Getting Hitched Doesn’t Need to Mean Marrying Finances


Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it’s the right approach, but there are several other options.

The traditional approach

Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn’t entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It’s also appropriate for couples choosing to bank on one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

The share-everything approach

With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it’s vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

The four-accounts approach

Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it’s also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner’s discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

The what’s-mine-is-mine approach

Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it’s also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

Which way is best?

Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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7 Important Financial Steps For New Parents To Take


Napping timeHave you or anyone you know had a recent addition to their family? With all the excitement of a new baby, it’s easy for the parents to overlook some key financial steps to take. Here are seven tips you might want to share with them or consider for yourself:

1) Add your child to your health insurance policy

You’ll want to make sure your little one is covered and if you get insurance through your employer, you may have a limited time to add your child to your policy. You may also want to switch to a lower deductible plan if you’re concerned about your baby’s potential health care costs. If you’re in a high deductible plan and are switching from an individual to a family policy, be aware that you can now contribute $3,500 more to a health savings account (HSA) for 2019.

 2) Update your will, trust, and beneficiary designations

A will goes beyond just designating who will inherit your assets. It can also designate who will be the guardian of your child should something happen to both parents. The decision of who could end up raising your child is a pretty big one and not something you probably want the courts to decide if it’s not in your will. Your employer may even offer a benefit that allows you to draft a will and other basic estate planning documents for free.

You might also want to add your child as a beneficiary on any accounts, trusts, and life insurance policies you have since those beneficiary designations trump anything on your will. That means neglecting to update those documents could cause you to inadvertently disinherit your child from a significant portion of your assets even if your will divides everything equally among your children. If you don’t fill out the beneficiary form at all, your retirement accounts would go into your estate and your child could lose significant tax benefits.

In addition, you can put beneficiaries on bank accounts with a POD (payable on death) form and on regular investment accounts with a TOD (transfer on death) form that you can typically get from the institution holding the account. Some states also allow you to add beneficiaries to real estate and vehicles. Having these beneficiary designations allow these assets to pass on without the cost, delay, and lack of privacy involved with the probate process and with much less cost than a trust.

Of course, a trust can provide other benefits like appointing a trustee to manage money for your child even beyond the age of majority in your state. (Do you really think an 18 year old will know to manage the money?) If you do decide to draft a trust, you may want to see if your employer offers a prepaid legal plan that allows you to get discounted legal services, including estate planning.

3) Ensure you have adequate life insurance

Once you’ve decided who will take care of your child and what your child will inherit, you’ll want to make sure that your child has enough to live comfortably. That could be more difficult if they’re going to be raised by your spouse as a single parent than if their guardian is a rich uncle. The good news is that your family may qualify for  benefits from Social Security if something were to happen to you.

If that won’t be enough, you may need to purchase life insurance. Since you’ll only need the insurance until your child can support themselves, term insurance covering that length of time is generally the most cost-effective option. You can calculate roughly how much you’ll need here and look for low cost policies here.

Your employer may also offer you a window of time after your child’s birth to purchase additional life insurance without a medical exam. This may be much cheaper than buying a separate policy that requires underwriting, especially if you have health problems. Just be sure to check if the policy is portable. Otherwise, you could be at risk of becoming uninsurable if your health deteriorates and you leave your job.

4) Plan for childcare expenses

You can estimate your childcare expenses here. If you don’t think you can afford it due to limited income, try contacting your state’s Childcare Program Office for financial assistance. Otherwise, see if your employer offers a dependent care FSA (flexible spending account) that you can contribute to pre-tax and use the money tax-free for dependent care expenses. That’s like getting a discount equal to your marginal tax rate. Just be aware that the FSA is use-it-or-lose so you don’t want to contribute more than you expect to spend that year.

You can also claim a dependent care credit on your taxes. You can’t use the FSA and the credit for the same expense though. Generally, the dependent care credit is better for families in the 15% tax bracket or lower while the FSA is better for families in higher tax brackets.

5) Make adjustments to your budget

Of course, insurance and childcare aren’t the only additional expenses you may have. Kids are expensive, but there are some things you can do to make them a little less so. For example, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on clothing that they’ll quickly outgrow, especially when they’re too young to care what they look like anyway, so shop for baby clothes at discount retailers like Old Navy and Target and even consignment shops. You can also purchase used toys and baby furniture. They won’t know the difference.

6) Consider saving for education expenses

I say “consider” because as selfish as this may sound, you’ll want to make sure your needs are taken care of first. That means paying off any high-interest debt your may have (anything with interest rates above 4-6%), building an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of necessary expenses, and getting on track to retirement. After all, there’s no financial aid for emergencies or retirement. (It’s just like how airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your children with theirs.) However, once you are ready to start putting some money aside to help them with future education expenses, there are some tax-advantaged options to consider.

7) Start teaching good financial habits

It’s never too early (or too late) to start learning the habits that can help shape a person’s financial life. While they might be too young to learn about balancing a checkbook, just learning something as simple as how to resist eating a marshmallow can make a huge difference. As they grow older, you can help them further develop the discipline to delay gratification and eventually plan and save for their own future. After all, watching them grow into responsible adults is something you really can’t put a price on.

©2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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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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Choosing a Deductible for your Car Insurance


Buy or sell car, purchase or rent automobile service with key with car keychain on pile of US Dollar banknotes money on printed contract paper and pen to sign, finance installment or debt awarenessSo you’re buying a car and need to make a decision about insurance. Presumably you’ll compare price and coverage options, and in doing so you’ll see that price varies based on the deductible you select. What is a deductible, and what factors should you consider in making your decision?

Deductible Defined and Explained: Your deductible is the amount of money you must pay for vehicle repairs before the auto insurance company pays the remaining costs. For example, if your car is damaged and your deductible is $1,000 but the damage to your car is $1,500, you would pay the $1,000 and your insurance provider would cover the remaining $500.

Choosing a Deductible: Making this choice depends on your personal comfort level, the amount of risk you’re willing to take, and is sometimes determined by the entity that finances your car. An insurance broker can help you make a decision based on your personal situation, but here are a few factors to consider when deciding:

  • Emergency funds: Do you have a healthy savings account and/or emergency fund? What can you afford to pay out of pocket if something happens? A higher deductible can lower your monthly premiums and save you money each month, but if you cannot afford the deductible itself when repairs are needed, this is likely not a good option.
  • Value of your vehicle: More expensive vehicles are typically more expensive to insure. For high-value vehicles, a high deductible might make sense because the savings can be significant. On the other hand, the value of an older vehicle might be similar to the cost of a high deductible. This means that in some instances, replacement of the older vehicle might be more cost effective than repairs, suggesting a low deductible is best.
  • Risk: Evaluate your personal likelihood of needing to file a claim. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good driver; everyone has some level of risk. Do you drive frequently, and in high-traffic times or areas? Do you live in a place with a large proportion of high-risk drivers? Do you have a teenager learning to drive? What other personal risk factors should you consider?

Source: CUInsight.com


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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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The Holidays are Just Around the Corner: Start Saving Now to Avoid Headaches Later


Family in Christmas shopping

Even though the kids just went back to school and December may seem far away, it’s not too early to draw up a financial plan for the holidays.

That’s because creating your financial blueprint now can help avoid headaches later, like overspending and sinking into debt, experts say.

Heading into the holidays without a plan can increase the risk of unraveling an entire year’s worth of financial discipline – as well as undermining your enjoyment of the season. Unfortunately, most Americans enter the holiday season without a financial game plan.

“We found that two-thirds of Americans do not have a holiday budget,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate.com. “That can certainly present problems given the fact that the holidays generate lots of one-time big expenses and it happens every year.”

Create a budget

Racking up credit card bills isn’t uncommon at the holidays, with more than one in four adults admitting they go into debt during the season, according to Dana Marineau, a financial advocate at personal finance company Credit Karma. Creating a budget can aid you in sidestepping the debt trap, she adds.

As part of the budget, make a list of specific items you’d like to buy for friends and family members to help you avoid impulse purchases, Marineau recommends.

“Be thoughtful about what you want to buy,” she says. “Maybe you see a great sweater you get targeted on Instagram. You think, ‘Maybe my Aunt Mary would like that,’ but don’t allow the impulse of the targeted advertising” to sway you.

Don’t forget costs beyond gifts

Holiday shoppers often forget about costs like travel and entertaining, McBride notes. When you create your budget, make sure to add in the expense of flights, hotels, dining out and other ancillary costs.

These costs can often exceed spending on gifts, with credit bureau Experian finding that the typical American who plans to travel at the holidays spends about $930, compared with about $850 in gift purchases.

Put money aside now

Don’t wait until the last minute to save for holiday shopping and travel. Start socking away money now into savings. And remember that some of your holiday expenses may occur far earlier than you expect, such as if you buy airline tickets in October for a family visit in December.

“Put a portion of every paycheck toward holiday spending,” McBride recommends. “When the fall comes and you start to begin incurring holiday expenses, you’ll have some money set aside.”

Rethink your gift priorities

Lastly, rethinking gift-giving can help save money and time.

Anne Van Donsel of Burlington, Vermont, notes that her family, which is scattered around the country, opted to stop exchanging gifts a few years ago.

“It takes so much pressure off everything because you can enjoy the holidays without going broke,” she says. Instead of buying gifts, family members then have more money to spend on travel to visit each other, she adds.

“It makes it so it’s not overwhelming from a time perspective or financial perspective,” she says. “It takes you off that roller-coaster.”

Source: USAToday.com


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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.


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