tips.

Tip 1: Don’t put retirement on the back burner.

While funding your children’s college education is important, your retirement savings should take priority. Strive to contribute 10 to 15 percent of your take-home pay toward retirement savings. The reality is college is four years and retirement can be 30+ years. Plus, there’s no scholarship for retirement like there is for college!

Tip 2: Take the free money.

If your workplace retirement plan comes with a match, take it. Contribute the minimum to receive your employer match. At the end of the day, it’s free money and that’s the best kind.

Tip 3: Involve your children in the college cost discussion.

College is expensive, so make sure you’re discussing with your kids overall costs and what you’re willing to contribute. Have them help research financial aid and scholarship opportunities, too. Remember, you want to find a school that’s the best fit — so don’t let the initial “sticker price” scare your children from applying. Some private colleges may give the best aid packages, but other times they may not. Don’t make assumptions and always keep your options open. The goal is to find the college with the best value.

Tip 4: Don’t take on more than you can afford.

While involving your children in the discussion, it’s also important to make sure you’re not setting them up for failure when they graduate. As they research student loan possibilities, make sure they’ll be able to comfortably afford payments once they graduate, and that they’re not taking on too much debt.

An easy way to start researching together is to visit College Ave Student Loans and use the configure-it-out tool. Answer a short series of questions regarding how much you’ll borrow, how many years of schooling are left, whether you want to make payments during school or not, etc. This shows your child what repayment will look like under each option so you can both be clear on the details and agree on a game plan.

Tip 5: Consider the college savings plan that’s best for you.

Consider opening a 529 that allows flexible spending toward higher education. Should your child choose to forgo traditional college education or not require the funds set aside, you can easily change the beneficiary to another child or relative.

If you’re skeptical of a 529, consider a Roth IRA if your income limits allow. Although typically used for retirement, the Roth IRA has an exception where you can withdraw your contributions from the account at any time tax- and penalty-free for qualified education expenses. The remaining money can be collected in your retirement.

Tip 6: Starting late? Play catch-up.

If saving for retirement has not been a priority, it’s time to get aggressive. Pare down costs where possible and take advantage of catch-up contributions. People who are 50 or older can contribute an extra $6,000 to their 401(k) or an extra $1,000 to an IRA this tax year.

Tip 7: Don’t become the “bank of Mom and Dad.”

You want to help your kids, but once you set the precedent that it’s OK for your children to ask for money (or a contribution toward college), they may feel they can frequently approach you later in life for funds. Don’t set the tone that you’ll always be there to financially support them. You want them to grow wings so they can fly independently (and so you can happily enter retirement and enjoy those golden years).

While you should talk with your child about potential majors and career paths, it’s important also to add financial conversations into the mix. For more tips, and to learn more about personalized student loan solutions, visit www.collegeavestudentloans.com.

Read more

3 tips when buying a used car

(BPT) – If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, the car-buying process can be both an exciting and daunting experience. Whether you are a first-time buyer or looking for a different model, a car is one of the largest purchases you will ever make. It’s not only important to make sure you have the right car for your lifestyle, but one that makes the most sense for your personal financial situation.

If you are one of the millions of Americans looking to buy, here are some tips to consider.

Get pre-approved

Similar to buying a house, it’s important to know what you can afford before you start hunting for your dream car. If you will be financing a vehicle, getting pre-approved for a car loan may save you a lot of heartburn during your car search.

Interest rates continue to be at historic lows, but it’s important to check in on what rates you may qualify for and how it will affect the price of what you can afford.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of looking for a new car and forget about the affordability piece,” says Renee Horne, vice president of Consumer Lending at USAA. “Before you even begin your search, give your lender a call to see what you can actually qualify for and what will fit in your budget.”

A good tip to keep in mind is to not let your car payment exceed more than 15 percent of your monthly net income. While you don’t have to stick to it, this rule will help give you a rough estimate of what you may be spending each month.

Know what you can afford

Knowing what you can afford reaches beyond your car loan payment. Although used cars are typically less expensive, they may have more maintenance and ownership costs.

“It’s important to look at the total cost of ownership,” says Heather Pollard, vice president of Auto Experience at USAA. “Everyday expenses such as gas, insurance, taxes, maintenance and future repairs are all associated with owning a vehicle.”

Knowing a rough estimate of these expenses will help you stay on budget in the long run. Simple online loan calculators, like this one at USAA, can help give you an idea of how much you can afford.

Narrow your choices

With countless choices available, finding the right car for you can be a challenge. Your budget should help narrow some of your choices, but consider your lifestyle as well.

Do you have young children or plan to start a family soon? Then you might want to consider the highest IIHS safety ratings. Do you frequently travel for work? In that case, improved gas mileage and reduced emissions are important factors. Remember, all those extra upgrades come with a higher insurance price tag and are depreciating assets once you drive off the lot.

Although you may be more inclined to go after a new car with the latest cutting-edge technology, a pre-owned vehicle may be the better alternative for your lifestyle and budget. Better still, used car prices are the lowest they have been in years. Even if you opt for a slightly older version of the model you’re interested in, many used models still offer similar advanced features while saving you thousands of dollars in the end.

Need help finding the right car for you? The USAA Car Buying Service can help.

Read more

A smarter way to buy a home

(BPT) – Are you considering buying a home? With mortgage rates on the slow and steady incline, there may be no better time for a home purchase than now. Mortgage interest rates will likely continue to go up for the foreseeable future, according to recent data from the housing finance company Freddie Mac. Many housing experts and industry observers agree.

What does this mean?

If you are thinking about buying a home, it means don’t wait any longer. The overall cost of buying a home in the future will only increase compared to buying a home of the same value today. Furthermore, rising interest rates impact housing inventory, as sellers might not be as interested in moving if it means paying a higher rate on a new mortgage. As a result, the dream home you see today might not be available next year.

The 20 percent down myth

If you’ve put off buying your next home to save for the full 20 percent there is good news: you don’t need it. If you were unaware of this, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that among first-time homebuyers who obtained a mortgage, 80 percent made a down payment of less than 20 percent. While there are several low down payment mortgage options available, only one has a 60-year history of being a steadfast, smart way to get into a home: a conventional loan with private mortgage insurance (MI).

What is a conventional loan with MI?

A conventional loan is a mortgage from a lender that is not completely backed by the federal government. For qualified borrowers with a low down payment, private MI is required and typically paid monthly along with the mortgage payment. You can obtain this type of loan with as little as 3 percent down, though buying with a 5 percent down payment will result in a lower monthly payment.

There are other types of low down payment options that also include MI, such as the government-insured loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Unlike the premiums charged by FHA loans, private MI premiums can be cancelled once 20 percent equity in home value is reached, and with private MI there are no upfront costs added onto a borrower’s initial down payment like there are with an FHA loan. This means your monthly bill decreases and you have extra money to spend on your family, vacations, retirement and any other needs.

Don’t sit on the sidelines and miss out on your dream home. To learn more about mortgage insurance compared to other low down payment options, visit LowDownPaymentFacts.org.

Read more

Changing weather patterns leave homeowners underinsured

(BPT) – The U.S. has experienced significant shifts in the frequency, severity and locations of natural disasters — including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires — during the past decade.

As a result, more than 800 emergency or disaster declarations were made in the U.S. from 2005–2015, according to FEMA data. The insured losses stemming from natural catastrophes such as these average $24 billion annually.

Homeowners face severe risks from these disasters, yet many have not connected the dots between these shifts and the impact on their home insurance needs. A recent survey commissioned by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that fewer than 22 percent of homeowners view weather patterns or disasters as an important factor when updating their homeowners insurance policy. Missing these links can be costly.

“Changing weather patterns can dramatically impact what insurance should be carried on a property,” says Mike Consedine, NAIC chief executive officer. “When homeowners don’t regularly review their policies, important gaps in coverage can be missed. You should re-evaluate your risk profile at least once a year to ensure your existing homeowners policy provides the protection you need.”

Despite Consedine’s recommendation, the survey revealed that 56 percent of homeowners have not reviewed their insurance policies in more than a year. Fourteen percent are unsure when — if ever — they last reviewed their policies.

If it’s been awhile since your last insurance review, there’s no better time than the present. When evaluating your policy, consider the following questions:

1. Am I now at risk? Are earthquakes, wildfires or other disasters now a threat in my state or region? If you live in Oklahoma, for example, the risk of earthquakes has significantly increased in the last decade. Do I need flood insurance? Some incidents such as floods are not covered by a typical homeowners policy, so you’ll need additional coverage.

2. What has changed in my home? If you’ve moved in with your significant other or an adult child has returned home, consider the impact their belongings will have on your coverage. Create a home inventory and update it annually. The NAIC’s MyHome Scr.App.book app (available for iPhone and Android) lets you quickly capture images and descriptions of your possessions. Keep in mind personal items like jewelry, antiques and artwork may require special insurance coverage.

3. Do I save my receipts? Take photos or save receipts from major purchases and store them in a safe place away from your house or apartment. Quick access to these receipts will make filing a claim much easier.

4. What home improvements have I made? Renovations and additions can change the value of your home. Make sure your homeowners insurance policy reflects your home’s current value. Some security or smart home features may qualify you for premium discounts.

5. How can I learn more about being prepared? Get educated about your insurance options now to avoid surprises later. Insure U’s new Disaster Prep Guides can help determine the best course of action before, during and after a disaster strikes. The guides include information and tips for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires.

For unbiased information and resources to help you rethink insurance, visit insureuonline.org. For insurance information specific to where you live, contact your state insurance commissioner.

Read more

Survey: African-Americans passionate about homeownership, but fewer own homes

(BPT) – More than any other demographic group, African-Americans perceive homeownership as an integral component of the American Dream, and a way to build security and wealth for their families, according to a recent survey.

The poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted on behalf of Wells Fargo, found that 90 percent of African-Americans said homeownership would be a dream come true, and more than half were considering buying a home within the next two years.

However, African-Americans currently have the lowest rate of homeownership among ethnic minorities — just 42 percent, or 20 points short of the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. African-Americans are expected to represent the third largest segment among new households (renters and owners) in the U.S. by 2024.

“Americans of every demographic aspire to homeownership, but this survey indicates African-Americans place high value on the emotional and financial benefits of owning a home,” says Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and head of housing policy and homeownership growth strategies for Wells Fargo. “Unfortunately, myths about down payments and credit often deter people from inquiring about loan options.”

Barriers, real and imagined

Like many Americans, African-Americans want to own homes, but are often challenged by factual and perceived barriers. Real barriers include tight credit markets, lack of affordable inventory in many areas and underemployment or unemployment.

Perceived barriers are directly related to a lack of experience with the homebuying process. For example, in the Wells Fargo survey, nearly half of African-Americans believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a home. However, many home loans permit down payments of less than 20 percent. Some are as low as 3 percent.

Mortgage approval is not contingent on full-time employment, either. Homebuyers need only be able to demonstrate their ability to repay their mortgage loan, regardless of whether their income comes from a full-time or part-time job. However, 54 percent of African-Americans believed homebuyers must have full-time jobs in order to qualify for a mortgage. In some loan programs, income from others who will live in the home, such as family members or renters, can also be considered.

The survey also highlighted the possibility that some credit education could help aspiring African-American homebuyers. Eighteen percent weren’t sure what constitutes a good credit score, 35 percent didn’t know what minimum score they would need to qualify for a mortgage, and 20 percent didn’t know their own credit score range. While lenders do consider credit scores in making mortgage decisions, credit scores are only one factor, and minimum credit scores vary based on the type of mortgage and loan amount. Homebuyer education and credit counseling could provide key information about the elements of a good credit score or how to develop a good credit profile.

Improving African-American homeownership

“Just 5 percent of homeowners are African-American, according to the National Association of Realtors,” Blackwell says. “African-Americans and other minority groups should have equal access to the wealth- and stability-building benefits of homeownership. In an effort to positively impact the homeownership rate among African-Americans, Wells Fargo has committed to providing education, counseling, a more diverse sales team, and mortgages to African-Americans.”

Wells Fargo recently announced plans to lend a projected $60 billion to qualified African-American consumers with the goal of increasing the number of African-American homeowners by at least 250,000 by 2027. They’ll also hire more African-American mortgage consultants in an effort to make their mortgage workforce more closely aligned with the populations they serve. Finally, Wells Fargo will provide $15 million to support educational initiatives and counseling for African-American homebuyers.

Meanwhile, if you want to purchase a home, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for a mortgage with several important steps, including:

* Monitor your credit — Your credit report and score can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage, how much you can borrow, and the interest rate and terms you’ll be offered. Review your credit report and score at least once a year. You can get an annual free credit report from all three national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.

* Control other debt — Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider in mortgage applications. This ratio compares your total monthly debt to your monthly income. Keep your DTI below 36 percent by paying down credit cards, auto loans and student debt.

* Save — Even though you don’t always need 20 percent down in order to qualify for a mortgage, having savings can still positively affect the mortgage process. Some financing programs allow qualified homebuyers to secure a mortgage with as little as 3 percent. Or, you may qualify for programs that benefit veterans if you’ve served in the military.

* Be able to prove income — Although you don’t need a high income to qualify for a mortgage, you will need to be able to document your income with W2s, tax returns and other paperwork.

* Build up an emergency fund — Unexpected expenses are a reality of homeownership. An emergency fund can help you cover costs such as repairing a leaky roof or replacing a broken-down appliance. Lenders are also likely to view you as more financially responsible if you have six months’ worth of expenses saved up.

To learn more about homebuying and to find a mortgage professional near you, visit www.wellsfargo.com.

Read more

5 tips to help teens master their money

(BPT) – For most teens, high school is an exciting time, one that offers the opportunity to set their own path and make some of their own decisions. However, with this added independence comes additional responsibility, especially regarding money.

Today teens are spending $260 billion a year in the U.S., yet only 17 states require completion of at least one financial literary course for high school graduation.

“So many teens don’t realize how important saving is,” says Angel Carter, an Atlanta teen who was selected by Boys & Girls Clubs of America to serve as national ambassador for its financial education program called Money Matters: Make it Count, created in collaboration with Charles Schwab Foundation. “They don’t understand the importance of saving for their future needs and tracking or prioritizing their purchases.”

Taking part in this program had a profound impact on Carter, along with more than 725,000 other Club teens who have completed Money Matters. And because April is Financial Literacy Month, now is the perfect time for Carter to offer a few tips she learned to help others manage their money.

* There’s no such thing as “too young” or “too much.” Because of the way compound interest works, the earlier you begin to save, the less of a burden it is. For example, regularly saving 10 percent of your income is a good savings goal if you’re in your 20s or younger; however, if you wait until your 30s to start saving, that number increases to 20 percent in order to reach the same long-term goal. And if you wait till your 40s, it goes up to 30 percent. So it’s better to start putting money away as early as possible. Talk to your parents or another adult you trust about setting up a savings account, and how much you should regularly set aside.

* Recognize needs vs. wants. Being smart about money doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life, or do fun things with your hard-earned cash; but it does mean you need to plan for them. An easy rule of thumb is to figure out how much you need to set aside in order to meet your expenses, including savings, every month. Anything left over is for having fun. It might seem contradictory, but knowing ahead of time how much spending money you have available helps you know when you can comfortably say “yes,” and when you’re better off passing on an event or an impulse purchase.

* Know where your money goes. It may not be particularly fun, but tracking where and how you spend money is just one of those healthy habits that’s good for you, like eating spinach and exercising. You can record this information with a notebook or an app, but just remember to log your purchases, including all those “small” ones. Being aware of every dollar you spend will help you understand yourself and your spending habits — and can help you find ways to reduce your spending and save even more.

* Credit is like social media. You know how parents and teachers are always telling you to watch what you post on social media channels, because someday you’re going to have to apply for a job? Good credit is to your future purchasing what a clean social media history is to job applications: it takes time and commitment to build, and only moments to lose. A good credit score and a history of responsible spending give you options, which is priceless when you want to buy or lease a car, or apply for an apartment or even buy a house later on. How do you build good credit? Manage your checking account carefully, always pay your bills on time, and if you do choose to get a credit card, never charge more than you can afford to pay off in full every month.

* Keep it real. In today’s economy, managing money responsibly is a tall order, but it is possible, especially if you take control! Think about the kind of lifestyle you want to live, and figure out how much it takes to support yourself in those circumstances. Once you’ve done that, it’s simply a matter of solving for “x.” One good way to be astute about finances is to look for a financial education program geared for teens, one that covers budgeting, goal setting, and planning for the future. Some programs, like Money Matters, even offer virtual reality games to practice for the real world without real-life risk.

These tips are just a few Carter learned through the Money Matters program at her local Boys & Girls Club. A new component of the program, the digital game $ky, is now available to all teens. The game challenges teens to navigate financial decisions in a fresh, fun way that will keep them thinking prudently about their finances not only in April but in the months and years ahead.

Read more

Spring cleaning to make money: Don’t toss these 5 hidden sources of extra cash

(BPT) – Before we soak up the summer sun, we need to think about spring cleaning. As you clear out your closets and drawers, be on the lookout for these five often overlooked sources of money:

1) Gift Cards: About $1 billion in gift cards goes unused each year, so instead of digging change out of your couch cushions or car seats, try looking through your junk drawer, email inbox or even your wallet for gift cards and egifts that you may have forgotten about. Instead of letting the funds go to waste, sell the gift card to a gift card exchange like Cardpool.com at close to the face value or to receive an Amazon gift card.

You also can look to a gift card exchange site to buy your preferred brand of gift card. After the holidays, gift card exchange sites are often stocked with gift cards ready to be sold at hefty discounts—up to 35 percent off. So, if you’re planning a trip and want to use airline or hotel gift cards to save money, or if a discounted gift card to a lawn and garden store would help to spruce up your yard, now is the time to buy.

2) Clothes: Cleaning out the closet can also mean money in your wallet. Sites like ThredUp buy and sell quality, name-brand clothes. ThredUp will even ship you a “clean out” bag, so you can fill it up at home, ship it back and receive payment for the clothes the company purchases. With this particular site, you can choose for the company to donate what they don’t purchase or send it back to you. If you prefer to sell your apparel in-person, take your gently used brand name clothes to a nearby consignment store where they’ll often pay cash on-the-spot.

3) Books: When clearing out the bookshelf, consider selling some of your old favorites on Amazon. When you create a seller account on Amazon, you can name your price and choose to fulfill orders yourself or via Amazon fulfillment.

4) Furniture: While Craigslist remains a popular avenue for unloading furniture you no longer need, if you have chic vintage furniture or décor that you’re ready to sell, check out Chairish.com. Chairish will list your furniture and décor for sale and will even coordinate all shipping needs for the seller to the buyer.

5) Electronics: From old iPhones or laptops to tablets and video games, sites like NextWorth or Gazelle will buy the electronics you no longer use for cash. Check each site to get a quote for what your electronics are worth and send them in to earn extra cash.

While de-cluttering can be cathartic on its own, leveraging the right tools to earn extra cash on items you may have otherwise tossed can make spring cleaning a rewarding experience, too.

Read more

How PMI can make your dream of home sweet home a reality

(BPT) – In the 2017 housing market, those who choose to pursue the dream of owning a home face several important decisions, such as how much to put toward a down payment. Twenty percent down is typically recommended by most lenders.

While 20 percent is not a requirement, paying less can have a big impact on the amount you pay monthly. It is important for home buyers to know that when seeking a conventional loan with less than 20 percent down of the sales price or appraised value of the home, lenders will often require Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

This article takes a deeper look at PMI by answering the most common questions on the topic.

What is PMI?

PMI is a type of mortgage insurance. Like most other types of mortgage insurance, it protects the lender in the event the borrower is unable to repay the remainder of the loan. In many cases, PMI is required on conventional loans when the buyer has a down payment of less than 20 percent.

Some lenders may offer conventional loans that require a smaller down payment without PMI, but the tradeoff can typically be a higher interest rate.

How does PMI affect your loan?

PMI can affect your loan in several different ways depending on the loan type and the lender. In some cases, the PMI will be required in a lump sum at the time of closing. This PMI payment type is called an upfront premium.

Other PMI plans call for monthly payments where the total value of the PMI is divided and factored into your monthly mortgage payments. The PMI can generally be cancelled under certain conditions once 20 percent of the amount borrowed has been reduced from the principal balance, or amount borrowed.

Finally, the lender may also opt for a plan that requires both upfront and monthly PMI payments. In this case a portion of the PMI is paid at the time of closing, and then the remaining PMI is paid as part of the monthly mortgage payment.

Alternatives to PMI

Some government-backed loans offer alternative options to buyers paying less than 20 percent down on a home loan. There are several of these loans and each has a different approach to handling down payments and mortgage insurance. By being educated on the different types of loans you will have an easier time finding which best suits your needs.

Learning more about PMI

While PMI is an additional fee, it helps those with less than a 20 percent down payment realize their dreams of home ownership.

To learn more about financing options that can make your dreams of homeownership a reality, visit VMFhomeloan.com.

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.

Read more

6 tips for decoding college financial aid award letters


Play Video

var bptVideoPlayer = document.getElementById(“bptVideoPlayer”);
if (bptVideoPlayer) {
var cssText = “width: 100%;”;
cssText += ” background: url(‘” + bptVideoPlayer.getAttribute(“poster”) + “‘);”;
cssText += ” -webkit-background-size: cover;”;
cssText += ” -moz-background-size: cover;”;
cssText += ” -o-background-size: cover;”;
cssText += ” background-size: cover;”;
bptVideoPlayer.style.cssText = cssText;
bptVideoPlayer.setAttribute(“poster”, “http://www.brandpointcontent.com/printsite/images/spacer.gif”);
var bptVideoPlayerContainer = document.getElementById(“bptVideoPlayerContainer”);
if (bptVideoPlayerContainer) {
setTimeout(function () {
bptVideoPlayerContainer.style.cssText = “display: block; position: relative; margin-bottom: 10px;”;
}, 1000);
}
var bptVideoPlayButton = document.getElementById(“bptVideoPlayButton”);
if (bptVideoPlayButton) {
bptVideoPlayButton.addEventListener(“click”, function () {
bptVideoPlayer.play();
}, false);
bptVideoPlayer.addEventListener(“play”, function () {
bptVideoPlayButton.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}, false);
}
var mainImage = document.getElementById(“mainImageImgContainer_sm”);
if (mainImage) {
mainImage.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}
var mainImage = document.getElementById(“photo-noresize”);
if (mainImage) {
mainImage.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}
var assetGallery = document.getElementsByClassName(“asset_gallery”)[0];
if (assetGallery) {
assetGallery.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}
var assetGallery = document.getElementsByClassName(“trb_article_leadart”)[0];
if (assetGallery) {
assetGallery.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}
var assetGallery = document.querySelectorAll(“[src=’http://images.brandpointcontent.s3.amazonaws.com/30701441_web.jpg’]”)[0]; if (assetGallery) {
assetGallery.style.cssText = “display: none;”;
}
}

(BPT) – Whether you’re a high school senior or an adult looking to change careers, a college degree can be the key to a bright future. As acceptance letters arrive in the mail, another important document is not far behind: financial aid letters.

“College is a major investment, and many people require financial assistance to pay for it,” says Harlan Cohen, New York Times best-selling author and creator of the Naked Financial Minute. “It’s vital to understand financial aid so you can make informed choices and avoid surprises in the future.”

The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year is $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities, according to the College Board.

In order to find out what aid you qualify for, you should start by filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After your information is processed, and you’ve applied to the colleges of your choice, you’ll receive financial aid award letters in the mail with the results from each school where you were accepted.

Not all financial aid letters are the same, so deciphering and comparing them can be confusing. To help get you started, the experts at College Ave Student Loans share tips and tricks for how to easily understand your financial aid letter.

Look carefully at symbols and terms: College award letters may use different wording and abbreviations. For instance, rather than spelling out the word “loan” you could see “L” or “LN”. You might also see “net price” and “net cost.” Look carefully at how each school calculates these amounts. Some schools will subtract loan amounts from these figures. Just remember that loans need to be paid back, usually with interest; loans can help you spread the cost of college over time, but they don’t eliminate the expense.

Know the difference between gift aid and loans: Gift aid is money that is awarded to qualifying students that isn’t expected to be paid back. Gift aid includes things like scholarships, grants, and housing or tuition waivers. Not all applicants will qualify for gift aid, but most will be eligible for federal loans. As a general rule, you should expect that you’ll need to pay loans back, usually with interest.

Be aware of the impact of outside scholarships: If a student is awarded a private scholarship, the financial aid letter may list its effect on the amount of money offered by the school or in federal aid because the student’s financial need has already been partially covered. This could impact gift aid, loan amounts, or both.

Keep an eye out for work-study offers: If you indicated an interest during the FAFSA application, your financial aid letter may list approval for a work-study job that provides money toward your studies and fits with your class schedule. The money you earn is typically applied directly to your school expenses.

Understand your expected family contribution (EFC): Depending on your personal circumstances, there may be a line item for expected family contribution. This is the amount of money your family is expected to contribute toward your college education based on their tax and savings information. This will impact your overall award package.

Think about additional costs: Your financial aid letter may not include all of the costs associated with going to school. Think beyond tuition and make sure you have an idea of what you’ll be spending on housing, food, transportation, books, supplies, additional fees, and other living expenses.

If you find the amount of financial aid provided isn’t enough (including the amount offered in federal loans), families may want to research and explore private student loans as an option to cover the additional expenses. Look for competitive interest rates and flexible repayment options that match your budget. College Ave Student Loans also offers a calculator that showcases how much families can save with various loan options at www.collegeavestudentloans.com.

Finally, if you’re still unclear about the terms and conditions of any college award letter, it’s important to reach out to the school to ask for clarification or discuss your options. You don’t want to leave any money on the table.

Read more