Archive for the ‘ Budgeting ’ Category

How to Plan a Vacation Without Getting Into Debt


Whether you’re planning a trip to a country across the globe or packing the car for a weekend road trip to a local campground, you can have a debt-free vacation with some careful planning.

It’s easy to see how a vacation can blow up even the most carefully planned budget: In NerdWallet’s 2018 Summer Spending Report, parents surveyed by Harris Poll planned to charge an average of $1,019 to credit cards for summer vacations.

To ease the stress of a vacation on your budget, start with a clear idea of your trip’s scope — identifying expenses from the time you leave your home to the moment you return — and create a realistic spending limit. Then get creative to trim costs along the way.

1. Save over time

Play the long game when planning and saving for a vacation. Put a portion of every paycheck aside to build up a reserve of cash for your trip.

Even saving $25 or $50 a month will help make your trip more affordable. Make sure the amount you’re setting aside will provide you with enough vacation cash, too.

Consider opening a separate savings account and automating regular transfers to help you save without thinking about it.

If you’re more of an impulsive traveler, work to contribute to this travel fund regularly so you can have that weekend getaway without having to pull out your credit card.

2. Make a friendly budget

Think of your budget as another companion on your trip.

Just as with any travel buddy, make sure you and your budget set good expectations for each other. Make a spending plan. Account for everything from flights and lodging to entertainment and shopping. Your budget might not take you to every museum or restaurant you want; work to find a compromise that makes both of you happy.

If you run the numbers and find you can’t swing that vacation without overspending, think about shelving the trip for a few months and saving more money in the meantime.

3. Make the most of your credit cards

Have a travel credit card or a cash-back card sitting in your wallet? You can take advantage of it before and during your trip. If you don’t have one yet and your trip is six months or more away, consider looking into cards with a sign-up bonus that could cover flights or lodging.

Card in hand, spend smart. Say you have a card that gives you cash back on groceries; determine what you spend on groceries annually and earmark those rewards points for your vacation budget.

The key is having a plan to pay off your charges every month, advises Joe Cheung, a travel hacker and blogger at As the Joe Flies.

“Everything starts out with a commitment to not having any credit card debt,” says Cheung. “With that principle in place, that opens up the possibility to earn credit card rewards without going into debt or paying interest.”

You can also use a rewards card to cut your travel costs. Your card may get you free rental car insurance, or baggage fees or foreign transaction fees waived.

4. Watch hotels like a hawk

Lodging is one of the most costly parts of a vacation. Shop strategically to lower your hotel costs, including monitoring prices and booking rooms during off-peak periods.

Cheung recommends booking your reservation, but waiting to pay. That way you can continue to monitor hotel prices and change your booking accordingly.

“Sometimes prices will drop by just $10 or $20, but sometimes it’s pretty drastic,” Cheung says. “I once had a hotel for $250 a night, then it dropped to $160 a night.”

You also can check prices at the hotel where you’ve made your initial reservation and price-compare with hotel price aggregator sites to see if you’re getting the best deal.

5. Use apps to find cheap flights

Price-tracking apps and websites can do the work of price hunting for you.

With the smartphone app Hopper, for example, you can enter the general parameters of your itinerary, and it will track prices over time and alert you when the cheapest flight is available. The more flexible your travel dates, the easier it will be for you to find a low price. Google Flights provides a similar service.

One drawback to these services: They don’t include prices for every airline. So monitor a few sources to get the best price.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

The article How to Plan a Vacation Without Getting Into Debt originally appeared on NerdWallet.


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What Costs to Expect When Selling Your Home


Just as with buying a home, selling also comes with its share of dues. You need to prepare your home for prospective buyers as well as pay part of the closing costs, which average around 3% of the home price. Here’s a breakdown of the types of costs you can expect.

Home repairs and inspections: Before the sale, you’ll probably want to fix up carpet stains, window cracks or other home features that have suffered minor damage over time. You also might decide to pay for an inspection for termites or other pests to avoid any unpleasant experience for prospective buyers checking the home.

Staging: To impress buyers, hiring a professional home decorator or stager can help you organize and make your home more appealing. You might also get higher bids on the home this way.

Settlement company fees: If you decide to use a third-party settlement company to ensure all documents and procedures between you and the buyer are correct, you pay the company for your portion of the closing costs and potentially an administrative cost. In return, the company will pay off your mortgage and those closing fees to the lender.

Real estate commission: Generally, you have to pay for the real estate fees for both your agent and the buyer’s agent. The cost can be negotiated, but it typically ranges between 5% and 7% of the home price, split between agents. The money goes to the agents’ brokerages, who will then pay them. This commission can be one of your biggest expenses.

Attorney fees: Lawyers can be certified as real property specialists and in some states might be required to help close a home sale.

Property taxes: Ideally, the buyer and seller pay their respective shares of the property taxes for when they lived in the home that year. Depending on when you sell, you might pay all taxes for that year and have the buyer reimburse you for the time he started living there. Additionally, if your home increased in value more than a certain amount, you might have to pay a capital gains tax.

Seller’s concession: If the buyer is having trouble paying for some of the closing costs, the seller can agree to pay a percentage of them. In exchange, that amount can be added into the home price the buyer pays.

Title search: Although the title search is generally the buyer’s responsibility, you might decide to pay for it as part of the deal. The title search involves a professional reviewing public records to confirm you own the property that you’re selling and that no unpaid dues interfere with your title of ownership.

Lien releases: From the title search, you might discover that some debt hasn’t been paid. If you owe any taxes, contractor costs, utilities or other bills on your home, you’ll receive a lien, or a record of any unpaid amount on your home. You must pay it off to clear your title and be able to sell your home.

Owner’s title insurance: If the title search misses something, a lien remains unpaid or the seller doesn’t actually own the property, this insurance protects the buyer from any financial loss. The seller generally pays for this.

Home warranty: As part of the negotiation with the buyer, you might decide to pay for a one-year protection plan on the buyer’s behalf. This will cover certain repair costs if needed. Knowing the possible costs when selling your home can keep the process straightforward. Despite being potentially expensive and time-consuming, selling at a good price and without complications can save you time and energy.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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7 Banking Tips for Young Millennials


Once you start receiving your first paychecks after graduation, knowing how to spend or save your money wisely can be tough. While you may be able to do your banking with just a few taps on your phone, managing money well is much more complicated. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Budget using apps

Tracking how much you spend weekly and monthly shows you where your money goes and how you can save more. You can use a budgeting tool or app that tracks your cash automatically or one where you enter information manually. Choose an app that lets you spend as little or as much time on budgeting as you want. From there, you can identify your total fixed expenses, such as rent and car payments, and more-flexible costs such as shopping and dining out.

2. Set up automatic transfers to savings

When you have a rough idea of how much you can save regularly, create a recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account. By making savings automatic, you can get used to spending “below your means” and never have to worry about remembering to transfer.

3. Avoid overdrawing your checking account

Before you pay rent or spend any other big chunk of money, take a look at your checking account’s available balance. This can prevent you from spending more than you have in your account. If you overdraw, you may be charged a fee.

4. Establish credit

Student loans and credit cards can help you build good credit — as long as you stay current on monthly payments and don’t overuse your cards. Your credit score, which shows how responsible you are with credit, is an important factor that lenders check before approving car loans and mortgages. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you may be eligible for.

5. Repay debts strategically

If you have debts from multiple credit cards and student loans, pay the minimum on each and then contribute more to your higher-interest debts. By making those a priority, you can reduce how much interest you’re paying faster than by treating all debts the same.

6. Start an emergency fund

Being financially prepared in case of health emergencies or unexpected unemployment can save you from going into debt. Have a separate savings account just for this purpose; don’t mix it up with your regular savings. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to pay three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

7. Set long-term savings goals

Consider saving for retirement in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. When you start saving early, you take advantage of compounded returns to make more money off your contributions overall.

From smart budgeting to setting goals, make good money choices now. Since time is on your side, you can benefit from building credit and saving early to be ready for big financial decisions in the future.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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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.


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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.

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