All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) –

Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.

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How to save on healthcare costs in 2018

(BPT) – (BPT) – Your cable bill, entertainment expenses, grocery extras — these often top the list when people sit down to discuss where they can save money.

One expense you should consider in 2018 is your healthcare costs. Since autumn marks the beginning of the annual open enrollment period for employees, now is the ideal time to sign up for a new health benefit plan or make adjustments to your current plan.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are two options for people looking to save money pre-tax in the New Year. An FSA, which is provided by your employer, allows you to save funds for eligible healthcare expenses. An HSA — which you can obtain on your own or through your employer — is a tax-advantaged savings account that allows you to set aside money to cover medical expenses throughout your lifetime.

Both accounts have the major advantage that the full amount of your pre-tax dollars may be used toward care that you or your family may need. Employees who enroll in an FSA can contribute a portion of their salary pre-tax to pay for qualified medical care expenses within the plan year, while an HSA provides people with qualifying high-deductible health plans the ability to rollover balances and pay for current and future medical expenses.

Awareness and interest in HSAs has increased this year, with the highest levels of interest stemming from Millennials and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 Flexible Spending Account and Health Savings Account Consumer Research study commissioned by Visa and conducted by C+R Research. This nationwide online research was conducted in March 2017, with the FSA survey conducted among 1,306 consumers and the HSA survey conducted among 1,090 consumers.

Key features of HSAs that are most appealing to consumers include the ability to roll over unused dollars from year to year, pre-tax contributions, and having money available to pay for healthcare services.

The study indicates that 91 percent of FSA users agree that saving money, since contributions are pre-tax, tops their list of reasons for having an FSA. Sixty-four percent of FSA users believe that FSAs help them be more prepared and plan for healthcare expenses. In fact, 22 percent of their healthcare purchases (most notably routine doctor visits and vision expenses) on average would not be made if they didn’t have an FSA.

One of the most convenient ways to access funds in an HSA or FSA is with a Visa Healthcare Card, which allows people to use funds in their HSA or FSA to pay for qualified medical expenses wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, making it easy to pay for expenses such as:

*Co-pays and deductibles

*Prescriptions

*Dental services: Cleanings, orthodontia, dentures

*Physical exams

*Vision care, including exams, new glasses, laser eye surgery

*Hearing exams and aids

*Medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, thermometers

*Smoking cessation programs

For added convenience, many pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell healthcare products have the capability to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items when you pay for them, so you don’t have to wonder whether something is covered.

By using a Visa Healthcare Card at these locations, you no longer have to pay out-of-pocket and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for your medical expenses, saving you time and money!

These are all great reasons why 80 percent of FSA users surveyed prefer to access their funds with their FSA card over other methods, and why 76 percent of HSA users surveyed say a debit card linked to an HSA makes paying for medical expenses convenient. As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if it offers an HSA or FSA with a Visa Healthcare Card to provide easy access to your funds. To learn more, visit www.visahealthcare.com.

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5 simple ways to stay connected as a family on a budget

(BPT) – School’s out, summer’s here and the family is ready for some fun-in-the-sun memory making! It’s the perfect time to bond, catch up and enjoy the slower pace of the season. However, with fun on the brain, it’s easy to find yourself dipping into pockets a bit more for ice cream treats and new toys. To help keep summer full of fun but low on cost, here are five simple tips to ensure an unforgettable summer that won’t break the bank:

1. Staycation

When summer rolls around, the coast often calls. However, sun, surf and relaxation don’t come cheap if that also includes plane tickets, hotel expenses and all the other unexpected costs of traveling. The lakes and rivers of the U.S. make great alternatives to the far-away oceans, and for most, there are options just a short drive away. Pack the family and a cooler filled with your favorite refreshments and snacks, crank up the tunes and make an afternoon at the lake a cost-friendly summer getaway the whole family will love.

2. Family fun at home

With the kids home from school, the summer brings lots of opportunities for fun family time. A trip to the amusement park or movie theater is a tempting way to get out of the house, but those options turn expensive quickly. Instead, try finding ways to have fun together at home! Plan game and movie nights, camp in the backyard or organize a picnic with neighbors. You can have fun and bond as a family without breaking the bank.

3. New mobile plan

For busy families, staying in touch at an affordable cost is essential. Whether you need more data, have a set budget or simply need reliable coverage, a new family mobile plan could be the solution to your family’s wireless needs. Try Walmart Family Mobile, which now offers better coverage on T-Mobile’s nationwide 4G LTE network. Getting started is easy — with no contracts, no activation fees and a discount for every new family member added to your account. You can pick from one of four unlimited plans, starting at just $24.88 per month, and great deals on new phones. Walmart Family Mobile will also be offering an upgraded plan, offering you TRULY Unlimited Data* for $49.88. You can even keep your own phone and switch — it’s that easy. Check out the great new deals at MyFamilyMobile.com.

4. Plan meals

Family dinners are a great way to reminisce on the day’s fun, but it can be hard to find the energy to cook a homemade meal after all that fun or a long day at work. Ordering pizza might be a tempting way to feed the family, but the costs of eating out adds up quickly. To prevent last–minute and last-resort fast food dinners, try making a weekly meal plan in advance. Ask the kids to get involved with suggestions; they’ll enjoy getting the chance to contribute to a task typically left for adults, and if they are old enough, they can even have assigned days of the week to make simple meals for the family themselves. If not, they are never too young to do the dishes! Choose recipes that create generous leftovers and either freeze for future meals or pack for lunches the next day.

5. Break out the grill

Enjoy the thrill of the grill when making those homemade meals and turn dinnertime into a way to enjoy cool summer nights while cutting costs. Not only fun and seasonal, by grilling outdoors you can decrease your energy consumption — no need for the oven or A/C al fresco — and save you money.

Enjoying time with the family shouldn’t mean worrying about your wallet. By incorporating the tips above, you and your family can cut costs and stay connected while having a blast this summer.

† To get 4G LTE speed where available you must have a 4G LTE capable device and a 4G LTE SIM card. Actual availability, coverage and speed may vary. During periods of congestion, Walmart Family Mobile customers may notice reduced speeds versus carrier branded customers. LTE is a trademark of ETSI. LTE is a trademark of ETSI.

* Does not include tethering. Video typically plays at DVD quality. During congestion, top 3% of users (>32GB/mo.) may notice reduced speeds due to deprioritization.

Please always refer to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at MyFamilyMobile.com.

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Crunching dollars and planning weddings: How to financially plan for the big day

(BPT) – Attending most weddings, with the exception of your creepy uncle’s third marriage, is great. You eat free food, get to dance to music and leave without having to take part in the cleanup or the costs.

It gets a little different when you’re the one footing the bill. Then you’re confronted with 127 different invitation styles, a guest list that keeps growing and awkward phone calls to cousins to tell them they can’t bring their bratty 7-year old twins.

Falling in love might have been easy and making the decision to spend the rest of your life together was probably a no-brainer. However, celebrating your love and funneling all that joy into one beautiful ceremony and one memorable party is where things get a little more complicated.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models and educating consumers on credit, VantageScore Solutions shares how important it is for couples to agree on how to manage their finances.

So let’s get into it and look at some of the financial topics you and your partner should go over.

Paying for your wedding

No doubt how to pay for your dream wedding will be one of the first conversations you’ll have with your loved one. Some people have months, sometimes even more than a year to plan and save up for the big day. Other times you may need to make a deposit or pay for something upfront and you might not have the cash to do it.

This is when you reach for your credit card.

Even if you don’t plan to use a credit card, it’s more than likely you’ll have to put some things on credit. This might include just about anything you purchase online, from the cute decorations you find on Etsy or novelty gifts you find on Amazon. In addition, many venues require you to have a credit card on file.

The point is, it’s likely that at some point you’ll use credit to pay for your wedding. When you do this, both you and your partner need to be aware of the potential perils of racking up debt. Provided you can responsibly manage the debt and have a plan to do so, your credit score won’t decline, which can lead to more purchasing opportunities in the future.

But first, you need to talk about credit with your partner.

The talk

Talking about credit might not exactly be a champagne and strawberries moment, but it is probably one of the most important discussions you can have.

Because it might be hard to get started on this topic, many couples find it’s easier to start by taking The Credit Score Quiz. This 12-question quiz is easy to take and can do a lot to reveal the knowledge gaps you and your partner may need to fill.

While the quiz is a great way to get started, resources like The Score, a monthly newsletter from VantageScore Solutions that covers all things credit, can help you continue on your conversation and guide you on your journey.

So while you’re debating what shade of off-white is right for your invitations, take the time to talk and use these credit-related resources. After the big day has come and gone, you’ll be glad that together, both of you were smart about your finances.

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How the state you live in affects your college savings strategy

(BPT) – The cost of a four-year college degree now hovers around the $100,000 mark, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. While high college costs seem universal these days, college savings strategies are far from a one-size-fits-all. Many factors influence how you’ll save for college, including your children’s ages when you start saving, what schools they might want to attend, and how old you’ll be when they enter college.

The factor most people don’t know about, however, is that the state you live in actually can dramatically affect how you save for education.

“Because states offer different incentives for college savings, the state you live in can play a large role in how you prioritize different savings opportunities,” says Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner with independent online financial adviser Betterment. “Tools like 529 savings plans, state tax credits and matching savings programs vary by state, creating a checkerboard of different savings opportunities.”

Why states affect college savings: 529 plans

The central reason why states have such an impact on college savings strategy is because of a special college savings account, created by the Internal Revenue Code, called a 529 plan.

States administer the plans, and so, different states can choose to offer different incentives for improving their residents’ college savings. In general, there are two types of 529 plans: pre-paid tuition plans and savings programs.

Pre-paid tuition plans allow you to pay for your child’s tuition, in advance, years before he or she will go to college. This allows you to pay current tuition prices, rather than the going rate when your child attends school in the future — when costs could be even higher. Compare that to savings plans that allow you to put money away for college, invest it so your money can grow, and forgo paying federal income tax on the earnings from your investment when you withdraw money to pay for college.

In general, 529 accounts are a great option for college savings because of their tax advantages. However, those tax savings also come with restrictions. Depending on where you live and your personal preferences, you may find these restrictions don’t outweigh the benefit of your state’s 529 plan.

Important questions to ask when building a college savings strategy

Because 529 plan incentives play such a big role in developing a college savings strategy, Holeman points to five key questions that savers should answer about their state before opening any accounts.

1. Does the state offer a match program?

According to SavingforCollege.com, 10 states currently have programs that provide matching dollars for contributions made to 529 savings plans held by low- and middle-income families. These programs may match contributions dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount (as in Kansas) or have a tiered structure that increases the match for families with lower incomes (as in Arkansas). Other states allow employers to offer 529 matching dollars as a benefit to their employees. However, 529 match programs are only available for in-state account-holders, so if you have a 529 from Arkansas, but live in Ohio, you won’t be eligible for Arkansas’ program. If you’re eligible for a 529 match, you should consider contributing at least enough to max out that match.

2. What types of 529s does the state offer?

In addition to pre-paid tuition and savings accounts, a third type of 529, called 529 ABLE, helps people with disabilities save for college and other expenses without affecting other government benefits they might receive. Further, each of those three types of 529s can have structural differences from state to state. Some states may offer all types of plans, while others may offer only one or two. If your state doesn’t offer the type of 529 you’re looking for, you can opt for another state’s 529. Be aware though that you will likely miss out on any state tax benefits if you go with an out-of-state 529 plan.

3. What is the maximum account balance permitted?

While 529s can be a great way to save money for college, they do have limits. Every state sets a maximum account balance, and if your 529 reaches that limit, whether through contributions, investment growth or both, you won’t be allowed to make any more contributions to it. Limits vary from state to state. For example, Pennsylvania’s 529 max is $511,758, while Mississippi’s is less than half that. If you’re planning on saving for a private college or graduate school, these limits can become a factor.

4. Does the state offer a tax deduction for its 529s?

Some states offer full or partial tax deductions for 529 contributions, while others don’t. Most states only offer the tax deduction if you choose your state’s 529 plan. If you do get a tax deduction, it likely makes sense to stick with your state’s 529. If not, the tax benefits are much less.

5. What is the quality and quantity of schools in the state?

While most 529 funds can be used anywhere, there can be additional benefits to using 529 funds in the account’s home state. Before you commit to a 529 savings plan from any state, explore the availability of higher education in that state. For example, Texas has great public schools, so their pre-paid tuition program might make sense. For other states, the savings plan can make more sense though.

The key takeaway is that the state you live in can affect how beneficial a 529 plan is for you. Some people may even decide a 529 is not worth the added restrictions and instead opt to save for college in a standard taxable account.

To learn more about 529s and how they can help you save for college, visit www.savingforcollege.com. The most effective college savings strategies are part of a personalized financial plan. Learn more about setting goals to help maximize your savings at Betterment.com/financial-planning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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