HARP Refinancing Takes Off Thanks to New Guidelines

Last updated on August 10th, 2013

As a result of recent enhancements, and perhaps ultra-low mortgage rates, the Home Affordable Refinance Program has actually made a meaningful impact.

Last month, there were a total of 98,885 HARP refinances recorded by the FHFA, which accounted for nearly 24% of all the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refis during August.

That’s a big chunk of the business, and represents nearly a quarter of the 400,000 total HARP refis originated in all of 2011.

Since January, 618,217 loans have been refinanced via HARP, bringing the all-time total to 1,640,068 (the program began in 2009).

A total of 1,292,932 HARP refis have been for loan-to-value ratios between 80 and 105 percent, and another 228,666 were for refis between 105-125%.

Helping the 125%

Last month, a total of 26,944 loans refinanced through the program had a loan-to-value north of 125%, which was one of the major program enhancements announced in late 2011 and implemented in 2012.

In fact, fewer borrowers (23,265) with LTV ratios between 105-125% refinanced through the program in August.

Simply put, the program is reaching the hardest-hit borrowers out there, many of whom you would assume are “too far gone” to benefit from such a program, let alone any program.

After all, if you’re underwater on the mortgage by more than 25%, it might be looked at as a losing endeavor, especially if it doesn’t involve any principal forgiveness.

But these numbers show there are believers out there, even in the darkest of times.

For all of 2012, 118,470 borrowers with LTV ratios greater than 125% have taken advantage of HARP 2.0.

And the overall numbers also appear to be picking up. Last month, 99,000 HARP refis were recorded, up slightly from 96,000 in July.

Assuming the numbers held up in September, we’d be looking at quarterly figures around 300,000.

That would be significantly higher than the 243,000 refis in the second quarter, and well above the 180,000 executed in the first quarter of 2012.

Additionally, the last two months’ totals have also surpassed the quarterly numbers seen in the last three quarters of 2011.

Nearly 20% of HARP Borrowers Choose Shorter Terms

Somewhat amazingly, 18 percent of borrowers with LTV ratios above 105% chose to refinance into shorter-term mortgages, such as 15- and 20-year fixed loans.

The rest went with the traditional 30-year fixed. This compares to just 10% in 2011.

[30-year fixed vs. 15-year fixed]

In other words, borrowers really believe in their homes if they’re willing to make larger monthly mortgage payments while underwater.

And if they stick with it, they’ll build home equity a lot faster than those who stick with the traditional route.

Of course, one could argue that now is not the time to pay off your mortgage quicker, considering how low mortgage rates are at the moment.

But still, homeowners who do will help the housing market recover faster.

HARP refis were most popular in the sand states of Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, but well below average in high-priced California.

In Nevada, 66% of refis last month went through HARP. The numbers were similarly high in Arizona (50%) and Florida (54%).

In California, just 19% of total refinances were HARP loans.

Lastly, check out this nifty chart (included in the report) that looks at mortgage rates and the level of refinancing activity:

rates vs refi

Read more: Are consumers even interested in low mortgage rates anymore?

(photo: rfduck)

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

What QE3 Means for Mortgage Rates

As widely expected, the Federal Reserve announced “QE3” last week, a move taken to bolster the flagging economy by putting downward pressure on long-term interest rates.

More specifically, the Fed pledged to purchase even more agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in an effort to push mortgage rates lower than already are, via a method known as quantitative easing.

Their plan is to buy roughly $40 billion in MBS per month, with no set time period. In other words, it’s open-ended, which may have been unexpected.

And it will only come to an end when the economy and labor force have improved noticeably, and probably extend even further beyond that.

The Fed will also maintain an existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its current agency debt and agency MBS in additional agency MBS.

Altogether, these latest actions will increase the Fed’s holdings of longer-term securities by about $85 billion each month through the end of 2012.

Just Tell Me How Much Rates Will Drop!

  • As the Fed makes the pledge to buy more mortgage-backed securities
  • Demand should rise, pushing MBS prices higher
  • Which means lenders will be able to make more and offer lower rates to consumers
  • Rates could drop .125% to .25% or more

Okay, okay, so what on earth does all that mean in layman terms? Well, with the Fed buying so many MBS, demand for them rises, prices rise, and the yield drops, and thus mortgage rates drop.

So the interest rate on your 30-year fixed mortgage goes down, though how much it will go down is the big unknown.

After QE3 was announced on Thursday, mortgage rates quickly sank back to record lows seen a month or so ago.

Unfortunately, mortgage rates have already fallen so much that the movement doesn’t mean a whole lot.

We could be talking anywhere from an eighth to a quarter point in rate, so instead of a rate of 3.625% on your mortgage, it might be 3.375%.

On a $200,000 loan amount, the difference in monthly payment is roughly $28. In other words, you can go to the movies or out to a modestly-priced dinner each month.

So before you get too excited, you may want to come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to change your life.

Granted, if you hold the mortgage for the full term, you’ll save about $10,000 in interest.

Rates Are Already Rock Bottom

  • The problem is that rates are already super low
  • And the lower they go, the harder it is to push them lower
  • So while perhaps a well-intentioned move by the Fed
  • It might not have the desired effect, especially if lenders are too busy to bother lowering rates

I’ve said this time and time again. Mortgage rates are already so stinking low that there’s not much room to move any lower.

Yes, it’s possible that the 30-year fixed could dip into the 2% range if the economy takes another wrong turn. Or if Europe implodes. Or if something else unthinkable happens. Let’s not tempt fate.

But the lower mortgage rates are, the less upside there is of them getting any better. When rates are high, it’s easy for them to slip lower and lower.

However, once rates drop considerably, as they already have, it’s probably safe to expect only modest improvements, if that.

That’s pretty much what we’ve seen over the past year and change, modest improvements after much more sizable declines.

So perhaps it’s best to look at the Fed announcement more as a preemptive move to avoid a rise in rates.

In effect, QE3 might mean low mortgage rates for a longer period of time, despite improvements in the broader economy that normally dictate their direction.

After all, mortgage rates had risen a bit over the past month, and the new G-fee has also made mortgages more expensive.

This effectively puts rates back to their most recent lows. Anything beyond that is still a big question mark.

And even if they did drop any lower, I don’t know if it would have much of an effect.

Mortgage lenders are already swamped with refinance applications, and those looking to purchase a home certainly are not holding back because mortgage rates are too high!

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

10 Questions Retirees Often Get Wrong About Taxes in Retirement

You worked hard for your retirement nest egg, so the idea of paying taxes on those savings isn’t exactly appealing. If you know what you’re doing, you can avoid overpaying Uncle Sam as you start collecting Social Security and making withdrawals (including RMDs) from IRAs and 401(k)s. Unfortunately, though, retirees don’t always know all the tax code ins and outs and, as a result, end up paying more in taxes than is necessary. For example, here are 10 questions retirees often get wrong about taxes in retirement. Take a look and see how much you really understand about your own tax situation.

(And check out our State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees to learn more about how you will be taxed by your state during retirement.)

1 of 10

Tax Rates in Retirement

picture of tax rate arrow chart showing upward trendpicture of tax rate arrow chart showing upward trend

Question: When you retire, is your tax rate going to be higher or lower than it was when you were working?

Answer: It depends. Many people make their retirement plans with the assumption that they’ll fall into a lower tax bracket once they retire. But that’s often not the case, for the following three reasons.

1. Retirees typically no longer have all the tax deductions they once did. Their homes are paid off or close to it, so there’s no mortgage interest deduction. There are also no kids to claim as dependents, or annual tax-deferred 401(k) contributions to reduce income. So, almost all your income will be taxable during retirement.

2. Retirees want to have fun—which costs money. If you’re like many newly retired folks, you might want to travel and engage in the hobbies you didn’t have time for before, and that doesn’t come cheap. So, the income you set aside for yourself in retirement may not be much lower than what you were making in your job.

3. Future tax rates may be higher than they are today. Let’s face it…tax rates now are low when viewed in a historical context. The top tax rate of 37% in 2021 is a bargain compared with the 94% of the 1940s and even the 70% range as recently as the 1970s. And considering today’s political climate and growing national debt, future tax rates could end up much higher than they are today.

2 of 10

Taxation of Social Security Benefits

picture of a Social Security card surrounded by stacks of coinspicture of a Social Security card surrounded by stacks of coins

Question: Are Social Security benefits taxable?

Answer: Yes. Depending on your “provisional income,” up to 85% of your Social Security benefits are subject to federal income taxes. To determine your provisional income, take your modified adjusted gross income, add half of your Social Security benefits and add all of your tax-exempt interest.

If you’re married and file taxes jointly, here’s what you’ll be looking at:

  • If your provisional income is less than $32,000 ($25,000 for singles), there’s no tax on your Social Security benefits.
  • If your income is between $32,000 and $44,000 ($25,000 to $34,000 for singles), then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits can be taxed.
  • If your income is more than $44,000 ($34,000 for singles), then up to 85% of your Social Security benefits are taxable.

The IRS has a handy calculator that can help you determine whether your benefits are taxable. You should also check out Calculating Taxes on Social Security Benefits.

And don’t forget state taxes. In most states (but not all!), Social Security benefits are tax-free.

3 of 10

Withdrawals from Roth IRAs

picture of a jar labeled "Roth IRA" with money in itpicture of a jar labeled "Roth IRA" with money in it

Question: Are withdrawals from Roth IRAs tax-free once you retire?

Answer: Yes. Roth IRAs come with a big long-term tax advantage: Unlike their 401(k) and traditional IRA cousins—which are funded with pretax dollars—you pay the taxes on your contributions to Roths up front, so your withdrawals are tax-free once you retire. One important caveat is that you must have held your account for at least five years before you can take tax-free withdrawals. And while you can withdraw the amount you contributed at any time tax-free, you must be at least age 59½ to be able to withdraw the gains without facing a 10% early-withdrawal penalty.

4 of 10

Taxation of Annuity Income

picture of an elderly couple discussing finances with an advisorpicture of an elderly couple discussing finances with an advisor

Question: Is the income you receive from an annuity you own taxable?

Answer: Probably (at least for some of it). If you purchased an annuity that provides income in retirement, the portion of the payment that represents your principal is tax-free; the rest is taxable. The insurance company that sold you the annuity is required to tell you what is taxable. Different rules apply if you bought the annuity with pretax funds (such as from a traditional IRA). In that case, 100% of your payment will be taxed as ordinary income. In addition, be aware that you’ll have to pay any taxes that you owe on the annuity at your ordinary income-tax rate, not the preferable capital gains rate.

5 of 10

Age for Starting RMDs

picture of elderly man blowing out candles on a birthday cakepicture of elderly man blowing out candles on a birthday cake

Question: At what age must holders of traditional IRAs and 401(k)s start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs)?

Answer: Age 72. The SECURE Act raised the age for RMDs to 72, starting on January 1, 2020. It used to be 70½. (Note that, although the CARES Act waived RMDs for 2020, they’re back for 2021 and beyond.)

As for the amount that you are forced to withdraw: You’ll start out at about 3.65%, and that percentage goes up every year. At age 80, it’s 5.35%. At 90, it’s 8.77%. Figuring out the percentages might not be as hard as you think if you try our RMD calculator. (Note that, beginning in 2022, RMD calculations will be adjusted so that distributions are spread out over a longer period of time.)

6 of 10

RMDs From Multiple IRAs and 401(k)s

picture of a spiral notebook with "Required Minimum Distributions" written on the front coverpicture of a spiral notebook with "Required Minimum Distributions" written on the front cover

Question: Are RMDs calculated the same way for distributions from multiple IRAs and multiple 401(k) plans?

Answer: No. There’s one important difference if you have multiple retirement accounts. If you have several traditional IRAs, the RMDs are calculated separately for each IRA but can be withdrawn from any of your accounts. On the other hand, if you have multiple 401(k) accounts, the amount must be calculated for each 401(k) and withdrawn separately from each account. For this reason, some 401(k) administrators calculate your required distribution and send it to you automatically if you haven’t withdrawn the money by a certain date, but IRA administrators may not automatically distribute the money from your IRAs.

7 of 10

Due Date for Your First RMD

picture of a piggy bank with "RMD" written on the sidepicture of a piggy bank with "RMD" written on the side

Question: Do you have to take your first RMD by December 31 of the year you turn 72?

Answer: No. Normally, you have to take RMDs for each year after you turn age 72 by the end of the year. However, you don’t have to take your first RMD until April 1 of the year after you turn 72. But be careful—if you delay the first withdrawal, you’ll also have to take your second RMD by December 31 of the same year. Because you’ll have to pay taxes on both RMDs (minus any portion from nondeductible contributions), taking two RMDs in one year could bump you into a higher tax bracket.

It could also have other ripple effects, such as making you subject to the Medicare high-income surcharge if your adjusted gross income (plus tax-exempt interest income) rises above $88,000 if you’re single or $176,000 if married filing jointly. (Note: Those are the income thresholds for determining 2021 surcharges.)

8 of 10

Taxation of Life Insurance Proceeds

picture of a life insurance contract with money laying on itpicture of a life insurance contract with money laying on it

Question: If your spouse dies and you get a big life insurance payout, will you have to pay tax on the money?

Answer: No. You have enough to deal with during such a difficult time, so it’s good to know that life insurance proceeds paid because of the insured person’s death are not taxable.

9 of 10

Estate Tax Threshold

picture of the words "Estate Tax" next to a judge's gavel and moneypicture of the words "Estate Tax" next to a judge's gavel and money

Question: How valuable must an individual’s estate be at death to be hit by federal estate taxes in 2021?

Answer: $11.7 million ($23.4 million or more for a married couple). If the value of an estate is less than the threshold amount, then no federal estate tax is due. As a result, federal estate taxes aren’t a factor for very many people. However, that will change in the future. The 2017 tax reform law more than doubled the federal estate tax exemption threshold—but only temporarily. It’s schedule to drop back down to $5 million (plus adjustments for inflation) in 2026. Plus, during his 2020 campaign, President Biden called for a reduction of the exemption threshold sooner.

If your estate isn’t subject to federal taxes, it still might owe state taxes. Twelve states and the District of Columbia charge a state estate tax, and their exclusion limits can be much lower than the federal limit. In addition, six states impose inheritance taxes, which are paid by your heirs. (See 18 States With Scary Death Taxes for more details.)

10 of 10

Standard Deduction Amounts

picture of a 1040 tax form with a pen laying on it next to the standard deduction linepicture of a 1040 tax form with a pen laying on it next to the standard deduction line

Question: If you’re over 65, can you take a higher standard deduction than other folks are allowed?

Answer: Yes. For 2021, to the standard deduction for most people is $12,550 if you’re single and $25,100 for married couples filing a joint tax return ($12,400 and $24,800, respectively, for 2020). However, those 65 and older get an extra $1,700 in 2021 if they’re filing as single or head of household ($1,650 for 2020). Married filing jointly? If one spouse is 65 or older and the other isn’t, the standard deduction increases by $1,350 ($1,300 for 2020). If both spouses are 65 or older, the increase for 2021 is $2,700 ($2,600 for 2020).

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Choose the Right School: 6 Tips for Parents

Find a school that makes the grade — all it takes is a little homework.

If you’re a parent, buying or renting a new home isn’t just about where you’ll tuck the kids into bed at night — it’s also about where you’ll send them off to school in the morning.

So, how can you be sure your dream house feeds into your child’s dream school? You’re going to have to do some homework.

1. Go beyond the numbers

Every state’s education department publishes an online “report card” for each district and school. But just as you wouldn’t buy a house based solely on square footage or listing photos, you shouldn’t select a school just for its test scores and teacher-to-student ratios.

Dr. Steve McCammon, chief operating officer at Schlechty Center, a nonprofit that helps school districts improve student engagement and learning, cautions that most reported test scores are for English and math. They don’t provide insight into arts or music programs or how well a school teaches critical thinking skills.

The right school isn’t something you can determine based on any statistics, numbers or even reputation, says Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and writer for the Eduwonk blog.

“Don’t go where the highest test scores are or where everybody else says you should go,” he says. “Different kids want different things. Go to the school that fits your kid.”

Adds Rotherham: “The most important things are what does your kid need and what does the school do to meet those needs. Whether you’re talking public, private or charter, you can find excellence and mediocrity in all of those sectors.”

2. Take a school tour

Just as you’d look around potential homes before signing a contract, you’ll want to do the same with potential schools. Call and arrange to tour the school and observe.

“Be suspicious of any school that isn’t into letting you visit,” says Rotherham. Some schools may say visitors are too disruptive, but he calls that a cop-out. “With some fairly basic norms, you can have parents and other visitors around without disrupting learning.”

Sit in on a class or two and take notes. You want to see students who are genuinely engaged, not wasting time or bored. It’s OK for a classroom to have lots of talk and movement if it’s all directed toward a learning goal.

Schools should be relatively noisy places. McCammon says, “If you go into a middle school, and you hear no noises, I would be concerned that the principal is more interested in keeping order than in making sure kids are learning.”

Observe how teachers and administrators interact with the students and vice versa. Do they display mutual respect? “You don’t need to be an education expert,” says Rotherham.

See if student work is on display. “A good school is a school where, regardless of grade level, student work is everywhere,” McCammon says. “It means that place is about kids and their work.”

Talk to kids, too — they’re the subject matter experts on their school. And if you have friends with kids in schools you’re considering, ask them what they like and don’t like about their schools. Kids won’t try to feed you a line. “They’re pretty unfiltered,” Rotherham says.

Check out the physical space, suggests National PTA President Jim Accomando. However, don’t get caught up on the building’s age and overlook the quality of the programs going on inside.

Look for signs that the school community takes pride in the facility. It might not be pristine, but trash on the floors or signs of rampant vandalism are red flags. If you see something that seems off or odd, ask if there’s a plan to address it.

3. Check out the community

Go to a school board meeting for clues about the district. Are parents there because their children are being honored or their work is being showcased? Or are they there because of a problem? Likewise, attend a PTA or PTO meeting, and chat with the parents there. They are likely the most involved “outsiders” and can share school challenges and successes.

Another consideration: the makeup of the students. Chances are, if you opt for a neighborhood school, you’ll find a certain similarity between your kids and their classmates, because there are probably a lot of similarities between you and your neighbors. But a school that has a diverse student body offers a big benefit.

“We live in a diverse society,” Rotherham says. “If you want to prepare your kids for what their lives are going to be like in this country going forward, it’s important for them to have experience with diverse groups.”

Even if your child’s school isn’t particularly diverse, avenues like sports and music give them a chance to interact with students from different backgrounds.

4. Think long term

Today’s first-grader will be heading to middle school before you know it. Unless you plan on moving relatively soon, be aware of the middle and high schools in your district.

“If you pick a house because you love the elementary school, you’d better be psyched by the middle school and high school,” Rotherham says. “Or have some kind of a plan” for post-elementary years.

Of course, there is such a thing as planning too far ahead. The music prodigy wowing your friends at her third-grade recorder performance may decide she hates band and wants to focus on soccer by the time she hits middle school. Rest assured: If upper-level schools in your prospective district are about kids doing great work, they’ll likely be a good fit.

5. Watch for boundary issues

Pay attention to the boundaries of prospective school districts. The houses across the cul-de-sac could be in a different school service area or even a different school district. And boundaries often change. To be sure, call the school district and give them the specific address you’re interested in.

Don’t assume you can fudge an address or get a waiver to enroll your children in a school or a district that doesn’t match your address. Things that were allowed last year may not be this year. If an individual school or district is at capacity, they will get very picky about enrollment outside of the school assigned to your home, which can lead to heartbreak if you find yourself on the wrong side of that boundary line.

6. Look for a place where you feel welcome

Whatever involvement you put into your child’s school will pay off, says Accomando. “If you can be engaged at school, you will understand the pulse of what’s happening there.”

He also says that doesn’t mean getting sucked into a huge commitment. “You can read in your child’s first-grade class. You can hand out water at a fun run or contribute something for a teacher appreciation party at the high school. And when you do, walk the halls and see what’s happening.”

McCammon says good schools should welcome parents as volunteers and visitors. “Look for evidence of parents feeling comfortable and engaging with the school,” he says. The principal should be someone you feel comfortable talking with if there’s a problem.

No matter how welcoming the school, it’s natural to have some butterflies on the first day in a new school. Just as it takes time for a new house to feel like home, it takes time for kids to settle into a new school.

Once they’ve found their way to the restroom without asking directions, made some friends and gotten to know their teacher, they’ll be comfortable with their new learning home. And your research will have been well worth the effort.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

Related:

Originally published January 17, 2018.

Source: zillow.com

What We Like About The Snowball Method of Paying Down Debt

If the goal is debt reduction, paying off debts in order of the smallest amount due to the largest amount due—gaining momentum as each balance is paid off—can make sense for some people. Once the smallest debt is paid in full, apply the amount that was being paid on that to the next largest debt, and so on. The amount being paid on each of the remaining debts will increase, just like a snowball gets bigger with each layer of snow added.

Building the Snowball

It’s all about changing behavior. Getting rid of the smallest debt first can work wonders because it gives a psychological boost. Try paying down the largest debt first, and it can feel like throwing a pebble into an ocean.

The numbers on that large debt will start to decrease, for sure, but it’s probably not going to give the same feeling of getting rid of the smallest debt first. Paying that small debt first is meeting a goal, which can be empowering.

When it’s time to take on the Big One (the largest debt), there will be more freed-up cash, creating a more stable financial situation to pay it off.

A Word about Paying off High-interest Debt First

But wouldn’t it make more sense to first tackle the debt that comes with higher interest rates and large balances?

While that makes sense from a financial perspective because it means paying less interest over the life of the loans, statistics suggest a different solution. Psychologically, getting rid of the smallest debts first often provides the momentum needed to pay off debt sooner.

A study by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that “consumers who tackle small balances first are more likely to eliminate their overall debt” than trying to pay off high-interest-rate balances first.

Even the Harvard Business Review came to the same conclusion . Their research suggests that people are more motivated to get out of debt not only by concentrating on one account but also by beginning with the smallest account.

Making Minimum Payments Doesn’t Equal Minimum Payoff Time

Even if the minimum payments on a person’s credit cards are somewhat manageable, they can be a trap. It’s more than likely that paying only the minimum on the debt will mean paying on it for years to come—and paying substantially more money than the amount originally borrowed. That’s because most credit card companies make their money by charging high interest rates and compounding interest on balances not paid in full each billing cycle.

The Snowball Plan, Step By Step

Following these steps could result in shrinking a debt load, giving someone who is feeling hopeless about their debt a little room to breathe.

1. List all debts from smallest to largest. List them by the total amount owed, not the interest rates. If two debts have similar totals, place the debt with the higher interest rate first.
2. Continue to pay the minimum payment on every debt.
3. Decide how much extra can be paid toward the smallest debt (the first debt on the list).
4. Pay the minimum payment on that smallest debt, but also add in the extra amount from step three. Repeat until the debt is paid off.
5. Once that smallest debt is paid off, add the amount that was being paid on it as an extra amount to the next smallest debt on the list. Now that second debt is on its way to being paid in full.
6. Repeat the steps until all debts are paid off.

A Word About Principal Reduction

It’s a good idea to find out how lenders apply extra payments to a debt (they don’t all do it the same way) before starting this process. Some debt companies that handle mortgages, school loans, or car payments need instruction about how any extra money should be applied (to principal or interest). Credit card companies, though, typically apply the entire payment to the current billing cycle.

Perks of the Snowball Method

The psychological boost from entirely paying off one debt is the main idea behind the snowball method. Seeing the results—sometimes quickly, if the smallest debt is very small—can be a great motivator to press on and continue paying off debt. With fewer debt obligations every month, it’s likely debt will be less of an emotional burden.

Of course, the flip side is that if the smallest debts are being tackled first, high-interest debts may be accruing interest for quite a while. Ultimately, the snowball method may be the most effective psychologically, but it isn’t the most cost effective.

Alternatives to the Snowball Method

There are other ways to pay off debt. Here are just two:

The Avalanche Method

Also known as the “debt-stacking” method, the avalanche method works in contrast to the snowball method. Saving money on high interest rates is the goal. This method is not as simple as paying off the smallest debt first.

It involves making a list of debts in order of interest rates, with the highest interest rate being first on the list. If some debts have variable interest rates, they might need to be moved around in the list from time to time as their rates change. This method’s focus is on paying down the debt with the highest interest rate with as many extra payments as possible.

The Debt Snowflake Method

The debt snowflake method involves finding extra income through a part-time job or selling items no longer needed or wanted, and sprinkling that extra cash on debt obligations every day. Those extra payments could go a long way to helping someone become debt-free.

The Takeaway

Merging all debt owed into one unsecured personal loan could make it easier to pay down that debt each month. Taking out a personal loan to consolidate multiple high-interest credit card debts means just one payment per month, streamlining the debt repayment process.

If you’re considering this strategy, an unsecured personal loan from SoFi might be right for you. Checking your rate takes just two minutes and you may qualify for rates that will help you get out of debt sooner compared to credit card rates. SoFi personal loans have no fees and low fixed rates.

Learn more about SoFi Personal Loans.



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Source: sofi.com

Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT): Marital Deduction

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Trusts can be a useful tool for estate planning if you’d like to preserve assets for loved ones while minimizing estate taxes. A qualified domestic trust (QDOT) is a specific type of trust that can offer tax benefits for married couples. With a QDOT, a surviving spouse can qualify for the marital deduction on estate taxes for assets included in the trust. This type of arrangement can be particularly helpful when a surviving spouse is not a U.S. citizen. Here’s more on how these trusts work, the benefits and limitations of having one and how to establish a QDOT as part of your estate plan. Estate planning is always done best in consultation with a financial advisor.

Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT), Explained

A trust is a legal arrangement in which you transfer assets to the control of a trustee. This can be yourself or someone else you name and it’s the trustee’s duty to manage assets in the trust on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries.

A QDOT is a specific type of trust arrangement that’s designed to benefit married couples, specifically when one spouse is not a U.S. citizen. This type of trust extends the marital tax deduction to non-citizen spouses, who would otherwise not be eligible to claim the deduction on estate taxes.

If you’re married to someone who is not a U.S. citizen, then setting up this type of trust could make sense if you’d like to minimize any tax burden your spouse may assume if you pass away first. A QDOT can essentially create a tax shelter for non-citizen spouses as part of an estate plan.

How a QDOT Works

To understand how a QDOT can benefit a non-citizen spouse, it’s helpful to understand the marital deduction and how that applies to estate taxes. Ordinarily, the Internal Revenue Code allows surviving spouses to claim a 100% marital deduction for estate taxes that may be due on assets they inherit when their spouse passes away. This is a significant tax break, as it enables surviving spouses to assume control of marital assets without getting hit with a sizable tax bill.

When a married couple consists of one spouse who’s a U.S. citizen and one who is not, the marital deduction does not apply. That means a surviving spouse could face substantial estate taxes on any assets they assume control of after their spouse passes away. Creating a QDOT and transferring assets to it with the non-citizen spouse named as beneficiary solves this problem.

Assets held in the trust would go to the surviving non-citizen spouse, allowing them the benefit of using those assets as well as any income they generate. They would pay no estate tax on assets in the trust. The surviving spouse could then pass those assets on to their children or another named beneficiary when they pass away. If applicable, the estate tax would be due on those assets at that time.

Benefits of a QDOT

The main advantage of including a QDOT in your estate plan is to extend tax benefits to your spouse if they’re not a U.S. citizen and don’t plan to apply for citizenship. A surviving spouse would be able to enjoy the marital tax deduction on estate taxes. They’d also be able to receive income distributions from the trust. Those would be subject to income tax but not estate tax. If you have a sizable estate then setting up a QDOT could be worth it to ensure that you’re passing on as much of your wealth as possible to your spouse.

While setting up this type of trust is generally more complicated and expensive than setting up a basic living trust, it may be an easier way to afford tax protections to a non-citizen spouse versus having them pursue citizenship.

Limitations of a QDOT

While there are some advantages to QDOT, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to note that the IRS is specific about how these types of trusts are set up. The trustee must be a U.S. citizen and depending on the amount of assets that are held in the trust, a secondary trustee may be necessary. This trustee must be a U.S. bank.

Once the spouse who created the trust passes away, their executor must make a QDOT election when filing a federal estate tax return. This is necessary to qualify for the marital deduction. The IRS specifies that the estate tax return with the QDOT election must be filed no later than nine months after the individual who created the trust passes away.

Estate tax may be due if a surviving spouse receives principal from the trust, rather than income. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. For instance, if a surviving spouse is experiencing financial hardship and has no other assets to tap into it may be possible to receive principal from the trust without being required to pay estate tax.

Perhaps most importantly, spouses should be aware that a QDOT only extends to assets held in the trust. If you have other assets you wish to pass on to a surviving spouse who’s not a U.S. citizen, those wouldn’t be eligible for the marital deduction protection offered by a QDOT if they’re not included in the trust.

How to Set Up a QDOT

Setting up a QDOT starts with determining whether it’s something you can benefit from having in the first place. If you’re married to someone who is not a U.S. citizen, then it may be worth meeting with your financial advisor to discuss the pros and cons of including a QDOT in your estate plan. Your advisor can help to assess any potential estate tax consequences associated with passing on wealth to a non-citizen spouse.

If you’ve determined that a QDOT is something you need, the next step is finding an experienced estate planning attorney who can help with setting one up. Creating a QDOT  means understanding which IRS rules apply and that’s something an estate planning attorney or a tax professional can help with.

The Bottom Line

A QDOT could be useful to have if you’re married and you want to minimize tax impacts associated with leaving assets to a non-citizen spouse. The biggest considerations to keep in mind are what assets you’ll transfer to the trust and how those will be managed on behalf of your spouse once you pass away. Again, getting help from a tax professional, estate planning attorney and your financial advisor can make creating this type of trust as smooth a process as possible.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the tax implications of passing on assets to a non-citizen spouse and whether it makes sense to have a QDOT. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect in just minutes with professional advisors in your local area.  If you’re ready then get started now.
  • Wondering if you have enough to retire? Our free, easy-to-use retirement calculator can give you a good estimate of your annual, post-tax income upon retirement.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Robin Skjoldborg, ©iStock.com/courtneyk, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Save Money and Time With a Loan From LendingClub

When you need a loan, finding one — and getting approved — can bring as much anxiety as the thing you need the loan for. Whether it’s for debt consolidation, medical expenses or big home projects, waiting weeks just won’t cut it. On top of it all, big banks may charge you insane rates after making you jump through qualification hoops.

There’s another option, though. If you need to borrow up to $40,000, a website called Fiona can help you get a loan through a company called LendingClub. You can save an average of $1,000 on interest payments1, plus, you could get your money in only a few days — talk about relief!

Fiona will also show you additional offers from other lenders — because comparing your quotes can help you save even more money in the long run.

How to Borrow up to $40,000 and Pay Off Debt Faster

Getting started is simple. The application process only takes a few minutes, and you’ll see your loan offers immediately. Once you choose your loan, you could see your money in just a few days.

It costs nothing to apply, and it won’t affect your credit score, either. And by the way, your information is totally safe — the website uses higher encryption security than many banks.

Interest rates with LendingClub start at 8.05% — way better than the 20% or more your credit card is charging you — and many people may actually improve their credit scores when they take out a personal loan and make their payments on time each month. These lower rates can save you an average of $1,000 in interest payments and help you pay off your debt faster.

If you have a credit score above 600 and need a loan, let Fiona find your offers in only a couple of minutes. You can get approved and see your money in just a few days.

1 On average, personal loans from LendingClub Bank are projected to be offered at an APR of 15.99% (based on loan approval amounts in aggregate) with an origination fee of 5.30% and a principal amount of $13,411 for loans with term lengths of 36 months, based on current credit criteria and an analysis of historical borrower data between September 2020 and October 2020. For credit card purchases made in October 2020, the average APR was 20.23%, according to publicly available information published by TheBalance.com. If you pay off a credit card balance of $12,700 with an APR of 20.23% over 36 equal monthly payments, you will pay $4,345 in total finance charges. If you obtain a loan with a term of 36 months and an amount financed of $12,700 (principal amount of $13,411 with an origination fee of $711) at 15.99% APR, you will pay $3,372 in total finance charges over the term of the loan, a savings of $973 as compared to the average credit card.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Key Differences: Living Will vs. Power of Attorney

Key Differences: Living Will vs. Power of Attorney – SmartAsset

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Hard choices wait around every corner as you age, but some of the most difficult ones are about your own care. Without a plan in place, you might not be able to convey your wishes to those around you, leaving loved ones scrambling to make the right decision. Fortunately, there are several ways you can ensure your choices for your medical and end-of-life care are understood. A living will and power of attorney are two of these ways. But what’s the difference between them and how do you know which one is right for you?  If you’re beginning to plan your future care, here are the key differences between a living will vs. a power of attorney.

End-of-life planning includes properly arranging your financial affairs, which is where a financial advisor can be immensely helpful.

What Is a Living Will?

Living wills have several names, such as healthcare directives, instruction directives and declarations. So, you may see it under various titles, but its purpose remains the same. A living will is typically a written statement that ensures any medical or healthcare-related decisions you’ve made are carried out. It only comes into play when or if you can’t advocate for yourself or vocalize those wishes.

For example, you may suffer physical trauma or have a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s. Both of these situations can lead to lost brain activity and incapacitation. So, you’ll need something in place beforehand that protects your choices regarding long-term or end-of-life medical care. Your living will might cover some decisions, including resuscitation, feeding tubes, assisted breathing and other life-prolonging measures. It may also be possible to put in instructions based on your religious or philosophical beliefs.

Since a living will only comes into play while you’re alive (but incapacitated), it ends when you die.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

Like a living will, a power of attorney (POA) is another important document that protects your interests when you cannot. However, it uses a different method to accomplish that. A power of attorney authorizes a trusted individual that you (the principal or grantor) have chosen to make decisions on your behalf. Although you may also see them with titles like proxy, surrogate and attorney-in-fact, this person is often called the agent.

Essentially, a power of attorney does not include a written guide on your preferred care but picks someone to make those choices when they arise. However, unlike a living will, a POA comes in more than one form.

Other Types of Powers of Attorney

A general power of attorney can have a broad range of power depending on your needs. For example, if you leave the country for an extended period, but you have business ventures or investments to take care of, you might give someone power of attorney over them. Specific situations might call for a specialized version of the document. You can alter when the document takes effect if you make it a durable or springing power of attorney.

A durable POA activates the minute you sign the document. After that, the agent assumes his or her position and retains it, even if you become incapacitated, until your death. In contrast, a springing POA only takes effect after you can longer advocate for yourself.

On top of activation, you can also shift the intent by drafting a power of attorney in financial situations or a power of attorney for healthcare. Either way, the agent makes decisions on your behalf. A financially focused POA can allow someone to pay bills, operate your business or even move assets, but they always have to act in your best interest.

Naturally, a POA for healthcare handles your medical care. Their duties can include accessing medical records, deciding course of care and dealing with the employment of your doctor or medical care professionals.  If you are considering a power of attorney for healthcare, it might be worthwhile to pursue a financial one as well. That way, your executor can access capital and use it to improve your quality of life.

It’s important to note that you can revoke your POA at any point; you just have to inform your attorney-in-fact and address the document. You may have to amend it or destroy it altogether, depending on your plans.

Living Will vs. Power of Attorney: Which One Do You Need?

A living will preserves your wishes in writing, while a POA empowers a person to make those decisions. Which one you need depends on your situation.

Keep in mind that each state has different rules regarding estate planning. You may find that you live in a state like Pennsylvania, which uses a document known as an advance healthcare directive. This document combines a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare, negating the need to choose between the two. It’s also possible to determine your state’s specific requirements to make your living will or power of attorney valid.

It can be challenging to navigate this alone, so speak to an estate planner who can help you ensure your documents are legitimate. They can create a custom directive suited to your needs, which will help you avoid these issues from the get-go.

How to Choose an Agent

Generally, people choose their spouse, a trusted friend or a knowledgeable family member to act as their agent. However, you want to make sure this individual will do right by you and can handle difficult decisions. End-of-life care is an emotional topic for family members, and it can stir disagreement. So, choose an agent who will ensure your wishes are kept even amidst arguments.

Speak with your chosen executor early on. Talk with him or her about your wishes before and even after you put them into writing. The person should also receive a copy of your power of attorney once it’s written and know the location you keep yours in, which should be a secure location like a safety deposit box. You may want to consider bringing a copy to your physician and other family members, like a spouse, as well.

The Takeaway

Planning for the end of your life is a personal process and emotionally taxing. A living will and power of attorney can make it easier for you and your loved ones by handling the hard decisions beforehand. The safest route is to have plans in place to rely on for any situation. Since you can’t predict every scenario in a living will, a power of attorney can help close any gaps. So, your agent can have the living will to rely on and refer back to when they need to make real-time decisions. However, you might not need to pursue two separate documents depending upon your state.

If you are looking into a living will, power of attorney or both, research the requirements and reach out to an estate planning attorney. They can help you create a customized document suited to your medical care needs. That way, you and your loved ones can rest easy knowing that everything will be taken care of as you age.

Estate Planning Tips

  • Even though you may not need a power of attorney now, don’t wait to make a financial plan. That’s where a financial advisor can offer expert advice. Finding an experienced financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s matching service can connecct you to several advisors in your area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • If you take the path of a power of attorney, your agent might have to make financial decisions for you. That includes choices for your retirement accounts and 401(k). Use our free 401(k) calculator to estimate how much money your account will have by the time you retire.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/zimmytws, ©iStock.com/AndreaObzerova, ©iStock.com/Chawich Udomsatapol

Ashley Chorpenning Ashley Chorpenning is an experienced financial writer currently serving as an investment and insurance expert at SmartAsset. In addition to being a contributing writer at SmartAsset, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.
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Source: smartasset.com