Why Buy Now: Six Reasons
(NAPSI)—The American dream of owning a home may be more within reach these days than many people realize.
There are several reasons. The economy is improving, home prices have stabilized in most areas and the cost of owning a home is more affordable than ever.
“It’s understandable for people to be skeptical about housing after the economic uncertainty of the past few years,” says Quicken Loans chief economist Bob Walters. “But history teaches us that the best time to buy is when we are most afraid and pessimistic. It is, of course, impossible to perfectly time markets, but I think people who buy homes now will be pleased that they did in the years to come.”
Here are a few more reasons to buy a home:
1. Record-low mortgage rates—There’s no better time to lock in a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. As the economy improves and rates go up, many people on the fence will be left wondering why they didn’t take advantage now.
2. It’s a buyer’s market—While home affordability is at record highs, that hasn’t translated into substantial demand for housing yet. As a result, buyers are in control and are dictating terms and conditions. It won’t always be this way….
3. Low-cost mortgages—Prospective homebuyers who cannot afford a higher down payment are purchasing homes with a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans have low down payments, are easier to qualify for and have lower closing costs.
4. The rent is too darn high—As demand for rental units surges and the cost to rent continues to move higher, a monthly mortgage payment can often be less than your monthly rent check.
5. Home values are positioned to appreciate—Home prices fell as much as 50 percent or more after the housing crash. No one should expect skyrocketing home values, but home prices will resume their steady march higher in the coming years.
6. Home buying has gone mobile—Home buying is getting easier as mobile apps let borrowers compare home loan options. One such app, the Quicken Loans Mortgage Calculator for Android and Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, allows house hunters driving by their $200,000 dream home to quickly calculate their prospective payment, check current mortgage rates and figure out their loan term—all without calling a lender.
“After a painful housing crisis, it again appears that homeownership will be economically beneficial in addition to providing families a great place to live their lives,” concludes Walters.
Download article content
Extra Tax Savings For Parents
(NAPSI)—According to the Department of Agriculture, it will cost a middle-income family, on average, $226,920 to raise a child born in 2010. Fortunately, the cost per child decreases for additional children. Similarly, the more kids you have, the bigger your tax savings.
“Uncle Sam offers several family-oriented tax benefits,” said TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. “Determining which ones you qualify for can be confusing because of rules about filing status, itemized deductions and income levels.”
Tax preparation software solutions like TaxACT eliminate the guesswork. Answer simple questions to determine if you qualify, and the program will complete the tax forms and check your return for errors.
Here are some requirements for key tax breaks available on next year’s return. Although your 2012 tax return isn’t due until April 2013, you’ll want to keep receipts and detailed documentation throughout the year to substantiate the credits and deductions you claim.
Popular Credits And Deductions
• One out of four qualifying low- to moderate-income taxpayers overlook the Earned Income Tax Credit each year. If the credit eliminates taxes owed, you can receive the remaining amount as a refund. Married taxpayers must file joint returns.
• If you pay for the care of children under 13 years of age so you (and your spouse) can work, find work or attend school, you may be eligible for the Child & Dependent Care Credit. Examples of care include nursery school, preschool, before- and after-school care, day camps (no overnight) and in-home nanny care. The credit is worth 20 to 35 percent of your expenses, up to $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents, but phases out at higher levels.
• The Child Tax Credit may be worth up to $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount because the credit eliminates your tax bill, you may qualify for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit.
• You can claim your family’s unreimbursed medical and dental expenses over 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income as an itemized deduction. Expenses must be for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or treatment. Premiums for medical, dental and some long-term care insurance and transportation costs may also qualify. Only prescription medications and insulin are eligible.
• The Adoption Credit will cover up to $12,650 in adoption expenses paid during 2012 depending on your income. Expenses include court costs, adoption agency fees, attorney fees and travel.
• If you paid alimony in cash, you can deduct that amount even if you claim the standard deduction. If you received alimony, the IRS considers that taxable income; however, child support is not taxed.
• Some education savings plans offer tax benefits. A portion of distributions and earnings from Qualified Tuition Programs and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts for education expenses are generally tax free. Up to $2,000 in annual contributions to Coverdell Savings Accounts are also tax free depending on your income level.
• Have children in college? If you claim them as dependents, you may qualify for the Student Loan Interest Deduction, American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit. Learn more about all education tax breaks in IRS Publication 970.
Details about these and other child-related tax breaks can be found at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com.
Download article content
Top 10 Tips For Boating Safety
(NAPSI)—Before taking to the waterways, plot a course to safety. GEICO Insurance Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard recommend the following:
1. Always wear a life jacket—The U.S. Coast Guard requires that all recreational boats must carry one Coast Guard−approved life jacket for each person aboard. Life jackets should be tested yearly and must be the appropriate size for the intended user.
2. Check the weather forecast—A calm, sunny day can quickly turn into a deadly storm. Check the weather forecast before venturing out. Also, keep a radio on board to receive weather updates and advisories.
3. Take a boater safety course—Learn the proper regulations and safety precautions. Most states require operators to pass boater safety requirements and display their safety certificate.
4. Don’t drink and boat—According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating while intoxicated (BWI) is a leading cause of fatal boating accidents. Alcohol affects judgment and vision, increasing the likelihood of an accident. It’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol.
5. Preventative boat maintenance—Regularly checking your equipment for safety ensures that it will perform better, reduce depreciation and save on costly repairs.
6. Operate at a safe speed—Excessive speeding is a leading cause of all reported boating accidents. Operate your boat at a safe speed and stay aware of traffic density and navigation hazards.
7. Learn the rules of the waterway—Waterways don’t have traffic signals to direct boater traffic. So boaters must depend on each other by observing safety precautions and navigational rules to prevent mishaps.
8. Hypothermia is a risk—Avoid entering the water when the temperature is below 59º F. Symptoms include a decrease in body temperature, uncontrolled breathing and unconsciousness. When planning your trip, pack dry clothing in a waterproof bag and never go out alone.
9. Install a carbon monoxide detector—Internal combustion engines on boats emit a harmful, odorless gas called carbon monoxide. The symptoms are similar to seasickness or alcohol intoxication. All boats with an enclosed cabin need to be equipped with a carbon monoxide detector.
10. Create a float plan—Inform a friend or family member of your boating plans and when you are expected to return. This information will aid officials if an accident occurs.
For more information, visit www.geico.com/information/aboutinsurance/boat.
Download article content
When It Makes Sense To Refinance Your Life
(NAPSI)—Do you know how much you are paying in interest every month on your credit cards, auto loan and mortgage? The answer may come as a surprise; therefore, it could be in your best interest to learn more about lowering your interest rates.
Many people do not realize how much interest adds to their monthly payments and how that amount can slow down the rate at which they are paying off a debt. On average, people can spend about a third of their annual income on unnecessary high interest rates associated with their monthly bills, simply because they are unaware that better options are available.
One way to save money is to refinance with a company that offers you a lower interest rate. In the case of credit cards, you can consolidate several cards into one lower interest payment. The best way to get started is to do a little homework by researching interest rates, then compare how the rates vary.
Do Your Homework
To learn more about refinancing options, consider these helpful tips:
• Check out and compare interest rates to see what companies are offering. Much of this information can be found online. Taking the time to do your homework can really pay off, as some lenders offer rates that are dramatically lower than the national average.
• Check your local paper for major interest rate fluctuations.
• Ask about closing costs. If you are ready to refinance, be sure to ask about closing costs, as these can add to your total debt.
• Inquire about fees. When refinancing, ask about fees—you may be surprised by how much fees can vary!
• Take advantage of discounts, promotions or incentives. Check into companies that offer a discount for applying online, such as Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed).
A fiscally sound, member-owned credit union that has been lending for over 75 years, PenFed offers interest rates that are substantially lower than those the average person can get from commercial banks, especially if you apply online.
PenFed takes pride in serving over a million members, both civilian and military, worldwide. There are over 100 ways to join PenFed, and you too can take advantage of its exceptional rates and member-first service!
Refinance Your Life
Here are just a few of the ways you can use PenFed’s refinancing options to lower your debt payments:
Mortgage:You could save on your home finance charges by getting an adjustable mortgage. The credit union delivers a finance rate that is fixed for five years. The initial rate can change every five years by no more than two percentage points, up or down, never to exceed five percentage points above the initial rate.
Credit Cards:You can consolidate and refinance credit cards at a lower rate. One consolidated payment with a lower interest rate could be lower than one of your existing payments.
Auto Refinancing:Read the fine print on your car loan note. How much interest are you paying? It can really add up! PenFed offers refinancing on auto loans up to $70,000 at attractive low rates. Refinancing is available for all car models, new or used.
PenFed offers a diverse selection of products and services with built-in value that’s hard to beat; such as mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, equity loans, consolidation loans, Money Market Certificates, Money Market Savings, IRAs and much more—including a variety of insurance and investment-related products.
To learn more about PenFed and membership eligibility, visit www.PenFed.org/lower or call (800) 247-5626.
Download article content
Understanding Small Loans
(NAPSI)—For many, the answer to a financial dilemma can come from asking the right questions. To help, a public interest organization has come up with four quarterly booklets, with worksheets and self-assessment information, for those considering personal loans.
The first, “Understanding Personal Loans,” helps potential borrowers find answers to six important questions:
• Is a personal loan for me?
• Can I afford a loan?
• What happens when I apply?
• What happens if I’m late with a payment?
• What terms should I understand before taking out a loan?
• Which laws protect me?
This financial literacy initiative that aims to educate the more than 30 million underbanked households in the U.S. about short-term, small-dollar loans was launched by the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation. The materials are online at www.afsaef.org/personalloans101. Printed versions are available from the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation, 919 Eighteenth Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC, 20006-5517; (202) 466-8611.
Download article content
Get Help To Get Your Mortgage Right
(NAPSI)—The process of buying a home has changed dramatically during the past few years. It’s not always a matter of deciding on the home you want and then organizing the financing. Today’s home buyer often needs to start with the financing—how much home you can afford is probably the most critical question buyers need to address.
The best place to find that “magic number” is with a mortgage lender. Starting the home- buying process with a lender means you have solid information in hand to start your search. A good lender will share information about mortgage programs that may be offered locally and those programs best suited to your individual situation.
Online calculators and ballpark estimates, on the other hand, can run into too many variables. You need an expert, and the good news is that an initial consult with most lenders costs you nothing. At least, that is the case with LendRIGHT lenders.
There are more than 150 mortgage companies in the U.S. that carry the LendRIGHT mark of mortgage excellence. These lenders are pledged to a process built around the home buyer:
Relationships—working with you to help you identify the right loan;
Information—sharing what they know to help you understand your options;
Guidance—providing advice to help you make good choices;
Honesty—communicating and responding to your needs in an open manner; and
Trust—working to take care of the details to help you close on time.
“Home buyers often don’t realize there are different kinds of mortgages that may be suitable for their particular circumstances and qualifications,” commented one lender. “It’s best to explore financing options before making an offer on a home, as many sellers will not consider buyers who are not pre-approved.”
For more information, including where to find a nearby lender, visit www.lendright.com.
Download article content
Help For Those Hurt By Foreclosure Errors
(NAPSI)—If you received any notices about foreclosure of your primary residence in 2009 or 2010 and suffered financial harm because of errors in that foreclosure process, even if you did not lose your home, you may qualify for a free, independent review.
The deadline for requesting that review is July 31, 2012.
Conducted at the direction of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the Independent Foreclosure Review will determine whether you suffered financial injury and should receive compensation or other remedy because of errors or other problems during the foreclosure process.
To be eligible, the mortgage must have been active in the foreclosure process between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. The property securing the loan must have been your primary residence, and the mortgage must have been serviced by a mortgage servicer covered by the OCC and Federal Reserve enforcement actions issued in April 2011. For a list of those companies, visit www.independentforeclosurereview.com. To know if your mortgage was active in the foreclosure process during the eligible period, check to see if you received foreclosure-related notices during that period.
Request for Review
You can submit a request at the same site or complete and return a request form by mail. More than 4.3 million forms and letters explaining the process were sent to eligible homeowners.
If you have questions about completing the form or need to request one, you can call (888) 952-9105 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (Eastern), Monday through Friday, and between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Saturday.
“I want people to know this process is free to eligible borrowers who ask for a file review, and that they give up absolutely none of their rights in asking for the independent review of their case,” said Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry. “All eligible borrowers who submit requests can be assured that their file will be reviewed professionally and evaluated fairly to determine whether errors resulted in financial injury.”
Not all reviews will find errors, and not all errors result in financial injury. Where the review finds financial injury, the remediation offered is intended to address direct financial harm and can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $100,000. More than 136,000 people have requested a review.
Assistance is available in over 200 languages including Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong and Russian.
Watch out for Scams
There is only one Independent Foreclosure Review and it is free. Beware of anyone who asks you to pay for any foreclosure review service or offers to complete the request form on your behalf.
More information is available at the official OCC website, www.occ.gov/independentforeclosurereview.
Download article content
Credit Scores Matter In A Tough Housing Market
(NAPSI)—There’s encouraging news for homeowners who face a tough housing market. New government mortgage settlement programs may help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
That’s good news, because the tough housing market is expected to be worse or much the same for at least the next year. In a recent survey conducted by FreeScore.com, nearly six in 10 respondents expect tight housing credit to continue.
A good credit score is important when it comes to qualifying for a home loan, yet many prospective homeowners do not understand how their credit score works. Forty-seven percent of the survey’s respondents mistakenly believe lenders control a person’s credit score, when in fact lenders have nothing to do with it. Individuals control their own scores through their financial habits, such as the amount of credit outstanding, repayment history, length of credit history and new credit accounts opened.
Mortgage rates have dropped, but millions of borrowers have been unable to take advantage of the lower rates because they have “negative equity”—their mortgages are worth more than the value of the underlying property. Analytics firm CoreLogic reported that 22.1 percent of homeowners are in this situation. A large percentage of those borrowers fell behind on their payments, leading to foreclosures.
Even though most economists expect mortgage rates to remain near their record lows, mortgages may be more difficult to obtain, as banks are more cautious about extending credit.
Consumers with better credit and higher credit scores can generally secure home loans more easily and take advantage of low refinancing. Here are some ways to better manage your credit:
• First, track, monitor and understand your credit scores from each of the national credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—in order to secure the best interest rates possible. Read your reports carefully to be sure there are no mistakes, and if you find any, contact the credit bureau.
• Pay bills on time. See if you can set up payment reminders so that your payments are not late.
• Reduce the amount you owe. Stop using credit cards and come up with a payment plan.
To aid borrowers, the government designed two mortgage settlement programs—the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP)--yet 72.76 percent of the survey respondents said they were unaware of the programs.
A list of questions and answers has been designed to help the public understand the new programs and learn if they qualify. The list can be found on FreeScore.com’s “Common Credit Questions” section.
FreeScore.com provides affordable, unlimited access to credit scores and information from the national credit bureaus. For more information, visit www.FreeScore.com.
Download article content