One Important Phone Call You Should Make Before You Buy A House

Any house that you buy “used” has a history to it, and that history may affect your finances. Here’s one key call you can make to check out your new home.

The post One Important Phone Call You Should Make Before You Buy A House appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Melissa. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

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Expert Home Security Tips and Tricks

Purchasing, updating, and decorating your home was a big investment. It is your family’s refuge and holds both treasured memories and valued possessions: in short, all things that you want to protect. We talked with several security experts to discover and share their top tips for home protection. Their advice was varied, but they all agreed that using a smart combination of the right tools, techniques, and safety measures is the key to protecting your home and family. And you might even save a bit of money in the long run! First Line of Defense: Securing Your Home Exterior The first step in improving your household safety is to evaluate the exterior of your home. If burglars or other criminals can’t get into your home, they can’t do much damage. This is why taking a look at access points like your doors and windows is essential. Roman Zrazhevskiy is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ready to Go Survival, a company that creates custom survival kits. As a former EMT and lifelong outdoorsman, Zrazhevskiy understands the connection between facility security and your personal safety. He says the best place to start updating your home security is with the exterior doors to your home. Here are his key points: First, replace all the doors with solid wood or steel doors, and install high-quality deadbolt locks. Ensure the door frames are made of steel or have steel supports for the door, and that all door hardware is a minimum of three inches long. You can also install a steel bar on the inside that can be closed if needed. A great product that helps secure your doors is called the Door Sentinel. It comes with all the hardware to reinforce your exterior door so it will be much more difficult to break into. Identity theft expert, author, and speaker Robert Siciliano covers all aspects of security as they relate to violence and fraud prevention in both the physical and virtual worlds. Here are his top home security tips for way that you can use your doors, windows, and even your landscaping to keep you and your family safe. Make sure nobody can see inside your windows at night, and be choosy about which drapes to leave open during the day, especially if you have expensive items that can be viewed through windows. Keep your shrubs and trees manicured so that burglars can’t hide near them. Do a door and lock inventory to make sure they all work—the only time a door should be unlocked is when someone is using it. The only time a window should be unlocked is when it’s open while you’re home, and even then, be extremely judicious about this, including for second-story windows that can be climbed up to. Quick and Easy Home Security Tips There are also many quick, simple, and inexpensive ways that you can keep your home safe that won’t break the bank, including a few tips for home security while on vacation. Siciliano further suggests these three inexpensive, easy, and creative ideas. When traveling for long stretches, arrange to have someone mow your lawn and park their car in your driveway. Get a beware of dog sign even if you don’t have a dog. Get a big dog food bowl. Place it near your front door. Go to an Army/Navy store and get a pair of men’s boots, put them near your front or back door. Justin Lavelle is the Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified, a leading source of online background checks and contact information. Lavelle encourages you to make a few easy, little or no cost changes to your home (and your habits) that can protect you and your family. The lived-in look is a great deterrent. Many hardware stores sell timers that can run lights in your house. These can be lamps or hardwired fixtures. These timers are easily installed as a do-it-yourself project. It is recommended that you have outdoor lights timed as well. You can set lights inside and out to come on at different times during the evening and morning, giving your home an occupied look even if you are gone. Keep a car in the driveway if possible and keep the radio on. Be sure you remove your mail and any newspapers dropped off on a daily basis. A big billboard that says you are not home is unattended packages. If you are gone all day at work, consider sending your packages to a trusted neighbor you know will be home during the day. You can also have packages shipped to a P.O. Box and pick them up at your post office. Another option is to have items shipped to the nearest brick and mortar location and pick them up there in the evening or [on the] weekend. Smart Tech to Keep Your Home Safe Now that you have considered the physical and structural aspects of home security, it’s time to think about ways that digital and virtual tools can help you. Rob Caiello, Vice President of Marketing at Allconnect, helps movers with the purchase and setup of home utilities and services, including finding the right home security system and service. As a security system expert, he encourages all homeowners to take a look at the new technologies available. Home security systems aren’t what they used to be. With the explosion of home technology, home security systems have gotten much smarter. With smart home security systems, you can receive real time alerts to your smartphone if an emergency takes place in your home. Plus, you can also receive texts or email notifications about potential security threats, like a window or door left open for too long. These systems often require an initial up-front investment, but the benefits of peace of mind are priceless. Plus, adding monitored safety and security devices can often help homeowners dramatically lower their home insurance premiums. As a final security and technology tip, don’t post your vacation plans on social media: You don’t want the world to know your home will be left unwatched. New technology has made everything from public data collection to home security quicker, simpler, and more affordable. If your finances are tight, you might consider a cash-out refinance to obtain the funds for security upgrades. Lavelle also encourages homeowners to look into both traditional security system, as well as new tools like web-based digital intercom systems. It used to be expensive to have a security system installed, but today many DIY kits are available that work with your home’s internet wifi for connectivity. Some will provide monitoring services and some will allow you to be notified on your smartphone if there is an intrusion detected. Google the many options that are available to find a system that fits your needs and budget. If nothing else, install a camera prop above your front door and other entrance areas. It will deter most burglars. Unfortunately we live in a world where opening your front door may be dangerous for you and your family. Camera intercom systems used to be cost prohibitive for many residential applications, but today with internet wifi, smartphones, and small digital cameras, having the ability to answer your door without actually opening it is a reality. There are even systems that allow you to appear to be home and answer the door when you are halfway around the world. Don’t Let Your Castle Be Compromised Whether you are in town or away on vacation, the world is an unpredictable place so it’s important to take precautions to safeguard your home—your castle. From digital solutions to simple DIY steps, there are many means to bolster protection for every house on any budget. Contact a PennyMac Loan Officer to explore the refinancing options to fund security upgrades for your home. The views, information, or opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of PennyMac Loan Services, LLC and its employees.

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6 Tips to Find Affordable Health Insurance When You Become Self-Employed

If you're dreaming about leaving a corporate job to work for yourself, getting affordable health insurance is probably one of your top concerns. Fortunately, there are more protections now than ever for those who leave the safety of a group health plan.

This post will cover six tips to find affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or leave a job for any reason, so you and your family get the coverage you need.

Major benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, became law in 2010, with significant provisions taking effect in 2014. One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition. However, insurers can charge different rates based on where you live, your age, tobacco use, and family size.

One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition.

The ACA also removes annual and lifetime caps on your health coverage. And no matter how much care you receive, the law caps how much you have to pay for it.

Out-of-pocket annual maximums vary depending on your health plan, but if you get in-network care, you'll never have to pay more than $8,150 as an individual, or $16,300 as a family, for the 2020 plan year. For 2021, these amounts increase to $8,550 and $17,100. Note that these limits don't include your monthly premiums.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Subsidy?

The ACA also offers many low- and middle-income Americans a health subsidy, which cuts the cost of premiums depending on your income and family size. It's a tax credit paid to your health insurance provider every month, which allows you to pay a lower premium.

For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy.

The ACA subsidy applies when your household income is between 100% and 400% of your state's federal poverty level. For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy. 

One challenge to using a subsidy is that it's based on your estimated earnings in the year when you'll get coverage, not on your last year's income. Since self-employment incomes can vary dramatically from month to month, the chances of knowing exactly how much you'll earn in the current or future year may be difficult. 

If you underestimate your income for a health subsidy, you may have to return a portion of the tax credit already spent on your insurance during the previous year. In other words, you may owe additional taxes that you weren't expecting.

When you enroll in an ACA plan, you'll have access to a marketplace account. That's where you can update changes to your expected income or family size that affect your tax credit so you can correct it as quickly as possible.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Mandate?

The ACA mandated that individuals be covered by a qualified health plan or pay a tax penalty if you're uninsured for more than two consecutive months. The mandate applies no matter if you're employed, self-employed, unemployed, a child, an adult, or where you live. 

Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it.

However, starting in 2019, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the mandate penalty for not having health insurance no longer applies. Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it. 

But several states have their own insurance mandates, requiring you to have a qualifying health plan. You may have to pay the penalty for being uninsured if you live in:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

For example, California residents without ACA coverage in 2020 face a penalty up to 2.5% of household income, or $696 per adult, and $375.50 per child, whichever is greater. So, even if the federal government won't penalize you for being uninsured, you could have to pay a hefty state penalty, depending on where you live. More states will likely adopt penalties to keep the cost of coverage for residents as low as possible.

The ACA established health insurance exchanges, primarily as online marketplaces, administered by either federal or state governments. That's where individuals, the self-employed, and small businesses can shop and purchase qualified insurance plans and find other options, depending on your income.

How to get affordable health insurance

When you go out on your own, the cost of a health plan can be shocking—especially if you just left a company that paid a big chunk of the insurance bill on your behalf.

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative. Having a medical emergency or being diagnosed with a severe illness that you can't afford to treat could be devastating. 

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative.

Here are six tips for finding affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or no longer have job-based coverage for any reason:

1. Join a spouse or partner's plan

If your spouse or partner has employer-sponsored health insurance, joining their plan could be your most affordable option. Group insurance generally costs much less than individual coverage. Plus, some employers subsidize a portion of your premium as a benefit. 

However, some employer plans may not offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. So, find out from the benefits administrator what's allowed. 

If you're under age 26, another option is to join or remain on a parent's health plan if they're willing to have you. Even if you're married, not living with your parents, and not financially dependent on them, the ACA allows you to get health insurance using a parent's plan. However, once you're over age 26, you'll have to use another option covered here.

2. Enroll in a federal or state marketplace plan

As I mentioned, the ACA established federal and state marketplaces for consumers who don't have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. The following states have health insurance exchanges:

  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut 
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho 
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

No matter where you live, you can begin shopping for an ACA-qualified health plan at healthcare.gov. However, you can only apply for a policy during the annual open enrollment period—November 1 to December 15, for coverage that will begin on January 1 of the following year. Some states with healthcare exchanges have an extended enrollment period

In general, if you miss the enrollment window, you can't get an ACA health plan until the following year unless you qualify for a special enrollment. That allows you to purchase or change coverage any time of the year if you have a major qualifying life event, such as losing insurance at work, getting married or divorced, having a child, or relocating. However, you typically only have 60 days after the event occurs to enroll.

If your income is too high to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, you can still buy health insurance through the federal or your state's exchange. You can also get an ACA-qualified health plan directly from an insurance company, a health insurance agent or broker, or an online insurance aggregator.

3. Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

One way to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums is to choose a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). You enjoy lower monthly premiums but have higher out-of-pocket costs. If you're in relatively good health, an HDHP can make sense; however, if you get sick, it can end up costing you more. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

Another benefit of having an HDHP is that you qualify for a health savings account (HSA). Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be withdrawn at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor co-pays, prescription drugs, dental care, chiropractic, prescription eyeglasses, and mental health care. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

4. Get a short-term plan

If you miss the deadline to enroll in an ACA health plan and don't qualify for special enrollment, are you simply out of luck? Fortunately, no. You can purchase a short-term health plan until the next enrollment period comes around.

The problem is, short-term plans don't have to meet ACA standards and only offer temporary coverage, such as for a few months or up to a year. You may be eligible to renew a plan for up to three years in some states, depending on the insurer. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan.

Short-term plans can charge more if you have preexisting conditions, put caps on benefits, or not cover essential services like prescriptions and preventive care. Because they fall short of ACA requirements, you can have one and still be subject to a state-mandated health penalty. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan. 

Having short-term coverage is certainly better than being uninsured, but I recommend replacing it with qualified health coverage as soon as possible. That's the best way to have the protection you need against the enormous financial risk of medical costs. 

5. Enroll in Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

If you can't afford health insurance, you may be eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or CHIP at any time of year, depending on your income, family size, and the state where you live. In general, if you earn less than the poverty level, which is currently $12,760 for an individual or $26,200 for a family of four, you may qualify for these programs. They may have different names depending on where you live. 

Unlike ACA health plans, state-run health programs don't have set open enrollment periods, so if you qualify, coverage can begin any time of year. 

When you complete an application at the federal or state health insurance exchange, you can also determine if you qualify for coverage through Medicaid and CHIP programs. You can learn more about both programs at medicaid.gov

6. Get COBRA coverage

If you leave a job with group health insurance, you can enroll in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage. It isn't an insurance company or a health plan, but a regulation that gives you the option to continue your employer-sponsored health insurance after you're no longer employed. 

Instead of having your plan canceled the month you leave a job, you can use COBRA to continue getting the same benefits and choices you had before you left the company. In most cases, you can get COBRA benefits for up to 18 months.

The problem with COBRA coverage is that it's temporary and can be expensive. Unlike other federal benefits, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers don't have to pay for COBRA. You typically have to pay the full cost of premiums, plus a 2 percent administrative charge, to the insurer. 

If you're not eligible for regular, federal COBRA, many states offer similar programs, called Mini COBRA. To learn more, check with your state's department of insurance.

Health insurance shopping tips

After you become self-employed and purchase health insurance, it's crucial to shop for plans every open enrollment period. Your or your family's medical needs or income may change.

Additionally, new health insurers come in and go out of the health insurance marketplace. Carriers that offered plans in your ZIP code last year may not be the same set of players this year. In other words, a competitor could offer a similar or better plan than yours, for a lower price. So, if you don't shop annually, you could leave money on the table.

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What's the Best Type of Mortgage for You?

When you're ready to buy a home, choosing the best lender and type of mortgage can seem daunting because there are many choices. Since no two real estate transactions or home buyers are alike, it's essential to get familiar with different mortgage products and programs. 

Let's take a look at the two main types of mortgages and several popular home loan programs. Choosing the right one for your situation is the key to buying a home you can afford. 

What is a mortgage?

First, here's a quick mortgage explainer. A mortgage is a loan used to buy real estate, such as a new or existing primary residence or vacation home. It states that your property is collateral for the debt, and if you don't make timely payments, the lender can take back the property to recover their losses.

In general, a mortgage doesn't pay for 100% of a home's purchase price.

In general, a mortgage doesn't pay for 100% of a home's purchase price. You typically must make a down payment, which could range from 3% to 10% or more, depending on the type of loan you qualify for. 

For example, if you agree to pay $300,000 for a home and have $15,000 to put down, you need a mortgage for the difference, or $285,000 ($300,000 – $15,000). In addition to a down payment, lenders charge a variety of processing fees that you either pay upfront or roll into your loan, which increases your debt.

At your real estate closing, the lender wires funds to the closing agent or attorney. After you sign a stack of mortgage and closing documents, your down payment and mortgage money go to the seller and various parties, such as a real estate broker, title company, inspector, surveyor, and insurance company. You leave the closing as a proud new homeowner and begin making mortgage payments the next month.

What is a fixed-rate mortgage?

The structure of your loan and payments depends on whether your interest rate is fixed or adjustable. So, understanding how these two main types of mortgage products work is essential.

A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that never changes, no matter what happens in the economy.

A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that never changes, no matter what happens in the economy. The most common fixed-rate mortgage terms are 15- and 30-years. But you can also find 10-, 20-, 40-, and even 50-year fixed-rate mortgages.

Getting a shorter mortgage means you pay it off faster and at a lower interest rate than with a longer-term option. For example, as of December 2020, the going rate for a 15-year fixed mortgage is 2.4%, and a 30-year is 2.8% APR. 

The downside is that shorter loans come with higher monthly payments. Many people opt for longer mortgages to pay as little as possible each month and make their home more affordable.

Here are some situations when getting a fixed-rate mortgage makes sense:

  • You see low or rising interest rates. Locking in a low rate for the life of your mortgage protects you against inflation. 
  • You want financial stability. Having the same mortgage payment for decades allows you to easily budget and avoid financial surprises. 
  • You don't plan to move for a while. Keeping a fixed-rate mortgage over the long term gives you the potential to save the most in interest, especially if interest rates go up.

What is an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)?

The second primary type of home loan is an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM. Your interest rate and monthly payment can go up or down according to predetermined terms based on a financial index, such as the T-bill rate or LIBOR

Most ARMs are a hybrid of a fixed and adjustable product. They begin with a fixed-rate period and convert to an adjustable rate later on. The first number in the name of an ARM product is how many years are fixed for the introductory rate, and the second number is how often the rate could change after that.

For instance, a 5/1 ARM gives you five years with a fixed rate and then can adjust, or reset, every year starting in the sixth year. A 3/1 ARM has a fixed rate for three years with a potential rate adjustment every year, beginning in the fourth year.

When shopping for an ARM, be sure you understand how often the rate could change and how high your payments could go.

ARMs are typically 30-year products, but they can be shorter. With a 5/6 ARM, you pay the same rate for the first five years. Then the rate could change every six months for the remaining 25 years.

ARMs come with built-in caps for how much the interest rate can climb from one adjustment period to the next and the potential increase over the loan's life. When shopping for an ARM, be sure you understand how often the rate could change and how high your payments could go. In other words, you should be comfortable with the worst-case ARM scenario before getting one.

In general, the introductory interest rate for a 30-year ARM is lower than a 30-year fixed mortgage. But that hasn't been the case recently because rates are at historic lows. The idea is that rates are so low they likely have nowhere to go but up, making an ARM less attractive. 

I mentioned that the going rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is 2.8%. Compare that to a 30-year 5/6 ARM, which is also 2.8% APR. When ARM rates are the same or higher than fixed rates, they don't give borrowers any upsides for taking a risk that their payment could increase. 

ARM lenders aren't making them attractive because they know once your introductory rate ends, you could refinance to a lower-rate fixed mortgage and they'd lose your business after just a few years. They could end up losing money if you haven't paid enough in fees and interest to offset their cost of issuing the loan.

Unless you believe that rates can drop further (or until ARM rates are low enough to offer borrowers significant savings), they aren't a wise choice in the near term.

So, unless you believe that rates can drop further or until ARM rates are low enough to offer borrowers significant savings, they aren't a wise choice in the near term. However, always discuss your mortgage options with potential lenders, so you evaluate them in light of current economic conditions.

RELATED: How to Prepare Your Credit for a Mortgage Approval

5 types of home loan programs 

Now that you understand the fundamental differences between fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages, here are five loan programs you may qualify for.

1. Conventional loans

Conventional loans are the most common type of mortgage. They're also known as a "conforming loan" when they conform to standards set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These federally-backed companies buy and guarantee mortgages issued through lenders in the secondary mortgage market. Lenders sell mortgages to Fannie and Freddie so they can continuously supply new borrowers with mortgage funds. 

Conventional loans are popular because most lenders—including mortgage companies, banks, and credit unions—offer them. Borrowers can pay as little as 3% down; however, paying 20% eliminates the requirement to pay an additional monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI) premium.

2. FHA loans

FHA or Federal Housing Administration loans come with lenient underwriting standards, making homeownership a reality for more Americans. Borrowers need a 3.5% down payment and can have lower credit scores and income than with a conventional loan. 

3. VA loans

VA or Veterans Administration loans give those with eligible military service a zero-down loan with no monthly private mortgage insurance required. 

4. USDA loans

The USDA or U.S. Department of Agriculture gives loans to buyers who plan to live in rural and suburban areas. Borrowers who meet certain income limits can get zero-down payments and low-rate mortgage insurance premiums.

5. Jumbo loans

Jumbo loans are higher mortgage amounts than what's allowed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so they're also known as non-conforming loans. In general, they exceed approximately $500,000 in most areas.

Always compare multiple loan products and get quotes from several lenders before committing to your next home loan.

This isn't a complete list of all the loan programs you may qualify for, so be sure to ask potential lenders for recommendations. Remember that just because you're eligible for a program, such as a VA loan, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option. Always compare multiple loan products and get quotes from several lenders before committing to your next home loan.

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What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance?

The death of a loved one is hard to take and while a life insurance payout can ease the burden and allow you to continue leaving comfortably, it won’t take the grief or the heartbreak away. What’s more, if that life insurance policy refuses to payout, it can make the situation even worse, adding more stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration to an already […]

What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

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How Much House Should I Afford?

The internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding information that can help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, searching for “How much house can I afford?” will mostly lead you to online calculators that use an algorithm to come up with a generic estimate. To come up with a figure, these calculators […]

The post How Much House Should I Afford? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

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