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Monthly Archives: October 2017
How to Set a Budget for Holiday Spending
You might have pumpkins on your porch, but it’s already time to make room for the year-end holidays in your budget.
“I was at Costco the other day, and I already saw Christmas trees, [so] we need to be thinking about it right now,” says Nick Givogri, a California-based regional executive for investment service Merrill Edge.
Here’s how to get started.
Your past holiday spending is the best indicator of what you’ll spend this season, says Robert P. Finley, a certified financial planner and principal at Virtue Asset Management in Illinois.
“Try to get your credit card statements,” Finley says. “Try to look at your bank statements. What did I spend on presents? Did I have to do traveling? Did I have to fly somewhere?”
Once you’ve estimated past expenditures, create a baseline for this year that includes what you can reasonably save over the next few months.
For presents, Finley recommends setting a total and dividing it by the number of people on your list. Then prioritize. “If you’re going to spend $1,500 and you have 15 people on your list, some of them you might want to spend more than $100, and others you might want to spend less, and then you can work that way,” he says.
But presents aren’t all you’ll buy. Account for decorations, travel, donations and more. And don’t forget to build in a miscellaneous category. It’ll give you extra cushioning in case a co-worker gives you an unexpected gift — and you feel compelled to reciprocate.
“It’s always better to have a little extra room or miscellaneous — and then you don’t use it and it goes back into savings — than maxing out, and then something comes along and you’re stuck pulling out of savings,” Finley says.
Setting a spending limit is just the beginning. Budgeting requires discipline and regular check-ins, says Richard K. Colarossi, a certified financial planner and partner at Colarossi & Williams in New York.
“If you don’t revisit it, what’s the sense in having it?” Colarossi says. “You have to match the actuals to your budget and see where you’re over and under.”
Givogri agrees. He suggests setting a weekly reminder on your phone to review how much you’ve spent and how much you have left to spend. If you discover you overshot the budget on a particular gift, there’s hope.
“Make an adjustment to the other gifts or make an adjustment to other expenses that you may have for the particular month,” Givogri says, citing strategies such as eating meals at home to save money in anticipation of potentially costly holiday outings.
And always keep your budget’s ultimate goal in mind. It might be focused on the months of November and December, but it will affect your finances well into the new year.
“When you do a budget and start setting aside some money now, you’re probably going to help reduce credit card debt,” Colarossi says. “Otherwise, if you don’t budget and have the money set aside, what’s going to happen? It’s going to go on credit.”
You don’t have to pay for your presents in cash, but you should have the cash to pay them off so you’re not left with hefty interest fees, Colarossi adds.
While you’re thinking about all the gifts you’re going to give this year, plan ahead and budget as a gift to yourself.
7 mistakes to avoid when purchasing your first home
You’ve been looking at online home listings for months, driving through neighborhoods on the weekends, and saving every spare dime for a down payment. You’re ready to make the home-buying plunge.
Buying a house is one of the most exciting—and stressful—times in your life. You’re eager to find your dream home and start the next chapter of your life, but let’s be serious. A home is a big investment, and you can’t afford to make a hasty, uninformed, or emotional decision.
Here are a few of the most common blunders homebuyers make and how you can avoid them, or at least learn from their mistakes.
1. Failing to check your credit report
Amazingly, the Federal Trade Commission’s last large-scale study of credit reports found that 26 percent of consumers had at least one inaccuracy in their credit report. Not all of those errors would have impacted their credit rating to the point that it resulted in a higher mortgage interest rate, but it certainly would have for some.
It’s critical to review your credit report at least three months before you plan to apply for a home loan. If you find an error, you’ll have time to dispute it and have it corrected before lenders check your credit report for preapproval. If your credit report is clean, it will improve your credit score and likely impact the interest rate on your mortgage. All consumers can access a free copy of their credit report annually from annualcreditreport.com.
2. Skipping the mortgage pre-approval
There’s pre-qualified and pre-approval. Both show the seller that you’re a serious buyer, but pre-approval requires a credit check and the submission of supporting documentation for income and assets. It will also help you save time by allowing you only to view homes that you already know you can afford instead of falling in love with one that’s outside of your price range. Put in an offer, and a buyer who already has pre-approval has a leg up on a buyer who doesn’t.
3. Missing the Hidden Costs
Once you find your dream home, most buyers simply calculate their mortgage payment and say, “Sure, I can afford that.” When reality sinks in, you soon figure out that you’ll need to pay taxes, insurance, utilities, HOA and maintenance fees. These are the hidden costs that may just push you over the top of your budget. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, it might be the closing costs, appraisal fees, escrow fees, and moving costs, among others. You can’t forget about the added costs that come with purchasing a home and the extra responsibility of being a homeowner.
Ask the sellers about their summer and winter utility costs, HOA fees, and property taxes. Talk with your insurance agent about the cost of a homeowner’s insurance policy and ask your broker for an estimation of your closing costs. Gather as many quotes and estimates as you can so that you can make a more informed decision about whether you can afford to purchase this home. It’s better to know the truth sooner than later.
4. Waiting for everything on your wish list
In the real world, when do we get everything we want? Even when you’re spending $100K, $300K or $500K, there will always be compromise. Here’s our advice: Keep an open mind. It’s unlikely that any one home will have everything on your wish list. You’ll need to separate those wishes into wants, like a fireplace or a fenced yard, and needs, like a garage or four bedrooms. You might even label some of them deal breakers, such as a specific town, school district, or its proximity to your office.
Flexibility is a critical component in the house-hunting processes. The goal is to find the home with the most wants and needs that still fits within your budget.
5. Assuming the neighborhood is just fine
You may have found love in a home, but if the neighborhood isn’t up to par, it could be a costly mistake. With a house comes the neighborhood, so take a good look around before you buy—and do your research. Not everything a homebuyer should consider is out in the open.
Think about the reasons you’re purchasing this home. Do you have children? The quality of schools in the area might be an important factor to consider. Visit the schools personally and take a tour. Review information, rankings, test scores and other analytics online. Drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day and chat with parents as they wait for their kids to come home on the school bus.
Does the neighborhood feel safe at night? Check the local crime reports and registered sex offender list. How’s the local shopping? Where’s the nearest grocery store or park? These are all questions you should investigate before purchasing a home.
6. Not considering the resale value of your home
You’re buying a home, not selling one, so why worry about resale value? It’s simple. Sooner or later you’re going to want to sell this home, and you’ll need someone to buy it. Don’t buy the home with the railroad tracks running through the backyard just because it has a gourmet kitchen that you’ve fallen in love with. There’s a reason it’s priced below market value and a bonus if you can close in 30 days.
The best approach is to look for a home that offers the general preferences of a typical homebuyer. You can paint, decorate and furnish to add your personal style, but when you’re ready to sell, whether in a year due to a job transfer, or in 40 years when you retire to the beach, your home will appeal to the highest number of prospective buyers.
7. Letting your emotions rule your decision
The decision to purchase a home should be made primarily with your head, not your heart. Yes, you should love your new home. After all, you’re investing a ton of money to own it, and you’ll be living in it every single day. But, you shouldn’t be so enamored that you’re blinded to what it can do to your budget. When you’re already spending such a large amount of money, another $10K or $15K doesn’t seem like very much, but it can put you in a tighter financial situation than you’re prepared to handle. One layoff, job change, illness, or any other situation that causes a reduction in salary can easily cause your dream home to become a burden.
One recommended guideline is to spend no more than one-third of your monthly income on housing costs, which includes your total mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance–no matter how tempting it is.
Mobile banking…what happens after I make the deposit and why don’t you need the actual check?
Today’s technology has turned our telephones into many things, but a bank teller? One of the most convenient services offered by financial institutions today is mobile check deposit. Snap a picture of your paper check with your smartphone camera, submit it to your bank and the funds are headed to your account.
Long gone are the days where you have to trek uphill both ways, in the snow to get to the bank, deliver the signed check and a paper deposit slip to the teller, and wait for it to hit your account in a day or two. Today you can deposit money from your desk, from your car, or from your couch. It’s like pressing the EASY button.
But really, have you ever thought about it? Wondered how it works behind the scenes? I know it’s not something that keeps you up at night, but curious minds want to know, so we’re taking a look.
There’s an app for that
Many financial institutions offer an app that allows you to access many of their services, including mobile check deposit. Choose the account you’d like the funds to be deposited, enter the total dollar amount of the check, take a picture of the front and back of your signed check, and submit. Your funds will typically be available in your account within 24 hours. C’mon, it doesn’t get better than that.
It’ll save us both a few bucks
Mobile check deposit is secure, fast, convenient and efficient– and isn’t that what we’re all looking for? From the institution’s perspective, it not only helps their customers, it also saves them money because it’s less labor-intensive. An in-branch check deposit typically costs a few dollars to process and a mobile check deposit costs only a few cents. That’s especially important in a credit union where profits are passed along to their members in the form of higher returns on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. Makes total ‘cents,’ right?
Typically when a paper check is presented to an institution, it’s put through a scanning device that takes a picture of the front and back of the endorsed check. Sound familiar? The picture, which includes all the data and the account information, is then sent electronically to the paying bank.
Your smartphone does the exact same thing during the mobile deposit process. It turns the paper check into an electronic image that can be forwarded to the appropriate institution for payment. The difference is that you’ve already created the image by the time the check is presented to your bank.
Check this off your list
The majority of people have the same question about mobile deposits: How long do I have to keep my deposited checks? It’s almost like they don’t believe in the magic of technology so they want to keep them for eternity—just in case. Honestly, there’s no need. Check with your financial institution, but generally, after 14 days and once you’ve confirmed that the correct dollar amount has been deposited into your account, you should be able to destroy your deposited checks.
Some checks do get rejected for poor photos or other missing information, so be sure to look for confirmation from the app that the deposit was accepted. You’ll also want to verify that it was credited to your account by using the app or by logging into your account online.
Let’s face it, life is busy. Mobile check deposit is just another service that can make your day a little easier. Not only does it offer additional convenience and save you some time, it might just save you a few bucks on gas, too!