Tag: Fees

Plymouth Rock Assurance Review

Founded in 1982, Plymouth Rock Assurance provides a selection of property insurance and bodily injury insurance products to customers across the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire.

In this Plymouth Rock Assurance review, we’ll compare this provider to other regional and national insurance carriers, helping you find the best insurance policy for your needs.

Plymouth Rock Car Insurance Coverage

Plymouth Rock Assurance offers a host of car insurance coverage options, allowing you to meet the minimum requirements in your state and go above and beyond those requirements when needed,

Bodily Injury Coverage: Limited to a fixed amount of money per person and per accident, bodily injury insurance covers the harm done to other people in an accident. It is designed to help them with their medical bills and other payments resulting from an accident.

Property Damage Coverage: Also fixed to a specific sum, property damage insurance is designed to cover the other driver’s vehicle in an accident, as well as other property that you damage.

Collision Coverage: A type of insurance that covers you for damages done to your own car. With collision insurance, you will be covered regardless of who caused the accident and you’ll also get cover if the accident involves an obstacle (tree, guardrail, wall, fence) as opposed to another vehicle. You will not, however, be covered if you hit a deer. One of the quirks of this coverage option is that you’re only covered for animal collisions if you swerve and hit a wall/tree.

Comprehensive Coverage: With comprehensive coverage, you’re generally covered for the things that collision insurance can’t reach. It covers deer collisions and other accidents involving animal strikes and it also covers damage caused by weather and vandalism.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This coverage option works like bodily injury coverage, only instead of protecting the other driver and their passengers, it protects you, covering you for lost wages and medical bills.

Medical Payments: A type of insurance specifically designed to cover your medical bills. Unlike PIP, medical payments coverage will not give you money lost as a result of missed work.

Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist Coverage: When the other driver’s insurance cannot cover your claims, either because they don’t have enough or they don’t have any, uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance will step in.

Plymouth Rock Assurance Auto Insurance Features

Plymouth Rock Assurance has three different levels of auto insurance: Plus, Preferred, and Premier.  There are different coverage options available at each of these levels and you can upgrade if you feel that those options will serve you well.

Some of the features offered at these different levels, along with the additional coverage offered to all policyholders, include:

  • Door to Door Valet Claim Service: Plymouth Rock auto insurance customers can arrange for their cars to be picked up from their homes and taken to a nearby repair shop. Once it has been fixed, it will be returned at a time that is convenient to the policyholder.
  • Guaranteed Repairs: If performed at a listed repair shop, all repairs will be guaranteed by Plymouth Rock.
  • Comprehensive Claim Forgiveness: Plymouth Rock promises that your insurance premiums will not increase just because you make a claim about a stolen or weather-damaged vehicle.
  • Get Home Safe: If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel safe to drive home, Plymouth Rock will cover your taxi ride. This can happen one time per year as part of most Plymouth Rock car insurance policies.
  • Glass Coverage: Plymouth Rock offers several coverage options and policy features related to windshield repair and glass repair. This includes a $100 glass deductible and a waived glass deductible repair.
  • New Car Replacement: If you have a new car that gets totaled within a specific timeframe, Plymouth Rock will replace it completely.
  • Crashbusters: Plymouth Rock will send a Crashbusters team to your location at your request. They will assess the damage done to your vehicle and can help you to file a claim.
  • Pet Injury: In the event that your pet gets injured during a car accident, some Plymouth Rock policyholders can claim a small portion of the vet fees. After all, your dog or cat needs cover too!
  • Roadside Assistance: With the Plymouth Rock roadside assistance program, you’ll be covered for some of the services charged on broken down vehicles at the roadside, including towing, tire changes, fuel delivery, and more. 
  • Key Replacement: Lost your key? With the right cover from Plymouth Rock, you can get a replacement set.

Plymouth Rock Car Insurance Discounts

Plymouth Rock discounts differ from state to state and from user to user. The biggest of these are multi-policy discounts, which are offered when you purchase multiple policies, and prepay discounts, which are offered when you pay your insurance premiums upfront. 

Other available discounts include:

  • Paperless Filing: Go paperless and do your bit for the environment while helping to reduce waste and saving a few cents in the process.
  • Membership Organization Discounts: Make big savings when you are a member of specific organizations.
  • Senior Discount: Drivers above a certain age can apply.
  • Good Student Discount: Offered to young drivers who obtain at least a B average.
  • Safety Features and Anti-Theft Devices: If your car contains key features like trackers, alarms, airbags, seatbelts, and anti-lock brakes, these discounts will be available to you.
  • Driver Training: Complete driver training courses to prove your skills, show your commitment, and make some savings.
  • Low Mileage: Drive less and you could pay less.

Other Plymouth Rock Insurance Products

In addition to car insurance, the Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation offers a wealth of insurance products. These are also confined to a very small part of the United States and include:

Home Insurance

Plymouth Rock offers comprehensive insurance quotes for all homeowners. These policies will cover you for the breakdown of key appliances, loss of personal items, identity theft protection, and even protection against hacks and cybercrime.

You can apply for Plymouth Rock home insurance directly if you live in New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

Renters Insurance

Renters insurance will cover you for personal losses in the home, as well as providing liability protection for anyone who gets injured in your home. Plymouth Rock renters insurance is available in the same states as Plymouth Rock home insurance.

Life Insurance

Plymouth Rock life insurance policies are only available in the state of New Jersey. Both term life insurance and variable life insurance policies are available, of which term life is arguably the better choice.

Policyholders can opt for a term of between 10 and 30 years, with the insurance premiums and payouts dependent on your age, health, medical history, and other key factors.

Umbrella Insurance

An umbrella insurance policy essentially increases your liability limits, going the extra mile to protect you. It is a supplemental insurance policy, designed to be added onto car insurance or homeowners insurance and to protect you and your family in the event that a claim is made against you.

Plymouth Rock Customer Satisfaction and Claims Satisfaction

Plymouth Rock has good ratings from customers and experts. It has an A- rating from AM Best, which isn’t the highest possible rating but is a great effort from a relatively small company (when compared to giants like GEICO and State Farm).

The insurance claims process is quick and easy, and while there are a number of bad reviews and complaints out there, Plymouth Rock seems committed to remedying these as quickly and completely as possible.

Furthermore, if you have a bad experience with Plymouth Rock, make your discontent clear and they will make a donation to a charity of your choice. This proves that Plymouth Rock is committed to keeping customers happy and willing to do whatever it takes.

Bottom Line: Car Insurance in New England

Plymouth Rock is a very highly-rated insurance company offering a selection of products directly and through insurance agents. It has accident forgiveness and claims forgiveness; offers a multitude of ways to pay your premiums, and the support team is available around the clock. 

If you reside in one of the states where Plymouth Rock operates, visit PlymouthRock.com, get a quote, and start comparing. If not, don’t worry, as there are many other great insurance company reviews to check out, including The General, Progressive, and Esurance.

Plymouth Rock Assurance Review is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Find Apartments with Move-In Specials

Home is where the heart and all your stuff is, so you probably want it to be pretty nice. Just not break-the-bank nice. There are a few easy ways to save before signing on the dotted lease line, fortunately. Do your wallet a big favor and check out these tips for finding the biggest and baddest apartments with move-in specials.

How to find apartments with move-in specials with Apartment Guide

Apartment Guide is making it easier than ever to know which properties offer the biggest bang for your buck by tagging them with a hard to miss, but easy to use hot deals badge.

Follow these easy steps and you’ll be on your way to saving money on your next apartment lease.

1. Search for apartments in your city or neighborhood

Visit Apartment Guide and search as you normally would using filters to narrow in on your desired city, neighborhood, price and features. You can easily select a Hot Deals filter option, which will only show apartments in your search that have an active deal for you.

hot deals filter

In addition, as you’re scrolling through your full list of properties, you’ll notice a friendly red badge that says “Hot Deals” or “Deals” with your special offer.

apartments with move-in deals

 

2. Claim your move-in special

When you click on a property, you’ll know if it has an active deal when you see the red word “Deals” in an icon under the photos. Click on that badge or scroll down the page to see what special is currently being offered. It could be anything from a months’ free rent to a gift card when you sign a lease.

apartments with move-in deals

 

Then click on “Check Availability” to fill out your name and contact information and it will be sent to the property along with your move-in special. Someone from the community will contact you shortly.

While you’re on the page, you can also sign up for virtual tours, if they are available.

tour from home

 

Other tips for finding apartments with move-in specials

There’s no reason to stop there. Double (or triple) up on the savings by heeding a few of these tried-and-true tips for scoring the best apartment deals.

Timing is everything

No one wants to move during the busy holiday season, much less when it’s oh-so-chilly outside. So take advantage of everyone else’s hesitation and cash in on apartment community promotions that run rampant from October to December. Happy New Year, indeed.

Act quickly

If a deal seems too good to be true it probably isn’t going to be there long. Starting a few months before the big move, monitor rental prices in your desired area. This will give you a better idea of what’s fair to pay and what a true apartment deal looks like. That way, when a truly great promotion or rent reduction pops up you’ll be able to swoop in and grab it right away.

Rent new

Although it seems pretty backward, it can sometimes be cheaper to score a brand-new unit. This is because newbie communities have a lot of space to fill, so they run excellent specials to get people in the door. Just make sure your rent and amenity fees won’t get jacked up without your consent in a year or two.

Make the ask

Many people don’t realize that rental rates aren’t set in stone. If a community is struggling to fill units they’ll be more likely to throw you a bone or two, in the form of reduced rent or waived fees. Don’t be afraid to check out these potential caveats. The worst thing they can say is no, right?

negotiating

Brag a bit

Now’s not the time to be modest. Landlords would far prefer to have reliable renters in place, so if you have an impeccable credit history and references go ahead and drop this info like it’s hot. Be sure to include your score, if you know it. The apartment community is more likely to offer discounted rent to a sure thing, rather than someone who’s racking up debt all over.

Explore payment options

Some apartment communities have flexibility as to whether you pay month-to-month or upfront for a certain period of time, such as three, six or even 12 months. If you have the savings this could land you a discounted rent rate since they’ll already have your money in the bank. This apartment deal will cost you more upfront but will save plenty in the long-term.

Don’t be a diva

Sure, you might want a view of the bay or whatever, but if it works better with your budget to rent a middle floor unit it’s probably smart to make the concession. The same goes for ultra-desirable first-floor units. It’s simply cheaper to snap up a middle unit.

You can also save major bucks by opting for a community with onsite, rather than in-unit laundry. This minor inconvenience can net big savings in the end.

The same concept goes for fixer-upper units. Although it’s lovely to move into a turnkey place with a fresh coat of paint, pristine hardwoods and gleaming stainless steel, it’s also going to be reflected in the rent price. So think about what you really need, versus what you really want, all with your budget in mind. Many communities will approve minor repairs and upgrades, so check into that option and do the work yourself for a fraction of what they would have up-charged you!

Cast a wider net

Sure, you want to be in the trendy part of town, but it’s not worth being near all the hot spots if you have no money left over after rent, utilities and amenity fees to enjoy them. Instead, move a little further out to find the unit you want at a price that won’t break you. Then use ride-shares or public transportation to get you where you need to go if you don’t have your own wheels.

Find your apartment with move-in specials today

Searching for an apartment can be overwhelming in more ways than one. A little extra diligence on the front end, however, is likely to net big savings in the end.

So whether it’s a coupon, selecting a basement abode or a combination of the two, take a beat to figure out what you really want, when you want it and what you’re willing to give up to reap the best cash savings possible.

The post How to Find Apartments with Move-In Specials appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.

Source: apartmentguide.com

10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raising a child to the age of 18 sets families back an average of $233,610, and that’s for each child. This figure doesn’t even include the cost of college, which is growing faster than inflation. 

CollegeBoard data found that for the 2019-2020 school year, the average in-state, four-year school costs $21,950 per year including tuition, fees, and room and board. 

Kids can add meaning to your life, and most parents would say they’re well worth the cost. But having your financial ducks in a row — before having kids — can help you spend more time with your new family instead of worrying about paying the bills.

10 Financial Moves to Make Before Having Kids

If you want to have kids and reach your long-term financial goals, you’ll need to make some strategic moves early on. There are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success, but here are the most important ones. 

1. Start Using a Monthly Budget

When you’re young and child-free, it’s easy to spend more than you planned on fun activities and nonessentials. But having kids has a way of ruining your carefree spending habits, and that’s especially true if you’ve spent most of your adult life buying whatever catches your eye.

That’s why it’s smart to start using a monthly budget before having kids. It helps you prioritize each dollar you earn every month so you’re tracking your family’s short- and long-term goals.

You can create a simple budget with a pen and paper. Each month, list your income and recurring monthly expenses in separate columns, and then log your purchases throughout the month. This gives you a high-level perspective about money going in and out of your budget. You can also use a digital budgeting tool, like Mint, Qube Money, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) to get a handle on your finances. 

Regardless of which budgeting tool you choose, create categories for savings (e.g. an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc.) and investments. Treat these expense categories just like regular bills as a way to commit to your family’s money goals. Your budget should provide a rough guide that helps you cover household expenses and save for the future while leaving some money for fun.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Most experts suggest keeping three- to six-months of expenses in an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund is even more crucial when you have kids. You never know when you’ll face a broken arm, requiring you to cover your entire health care deductible in one fell swoop. 

It’s also possible your child could be born with a critical medical condition that requires you to take time away from work. And don’t forget about the other emergencies you can face, from a roof that needs replacing to a job loss or income reduction. 

Your best bet is opening a high-yield savings account and saving up at least three months of expenses before becoming a parent. You’ll never regret having this money set aside, but you’ll easily regret not having savings in an emergency.

3. Boost Your Retirement Savings Percentage

Your retirement might be decades away, but making retirement savings a priority is a lot easier when you don’t have kids. And with the magic of compound interest that lets your money grow exponentially over time, you’ll want to get started ASAP. 

By boosting your retirement savings percentage before having kids, you’ll also learn how to live on a lower amount of take-home pay. Try boosting your retirement savings percentage a little each year until you have kids. 

Go from 6% to 7%, then from 8% to 9%, for example. Ideally, you’ll get to the point where you’re saving 15% of your income or more before becoming a parent. If you’re already enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this change can be done with a simple form. Ask your employer or your HR department for more information.

If you’re self-employed, you can still open a retirement account like a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) and begin saving on your own. You can also consider a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which let you contribute up to $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re ages 50 or older. 

4. Start a Parental Leave Fund

Since the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents, check with your employer to find out how much paid time off you might receive. The average amount of paid leave in the U.S. is 4.1 weeks, according to a study by WorldatWork, which means you might face partial pay or no pay for some weeks of your parental leave period. It all depends on your employer’s policy and how flexible it is.

Your best bet is figuring out how much time you can take off with pay, and then creating a plan to save up the income you’ll need to cover the rest of your leave. Let’s say you have four weeks of paid time off, but plan on taking 10 weeks of parental leave, for example. Open a new savings account and save weekly or monthly until you have six weeks of pay saved up. 

If you have six months to wait for the baby to arrive and you need $6,000 saved for parental leave, you could strive to set aside $1,000 per month for those ten weeks off. If you’re able to plan earlier, up to 12 months before the baby arrives, then you can cut your monthly savings amount and set aside just $500 per month.

5. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged way to save up for health care expenses, including the cost of a hospital stay. This type of account is available to Americans who have a designated high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), meaning a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals and at least $2,800 for families. HDHPs must also have maximum out-of-pocket limits below $6,900 for individuals and $13,800 for families. 

In 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA while families can save up to $7,100. This money is tax-advantaged in that it grows tax-free until you’re ready to use it. Moreover, you’ll never pay taxes or a penalty on your HSA funds if you use your distributions for qualified health care expenses. At the age of 65, you can even deduct money from your HSA and use it however you want without a penalty. 

6. Start Saving for College

The price of college will only get worse over time. To get a handle on it early and plan for your future child’s college tuition, start saving for their education in a separate account.  Once your child is born, you can open a 529 college savings account and list your child as its beneficiary. 

Some states offer tax benefits for those who contribute to a 529 account. For example, Indiana offers a 20% tax credit on up to $5,000 in 529 contributions each year, which gets you up to $1,000 back from the state at tax time. Many plans also let you invest in underlying investments to help your money grow faster than a traditional savings account. 

7. Pay Off Unsecured Debt

If you have credit card debt, pay it off before having kids. You’re not helping yourself by spending years lugging high-interest debt around. Paying off debt can free-up cash and save you thousands of dollars in interest every year. 

If you’re struggling to pay off your unsecured debt, there are several strategies to consider. Here are a few approaches:

Debt Snowball

This debt repayment approach requires you to make a large payment on your smallest account balance and only the minimum amount that’s due on other debt. As the months tick by, you’ll focus on paying off your smallest debt first, only to “snowball” the payments from fully paid accounts toward the next smallest debt. Eventually, the debt snowball should leave you with only your largest debts, then one debt, and then none.

Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is the opposite of the debt snowball, asking you to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum payment on other debt. Once that account is fully paid, you’ll “avalanche” those payments to the next highest-rate debt. Eventually, you’ll only be left with your lowest-interest account until you’ve paid off all of your debt. 

Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another popular strategy involves transferring high-interest balances to a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR for a limited time. You might have to pay a balance transfer fee (often 3% to 5%), but the interest savings can make this strategy worth it.

If you try this strategy, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt before your introductory offer ends. If you have 15 months at 0% APR, for example, calculate how much you need to pay each month for 15 months to repay your entire balance during that time. Any debt remaining after your introductory APR period ends will start accruing interest at the regular, variable interest rate. 

8. Consider Refinancing Other Debt

Ditching credit card debt is a no-brainer, but debt like student loans or your home mortgage can also weigh on your future family’s budget.

If you have student loan debt, look into refinancing your student loans with a private lender. A student loan refinance can help you lower the interest rate on your loans, find a manageable monthly payment, and simplify your repayment into one loan.

Private student loan rates are often considerably lower than rates you can get with federal loans — sometimes by half. The caveat with refinancing federal loans is that you’ll lose out on government protections, like deferment and forbearance, and loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure you won’t need these benefits in the future. 

Also look into the prospect of refinancing your mortgage to secure a shorter repayment timeline, a lower monthly payment, or both. Today’s low interest rates have made mortgage refinancing a good deal for anyone who took out a mortgage several years ago. Compare today’s mortgage refinancing rates to see how much you can save. 

9. Buy Life Insurance

You should also buy life insurance before having kids. Don’t worry about picking up an expensive whole life policy. All you need is a term life insurance policy that covers at least 10 years of your salary, and hopefully more.

Term life insurance is extremely affordable and easy to buy. Many providers don’t even require a medical exam if you’re young and healthy. 

Once you start comparing life insurance quotes, you’ll be shocked at how affordable term coverage can be. With Bestow, for example, a thirty-year-old woman in good health can buy a 20-year term policy for $500,000 for as little as $20.41 per month. 

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10. Create a Will

A last will and testament lets you write down what should happen to your major assets upon your death. You can also state personal requests in writing, like whether you want to be kept on life support, and how you want your final arrangements handled.

A will can also formally define who you’d like to take over custody of your kids, if both parents die. If you don’t formally make this decision ahead of time, these deeply personal decisions might be left to the courts.

Fortunately, it’s not overly expensive to create a last will and testament. You can meet with a lawyer who can draw one up, or you can create your own using a platform like LegalZoom.

The Bottom Line

Having kids can be the most rewarding part of your life, but parenthood is far from cheap. You’ll need money for expenses you might’ve never considered before — and the cost of raising a family only goes up over time.

That’s why getting your money straightened out is essential before kids enter the picture. With a financial plan and savings built up, you can experience the joys of parenthood without financial stress.

The post 10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Best Home Loans For Single Mothers

Affording to buy a house can be hard enough even as a couple. And for single mothers, unless they earn a high income, getting home loans is even harder.

Fortunately, there are home loans for single mothers out there. FHA loan, for example, is a good option for a single parent on a low income due to its low down payment and low score requirements.

If you are a single parent looking home loans, click here to get pre-approved.

The Down Payment: the hurdle for single mothers to get home loans

What makes it difficult for single mothers on a low income to get qualified for home loans is the down payment. The down payment for a conventional loan is 20% of the home purchase price.

For example, if you want to buy a house for $450,000, you will need to come up with $90,000. That is simply the down payment. Adding another 5% for closing cost brings you to $112,500.

Coming up with that kind of money is hard, if not impossible, considering the fact that you’re probably have other monthly expenses. Granted, you can get a conventional loan with smaller down payments (as low as 10 percent).

But the problem is you will have to pay much higher interest rates, including private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is an insurance that protects the lender in case you default on your loan.

Get started by comparing FHA loan rates, to find the best rates and terms that suit you.


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Fortunately, the government has created programs to help single mothers get home loans. For instance, FHA loans only require 3.5% down payment of the home purchase price.

To illustrate, suppose you’re looking to purchase a modest house for $100,000. For a 3.5% down payment, you will only need to come up with $3,500. This low down payment is indeed flexible for low income single mothers seeking home loans.

Best Home Loans For Single Mothers

1) FHA loans

Despite having a single source of income, there are home loans for single mothers out there. Indeed, FHA home loans are a popular choice for single mothers first time home buyers.

An FHA loan is a government loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration (hence, the acronym “FHA”).

The FHA down payment can be as low as 3.5% and the credit score can be at least 580 or higher. If your credit score falls between 500 to 579, then you will need to put at least 10% down.

To know if your credit score is at least 580, get a free credit score at CreditSesame.

Program assistance for the down payment

Even if the FHA down payment is this low, single mothers seeking home loans and those who are living paycheck to paycheck can still have a hard time to come up with that money. Fortunately there are solutions.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which manages the FHA loan program, has recently allowed the 3.5% down payment to come from a third party.

They can be a friend, a family member, or a employer. This is good news for a single parent, as it means that they don’t have to use their own money to get a home loan.

2) VA Loans

If you’re convinced that FHA loan is a good idea, then you’d love VA loans. VA loans help homebuyers to buy home with $0 down. In addition, there is no private insurance mortgage (PMI) and has a very low interest rate.

Check to see if you’re eligible with a VA Lender.

So if you’re a veteran or service members, you may be eligible. If you were or are in the army, marine corps, navy, Air force, Coast guard, or you are a spouse of a service member, you may be eligible.

Don’t meet these requirements? You may still be eligible; talk with a home loan specialist now.

The $0 down payment is what makes VA home loans attractive among single mothers. With VA home loans, qualified single mothers can finance 100 percent of the home’s purchase price with absolutely no money down.

The other benefit of a VA loan is that there is no PMI. That is because the government backs the loan and assumes the risk.

Looking for a VA loan quote? Speak with a VA Lender today.

The Bottom line…

Being a single mother on a low income can be tough. But that should not prevent you from buying a home you have always dreamed of. The good new is there are programs that help single mothers buy a home. And those programs are the FHA and VA loans.

Additional tips for single mothers seeking home loans:

  • The first step in securing a home loan is to shop and compare multiple mortgage rates to choose the best one.
  • The second step is to get pre-approved by a lender. This is known as the pre-qualification process. The loan officer will assess your situation and determine what you qualify for. Once you have an idea of how much you can afford, you can submit your application.

Related articles:

  • FHA Loan Requirements – Guidelines and Limits
  • 3 Things No One Ever Tells You About Buying a Home With a FHA Loan
  • How to Buy A Home With A Low Credit Score

Not All Mortgage Lenders Are Created Equally

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Student Loans vs. Financial Aid

A young woman stands outside in front of a green tree, holding her books and wearing a backpack, smiling off into the distance.

As of early 2020, student loan debt in the nation had reached more than $1.5 trillion. More than 44 million individuals have student loan debt, and the average person with student loans owes a bit over $32,000—which is more than half of the average household income in the United States. As a new school year approaches, more individuals are searching for ways to fund their education without going into debt for years. Luckily, student loans aren’t the only way to get help paying for college.

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Learn more about student loans vs. financial aid below,
and get some information about various ways to help fund your education.

Student Loans vs. Financial Aid: What’s the Difference?

Both student loans and financial aid can come from the federal government or the private sector. The main difference between student loans and financial aid is whether or not you need to pay back the money you are given. Student loans generally require that you pay back the loan with interest, while financial aid packages like scholarships and grants typically do not need to be paid back.

That distinction can make a big difference. “Every dollar you receive in scholarship or grant form is a dollar you don’t have to pay interest on,” says Zina Kumok, an editor at Dollar Sprout. And saving that money opens up possibilities after graduation, too. “Students who don’t have to take out as many loans will have more career options and afford to start their own businesses, work in lower-paying fields, or even take time off to travel abroad.”

But as with any financial agreement, make sure you
understand the terms upfront before signing anything. Not all financial aid
comes without strings.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

To qualify for federal loans and other types of federal financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You might need to complete the FAFSA with some of your parents’ income information if you are still a dependent.

To apply for private loans and financial aid, you must
research the program in question and complete the appropriate application
process. For example, academic or extracurricular scholarships are often
offered by various colleges and universities. You’ll have to look on those
university websites or contact financial aid departments at various schools to
find out about how to apply to these programs. Scholarships offered by private
organizations will have their own processes as well.

Student Loans

Student loans provide credit extended to you or your parents for the purpose of paying for college. Student loans do have to be repaid, but typically not until you’re out of school. In some cases, such as if you’re going to work in certain public sectors, you might be able to apply for a student loan forgiveness program.

Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal
Loans

When you apply with the FAFSA, you may find out you qualify for federal loans. Subsidized federal loans tend to have slightly better terms than unsubsidized loans. Another benefit of a subsidized loan is that the interest on it is covered by the Department of Education as long as you meet enrollment requirements. The amount you can borrow is limited, and interest rates range from 2.75 to 4.3%.

Learn more about federal student loans and economic protections from COVID-19: What You Need to Know about CARES, HEROES, and HEALS.

Private Student Loans

If you don’t qualify for federal student loans or want another option, you can apply for private student loans from commercial lenders. Whether you can get approved for these loans or get favorable terms and rates might depend on your credit score.

Don’t know your credit score? Sign up for ExtraCredit to find out.

Sign Up for ExtraCredit

Financial Aid

Financial aid
takes many forms, and most often does not need to be paid back after you
graduate. These types of aid can be offered by your school, other private
institutions, or the government. They are most often divided into needs-based
aid and merit-based aid.

When applying for
any type of financial aid, you will need to research the deadlines,
requirements, and payment specifics carefully.

Be wary of scholarship and other aid programs that charge fees. “Fees are a dead giveaway of scholarship scams,” says Doug Whiteman, editor-in-chief at MoneyWise.com. “Be very careful about handing over a credit card number or other personal information.”

Scholarships

Scholarships are awarded for need or merit, and they’re offered by a wide range of organizations. Schools, private businesses, local and national associations, religious organizations, and charities are all potential sources for scholarships. Most scholarships do not require you to pay them back.

“Students should be more aggressive about applying for scholarships,” says Kumok. Whiteman agrees, citing a recent New York Times article that estimates there are 44,000 private scholarship programs. “The typical student probably has no idea that there’s so much money available,” he says. “Too often students and their families have seen student loans as an easy fallback, before they’ve fully explored scholarship and other financial aid possibilities.”

Grants

Grants are a type of financial aid that you typically don’t have to pay back. Federal and state governments offer grants, as do private and nonprofit organizations. Make sure to do ample research to ensure you get your application right, and pay attention to the grant terms. While many grants don’t have to be repaid, some do.

Be careful not to depend fully on grants, though. “Grants might not be available for the length of your degree program,” advises Anna Serio, a staff writer at Finder.com. “Some only cover the first year, while others are only available during the second, third, or fourth year of school. Even if a grant program covers all four years, you might have to reapply every year to be considered.”

Work-Study Jobs

Work-study jobs help you pay your way through school or
cover expenses. Some work-study jobs are paid internships, where you practice
skills and knowledge you’re learning in school or for your future career.
Others might simply be on-campus jobs in dining halls, fitness centers,
tutoring or writing centers, or other areas.

“Work-study
programs are best for students who want to build up their resume,” says Serio. “Work-study
makes it easier to land a job without experience or in a new field if you’re in
graduate school. Sometimes, work-study jobs can turn into a regular part-time
or even full-time position.”

Tax Credits

If you pay qualifying expenses for school, you may be able to claim a certain amount as a tax credit to reduce your tax burden or even get a refund. The American Opportunity Credit, for example, allows up to $2,500 credit per eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit allows qualified individuals to claim up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses per tax year.

State Aid Programs

Almost every state offers grants or other financial aid opportunities for college students. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides a detailed list of state financial aid opportunities.

Institutional Assistance

Schools may offer many of their own programs, but they
aren’t always well published. When you’re in the process of considering and
visiting schools, during the application process or even after you’ve been
accepted, make it a point to visit the financial aid office. School financial
aid officers can help ensure you’ve applied for all applicable financial aid.

Employer Education Assistance

If you’re already working, your employ might offer
funding for education. Some employers have programs that cover all or part of
the cost of degree programs if you agree to work for them for a certain amount
of time. Others pay for training seminars, workshops, and one-off classes that
are likely to make you a more valuable employee. Talk to your supervisor or human
resources department to find out if your employer offers such benefits.

Other Programs

Leave no stone unturned when seeking financial aid for
college. Numerous programs exist to help fund education for people in specific
situations.

For example, the Educational and Training Vouchers Program provides assistance to those who are or were in foster care. The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program helps pay for student loans for those who work at Indian Health Services facilities. Be creative! The Tall Clubs International Foundation has a scholarship program for college women who are 5’10” tall and men who are at least 6’2”. Consider what makes you unique and look for scholarship opportunities that may reward you for it.

Tuition-Free Schools

Did you know that there are also some tuition-free schools around the United States? Residents of certain states may qualify for free tuition programs. Be sure to do your research into these schools, as you would with any other. “The programs in the US often require you to work in exchange for your degree,” says Serio. “This can help you develop valuable skills and gives you a leg up entering the job market after you graduate.”

Get the Financial Aid You Need

If you need help paying for schooling, there are plenty of financial aid options available to you. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for assistance and direction. If you’re interested in learning more about student loan options, you can look through our resource center for more information.

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5 Best Hedges in the Face of Inflation

Inflation measures how much an economy rises over time, comparing the average price of a basket of goods from one point in time to another. Understanding inflation is an important element of investing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator shows that $5.00 in September 2000 has the purchasing power equal to $7.49 in September 2020. To continue to afford necessities, your income must pace or rise above the rate of inflation. If your income didn’t rise along with inflation, you couldn’t afford that same pizza in September 2020 — even if your income never changed.

Inflation represents a real risk for investors as it could erode the principal value of your investment.

For investors, inflation represents a real problem. If your investment isn’t growing faster than inflation you could technically end up losing money instead of growing your wealth. That’s why many investors look for stable and secure places to invest their wealth. Ideally, in investment vehicles that guarantee a return that’ll outpace inflation. 

These investments are commonly known as “inflation hedges”. 

5 Top Inflations Hedges to Know

Depending on your risk tolerance, you probably wouldn’t want to keep all of your wealth in inflation hedges. Although they might be secure, they also tend to earn minimal returns. You’ll unlikely get rich from these assets, but it’s also unlikely you’ll lose money. 

Many investors turn to these secure investments when they notice an inflationary environment is gaining momentum. Here’s what you should know about the most common inflation hedges.

1. Gold

Some say gold is over-hyped, because not only does it not pay interest or dividends, but it also does poorly when the economy is doing well. Central banks, who own most of the world’s gold, can also deflate its price by selling some of its stockpile. Gold’s popularity might be partially linked to the “gold standard”, which is the way countries used to value its currency. The U.S. hasn’t used the gold standard since 1933.

Still, gold’s stability in a crisis could be good for investors who need to diversify their assets or for someone who’s very risk-averse. 

If you want to buy physical gold, you can get gold bars or coins — but these can be risky to store and cumbersome to sell. It can also be hard to determine their value if they have a commemorative or artistic design or are gold-plated. Another option is to buy gold stocks or mutual funds. 

Is gold right for you? You’ll need to determine how much risk you’re willing to tolerate with your investments since gold offers a low risk but also a low reward. 

Pros

  • Physical asset: Gold is a physical asset in limited supply so it tends to hold its value. 
  • Low correlation: Creating a diversified portfolio means investing in asset classes that don’t move together. Gold has a relatively low correlation to many popular asset classes, helping you potentially hedge your risk.
  • Performs well in recessions: Since many investors see gold as a hedge against uncertainty, it is often in high demand during a recession.

Cons

  • No dividends: Gold doesn’t pay any dividends; the only way to make money on gold is to sell it. 
  • Speculative: Gold creates no value on its own. It’s not a business that builds products or employs workers, thereby growing the economy. Its price is merely driven by supply and demand.
  • Not good during low inflation: Since gold doesn’t have a huge upside, during periods of low inflation investors generally prefer taking larger risks and will thereby sell gold, driving down its price.

2. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

Buying real estate can be messy — it takes a long time, there are many extra fees, and at the end of the process, you have a property you need to manage. Buying REITs, however, is simple.

REITs provide a hedge for investors who need to diversify their portfolio and want to do so by getting into real estate. They’re listed on major stock exchanges and you can buy shares in them like you would any other stock.

If you’re considering a REIT as an inflation hedge you’ll want to start your investment process by researching which REITs you’re interested in. There are REITs in many industries such as health care, mortgage or retail. 

Choose an industry that you feel most comfortable with, then assess the specific REITs in that industry. Look at their balance sheets and review how much debt they have. Since REITs must give 90% of their income to shareholders they often use debt to finance their growth. A REIT that carries a lot of debt is a red flag.

Pros

  • No corporate tax: No matter how profitable they become, REITs pay zero corporate tax.
  • High dividends: REITs must disperse at least 90% of their taxable income to shareholders, most pay out 100%.
  • Diversified class: REITs give you a way to invest in real estate and diversify your assets if you’re primarily invested in equities.

Cons

  • Sensitive to interest rate: REITs can react strongly to interest rate increases.
  • Large tax consequences: The government treats REITs as ordinary income, so you won’t receive the reduced tax rate that the government uses to assess other dividends.
  • Based on property values: The value of your shares in a REIT will fall if property values decline.

3. Aggregate Bond Index

A bond is an investment security — basically an agreement that an investor will lend money for a specified time period. You earn a return when the entity to whom you loaned money pays you back, with interest. A bond index fund invests in a portfolio of bonds that hope to perform similarly to an identified index. Bonds are typically considered to be safe investments, but the bond market can be complicated.

If you’re just getting started with investing, or if you don’t have time to research the bond market, an aggregate bond index can be helpful because it has diversification built into its premise. 

Of course, with an aggregate bond index you run the risk that the value of your investment will decrease as interest rates increase. This is a common risk if you’re investing in bonds — as the interest rate rises, older issued bonds can’t compete with new bonds that earn a higher return for their investors. 

Be sure to weigh the credit risk to see how likely it is that the bond index will be downgraded. You can determine this by reviewing its credit rating. 

Pros

  • Diversification: You can invest in several bond types with varying durations, all within the same fund.
  • Good for passive investment: Bond index funds require less active management to maintain, simplifying the process of investing in bonds.
  • Consistency: Bond indexes pay a return that’s consistent with the market. You’re not going to win big, but you probably won’t lose big either.

Cons

  • Sensitive to interest rate fluctuations: Bond index funds invested in government securities (a common investment) are particularly sensitive to changes to the federal interest rate.
  • Low reward: Bond index funds are typically stable investments, but will likely generate smaller returns over time than a riskier investment.

4. 60/40 Portfolio

Financial advisors used to highly recommend a 60/40 stock-bond mix to create a diversified investment portfolio that hedged against inflation. However, in recent years that advice has come under scrutiny and many leading financial experts no longer recommend this approach. 

Instead, investors recommend even more diversification and what’s called an “environmentally balanced” portfolio which offers more consistency and does better in down markets. If you’re considering a 60/40 mix, do your research to compare how this performs against an environmentally balanced approach over time before making your final decision.

Pros

  • Simple rule of thumb: Learning how to diversify your portfolio can be hard, the 60/40 method simplifies the process.
  • Low risk: The bond portion of the diversified portfolio serves to mitigate the risk and hedge against inflation.
  • Low cost: You likely don’t have to pay an advisor to help you build a 60/40 portfolio, which can eliminate some of the cost associated with investing.

Cons

  • Not enough diversification: Financial managers are now suggesting even greater diversification with additional asset classes, beyond stocks and bonds.
  • Not a high enough return: New monetary policies and the growth of digital technology are just a few of the reasons why the 60/40 mix doesn’t perform in current times the same way it did during the peak of its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.

5. Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS)

Since TIPS are indexed for inflation they’re one of the most reliable ways to guard yourself against high inflation. Also, every six months they pay interest, which could provide you with a small return. 

You can buy TIPS from the Treasury Direct system in maturities of five, 10 or 30 years. Keep in mind that there’s always the risk of deflation when it comes to TIPS. You’re always guaranteed a minimum of your original principal at maturity, but inflation could impact your interest earnings.

Pros

  • Low risk: Treasury bonds are backed by the federal government. 
  • Indexed for inflation: TIPS will automatically increase its principle to compensate for inflation. You’ll never receive less than your principal at maturity.
  • Interest payments keep pace with inflation: The interest rate is determined based on the inflation-adjusted principal. 

Cons

  • Low rate of return: The interest rate is typically very low, other secure investments that don’t adjust for inflation could be higher. 
  • Most desirable in times of high inflation: Since the rate of return for TIPS is so low, the only way to get a lot of value from this investment is to hold it during a time when inflation increases and you need protection. If inflation doesn’t increase, there could be a significant opportunity cost.

The Bottom Line 

Inflation represents a real risk for investors as it could erode the principal value of your investment. Make sure your investments are keeping pace with inflation, at a minimum. 

Inflation hedges can protect some of your assets from inflation. Although you don’t always have to put your money in inflation hedges, they can be helpful if you notice the market is heading into an inflationary period. 

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