Archive for the ‘ Budgeting ’ Category

How to Tell You’re Ready to Buy a House


Making the decision to become a homeowner is emotionally and financially complex. Here are some key things to ask yourself if you’re considering whether buying is right for you.

Do you have a good reason to buy?

Sometimes switching from renting to buying is a no-brainer.  Maybe you live in a modern one-bedroom apartment in a chic part of town, but you have a baby on the way. If you want a place in a good school district, with more square footage and a yard, buying may well be your best bet.

Other times, the urge to buy is driven by emotion: You see a house you like and you “just know.” There’s nothing wrong with that reaction, but take time to check out the property before you make any commitments. If it’s too far from work, near a noisy road or the best house on a bad block, it may not be as good a deal as it first appears.

And remember: Houses go on the market all the time, and there are tens of millions of single-family homes and condos in the U.S., so there’s no need to worry if your first choice doesn’t work out; your home is out there.

Can you make the upfront investment?

Buying a home requires an initial investment that you can’t ignore.

First, many lenders require a down payment of 20% of the home price. That’s $54,000 for a home that costs $270,000, about the median price in America. You’ll also owe closing costs, which could include loan-origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, survey fees, underwriting fees, title search fees, and title insurance. Those could total another few thousand dollars.

The expenses don’t end there. You’ll want to hire an independent inspector to look for defects in a home before you buy.  This will cost several hundred dollars, but could save you thousands in repairs. And then there are moving costs, state or city taxes, utilities installation and the costs of changes you might want to make to the home — such as new flooring or painting — that are easiest to do while it’s empty.

This isn’t meant to scare you off; buying a home is still a smart choice for many people, despite the costs. But it does take a lot of cash.

Can you afford the upkeep?

Your mortgage payment might be fixed for the next 30 years, but your property taxes and insurance rates can rise. And if you didn’t make a 20% down payment, you’ll have to buy private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you have 20% equity in your home.

Once you’re a homeowner, you’ll also have to pay certain utility bills that might have been included in your rent. And you’ll be responsible for maintenance: double-pane windows one year, a new garage door the next, fixes to the roof five years up the road. It adds up.

These numbers are based on averages.  Plug your specific figures into a rent-or-buy calculator to find out if you’re ready for home-ownership. And know that there is no one answer that’s right for everybody. Whether you keep renting or buy, your decision should be right for you alone.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


Members 1st is here to help you through all of life’s most important moments and milestones. For more information about buying a home, visit our Mortgage Services website.

How to Help Aging Parents Without Going Broke


The stress involved in being a care provider for your parents is twofold: You want to make sure they’re not in pain, while making sure that you don’t hurt yourself financially. The balance is a delicate one.

Almost a third of adults ages 40 to 59 have provided financial support to a parent in the previous year, according to a recent Pew Research report. If you’re in that situation, see what you can do to help without burning through your savings or going into debt.

Understand your parents’ finances 

If you’re not used to asking your parents about their money situation, this can be a hard topic to broach. But it’s necessary. You want to know upfront about how far their funds will take them, including retirement savings, pensions and Social Security payments. A more important question is: Can they afford assisted living or a nursing home, should that become necessary, and for how long? Also check their insurance coverage should they need expensive drugs or extended hospital care.

Evaluate health coverage

Make sure your parents will have a way to handle future health costs. Although Medicare can cover hospital, medical and prescription drug costs, there are limits, and some expenses may need to be paid out of pocket. Look into options like the Medicare Savings Program for your state, and also use the National Council on Aging’s free service, BenefitsCheckUp.org, to see what other help may be available to your parents.

Get professional advice

Once it’s clear that your parents will need more help soon, get a geriatric care manager to assess the situation. These professionals work with families to determine the best course of action for quality of life in terms of housing, legal services, home care and other assistance. Who is best fit to hold a power of attorney for your parents, for instance, is an issue they can help you sort out.

Get family involved

If you’re not an only child or if you have family members who can help, don’t try to do it all on your own. It can burn you out, and sharing the financial costs with other relatives can help ensure that it’s a family effort.

Consider hospice care

Sending your parents to a nursing home might not be the best option. If a parent has a terminal illness, hospice can be a good alternative, and Medicare or Medicaid may cover all the costs, including care, medicine and other supplies. You’ll have to make sure the arrangement is approved through your parent’s health coverage. Also note that any conditions unrelated to a covered illness may not come under hospice benefits.

By checking on programs and services that can help your parents, you can make supporting them financially a last resort instead of your first.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


Worried about not having money set aside as an emergency fund or for medical expenses? Consider looking into a Members 1st Goal Savings Account! Goal Savings Accounts allow you to choose what you are saving for and name your account. Set the dollar amount and target date for your goal. Save, track and reach your goals!

4 Things to Do Before Buying a Home


As exciting as it is to buy a home, the lead-up can be a dizzying experience, especially for first-time buyers. But don’t fret. Breaking down the process into smaller steps can help ease your anxieties. Here’s a look at the kinds of questions you’ll want to ask yourself, as well as a few other practical tips.

Judge readiness for responsibility

Although the thought of home-ownership is generally a pleasant one, the reality can be much more stressful. That’s why it’s crucial to ask yourself whether you’re really ready for the hassles of buying and owning a home. Gone will be the days when you could simply call the landlord to fix a leaky faucet. Those chores will become your responsibility once you own your castle.

You’ll also want to think about how long you plan on living in the home you’re interested in, which will help determine the best mortgage for you. A fixed rate loan offers predictability: Once you take out your mortgage, your monthly payment will not change until you pay off the loan or refinance. An adjustable rate mortgage typically offers a lower starting interest rate if you plan to sell in a few years.

Determine what you can afford

Use a mortgage calculator to figure out how much home you can afford. It’s one of the most important steps to take. To start, think about your down payment, as well as the transaction costs. Although experts recommend having 20% of the price for a down payment, you may be able to put down as little as 3%, assuming your credit score is good and you’re willing to accept a higher interest rate and pay for private mortgage insurance, or PMI. To give you a better sense of what you might owe, consider that the median sales price of an existing home was about $270,000 in 2018. So 20% down amounts to $54,000.

Don’t forget the transaction costs, which can amount to 5% of the price, to cover things such as appraisal, title search and lawyer’s fees. When coming up with a home-ownership budget, factor in the monthly mortgage payment, maintenance costs and energy bills.

Clean up your credit

If you’re applying for a mortgage, you’ll want to clean up your credit to get the best possible interest rate on your loan. To lock in the best ones, shoot for a credit score of 700 or above. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, higher rates stemming from a low rating when you borrowed can cost you thousands of extra dollars.

For starters, reduce your debt as much as possible. That includes slashing your credit card debt as well as any remaining student loans. To see what else needs fixing, order a copy of your credit report.

Stick with your current job

Financial planners agree that people should spend 28% or less of their gross monthly income on housing payments. The key to that, of course, is having a job. If you’re in between work, lenders are likely to view you as a greater risk when it comes to making mortgage payments. As such, the months leading up to purchasing a home are definitely not the time to make a sudden job or career change.

There’s little denying that the process of buying a home can be stressful. In fact, that may serve as good preparation for some of the hassles related to actually owning a home. In both cases, though, the benefits of home-ownership tend to outweigh the occasional headaches.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


Members 1st is here to help you through all of life’s most important moments and milestones. For more information about buying a home, visit our Mortgage Services website.

How to Be a Money-Smart Graduate Student


Whether you’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in English literature or a Ph.D. in chemical engineering this fall, life as a graduate student likely will require a good deal of thriftiness. But that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to a steady diet of instant noodles and cereal for the foreseeable future.

Here’s a look at several sustainable ways that grad students can maximize their stipends or other income and cut costs in the process.

Find a roommate

Sharing a house or an apartment with others may have taken some getting used to as an undergraduate. By now, though, you’re probably a seasoned veteran. And that’s a good thing, since finding a roommate is still one of the best ways to save money.

As well as being able to write a smaller rent check every month, you may also want to divvy up utilities and split groceries. Consider using an app like Roomi to find someone who has similar attitudes toward noise and cleanliness, which can reduce tension down the road.

Catch the bus

Unlike your first college stint, you probably won’t be running back and forth between the far corners of your school’s campus to get to class. In grad school, you’ll probably spend most of your time in one or two buildings. A car, therefore, may not be essential. Instead, use a bike or hop on public transportation. Many schools offer subsidized transit passes to lighten the load on students’ finances.

Use student discounts

It can be disheartening to create a budget only to find that there isn’t much money left over for meals out or nights at the neighborhood bar. But if you take advantage of student discounts — and memorize that bar’s happy hour schedule — having a good time doesn’t have to put a major dent in your wallet.

From movie theaters to museums, many places offer student discounts. Although saving a couple of bucks may not seem like much, it’ll make a difference over time. This extra cash can then be put toward your future, either by eliminating debt or saving for retirement.

Tackle debt, save what you can

Only about 1 in 10 millennials say they feel “very confident” that they’ll have enough cash for retirement, according to a recent survey. If you’re worried about running out of money during your later years, consider starting to set aside some of your income now. A good amount to shoot for is about 10% of your monthly earnings.

You’ll also be doing your future self a huge favor by slashing as much credit card or student loan debt as possible. Also, do your best not to rack up any new consumer debt. Use your plastic only in emergencies.

The bottom line

Pursuing an advanced degree can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but not financially, at least not right away. It’s therefore essential to take advantage of all the breaks you can get, such as subsidized transportation passes and other student discounts. That way, the only thing you’ll graduate with is more knowledge, and not mountains of credit card debt.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


For more information about Graduate Loans and other student loans, visit the our student loans web page or our Student Choice website.

Is Fall the Best Time to Buy a House?


Sometimes it’s smarter to buy certain items according to the season, like sweaters near the end of winter and swimsuits in late summer. But what’s the best season for buying a house?

The answer: the fall. As temperatures cool and trees shed their leaves, enough factors break in the buyer’s favor to make it the No. 1 season for home-buying. Here’s why.

Less competition

Many home-buyers are families who want to minimize a move’s effect on their kids’ schooling. They want them to start at a new school on the first day, not midyear. And so if their spring and summer searching didn’t work out, they might well wait for the next go-round. This means fewer buyers bidding on the same houses you’re interested in and more negotiating power when you do.

Of course, this works both ways: Sellers might not want to uproot their families in the middle of the school year either. But while this brings housing inventory down, you might just find it easier to focus and pinpoint exactly what you really want in a home.

Sellers are more motivated

Spring and summer are the high seasons for home-buying: Days are longer, the weather’s nice, and open houses are well-attended. And that means sellers can sit back and be a bit choosier with offers.

But as Labor Day recedes in the rear-view mirror, sellers start to wriggle in their seats. The prospect of trying to sell during the holiday season or, more likely, waiting until the next year, is dispiriting. And so these sellers can become, in a sense, settlers — willing to reduce their prices and conditions. There is some variation by region, but overall in the U.S., prices have peaked by the end of August.

Buyers can use this increased motivation to their advantage, offering less and asking for more during negotiations.

Taxes and discounts

Buying a home costs a lot of money but comes with good tax breaks as well. The IRS allows deductions for the interest you pay on your mortgage, on the premiums you might pay for mortgage insurance, on property taxes and more, including some of these that went into your closing costs. Buying a home in the fall means seeing those tax breaks sooner, the following April.

Also, much like those motivated sellers, many homebuilders discount their inventories during this time of year to help them meet year-end sales goals.

The decision to buy requires serious consideration of where you are in life, what your goals are and how much you can afford. But if you are indeed ready, buying during the fall can be a good call. Just try to find time in between football games.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


Members 1st is here to help you through all of life’s most important moments and milestones. For more information about buying a home, visit our Mortgage Services website.

How to Fund Your College Social Life While Maintaining Your Finances


Unlike Snoop Dogg, incoming college students might not have their minds on their money and their money on their minds. But if you’re just starting out on campus and can put some of your focus on your finances, you have a great opportunity: Knowing how to manage your cash can save you endless headaches down the road.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your finances in order.

Learn to budget

Tuition, groceries, dining out, textbooks, rent — the expenses never seem to stop piling up. Creating a budget can help you regulate how much you spend and on what. Use a spreadsheet, a notebook, or a good budgeting tool or app to track what your purchases. And always prioritize essentials before indulging on new shoes or concert tickets.

Know the ins and outs of financial aid

Students miss out on billions of dollars in free government aid each year. Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, early and you’ll be more likely to receive the scholarships and grants you qualify for. These should always be your first priority when it comes to financial aid.

Private scholarships can also be valuable, even if they’re small sums. Try to spend two hours a week researching and applying for scholarships.

If you still need funding, try federal loans first and private loans last. Neither is free, though it might feel that way now, so borrow only what you absolutely need.

Practice good credit card habits

Horror stories of spiraling credit card debt might have made you wary of plastic. But the length of your credit history is a key part of your credit score. And having a good score can earn you a lower interest rate on a car loan or a mortgage in the future.

Although you’re a student, you don’t automatically qualify for a student credit card; you’ll need income or a co-signer. If you don’t have either, consider a secured card. These require you to put down a cash deposit as collateral, but if the issuer reports your account activity to the credit bureaus, they can help you start building credit.

Develop good credit card habits now. Think of your card as another debit card and charge only an amount you can pay off with what’s in your bank account. And don’t carry a balance from month to month — paying in full will keep your credit score high.

Save money where you can

The outside world tries to make up for your sky-high tuition costs with a little something called  student discounts. Big retail chains such as Apple, Banana Republic and J. Crew, as well as movie theaters and museums, offer discounted prices for students. If you don’t see one advertised, just ask.

Avoid paying full price for your textbooks by searching for used copies on websites such as Chegg and Abebooks. Amazon offers a 50% student discount for Amazon Prime accounts.

Build your resume

True, college is expensive, but it’s also an investment. College graduates earned about 63% more than those with only high school diplomas in 2013, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Make sure you get that degree — but improve yourself in other ways, too. Learn a foreign language and volunteer for leadership positions. These skills will set you apart in a competitive job market.

The costs of being in college might keep your wallet thin now, but in the long run, it could turn out to be the best financial decision you ever made.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


For more tips on planning for college and information about Members 1st’s student loan program, visit members1st.studentchoice.org.

The Cost of Raising a Child From Cradle to Adulthood


Raising a child takes patience, understanding — and about $245,340, based on the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s the average cost to care for a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income family, as calculated by the USDA in a recent report on family expenditures. The estimate excludes prenatal health care and college costs.

If you’re getting ready to have your first child, your life and your spending will change drastically. Here’s a closer look at how the cost breaks down.

Housing

Child-rearing expenses typically cost couples with two children between just over $9,000 and nearly $26,000 a year per child, depending on household income and the age of the children, according to the USDA.

The incremental cost of housing is the largest expenditure, accounting for about 30% of the cost of raising a child to adulthood, the report says. That estimate is based on the expectation that a family with children will need at least one extra bedroom. And the estimate of housing costs is conservative, the USDA says, because it does not take into consideration the desire of many parents to live in areas with better schools, for example, which tend to be more expensive.

To prepare for buying a home, you will want to have around 20% of the purchase price saved up for a down payment, although lenders do make exceptions. Consult your credit union for help with mortgage qualification.

Child care and education

The cost burden of child care and education has ballooned since 1960, when it accounted for only 2% of the typical costs of raising a child, to 18% today, according to the USDA report. That is largely due to women’s increased participation in the workforce.

To offset the cost, look into benefits such as the federal Child and Dependent Care Credit, which can reduce your taxes by up to $1,050 a year for a single child and $2,100 for two or more. Also look into alternatives to day care centers such as sharing a nanny with another family or hiring a live-in “au pair.”

If your child goes the private school route, be prepared. The average cost for private elementary school nationwide in 2014-15 was $7,331, and the average cost for private high school was almost twice that, according to PrivateSchoolReview.

For higher education, considering opening a 529 account for your child, which allows you to save for college costs with tax-free earnings and virtually no contribution limits. A Coverdell account can help you build savings for private school or college, although the benefits are more limited.

Food

As your child gets older, grocery bills will increase. Food accounts for 16% of child-rearing expenses, the USDA report says. This includes grocery shopping, dining out and school meals. To save money on food, eat as many homemade meals as you can; it’s considerably cheaper than dining out.

Health care

Your child inevitably will get sick, and even if you have insurance, it won’t cover all the costs. Out-of-pocket expenses for medical and dental services tend to rise as your children grow. Out-of-pocket health care expenses account for about 8% of the cost of raising a child in a typical household, the USDA figures. To save money, look into a health savings account or flexible spending plan, which allow you to pay for qualified health care expenses with pretax income.

Bringing a new life into the world comes with a spectrum of challenges and expenses, so be prepared with new strategies for saving money and building assets. As exciting as parenthood can be, it helps to be ready for it financially, too.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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