What’s the Best Online Tax Prep Software? – TaxAct vs TurboTax vs H&R Block

In recent years, it’s taken me much longer than I’d like to complete and e-file my state and federal income tax returns. That’s because I’ve spent some time evaluating the most popular online tax preparation software available to filers in the United States, including TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block.

All three have a similar set of core features and capabilities, including the ability to e-file. That can make it challenging to differentiate among them at a glance. But there are differences.

Before choosing one, learn how TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block stack up — and what’s new for the 2020 tax year.

Online Tax Preparation Software Evaluation Method

I’ve done my own taxes and run this comparison for several years in a row. As my tax situation has changed, so have my experiences. For example, during the 2014 tax year, I moved across state lines, forcing me to file two state tax returns.

For the 2020 tax year, I used the same mock tax situation for all three programs to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. Though it’s a bit more complicated than my actual tax situation, it allows me to explore each platform in greater depth than I otherwise would. Its highlights include:

TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all have a maximum refund-minimum tax liability guarantee. That means each service waives your prep fees if you can prove another program produces a higher tax liability or lower refund on an identical tax situation.

With these three programs, my federal and state tax liabilities have always been identical across the board. However, the time and expense of preparing with each service vary considerably.


Key Features

TaxAct, TurboTax, and H&R Block have many features and capabilities in common. TurboTax and H&R Block are especially close cousins, offering tax prep assistance from human experts for users who want it. However, each program is distinct enough to warrant close examination on the merits.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing

Each of these tax prep services can handle virtually any personal income tax situation, from straightforward to very complex. All offer multiple DIY tax prep plans that correspond to general positions on the complexity spectrum. Notably, all offer a free plan for filers with relatively simple situations.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for H&R Block

Pricing for H&R Block’s DIY tax prep plans rises as the tax season progresses. Early birds get better deals (at the lower end of the ranges specified here) than those who prep and file as the deadline approaches.

  • Free. This plan offers free federal and state filing for simple to moderately complex situations. If you can file your taxes using Form 1040 without any additional schedules, the free plan is for you.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $23.99 to $49.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who need to itemize deductions, import a prior-year tax return from another tax prep service, or access H&R Block’s in-house phone support team.
  • Premium. The premium plan costs $39.99 to $69.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It supports a range of more complex activities, including investment activity and rental property ownership.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $67.99 to $84.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TurboTax

Like H&R Block, TurboTax varies pricing as the tax season progresses. But its plans are a bit more expensive than either H&R Block’s or TaxAct’s.

  • Federal Free Edition. This plan offers free state and federal filing for relatively simple situations — filing using Form 1040 with no attached schedules. A state fee may apply as the filing deadline approaches, so prep early to avoid surprises.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $40 to $60 for federal DIY tax prep and filing and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who wish to itemize deductions. It also has some additional features, such as prior-year return importing from other tax prep programs, live phone support, and online tax return editing for up to three years after filing.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $70 to $90 for federal DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for many complex tax situations, including active investing and rental property ownership, but can’t support situations involving pass-through income via a formal legal business structure.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $90 to $120 for DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners with pass-through income.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TaxAct

Like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct pricing is subject to change, depending on when you file. Lower prices represent early-season discounts that may disappear at any time.

  • Free Edition. Like TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s free plans, TaxAct’s covers federal and state prep and filing fees. It’s appropriate for most people who can file using Form 1040 only with no additional schedules.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $24.95 to $44.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for people who wish to itemize deductions.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $34.95 to $69.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for equities market investors, rental property owners, people with foreign financial accounts, and people who earn passive income reported on Schedule K-1 (but not those actively involved in self-employment or business ownership activity).
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $64.95 to $79.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners. It also includes additional features for these groups, such as a deduction-maximizer tool that supports year-round expense tracking from your TaxAct account.

Tax Prep Assistance From Human Experts

H&R Block and TurboTax both offer varying degrees of hands-on tax prep assistance from in-house trained tax preparers, Enrolled Agents (EAs), or certified public accountants. H&R Block makes these resources available online and in-person (albeit at a much higher fee), while TurboTax limits hands-on assistance to the online realm only. TaxAct does not offer expert tax prep assistance.

H&R Block’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

H&R Block offers two online expert-assistance packages: Online Assist and Tax Pro Go. Online Assist only provides human experts to review the client’s return for accuracy and tax optimization. Tax Pro Go is a true full-service package in which remote human preparers complete clients’ returns for them.

  • Online Assist. H&R Block bases Online Assist pricing on the complexity of your return, but it generally adds at least $40 to your prep costs. Covering a thorough review by a tax professional and their corrections to your return, you can access it as an add-on to any DIY package.
  • Tax Pro Go. Tax Pro Go users upload their tax documents, such as income statements, to H&R Block’s secure portal. Human preparers do the rest. Pricing is also custom and based on the complexity of the return. It’s comparable to what human CPAs charge for hands-on tax prep (and what H&R Block charges for its own in-office tax prep services). My total state and federal filing cost would have been upward of $250 for the 2020 tax year.

H&R Block also offers in-person tax prep assistance at thousands of storefront office locations across the U.S. If you find yourself at a tax prep impasse at any point and don’t want to use one of H&R Block’s digital expert-assistance packages, you can make an appointment at an H&R Block office and complete it with truly hands-on help.

TurboTax’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TurboTax also offers two expert tax prep assistance packages: TurboTax Live and TurboTax Live Full-Service. TurboTax Live involves on-demand consultation with and tax advice from TurboTax CPAs or EAs as you prepare your own taxes. TurboTax Live Full-Service is a hands-on prep package that only asks the filer to upload their tax documents and sign off on their completed returns.

  • TurboTax Live. Appropriate for all situations, this package is available as an add-on to any DIY tax prep plan. It adds $50 to $80 to the final plan cost, depending on the plan level. Early-bird pricing ranges from $90 for deluxe clients to $170 for self-employed clients. Late-filing pricing is generally $30 higher, regardless of the plan.
  • TurboTax Live Full-Service. Ideal for very complicated situations, such as business ownership, TurboTax Live Full-Service is priced on par with full-service independent CPA tax prep. As with H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go package, I would have paid upward of $250 for state and federal filing for the 2020 tax year.

TurboTax does not have a network of brick-and-mortar locations and thus does not offer in-person tax prep. However, TurboTax Live Full-Service can accommodate virtually any prep-related issues, no matter how tricky or unusual.

TaxAct’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer expert tax prep assistance, making it best for experienced DIY filers who are confident they won’t need professional help. If you get stuck while prepping with TaxAct, you can always take what you have so far to a professional tax preparer in your area.


Federal Tax Prep Process

I’ve prepared my taxes with these three programs for several years running. What follows is a condensed summary of my experience with each, including total prep time, total cost, version used, and observations of key features and functions.

H&R Block’s Federal Tax Prep Process.

  • Time Spent Preparing: 90 minutes
  • Version Used: Premium (In past years, I began with the free version and upgraded only after being prompted, but in 2019 and 2020, I went straight to premium)
  • Total Cost: $76.98

H&R Block is one of the most popular online tax preparation programs around. Despite its plethora of brick-and-mortar offices, filing online is both more convenient and — in most cases, at least — significantly cheaper than filing in person. H&R Block’s software uses an interview-style process that takes you through your taxes step by step, ensuring you don’t miss any crucial forms or schedules.

The platform’s drag-and-drop return upload feature is a big time-saver over the more cumbersome importing tools common to truly bare-bones discount tax prep platforms, such as TaxHawk and FreeTaxUSA.

Also helpful is the last page of each section, which includes a concise summary of the information you enter. If anything looks amiss, you can go back to the corresponding page and edit the erroneous information with one click.

These features also appear in H&R Block’s mobile-friendly Web version and its powerful mobile tax prep app, which has all the main features and capabilities of its standard Web version. You can move seamlessly between the mobile app and Web version to work on your saved return as needed. And you can e-file your return right from the app if that’s most convenient for you.

Another bonus of the service is H&R Block’s transparent pricing. You know exactly how much you’ll pay to file before you do so, and H&R Block makes any pricing increase crystal-clear before you upgrade.

But thanks to the impressive help button on the left sidebar, you may not need to upgrade. When clicked, it produces a pop-up window that lists popular help topics in question form and features a search bar for less common queries.

That makes it easy to get clarification without having to exit your work or open a new window. I’ve played around with this feature quite a bit in the past and never failed to learn something new each time.

TurboTax’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 100 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In past years, I’ve started with the federal free version and upgraded in steps as TurboTax prompted me to move to the cheapest version that could handle my mock situation each time I provided an interview answer the current version couldn’t; this year, I had enough experience to know what I needed)
  • Total Cost: $110

TurboTax is another top-rated online tax filing program owned by Intuit, one of the country’s best-known financial software firms. Appropriately, its interview-style preparation process is extremely intuitive, demystifying tax issues for novice filers.

TurboTax also has a clean, mobile-friendly layout and a high-quality mobile app, not to mention excellent customer support at all plan levels. Phone support is available only with deluxe and higher plans, but it also has a dynamic, user-supported knowledge base.

I have experienced some functionality issues with TurboTax in the past, but these haven’t been disruptive of late. Overall, TurboTax seems to grow more user-friendly every season.

One feature that sets TurboTax apart is the ability to import prior-year returns from any tax prep service as long as the return is in PDF format. TurboTax has long been a leader in this respect, with competitors — namely H&R Block — only belatedly joining it. (To be fair, H&R Block now offers seamless prior-year importing as well.) Robust PDF importing capability is hugely helpful for first-time users.

TurboTax eases you into the interface with helpful pop-up windows that explain the platform’s key features, such as the help bar and internal navigation tools. TurboTax has consistently been (and continues to be) among the most user-friendly tax prep programs around.

TurboTax’s prep interface is blissfully easy to navigate. Its questions are more pointed and easier to understand than H&R Block’s, and the platform rarely presents confusing or vague information. At the beginning of each section, TurboTax takes care to call out less common situations and forms, subtly directing you toward tax forms or rules that are more likely to apply.

The platform also places helpful pop-up buttons next to elements that may require explanations, such as schedules and types of income. Clicking on the button creates a pop-up window that explains the topic in detail. For filers in a rush, it’s a time-saving alternative to searching the knowledge base.

TurboTax waits until you’re done with state taxes to review everything. It’s a marginal time-saver compared to H&R Block’s federal-only and state-only reviews. However, when I attempt to move backward in my federal return to check something manually, I’m occasionally stymied by an HTML error. It happens less frequently than it used to but is worth noting nonetheless.

TurboTax Live — first introduced in the 2017 tax year — is a huge help for filers with complicated situations and comes at a substantial discount to the cost of filing with a CPA. TurboTax Live Full-Service, a new addition for the 2020 tax year, costs still more but is ideal for taxpayers who don’t want anything to do with the prep process but don’t want to visit a CPA in person.

TaxAct’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 115 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In the past, I’ve used the free version, but recent updates have rendered it unsuitable for situations as complex as my mock situation)
  • Total Cost: $79.90

TaxAct’s prep process and fee structure have changed significantly since the early 2010s, when the free version supported the vast majority of available tax forms and schedules and could therefore accommodate virtually any individual tax situation. Today, its pricing model and process are much more in line with TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, albeit at a slightly lower price point.

TaxAct’s prep interface uses interview-style questions, but the interface is more exhaustive and less responsive to user answers than TurboTax’s or H&R Block’s. Specifically, the system may ask you questions about specific situations that don’t apply to you based on previous answers, whereas TurboTax and H&R Block seem to learn better from earlier responses.

This aspect of TaxAct is less tedious and time-consuming than it has been in the past, though overall prep time is still higher than with TurboTax or H&R Block. With large text and buttons and straightforward navigation, TaxAct’s main website is nearly as mobile-friendly as TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s and significantly more so than true discount programs, like FreeTaxUSA. TaxAct also has a dedicated mobile and tablet app that supports relatively simple tax situations, but this solution isn’t appropriate for filers with self-employment income.

No matter how you choose to use the platform, TaxAct has long had some free or low-cost features designed to simplify and streamline the tax prep process. For instance, early-bird filers can lock in their pricing at the beginning of tax season, even if TaxAct raises its prices in the interim.

The at-a-glance help feature gives you real-time advice and commentary from tax experts as you work through your tax return. The bookmark feature lets you flag interview questions for review at a later time. And it’s easier than ever to call up prior-year tax returns as you prepare your current-year return.


State Tax Prep Process

Some people are fortunate enough to live in a state with no income tax. The rest of us must prepare and file state income taxes every year. All three programs support that endeavor at roughly equivalent cost.

H&R Block’s State Tax Prep Process

H&R Block’s state preparation process unfolds similarly to the federal return — except with state-specific questions. Once you check your federal return for accuracy, the program immediately whisks you into the state section and automatically imports all relevant information from your federal return.

During the 2014 tax year, when I lived in two states, I found it simple to fill out my second state return. H&R Block remembered I’d moved during the year, and the software automatically brought me back to the beginning of the state return process after completing the first. I haven’t moved since and can’t claim income in any other states, so this hasn’t come up since, but the process appears to work much the same today.

TurboTax’s State Tax Prep Process

As with H&R Block, TurboTax automatically transfers all the information from your federal return to your state return. The process for adding a second state, if necessary, is slightly more cumbersome, as you have to navigate an additional drop-down menu. But that’s a pretty minor issue most taxpayers (being single-state filers) don’t have to worry about.

TaxAct’s State Tax Prep Process

TaxAct’s state return section is similar to the other two services’, with automatically imported information and thorough, state-specific questions. As with the federal return, it’s sometimes too thorough. It starts immediately after you finish your federal return, though you’re free to leave it for later.


Accuracy Check

All three programs include a post-prep accuracy check designed to ensure your return is prepared correctly and you’re not set up to pay more than you should.

H&R Block’s Accuracy Check

Every year, before filing, H&R Block has rechecked my entire return for accuracy. I can view my federal and state returns and specify how I want to pay the tax I owe. When I’m eligible for a refund, which doesn’t happen every year, it asks how I’d like to receive it as well.

The process ends smoothly and takes less time — without being any less thorough — than the other two options.

TurboTax’s Accuracy Check

TurboTax follows your state return by reviewing the entire package for accuracy and assessing your audit risk with a handy thermometer graphic. And TurboTax is nothing if not thorough, presenting each accuracy- or audit-related issue and recommended solution in turn before walking you through how you’d like to pay your taxes or receive your refund. Though this thoroughness does lengthen the process of filing taxes, it’s a trade-off some filers may be willing to make.

TaxAct’s Accuracy Check

Like TurboTax, TaxAct waits until you’ve completed all your returns to review them for accuracy, saving some time. However, the review process is more complicated than TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, with different alert levels (red, yellow, and green) that identify issues of varying severity. TaxAct uses these alerts to assess your overall audit risk, though it doesn’t display this risk in a handy graphic like TurboTax.

You can also skip the alerts altogether if you’re confident you’ve kept everything aboveboard — a nice perk for seasoned filers. One drawback is that there’s no easy way to run your completed return by a professional tax preparer. Both H&R Block and TurboTax offer that option for an additional fee.

Once you pay for TaxAct’s prep services, the platform asks you how you’d like to receive your refund or make any tax payments you owe, then walks you through how to prepare for next year’s taxes. That includes introducing its Donation Assistant app, which can help you track and quantify noncash charitable donations throughout the year, and DocVault, a secure mobile-friendly storage service for important tax-related documents. Despite these services’ genuine usefulness, this part of the process drags on too long when the end is in sight.


Additional Features & Capabilities

All three platforms have some additional features and capabilities worth noting. These include the ability to pay tax prep fees with your tax refund (if you’re entitled to one), digital self-help resources and tax reference materials, and optional tax audit assistance or defense add-ons.

H&R Block’s Additional Features & Capabilities

H&R Block’s refund bonus and user-friendly online help database set it apart.

  • Refund Bonus. H&R Block is one of the few remaining online tax prep platforms to offer a refund bonus. Despite shrinking from 10% in the early 2010s to 3.5% in 2020, it’s better than nothing — $35 for every $1,000 refunded. You do have to take your refund on an Amazon gift card, which is a drag for people who prefer straight-up debit cards. You can still receive your federal refund on a reloadable prepaid debit card, just without any extra cash. See H&R Block’s refund bonus terms for more information.
  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your federal and state tax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional service charge of $39.95 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. H&R Block’s Worry-Free Audit Support package is a bargain at about $20 per year. It pairs you with an H&R Block EA to help you interpret and respond to IRS correspondence, prepare for an IRS audit, and deal with the audit itself (with the option for in-person representation if needed).
  • Online Help Resources. H&R Block has an extensive online knowledge base covering a slew of common and not-so-common tax questions as well as H&R Block’s tax prep software itself. The database is searchable and mobile-friendly.

TurboTax’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TurboTax doesn’t have a refund bonus, but its reasonable pay-with-your-refund fees and extensive online help resources shine.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TurboTax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional $34.99 processing charge (subject to change and may vary by state). There’s no option to pay with your state refund.
  • Audit Defense. TurboTax offers free basic audit support for all clients. This service extends to interpreting IRS correspondence and preparing a response. For help preparing for an audit and representation during the audit process, you must add TurboTax’s Max package, which costs about $60 and includes audit representation and identity theft monitoring.
  • Online Help Resources. TurboTax has a searchable help database and an extensive knowledge base filled with user-generated questions and answers. It’s immensely useful for the tax-curious, if a bit overwhelming.

TaxAct’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer a refund bonus but does have a cheap pay-with-your-refund option and a reasonably priced audit defense add-on.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TaxAct tax prep fees with your state or federal refund for a processing fee of about $20 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. TaxAct only offers audit defense through its Protection Plus add-on, a third-party package that includes full IRS and state representation in the event of an audit. TaxAct does have a self-service audit assistance portal that helps clients interpret IRS and state tax letters but doesn’t make human employees available for this function.
  • Online Help Resources. TaxAct has an extensive online help database that’s fully searchable and organized by tax year. It’s a helpful resource for clients with questions about prior-year returns or tax topics.

The Verdict: Should You Choose H&R Block, TurboTax, or TaxAct?

None of these tax prep platforms is perfect. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and you should choose the software you use based on your tax situation and personal preferences.

You Should Use H&R Block If…

H&R Block is relatively easy to use and has moderate pricing and robust customer support. The experience is straightforward, with none of the bugs that plague TurboTax and without the overwhelming detail inherent in TaxAct’s interview process.

However, H&R Block could be a bit more friendly — and a bit more cost-competitive for filers who need some extra help. In general, H&R Block is suitable for people who have some tax filing experience and comfort with the basic contours of the process, including choosing the appropriate filing status and selecting the correct forms.

H&R Block might be the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value Transparent Pricing. H&R Block has transparent pricing. You always know exactly how much you’ll pay to file — and how much you’ll add to the final cost of your return if you need to upgrade to a higher-priced plan.
  2. You Want to Save Time. H&R Block has consistently been the fastest of these tax prep programs, at least for me. It hasn’t won by a mile, but the difference is notable enough to mention. The contrast with TaxAct is particularly acute.
  3. You Want a Refund Bonus. H&R Block continues to offer a refund bonus to filers who consent to transfer their tax refunds to Amazon gift cards. It’s impossible to say how much longer that will continue, but for now, it’s an advantage over TurboTax and TaxAct.
  4. You Need In-Person Support During or After Filing. H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 branches across the U.S., making it easy to switch from online to in-person preparation if needed. TurboTax and TaxAct can’t say the same. H&R Block also offers free in-person audit assistance for all online filers, a key perk for folks who worry the IRS will audit them.

See our full H&R Block review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TurboTax If…

TurboTax is significantly more expensive than H&R Block or TaxAct. Though its free plan has grown more robust in the past couple of years, it’s still lacking.

That said, you do get what you pay for: an intuitive interview process, a user-focused (and mobile-friendly) layout, and lots of support. It’s nice to be able to import from so many sources too. So TurboTax is ideal for novice tax filers as well as more experienced filers for whom affordability isn’t a top concern.

TurboTax is the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value User-Friendliness. TurboTax is the most user-friendly of these programs. Its design and aesthetic are intuitive and easy on the eyes, unlike the more cluttered, less intuitive TaxAct. Its questions are both simply worded and logical, whereas H&R Block’s interview questions and explanations can be confusing. And in addition to offering a powerful app, TurboTax’s regular version is very mobile-friendly. That’s good news for taxpayers who prefer to prepare their returns on a tablet.
  2. You Like Impressive Importing Capabilities. TurboTax has long been a leader in prior-year tax return importing. If you can upload your return in PDF format, you can import it to TurboTax without manually reentering information.
  3. You Depend on Good Customer Service and Help Functions. TurboTax has some useful support features, including a customer service hotline with extensive hours and a comprehensive knowledge base. I’ve referred to TurboTax’s knowledge base more times than I can count and have almost always had my questions answered to my satisfaction.

See our full TurboTax review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TaxAct If…

TaxAct has always been the cheapest option of the three, and its functionality has improved significantly over the years. Now, it’s nearly (but not quite) on par with TurboTax and H&R Block.

That said, my TaxAct return has consistently taken longer than my TurboTax and H&R Block returns. The support infrastructure is unimpressive, though the tax audit defense no longer costs an arm and a leg — just $10 when you upgrade to the premium plan.

But TaxAct is no longer the best game in town for ultra-frugal filers.

In general, TaxAct is ideal for somewhat more experienced filers who don’t mind exchanging time for money. Though its interface has gotten more user-friendly over the years, it’s still not the best software for first-timers.

TaxAct is a solid choice if:

  1. You’re Set on Paying Less. TaxAct is the cheapest of these services. I have a complex tax situation, but I was able to walk away from my most recent filing without spending more than $79.90 (though that would have been $114.90 had I waited until later in the season to file). That’s less than I spent for tax prep with H&R Block and TurboTax. So while TaxAct has grown more expensive in recent years, it’s still the cheapest option among them.
  2. You Want a Price-Lock Guarantee. TaxAct offers a price-lock guarantee to all customers at sign-up. Once you create your account, you’re locked into TaxAct’s pricing at that moment, even if you leave your return for months and TaxAct raises prices during the intervening period. Since tax prep companies frequently raise prices close to the filing deadline, that’s great news for frugal filers. One caveat: TaxAct’s first price-lock step-up happened extremely early in 2020 (for the 2019 tax year), in late January. Another step-up occurred in mid-March. It’s likely the 2020 tax year will play out similarly.
  3. You Crave Useful Apps to Help You Keep Track of Important Forms and Records. TaxAct has useful tools that help you keep track of any necessary documentation you need to complete your return, including receipts, bills, and tax forms. You can add photographic records to a secure, mobile-accessible storage area (DocVault) throughout the year, potentially eliminating the need to file tax-related papers for reference at tax time. You can use a separate app, Donation Assistant, to calculate the fair value of noncash charitable donations, an extremely helpful tool for filers who donate valuable items, such as vehicles and furniture. In the past, I’ve had to scour the Internet for fair-value charts from reputable sources without any clear guarantee they’re accurate.

See our full TaxAct review for a complete analysis.

All Are Great If…

Despite clear differences, all three of these tax prep software programs have some selling points in common. If you have a simple tax situation or don’t want to visit a tax preparer’s office in person but otherwise aren’t too picky about how you get your taxes done, you can’t go wrong here.

Any of these tax prep options are good if:

  1. You Have a Simple Tax Situation. Whatever else you can say about TaxAct, TurboTax, or H&R Block, all three are effective — and dirt cheap if not free — for simple tax situations that don’t require attached schedules.
  2. You Need to Import a Prior-Year Return From Another Tax Prep Program. Although this hasn’t always been the case, all three programs now have robust prior-year return importing tools that make it easy to switch from another provider.
  3. You Don’t Want to Visit a Tax Preparer’s Office or Pay CPA Prices for Tax Prep. With the exception of TurboTax Live Full-Service and H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go, you’ll pay far less to prep your taxes with any of these services than with a full-service human tax preparer. And you won’t have to visit a physical office location, either — unless you’re prepping with H&R Block and decide you’d like to do that before filing.

Final Word

TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block are three of the most popular online tax software options, but they’re not the only ones out there. A bevy of other options exists, from relatively well-known providers like TaxSlayer and eSmart Tax to lesser-known options like Circle CPA and FreeTaxUSA.

And the federal government can help with free tax preparation options thanks to the Free File Alliance (a consortium of about a dozen tax prep companies that offer free filing services to filers who meet certain income and residency criteria) and Free Fillable Forms, which are available to filers regardless of income or residency.

With all these options, depending on your tax situation, you might find one that’s easier, faster, or simply less stressful to use.

And if you don’t want to face a potentially hefty processing charge to pay your tax prep fees with your tax refund but don’t want to pay out of pocket immediately, use a rewards credit card to pick up the tab. If you stay within your card’s spending limit and pay your balance in full by the statement due date, you avoid processing fees and earn a small return on your outlay. Check out our roundups of the best cash-back credit cards and best travel rewards credit cards for ideas.

Source: moneycrashers.com

66 Questions to Ask When Buying a House – Redfin

As a first-time homebuyer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed even before you begin your homebuying journey. After all, this is a new process for you and, simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. First off, there are no silly questions you can ask during any stage of the homebuying process. So always feel free to ask a question, no matter how trivial you think it might be. You owe it to yourself – and your family – to find out everything you can about a home, especially since it will most likely be the largest investment you’ll ever make. To help you get started, we’ve created a list of 66 questions to ask when buying a house, broken down into each stage of the homebuying process to help keep you informed.

11 questions to ask before you go house hunting

As you well know, buying a house is a significant investment. Before you start house hunting, think through your goals for homeownership. Why do you want to buy a house? 

  1. Do you want to earn equity and build wealth by owning a house? 
  2. Do you expect you might need more space for a future family? 
  3. Do you have a pet or see one in your future and you want a backyard? 
  4. Do you want to live in a quiet, established area or somewhere more lively? 
  5. Do you enjoy yard work, gardening? How much backyard space do you require?
  6. Have you considered the local schools and neighborhoods? 
  7. Have you looked at crime rates around the neighborhoods you’re interested in? 
  8. Is it essential for you to live close to your work? Or, is a commute ok? 
  9. Have you narrowed down a range of purchase prices you can afford?
  10. How much money do you need for a downpayment? 
  11. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage

When you’re wrapped up in the excitement of house hunting, you may forget which questions to ask when buying a house.. If you are a pet owner looking at condos, you’ll have to be sure the homeowners’ association allows pets. Or, let’s say you want to live in a popular downtown neighborhood, but plan to have children in a few years – will this neighborhood still suit your needs? It’s always worth giving some thought to the type of home and area to help focus your search. 

Also, be aware that being approved for a home loan saves time for everyone by ensuring that you, as the buyer, can actually afford the home and be able to follow through an offer. 

7 questions to ask when you interview agents

Contacting the agent listed on the for-sale sign of a house you’re interested in may not be the best way to protect your interest as a buyer. When you work with your own agent, that agent’s job is to represent your interests. They help research the house, find answers to all of your questions, and serve as your professional intermediary for communicating with the seller’s agent and homeowner.

Naturally, you will want to choose a great real estate agent that you are comfortable with and feel like they have your best interests in mind. Most real estate experts recommend that you interview at least three agents identified by recommendations from friends and family who have bought or sold a house recently. Here are some questions to ask potential agents to see if they are the right agent for you.

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent? 
  2. What kind of experience do you have in this specific market area?
  3. Do you usually work with buyers or sellers? 
  4. How do you usually communicate with clients? What should I expect for response time? 
  5. How will you help me search for homes? 
  6. What days and times are you typically available for showings? 
  7. How will you ensure transparency about any issues you see with a house? 

When you set your expectations for communication, home tours, and other information you count on your agent to provide, you have a good chance to establish a productive relationship from the start – which will help you through your homebuying journey.

stylish living room

stylish living room

37 questions to ask when touring homes

This is an extensive list, and not every question applies to every situation. For example, if your goal is to purchase a single-family home, questions relating to condominiums don’t apply. However, this list of questions to ask when touring a house should give you an excellent start in making well-informed decisions when buying your first home. 

  1. What’s the reason for the sale? How long have the sellers lived there?
  2. How long has the house been on the market? 
  3. What is the neighborhood like?
  4. When was the house built? 
  5. What are the property taxes?
  6. Are there any upcoming condo or homeowners association fees?
  7. What are the average utility costs? 
  8. Have there been any major repairs to the property? If so, do you know if they provided a warranty?
  9. Are there any boundary disputes with neighbors?
  10. Are there any shared driveways or communal spaces?
  11. Are there any public rights of way passing through – or near – the property? 
  12. How old are the major appliances and systems?
  13. Are the appliances included in the sale?
  14. What is the sales history of this house, and how would it affect my offer?
  15. Is there enough storage space? Room to grow? 
  16. Is there any evidence of water problems? Can you see damp drywall, basement floors, or open leaks? Can you smell mildew? Or is there a smell of fresh paint that might be intended to cover up a water issue?
  17. Are the walls structurally sound? Look for cracks and look for evidence of cracks covered over by wallpaper that doesn’t look right or paint applied over filler.
  18. Is the chimney in good condition?
  19. Are the windows sound? Will any of the glazing need to be replaced?
  20. Do the ground floor windows have working latches to lock the windows? 
  21. Is the attic insulated? If so, when was the insulation installed?
  22. Is there any soundproofing in the house? (Try viewing the home at different times to hear road noise or neighbors.)
  23. Are there working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms?
  24. Is there adequate cell phone reception indoors? How’s the broadband service in the area?
  25. What type of system is used to heat and cool the house? 
  26. Ask to see the circuit box – does the wiring look up to date?
  27. How is the condition of electrical outlets and switches? (You can bring something to plug into try outlets.) 
  28. Do all of the lights work? If not, why not?
  29. Does the property have any lead pipes? Do you see any issues with pipes in need of repair?
  30. What kind of drainage system does the property have? Is it on the city sewer, or is there a septic tank? 
  31. Is there any asbestos in the property, or has there ever been an asbestos survey completed?
  32. What kind of roof does the property have? When was it last replaced, and what is its current condition? 
  33. Do you see any gutter leaks? Are the gutters cleaned out, or do they need work? 
  34. Are there any trees growing within 15 feet of the property? Can you discern if roots are likely to be a problem? 
  35. Which way does the yard face, and is there any part of the yard that doesn’t receive sunlight throughout the day? 
  36. Would the real estate agent buy this house? If not, why not?
  37. What’s the lowest price you think we could offer for this house and still close the transaction?

You can ask these questions when buying a house – and others as applicable – to understand your likely overall costs to own this home. When you understand all of your costs, you’ll confidently be able to make an offer you can afford

open concept new kitchen

open concept new kitchen

11 questions to ask when making an offer and closing on a home

Real estate agents make offers on homes every day. Their job is to help you make the best offer while protecting you against potential risks with the transaction. 

  1. How does the offer work? Do we communicate with the seller or seller’s agent? 
  2. What contingencies do you recommend including in the offer? 
  3. How much earnest money should we put in the offer? 
  4. When do we need to provide earnest money? 
  5. When should we expect to hear back from the seller? 
  6. If we receive a counter-offer, when do we need to reply? 
  7. How can we sign the paperwork? Digital? In-person? 
  8. If the offer is accepted, what are the next steps? 
  9. How far out is the potential closing date from an accepted offer? 
  10. What are our next steps once the offer is accepted?
  11. What do we do at closing? 

Your real estate agent wants to make the home buying transaction as smooth as possible. If they do not provide this information upfront, be sure to ask. 

You should prepare a list of your own questions to ask when buying a house. It can include any given here, or others that represent your own interests and concerns. Answers to these questions will ease your mind and help you understand what you can expect during each stage of the homebuying process. Completing your research is perfectly acceptable, but don’t skip asking questions of your mortgage broker, real estate agent, and title company. When you gather enough information, you can make the best decision buying your first home. 

Source: redfin.com

Pending Home Sales Fall in January as Inventory Constrains Buyers>

The numbers: The index of pending home sales fell 2.8% in January after four consecutive months of declines, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. The index captures real-estate transactions where a contract was signed but the sale has not yet closed, making it an indicator of where existing-home sales will go in the months ahead.

The median forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch had called for a 0.5% decline in pending sales on a monthly basis.

“Pending home sales fell in January because there are simply not enough homes to match the demand on the market,” Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said in the report. “That said, there has been an increase in permits and requests to build new homes.”

Compared to 2019, pending sales were up 13%, indicating that the housing market remains strong despite the weakness that has crept in during the winter months.

What happened: Pending sales didn’t fall across all regions, as contract signings increased slightly in the South. The largest decline in pending sales occurred in the West, where the index dropped 7.8%, closely followed by the Northeast (-7.4%).

The big picture: A record-low inventory of homes is leaving buyers with few options to choose from, and builders have even begun selling a vast array of properties that haven’t been built yet to meet this demand.

But there’s evidence that demand could begin to suffer as affordability concerns grow. “The timely weekly mortgage purchase applications index is signaling a slowing in activity,” said Rubeela Farooqi, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, while citing mortgage application data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The latest reading signified the lowest level for mortgage applications since mid-May of last year, Farooqi noted.

Some of the decline in the volume of mortgage applications was a reflection of the disruption in Texas caused by recent winter storms. But generally speaking, rising mortgage rates are reducing interest from home buyers to an extent. With prices also quickly rising, buying a home is becoming less and less affordable, which could hinder home sales in the months to come.

What they’re saying: “Home buyers are staying surprisingly active during the colder months. However, buyer demand is getting squeezed by a scarcity of ‘For Sale’ signs and rising mortgage rates,” said Realtor.com senior economist George Ratiu.

Source: marketwatch.com

22 Cities Where Home Appreciation Is Spiking

Couple looking at their old home
Photo by Hurst Photo / Shutterstock.com

Extreme demand for homes is pushing home values up at a rate not seen since before the Great Recession, a new Zillow report finds.

Several trends — including new millennial homebuyers, record-low interest rates, trends related to the coronavirus pandemic and the relatively small pool of homes for sale — have converged to heat up the market. The hot sellers’ market is a contrast to flat growth in rental prices nationally, as we reported in “Rent Prices Have Dropped in These 9 Formerly Hot Markets.”

The Zillow Home Value Index rose 9.1% from January 2020 to January 2021, the report says. Year-over-year home value growth hasn’t been this high since June 2006.

That rate may even pick up a bit: Zillow economists expect values to rise 10.1% from January 2021 to January 2022.

The demand has shortened the length of time that homes stay on the market, to a median of just 18 days as of mid-January. Compare that to 46 days at the same time last year and the year before.

A demographic bomb is a factor in the hot market. Millennials — defined by Zillow as Americans ages 25-34 — are entering their peak homebuying years. The number of these millennials increased by 12% — or, about 4.9 million people — between 2010 and 2020.

The generation’s size adds to the housing demand. Also, younger buyers are less likely than older ones to sell a previous home when they buy, which is expected to help keep the pool of homes for sale tight.

Government-stoked low mortgage rates — averaging 2.74% for a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage in January — are driving demand as buyers try to seize the opportunity to either pay less for a home or buy a more expensive one than they otherwise could.

Says Zillow:

“An extraordinary number of home buyers, with budgets supercharged by rock-bottom mortgage interest rates, are competing over a limited supply of homes for sale.”

The pandemic is a final factor. Many workers are now clocking in virtually instead of at the office, driving some to seek larger homes and others to move to smaller, more-affordable markets, Zillow says.

While home values increased in all of the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. from January 2020 to January 2021, some have seen steeper growth rates than others.

Here are the 22 major markets where home values grew 10% or more, along with their typical home price and their home price growth rate:

  • Phoenix: $335,975 (up 17.1% from January 2020 to January 2021)
  • San Jose, California: $1,314,799 (up 14.2%)
  • Austin, Texas: $384,446 (up 13.7%)
  • Salt Lake City: $436,390 (up 13.7%)
  • San Diego: $689,361 (up 13.5%)
  • Seattle: $594,223 (up 12.8%)
  • Tampa, Florida: $257,499 (up 12.8%)
  • Milwaukee: $219,381 (up 12.1%)
  • Cincinnati: $208,352 (up 12%)
  • Providence, Rhode Island: $357,761 (up 12%)
  • Riverside, California: $433,226 (up 11.7%)
  • Buffalo, New York: $193,583 (up 11.4%)
  • Sacramento, California: $478,817 (up 11.3%)
  • Indianapolis: $204,141 (up 11.3%)
  • Memphis, Tennessee: $174,063 (up 11.3%)
  • Cleveland: $176,069 (up 11.1%)
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: $265,397 (up 10.9%)
  • Columbus, Ohio: $234,276 (up 10.8%)
  • Philadelphia: $277,775 (up 10.6%)
  • Kansas City, Missouri: $227,059 (up 10.6%)
  • Pittsburgh: $178,282 (up 10.4%)
  • Detroit: $198,979 (up 10.3%)

If you’re in the market for a new home or refinancing for your existing home, check out the mortgage rate comparison tools in Money Talks News’ Solutions Center.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Ready to Start Adulting? 10 Steps to Retire the Right Way

adulting responsible adults saving money
Proxima Studio / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

If you are in your 50s or 60s, you are probably hoping to find the fountain of youth. However, when you plan your golden years, it is best to retire like an adult.

The Merriam Webster dictionary has added “adult” as a verb — not just a noun: “To ‘adult’ is to behave like an adult, specifically to do the things — often mundane — that an adult is expected to do.”

Being an adult means being responsible, dependable, self-sufficient, and maybe even knowing when it is a good time to throw these rules out the window. Examples of “adulting” include: cleaning up after yourself, paying bills on time, and — we would like to add — planning your retirement.

Keep reading for 10 ways to know if you have a reliable plan to retire like an adult.

1. You Know How Much Retirement Income You Will Have

Young couple working on a budget
Rido / Shutterstock.com

It will do you no good to hide from the truth when it comes to your retirement income. You need to know how much you will have and from what sources.

How much will you get from Social Security? Do you have a pension? An annuity? Will you work part-time for any amount of time? And, crucially, how much will you need to withdraw from savings every month?

The NewRetirement Retirement Planner makes it easy to find out how much retirement income you will have every year. And, you can run different scenarios to determine the best retirement withdrawals strategy for your needs and values.

2. Your Retirement Expenses Remain Below Your Income

retiree senior woman holding money
Motortion Films / Shutterstock.com

The most important rule of personal finance — spend less than you earn — applies to retirement as well. In fact, it is even more important than ever before. The risk you run of overspending is that you will actually run out of money.

The trick is that you actually need to make a good prediction and figure out exactly how much you will spend every year for the next 15 to 30 years.

3. Even Better? You Have Guaranteed Lifetime Income to Cover Basic Expenses

Happy seniors with money
Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Guaranteed lifetime income is income that you will receive for as long as you live — no matter how long that turns out to be. Social Security and most pensions are the most common examples of guaranteed lifetime income.

Many personal finance experts recommend that in retirement you have sufficient guaranteed lifetime income to cover your baseline retirement expenses — the money you need to spend to get by. Baseline spending includes housing, healthcare, and food.

To accomplish sufficient lifetime guaranteed income you have two choices:

  • Reduce your baseline expenditures to fall below the income you will have.
  • Increase your guaranteed lifetime income through the purchase of lifetime annuities or other strategies.

Try different scenarios in your retirement plan to figure out something that works for you.

4. You Have Paid Off Debt

Debt
Gustavo Frazao / Shutterstock.com

One of the greatest threats to retirement today may not be saving too little, but owing too much. A 2020 report from Experian found that baby boomers (those ages 57–74) are carrying a significant amount of debt into retirement.

The most adult way to handle debt is to pay it off before you quit working.

5. You Have Planned for Inflation

Inflation
GTbov / Shutterstock.com

When you are working, your wages generally rise as the costs of goods and services increase. Your earnings “keep pace with inflation,” so normal inflation is not generally a big concern. However, when you are living off of savings, inflation literally robs you of income.

The good news is that Social Security and some pension programs (though decreasing in prevalence) adjust your income for inflation. The bad news is that if you are living in retirement by withdrawing from investments or savings, then the value of your money will dramatically decrease over time. You will require far more money to support your lifestyle in the future.

By definition, inflation is when the cost of goods and services increases across the board. Stock prices also rise with inflation for the same reason: As the price of the goods and services a company produces rises, so does that company’s revenue. As a company’s prospects (including revenue) develop and grow, its stock price also tends to rise. As such, stocks can end up serving as a hedge against inflation.

However, as we age, our tolerance for risk decreases. Hence safer investments (such as bonds) become more and more attractive. Reconciling these opposing forces in creating the right asset allocation for you is no easy feat, requiring an understanding of your personal risk tolerance and investment time horizon.

Financial advisers can help you navigate designing an asset allocation strategy that outruns inflation, while managing risk.

6. You Have a Plan for Other Potential Risks

Money Business Images / Shutterstock.com

We can not predict the future. However, an adult retirement plan is one that mitigates the potential harmful financial effects of a long-term health event, a natural disaster, a car accident, a stock market crash, or some other unknowable future event.

Having the right insurance products and a dedicated emergency fund can protect you:

  • Be sure to evaluate your supplemental Medicare coverage every year.
  • Explore ways to cover a long-term care need.
  • Evaluate life, housing, and auto insurance needs.

7. You Evaluate Your Plans at Least Quarterly

couple improving their finances from home
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

Retirement planning is not something you do once and then never think about again.

You need to maintain, update, and adjust your plans. It is a good idea to go through the details at least once a quarter and make updates as you and the economy change.

8. You Have a Responsible Plan for Investing Your Savings

Investing
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Retirement investing is not all about getting the highest return possible. A responsible retirement investment plan matches how and when you need to access the money with your need for growth and security.

It is possible to do this on your own. However, it can also be useful to work with a financial adviser who has deep expertise in stocks, bonds, and other potential financial vehicles.

9. You Have Developed an Estate Plan

estate plan
Kellis / Shutterstock.com

Estate planning is a term broadly used to describe a variety of end-of-life planning issues. Your estate plan should include:

  • Opportunities to manipulate your assets for tax efficiency and maximum wealth for both you and your heirs
  • A detailed description of what you want to happen when you die — a plan for your internment and for the disbursement of your assets and property.
  • Instructions for what you would like to happen if you are living but cannot care for or make decisions for yourself

Explore the 11 documents you need for a reliable estate plan.

10. You Have a Dream and a Purpose

Young woman with piggybank daydreaming.
Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Without a plan for life after retirement, many retirees find themselves feeling vaguely unfulfilled and restless, craving something more but not knowing what that something might be. Focusing on the financial aspects of retirement is important, but the personal side of your retirement plan is just as important, and could ultimately guide how you use your retirement assets.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Americans’ Top 7 Retirement Priorities for Biden and Congress

President Joseph Biden
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With a new president and Congress sworn in, many Americans are wondering what’s next — and how policies of the new administration will impact them.

When it comes to retirement, Americans have a few priorities they’d like to see policymakers address.

The 20th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers asked about retirement financial security issues to determine which issues workers consider their highest priorities for the new president and Congress. These topped the list.

7. Increase access to affordable housing

anek.soowannaphoom / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 34%

The U.S. is facing a housing affordability crisis, according to a Harvard study sponsored by Habitat for Humanity. The study found that more than 37 million households were “housing cost-burdened” — meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing.

More than 17 million were “severely cost-burdened” — spending more than half their income on housing. Finding affordable housing in retirement is an important part of survival.

6. Add financial literacy to school curriculums

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 34%

Workers believe that educating Americans early about personal finance issues could help them make better decisions later in life. In fact, a survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) reports that 78% of U.S. adults believe they could benefit from financial advice from a professional.

The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) asserts that financial literacy education can help improve Americans’ financial outcomes, and that might be one way for future generations to improve their retirement prospects.

5. Increase access to workplace retirement plans

Myvisuals / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 36%

According to a brief prepared by the Congressional Research Service, 71% of workers have access to a retirement plan, but there’s only 55% participation. Among those who do participate, those with lower incomes get a smaller practical tax benefit than those with higher incomes.

Biden proposes “equalizing” the tax benefits of participation, as well as increasing tax benefits to small businesses that offer retirement plans. On top of that, Biden’s proposals include an “automatic 401(k)” for those without access to workplace retirement plans.

4. Make long-term care more affordable

Nursing Home
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Workers who think this should be a priority: 37%

Depending on the type of long-term care you need, it can cost more than $7,000 per month for a private room in a nursing home, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care costs, making it difficult for retirees to pay for such care.

As a result, the respondents to the Transamerica survey are interested in having Biden and Congress innovate solutions to make long-term care services more affordable for more people.

3. Address Medicare funding shortfalls

Doctor examining a senior patient
didesign021 / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 42%

Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs can stress seniors’ finances big time. However, future costs to retirees could be even greater, as Medicare’s finances continue to deteriorate. According to the Social Security Administration, Medicare faces long-term financing shortfalls. With this in mind, respondents to the Transamerica survey are interested in shoring up Medicare funding.

One of Biden’s proposals, lowering the eligible age for Medicare, faces a tough battle in Congress, according to CNBC. While such a move would expand access to health care for those 60 and older, it might not address the funding shortfall.

2. Make health care more affordable

Woman with surprise medical bill
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 47%

Health care costs continue to rise, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reporting that private health insurance spending grew 3.7% in 2019. On top of that, out-of-pocket spending on health care grew 4.6% in 2019. With national health expenditures projected to grow at a healthy clip, it’s not a surprise that the Transamerica respondents are concerned about affordable health care.

So far, Biden has directed the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act to be open for a special enrollment period for three months (through May 15). The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that, through the exchanges, as many as 4 million people could get a plan at no cost to them and an additional 4.9 million could get reduced-cost plans. Biden has promised to protect and build on the Affordable Care Act in an effort to reduce Americans’ health care costs.

1. Address Social Security funding shortfalls

Social Security payments
Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

Workers who think this should be a priority: 49%

The top priority for American workers is addressing the stability of the Social Security system, according to the Transamerica survey. Respondents want Social Security benefits to be available in the future, and concerns about funding issues continue to weigh on the program.

When it comes to addressing a projected shortfall, Biden has proposed raising payroll taxes for those with more than $400,000 in earnings. In 2021, payroll taxes are limited to only a worker’s first $142,800 in earnings. Biden’s proposal would levy new payroll taxes on earnings above $400,000.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

The Hottest Cities in Real Estate Right Now Are ‘Spillover Markets’—Where Are They?

The past year was the ultimate roller-coaster ride in real estate—long upward climbs, steep drops, and no shortage of hairpin curves along the way. And the ride hasn’t come close to slowing down so far in 2021. According to the data on realtor.com® for the first month of the year, it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped house-hunting patterns, and is also driving a whole lot of buying activity.

Our latest deep dive into the hottest U.S. markets for real estate—those metros where homes are flying off the market and listings rack up tons of views from eager buyers—shows plenty of changes from the status quo. We’re seeing “spillover markets,” which are close to a larger metro but have lower prices, dominate the ranking. And that’s true for the market that made it to No. 1 for the first time in almost 10 years: Stockton, CA.

Stockton is a city of about 310,000 people that’s about 72 miles east of San Francisco’s East Bay area. The Stockton metro also encompasses Lodi, a smaller town of about 67,000 that has vineyards and a wine country vibe.

“What we’ve been seeing is, inventory is superlow,” says Jerry Patterson, a Realtor® with Cornerstone Real Estate Group in Stockton. “In Lodi, it’s down 56% compared with this time last year.”

Half of all homes in Stockton and Lodi were selling in fewer than 37 days in January—22 days faster than in January 2020. That’s also 39 days faster than the norm in the rest of the country.

Patterson traces the housing shortage to just after the initial pandemic shutdown last spring.

“It took a couple of months for the listings to dry up—before lockdown, there was a normal amount of inventory,” he says. As in other places, homeowners have been reluctant to put their homes on the market and risk exposure to the coronavirus from potential buyers coming through.

Now, there’s a dearth of homes for sale, plus buyers flooding in from the Bay Area armed with extra cash. He estimates a 60-40 split between local and out-of-town home buyers. While the median listing price here was $480,000 in January, that’s a bargain compared with San Francisco, where it’s around $1 million.

“We’ve always seen [Bay Area buyers] come in here, but now even more so. They’re coming in hordes, but now with lots of cash,” Patterson says.

While they might not be making all-cash offers, often they’re putting up extra cash if a home doesn’t appraise at the agreed-upon selling price, to ensure a sale. Four- and five-bedroom homes are the most popular properties, although starter homes with two or three bedrooms are still in demand by younger couples and families as well as empty nesters.

Two other spillover markets for the Bay Area made the list: Vallejo, just north of San Francisco, and Sacramento, the state capital that’s farther east than Stockton. In general, smaller markets continued to grow in popularity, as they did last year, while denser, larger urban areas became less popular. The 40 largest U.S. markets dropped 27 spots, on average, since last year.

The hot list

Rank Metro Median Dayson Market MedianListing Price
1 Stockton, CA  37 $480,000
2 Rapid City, SD 22 $240,000
3 Burlington, NC 40 $296,000
4 Vallejo, CA 27 $525,000
5 Fort Wayne, IN 42 $225,000
6 Colorado Springs, CO 46 $532,000
7 Lafayette, IN 50 $275,000
8 Reno, NV 46 $637,000
9 Spokane, WA 44 $399,000
10 Sacramento, CA 36 $599,000
11 Topeka, KS 42 $146,000
12 Concord, NH 53 $355,000
13 Yuba City, CA 53 $445,000
14 Modesto, CA 43 $459,000
15 Janesville, WI 53 $227,000
16 Springfield, OH 54 $137,000
17 Fresno, CA 38 $365,000
18 Ogden, UT 36 $496,000
19 Columbus, OH 53 $307,000
20 Pueblo, CO 50 $339,000

Source: realtor.com