What Is a Bond Mutual Fund – Risks & Different Types of This Investment

Investing is an important part of saving for the future, but many people are wary of putting their money into the stock market. Stocks can be volatile, with prices that change every day. If you can’t handle the volatility and risk of stocks or want to diversify your portfolio into a less risky investment, bonds are a good way to do so.

As with many types of investments, you can invest in bonds through a mutual fund, which gives you easy diversification and professional portfolio management — for a fee.

Are bond mutual funds a good addition to your portfolio? Here are the basics of these investment vehicles.

What Is a Bond?

A bond is a type of debt security. When organizations such as national and local governments, government agencies, or companies want to borrow money, one of the ways they can get the loan they need is by issuing a bond.

Investors purchase bonds from the organizations issuing them. Typically, bonds come with an interest rate and a maturity. For example, a company might sell bonds with an interest rate of 5% and a maturity of 20 years.

The investor would pay the company $1,000 for a $1,000 bond. Each year, that investor receives an interest payment of $50 (5% of $1,000). After 20 years, the investor receives a final interest payment plus the $1,000 they paid to buy the bond.


What Is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a way for investors to invest in a diverse portfolio while only having to purchase a single security.

Mutual funds pool money from many investors and use that money to buy bonds, stocks, and other securities. Each investor in the fund effectively owns a portion of the fund’s portfolio, so an investor can buy shares in one mutual fund to get exposure to hundreds of stocks or bonds.

This makes it easy for investors to diversify their portfolios.

Mutual fund managers make sure the fund’s portfolio follows their stated strategy and work towards the fund’s stated goal. Mutual funds charge a fee, called an expense ratio, for their services, which is important for investors to keep in mind when comparing funds.

Pro tip: Most mutual funds can be purchased through the individual fund family or through an online broker like Robinhood or Public.


Types of Bond Mutual Funds

There are many types of bond mutual funds that people can invest in.

1. Government

Government bond funds invest most of their money into bonds issued by different governments. Most American government bond funds invest primarily in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. government debt is seen as some of the safest debt available. There is very little chance that the United States will default on its payments. That security can be appealing for investors, but also translates to lower interest rates than other bonds.

2. Corporate

Corporate bond funds invest most of their assets into bonds issued by companies.

Just like individuals, businesses receive credit ratings that affect how much interest they have to pay to lenders — in this case, investors looking to buy their bonds. Most corporate bond funds buy “investment-grade” bonds, which include the highest-rated bonds from the most creditworthy companies.

The lower a bond’s credit rating, the higher the interest rate it will pay. However, lower credit ratings also translate to a higher risk of default, so corporate bond funds will hold a mixture of bonds from a variety of companies to help diversify their risks.

3. Municipal

Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as government agencies.

Like businesses, different municipalities can have different credit ratings, which impacts the interest they must pay to sell their bonds. Municipal bond funds own a mixture of different bonds to help reduce the risk of any one issuer defaulting on its payments.

One unique perk of municipal bonds is that some or all of the interest that investors earn can be tax-free. The tax treatment of the returns depends on the precise holdings of the fund and where the investor lives.

Some mutual fund companies design special municipal bond funds for different states, giving investors from those states an option that provides completely tax-free yields.

The tax advantages municipal bond funds offer can make their effective yields higher than other bond funds that don’t offer tax-free yields. For example, someone in the 24% tax bracket would need to earn just under 4% on a taxable bond fund to get the equivalent return of a tax-free municipal bond fund offering 3%.

4. High-Yield

High-yield bond funds invest in bonds that offer higher interest rates than other bonds, like municipal bonds and government bonds.

Typically, this means buying bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings than investment-grade bonds. These bonds are sometimes called junk bonds. Their name comes from the fact that they are significantly riskier than other types of bonds, so there’s a higher chance that the issuer defaults and stops making interest payments.

Bond mutual funds diversify by buying bonds from hundreds of different issuers, which can help reduce this risk, but there’s still a good chance that some of the bonds in the fund’s portfolio will go into default, which can drag down the fund’s performance.

5. International

Foreign governments and companies need to borrow money just like American companies and governments. There’s nothing stopping Americans from investing in foreign bonds, so there are some mutual funds that focus on buying international bonds.

Each country and company has a credit rating that impacts the interest rate it has to pay. Many stable governments are seen as highly safe, much like the United States, but smaller or less economically developed nations sometimes have lower credit ratings, leading them to pay higher interest rates.

Another factor to keep in mind with international bonds is the currency they’re denominated in.

With American bonds, you buy the bond in dollars and get interest payments in dollars. If you buy a British bond, you might have to convert your dollars to pounds to buy the bond and receive your interest payments in pounds. This adds some currency risk to the equation, which can make investing in international bond funds more complex.

6. Mixed

Some bond mutual funds don’t specialize in any single type of bond. Instead, they hold a variety of bonds, foreign and domestic, government and corporate. This lets the fund managers focus on buying high-quality bonds with solid yields instead of restricting themselves to a specific class of bonds.


Why Invest in Bond Mutual Funds?

There are a few reasons for investors to consider investing in bond mutual funds.

Reduce Portfolio Risk and Volatility

One advantage of investing in bonds is that they tend to be much less risky and volatile than stocks.

Investing in stocks or mutual funds that hold stocks is an effective way to grow your investment portfolio. The S&P 500, for example, has averaged returns of almost 10% per year over the past century. However, in some years, the index has moved almost 40% upward or downward.

Over the long term, it’s easier to handle the volatility of stocks, but some people don’t have long-term investing goals. For example, people in retirement are more concerned with producing income and maintaining their spending power.

Putting some of your portfolio into bonds can reduce the impact of volatile stocks on your portfolio. This can be good for more risk-averse investors or those who have shorter time horizons for their investments.

There are some mutual funds, called target-date mutual funds, that hold a mix of stocks and bonds and increase their bond holdings over time, reducing risk as the target date nears.

Income

Bonds make regular interest payments to their holders and the majority of bond funds use some of the money they receive to make payments to their investors. This makes bond mutual funds popular among investors who want to make their investment portfolio a source of passive income.

You can look at different bond mutual funds and their annual yields to get an idea of how much income they’ll provide each year. For example, if a mutual fund offers a yield of 2.5%, investors can expect to receive $250 each year for every $10,000 they invest in the fund.

Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals. Read our Vanguard Personal Advisor Services review.


Risks of Bond Funds

Before investing in bonds or bond mutual funds, you should consider the risks of investing in bonds.

Interest Rate Risk

One of the primary risks of fixed-income investing — whether you’re investing in bonds or bond funds — is interest rate risk.

Investors can buy and sell most bonds on the open market in addition to buying newly issued bonds directly from the issuing company or government. The market value of a bond will change with market interest rates.

In general, if market rates rise, the value of existing bonds falls. Conversely, if market rates fall, the value of existing bonds rises.

To understand why this happens, consider this example. Say you purchased a BBB-rated corporate bond with an interest rate of 2% for $1,000. Since you bought the bond, market rates have increased, so now BBB-rated companies now have to pay 3% to convince investors to buy their bonds.

If someone can buy a new $1,000 bond paying 3% interest, why would they pay you the same amount for your $1,000 bond paying 2% interest? If you want to sell your bond, you’ll have to sell it at a discount because investors can get a better deal on newly issued bonds.

Of course, the opposite is true if interest rates fall. In the above example, if market rates fell to 1%, you could command a premium for your bond paying 2% because investors can’t find new bonds of the same quality that pay that much anymore.

Interest rate risk applies to bond funds just as it applies to individual bonds. As rates rise, the share price of the fund tends to fall and vice versa.

Generally, the longer the bond’s maturity, the greater the effect a change in market interest rates will have on the bond’s value. Short-term bonds have much less interest rate risk than long-term bonds. Bond funds usually list the average time to maturity of bonds in their portfolio, which can help you assess a fund’s interest rate risk.

Credit Risk

Bonds are debt securities, meaning they’re reliant on the bond issuer being able to pay its debts.

Just like people, companies and governments can go bankrupt or default on their loan payments. If this happens, the people who own those bonds won’t get the money they lent back.

Bond mutual funds hold thousands of bonds, but if one of the issuers defaults, some of the fund’s bonds become worthless, reducing the value of the investors’ shares in the fund.

Bonds issued by organizations with higher credit ratings are generally less risky than those with poor credit ratings. For example, most people would consider U.S. government bonds to have a very low credit risk. A junk bond fund would have much more credit risk.

Foreign Exchange Risk

If you’re buying shares in a bond fund that invests in foreign bonds, you should consider foreign exchange risk.

Currencies constantly fluctuate in value. Over the past five years, $1 could buy anywhere between 0.80 and 0.96 euros.

To maximize returns, investors want to buy foreign bonds when the dollar is strong and receive interest payments and return of principal when the dollar is weak.

However, it’s incredibly hard to predict how currencies’ values will change over time, so investors in foreign bonds should consider how changing currency values will affect their returns.

Some bond funds use different strategies to hedge against this risk, using tools like currency futures or buying dollar-denominated bonds from foreign entities.

Fees

Mutual funds charge fees, which they commonly express as an expense ratio.

A fund’s expense ratio is the percentage of your invested assets that you pay each year. For example, someone who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio will pay $100 in fees each year.

Expense ratio fees are included when calculating the fund’s share price each day, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand to pay the fee. The fees are taken directly out of the fund’s share price, almost imperceptibly. Still, it’s important to understand the impact fees have on your overall returns.

If you invest $10,000 in a fund that produces an annual return of 5% and has a 0.25% expense ratio, after 20 years you’ll have $25,297.68. If that same fund had an expense ratio of 0.50%, you’d finish the 20 years with $24,117.14 instead.

In this example, a difference of 0.25% in fees would cost you more than $1,000.

If you find two bond funds with similar holdings and strategies, the one with the lower fees tends to be the better choice.


Final Word

Bond mutual funds are a popular way for investors to get exposure to bonds in their portfolios. Just as there are many different types of stocks, there are many types of bonds, each with advantages and disadvantages.

If you don’t want to pick and choose bonds to invest in, bond funds offer instant diversification and professional management. If you want an even more hands-off investing experience, working with a financial advisor or robo-advisor that handles your entire portfolio may be worth considering.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Hidden Costs to Watch Out For

Getting a loan? Whether it’s for a new home, car, or something else, don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on the monthly fee. There are many hidden costs out there that can trip you up and make you spend more than you intended over the long run. Here are three of the most common ones to watch out for.

Discount Points on Home Mortgages

When getting home mortgage, you’ll likely be offered the option to pay “discount points.” This is the option to pay a certain fee up front to lower the interest rate throughout the loan’s lifetime. In a sense, it’s “pre-paid interest,” and on average every 1% of the total loan amount you pay up front will lower the interest rate by about 0.125%.

Here’s the thing about discount points: They’re only beneficial if you break even on the up front payment eventually. That only happens when you hold on to the house long enough. Otherwise, you end up paying more than if you simply kept the interest rate where it was.

The key to getting the most out of home mortgage discount points is to decide ahead of time how long you’ll keep the house. If you’re planning to keep it for 10 years or more, then paying for discount points is a smart move. Otherwise, skip them.

Admin/Underwriting Fees

These fees are only supposed to apply when you get your loan from a bank or other lending agency. You don’t need to pay admin/underwriting fees when you get your loan from a broker – simply because they don’t do any underwriting. The lender does.

It pays to know this little bit of trivia, because a fair number of unscrupulous brokers use this technique to pad their bottom line. Don’t be fooled!

Cost of Ownership

Cost of ownership is not a “hidden cost” per se, but it’s definitely unexpected for many individuals. But more importantly, not factoring it in may cost you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Cost of ownership is basically those other costs that come with owning a new asset. For instance, if you’re getting a new home, cost of ownership will include paying property taxes, insurance, furniture, landscaping, etc. If you’re getting a new car, you’ll have to fork over some cash for insurance and the sales tax.

Our advice: If you’re getting a loan that’s right at your financial limit, you’re likely heading for trouble. You may need to dial back a bit, or postpone taking that loan until you’re better prepared for the costs of ownership.

One Final Tip

Even if you’re not planning to take out a loan anytime soon, work on your credit score as early as now. Bring it up to 760 or more, so that any loan you take out in the future will be met with the lowest interest rates. And, perhaps more importantly, working on your credit score trains you to handle your finances better, so you’ll make smarter decisions on money matters moving forward.

Source: creditabsolute.com

The evolution of the good faith estimate

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

A good faith estimate (GFE) is a comparison of mortgage offers provided by lenders or brokers to a consumer. It was recently replaced by the loan estimate—a similar concept with a few small differences. 

What Is a Good Faith Estimate Designed to Do?

The GFE’s purpose was to present mortgage shoppers with all the details they need to know about their mortgage options to help them make well-informed decisions. This transparency ensures consumers are aware of all the costs associated with the mortgage—including fees, APR and other expenses.

Borrowers would receive a GFE three business days after submitting their mortgage application, and after thorough review, would then select which mortgage option they would like to move forward with. 

Are Good Faith Estimates Still Used?

The term “good faith estimate” is not used by lenders anymore, but the concept remains prevalent. In 2015, the GFE was replaced by the loan estimate. Anyone who purchased a home after October 3, 2015, received a loan estimate rather than a GFE. 

In October of 2015, the good faith estimate was replaced by the loan estimate.

If you applied for a reverse mortgage, HELOC, a mortgage through an assistance program or a manufactured loan not secured by real estate, you will not receive a loan estimate. Instead, you will receive a Truth-in-Lending disclosure. 

The purposes of a GFE, a loan estimate and a Truth-in-Lending disclosure are largely the same: providing transparency to borrowers. The main difference—and benefit—of a loan estimate is that there’s more regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Since the GFE was not standardized through regulations, they were sometimes difficult to decipher, especially for first-time homebuyers. Conversely, each loan estimate must contain the exact same information in a standardized way, which we’ll cover below. 

What Appears on a Loan Estimate?

According to the CFPB, a complete, compliant loan estimate should include the length of the loan term, the purpose of the loan, the product (fixed versus adjustable interest rate, for example), the loan type (conventional, FHA, VA or other), the loan ID number and indication of an interest rate lock. Additionally, the loan estimate will include the following:

  • Loan terms: A summary of the total loan amount, interest rate, monthly principal and interest and penalties, and whether these amounts can increase after closing.
  • Projected payments: A summary of monthly principal, interest, mortgage insurance, taxes and insurance. Broken down by years 1–7 and 8–30 for a 30-year mortgage.
  • Costs at closing: Estimated closing costs and the total estimated cash needed to close, which includes the down payment and any credits.
  • Loan costs: Origination charges—which is broken down by 0.25% of the loan amount, application fees and underwriting fees—and other fees.
  • Other costs: Taxes, government fees, prepaid homeowners insurance, interest and prepaid property, escrow payment at closing and title policy.
  • Comparisons: Metrics you can use to compare your loan to others. Includes the total principal, interest, mortgage insurance and loan costs you will have paid after five years.
  • Other considerations: Information about appraisal, assumption, homeowner’s insurance, late payment fees, refinancing and servicing.
  • Confirmation of receipt: A line at the end of the statement that confirms you have received the form. This does not legally bind you to accept the loan.

Your loan estimate will also include your personal information, including your full name, income, address and Social Security number. Make sure to double-check all of this information for errors, as they could cause potential problems later in the process.

To better understand your loan estimate, explore the CFPB’s interactive guide.

Closing Disclosure

For first-time homebuyers in particular, it’s important to understand the timeline of events so that you can be prepared for your home buying process and have all the information and necessary documents at hand.

Closing Disclosure Timeline

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate form no more than three business days after receiving your application. Finally, at least three business days prior to loan consummation—when you are contractually obligated to the loan—you will receive a closing disclosure.

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate no more than three days after receiving your application and a closing disclosure at least three days prior to loan consummation.

What Is the Purpose of a Closing Disclosure?

The purpose of a closing disclosure is to assign “tolerance levels” to fees listed in the loan estimate form. This means that fees cannot increase over their tolerance level unless a specific triggering event occurs. There are three different tolerance levels:

  • Zero percent tolerance: Fees in this category cannot increase from what is listed on the loan estimate. These fees are typically those paid to a creditor, broker or affiliate, such as origination fees.
  • 10 percent cumulative tolerance: Fees in this category are added together, and the sum of these fees are not to increase by more than 10 percent of the amount listed in the loan estimate. Fees include recording fees and third-party service fees.
  • No tolerance or unlimited tolerance: Fees in this category have no limits at all, and can increase by any amount, as long as they are disclosed “in good faith,” using the best information available. These are usually fees lenders have little to no control over.

Remember not to confuse “zero percent tolerance” with “no tolerance,” as they are quite different. Zero percent tolerance fees cannot increase, while no tolerance fees can increase by any amount as long as it is considered “in good faith.”

Does a Loan Estimate Affect My Credit?

The act of applying for a mortgage may temporarily cause your credit score to dip, as it requires a hard inquiry by lenders. However, you may shop around for different mortgages from different lenders to get multiple preapprovals and loan estimates. As long as you do this all within a 45-day window, these separate credit checks will be recorded on your credit report as one single hard inquiry.

This is because lenders realize that you are only going to buy one home, so they categorize all of the actions you take under one umbrella of applying for a mortgage. Note that you may want to consider the 45-day rule loosely. Prioritize finding the best mortgage deal possible. Even if this means processing a hard inquiry outside of the 45-day window for a better deal, you’ll likely end up saving more money in the long run.

To learn more about what affects your credit and how to work toward improving your credit profile, contact our team at Lexington Law.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Common Credit Score Mistakes

Here at Credit Absolute we’ve helped our fair share of clients who have just been dealt a bad hand and everything went bad at once, destroying their credit score.

One of the more extreme case was with one of our clients who had been laid off during the recent recession. This caused him get behind on car and mortgage payments for several months before finally going into foreclosure, having his car repossessed, and maxed out credit cards.  This left him drowning in debt and when he finally found new employment, the previous lenders began garnishing his wages, making it nearly impossible to pay his current bills, let alone pay off old debt. He was then forced to file bankruptcy and is now working to rebuild his credit after years of bad luck ruined his credit.

There are definitely situations like this that may be out of your control and your bad credit score may just be the result of bad luck, but in most cases it has more to do with poor credit habits and common credit mistakes. While derogatory marks on your credit report do eventually fall off, it does take awhile. So it’s important to make sure you avoid these common mistakes.

Common Credit Score Mistakes That Can Kill Your Credit Score

While some unforeseen circumstances may be unavoidable, there are quite a few different things that can negatively affect your credit score and should be avoided whenever possible. Here are a few common mistakes that people with low credit scores tend to make:

  • You Close Old Credit Card Accounts

A large part of your credit score is determined by your credit history and by keeping your old credit cards can help improve your credit score. You will still need to occasionally use those cards to keep them “active” but you definitely don’t want to close out old cards.

  • You Take Too Long To Shop For The Best Rate

This is a very common mistake among new home and car buyers who have been advised to shop around for the best rates. While it is definitely recommended to search around for the best rates when buying a car or home, you want to avoid having your credit checked numerous times by shopping too long for a good rate. One tip to help avoid this mistake is by working with a mortgage broker; they can run your credit once but will still have access to numerous mortgage companies in order to find you the best rate without having to re-run your credit for every lender.

  • You Don’t Use Credit, Even Though You Have Access To It

Sadly, this happens far too often and, while it may not hurt your credit, it is a lost opportunity that could be helping you maintain a good credit score. If you have credit cards that you’ve perhaps had for years and no longer use, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to improve your credit. Credit that isn’t being used won’t help your credit score so make sure that you’re using your credit card at least a few times a year to ensure it stays “active” and continues to benefit your score.

  • You Max Out Your Credit Cards

While this mistake isn’t always done intentionally – many people max out their credit cards because of unexpected financial burdens – many people are unaware that they are severely hurting their credit score by maxing out a credit card. Try to avoid using more than 50% of your available credit (preferably less than 30%) to maintain a good debt to credit ratio which will help increase your credit score.

  • You Became A Co-Signer

This can be a sensitive matter of conversation because co-signing often involves two people who are very close and trust each other enough to risk their credit on behalf of the other. Unfortunately, many people haphazardly co-sign without a second thought and without considering the implications of the matter. Before co-signing, make sure that the person you’re co-signing for isn’t a likely risk of delinquency. If they stop paying, you start paying with bad credit – you could also be held accountable for the remainder of the debt as well.

  • You Don’t Worry About “Just One” Missed Payment

According to FICO, “Delinquent payments, even if only a few days late, and collections can have a major negative impact on your FICO Scores.”

Far too often people will neglect to pay their bills on time simply because they forget to, are too busy, or simply don’t think it’s a big deal if they’re just a few days late. Unfortunately this can severely impact your credit score, lowering it substantially. Avoid late payments whenever possible and set reminders if you have the tendency to forget.

Rebuild Your Credit

Whether you’ve been the subject of Murphy’s Law and been rained on with horribly bad luck, resulting in a low credit score, or you’ve just inadvertently made some poor choices that have caused your score to drop, Credit Absolute can help rebuild your credit score quickly and affordably. Don’t continue to be dragged down by poor credit and high interest rates, contact us today for a free consultation!

Source: creditabsolute.com

Investing in Food Stocks

You may not know what the future holds, but you know there’ll be a meal involved. A good meal or grocery trip is not only a necessity for survival, it can also be part of an investment strategy.

While restaurants and grocery stores may come to mind, the world of food stocks is larger than one might think, encompassing everything from a grain of wheat to the latest on-demand app.

Food stocks and the industries surrounding them have long been a part of investors’ portfolios. The most recent figures show that Americans dedicate close to 10% of their disposable income on food, a level that’s been consistent for about two decades. Roughly half that is spent for food at home, and the other half is on dining out.

But some types of food stocks can hold more risk than others. Read on to learn the history of food stocks in the market, the types of food stocks, and the overall risk profile of these investments.

Are Food Companies Consumer Staples or Discretionary Stocks?

Looking at the market as a whole, food stocks are part of the “consumer staples” industry, which is considered to be a “defensive” sector in investing. Defensive sectors are those less closely tied to the economy. That means even if the economy is in a recession, consumer staples are seen as less risky and more stable than other industries.

However, no stock is recession-proof. And not all food stocks are actually consumer staples. For instance, restaurant companies typically fall into the consumer discretionary category, which consist of “cyclical stocks,” or those tied to how well the economy is doing. That’s because of how people tend to dine out when they have more income to spend in their pockets.

Recommended: Investing With the Business Cycle

When deciding whether to invest in a food stock, beginner investors might want to research which industry the company falls under: consumer staples or consumer discretionary.

Different Types of Food Stocks

Food stocks include more than just memorable brands. It’s more encompassing than just consumer-facing brands or restaurants. Anything that helps food get to your plate can be considered part of the food supply chain.

Food stocks generally fall under these seven sub-industries:

Farming

Food stock investing can start at the granular level–investing in raw agricultural commodities like soy, rice, wheat, and corn. Farming stocks can also include the ancillary companies that foster that growth–companies that create and distribute insecticide and herbicide or build the industrial-size farm equipment to help harvest goods.

While one might think investing in farming stock would be actual farms, the reality is the opposite. About 98% of farms in the U.S. are family-owned and therefore, not publicly traded. So investing in farming stock primarily means the chemicals and machinery that help harvest the raw product.

Farming stocks can waver based on things like the weather and current events. It can be challenging to predict the next rainy season or drought, sometimes making it hard to track and predict value. In addition, tariffs and trade agreements can influence the performance of these stocks, making them more volatile.

Recommended: Understanding Stock Volatility

Food-Processing Stocks

Companies that work in food processing buy raw ingredients that are combined to make items in the grocery store aisles or on restaurant menus.

Some names and brands in the food processing sector might not be familiar to the casual investor. More often than not, these companies are behind the scenes, operating at a large scale to provide the world oils and sweeteners.

Food processing stocks have their own quirks when it comes to investing. Unlike farming, they’re less influenced by the whims of weather or season, but they still have an associated set of risks. The costs associated with this industry vertical are vast, and price competition across brands can lead to drops or jumps in the market.

Stocks of Food Producers

Further up the supply chain comes food producers, where novice investors are more likely to know these brands and companies from daily life and dietary habits. Food producers take the raw ingredients provided by processors and create the items found on store shelves.

Break this vertical down further to find “diversified” and “specialized” producers.

As the name suggests, diversified food producers are companies that create a ton of different products under the same name umbrella, like Nestlé, which makes everything from baby food to ice cream.

Then there are specialized producers. They make consumer products as well, but these companies often cater to a narrower audience, producing only a few items, often within the same vertical.

In times of recession, luxury or expensive food processing stocks might take a dip. Additionally, consumer trends can influence the market. Take the alternative meat craze–a popular investment trend in recent years. Investors saw larger-than-average returns for the industry due to interest in the trend.

Food-Distribution Stocks

Distribution companies have little to do with consumption or production and focus more on logistics and transport. These companies send products across the country and world.

Distribution companies range from very large, reaching national distribution, to fairly small, where they connect specialty retailers. The distribution market might have its long-term players, but investing in it comes with its own risks.

Grocery-Store Stocks

Grocery stores have become big business in the investment game. The next link in the chain, grocery stores are where the products end up once a distributor drops them off.

Grocery store investments are hardly recession-proof, but the necessity of groceries as a staple for consumers suggests these investments take a lesser hit in a market downturn.

Recommended: Investing During a Recession

Restaurant Stocks

Restaurants are an additional resting place for food distributors. In economic downturns, discretionary restaurant spending is usually the first to go, making this industry within food investing slightly less stable than the others. Additionally, this arena might be most susceptible to trends.

Food-Delivery Service Stocks

The newest addition in food stocks is more about tech than good eats. Online delivery services have burst onto the scene, and with a limited history of performance, are considered to be riskier than the traditional food stocks outlined above.

Right now, delivery service companies are still duking it out across the country, expanding to new cities and slashing the price of services to entice customers.

Pros and Cons of Investing in Food Stocks

With all the ingredients in order, it’s time to highlight a few of the basic pros and cons of investing in food stocks.

Pro: Food stocks, particularly those that are consumer staples, can perform consistently. Food stocks can be a relatively safe, recession-resistant investment (but remember all stocks have inherent risk).
Con: Food stocks perform consistently. For an investor looking for a higher-risk investment, the steady year-over-year earnings might not be as enticing for someone trying to build a high-return portfolio.
Pro: Familiarity with brands. Many food stocks are also commonly found in investors’ pantries and refrigerators. For someone new to investing, buying stocks in the brands they trust and use could be a great way to dip their toes in the market.
Con: Not all food stocks are immune to ups and downs in the economy. Some companies, particularly restaurant groups or those that produce higher-priced products, may be hurt if discretionary spending by consumers pulls back.

The Takeaway

Investing in food companies can actually lead to investing in a wide range of different companies–those that are defensive and more immune to economic shifts, those that are cyclical and rise when the economy is hot.

It can also involve wagering on stocks that have long been a part of the food supply chain, as well as startup unicorn companies that are using innovative mobile technology to deliver meals to consumers.

For individuals who want to try their hand at picking food stocks, SoFi’s Active Investing platform may be a good option. Investors can buy traditional stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or even fractional shares of some companies. For those who need help, the Automated Investing service builds portfolios for SoFi Members and Certified Financial Planners can answer questions on investing.

Get started with SoFi Invest today.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Bitcoin Gold (BTG): Creation, Controversy, and How it Stacks up to BCH

Any conversation about cryptocurrency has to start with Bitcoin. It was the first crypto (it’s been around since 2009), it is the most valuable (worth over $1 trillion), and it’s the most traded (over $60 billion in daily volume). It also has the most spinoffs, or “forks,” that have become widely-used cryptos in their own right.

Perhaps the most well-known forks are Bitcoin Cash (BCH), which came out in 2017, and Bitcoin Gold(BCG), which was the product of a fork from Bitcoin a few months later.

What is Bitcoin Gold?

Bitcoin Gold was a hard fork from Bitcoin with the intent of further decentralizing Bitcoin. The idea was to use a new algorithm for the mining process that would not prioritize major mining operations, as some believed Bitcoin did.

Bitcoin Gold was an implicit criticism of Bitcoin, essentially arguing that it had betrayed or at least strayed from its initial roots as a decentralized currency with its increasingly centralized mining operations. Even if anyone can buy Bitcoin, it’s much harder (or at least not profitable) for anyone to create it.

Developers wanted to make it easier for normal computer users to mine on their own machines, a contrast to the massive Bitcoin mining industry, which is mostly done on specialized computer equipment purchased and operated by big-time operators in places like Iceland, where electricity is cheap. With Bitcoin Gold, however, the humble graphics card could carry the load.

Bitcoin Gold Controversy

Bitcoin Gold has been controversial almost since its inception. Typically with hard forks, owners of the initial cryptocurrency also receive units of the new one. For example, when Bitcoin Cash forked from Bitcoin, all Bitcoin owners got Bitcoin Cash.

When the Bitcoin Gold fork occurred, on the other hand, Bitcoin owners did not immediately get their new cryptocurrency. Instead, developers kept the Bitcoin Gold blockchain private for a few weeks so that they could mine BTG without competition—which they described as a “premine”. Critics opposed this practice, as it left fewer coins available for others to mine and also amounted to “free money” for the BTG developers.

As a result, cryptocurrency exchange and service provider Coinbase said it would not support BitcoinGold, explaining that because developers hadn’t made the code available for review by the public, it posed a security risk.

BTG Security Issues

Bitcoin Gold was worth over $8 billion when it launched, but fell dramatically in value as security issues emerged.

BTG has experienced multiple “51% attacks,” where an entity or individual or hacker is able to do the one thing that cryptocurrency is supposed to prevent: take control of transactions and “double spend” them, essentially stealing money. After one of the attacks, Bitcoin Gold was delisted from some exchanges.

In 2020, the developers behind Bitcoin Gold were able to fend off another attempt on the cryptocurrency’s network.
In early March 2021, the Bitcoin Gold team posted on its blog that its “hibernation has come to an end”—the 51% attacks that plagued the coin last year were ultimately defeated by the BTG miners and community.

What is Bitcoin Gold Worth Now?

Bitcoin Gold is ranked 73rd among cryptos according to CoinMarketCap (as of late April 2021) and has a total value of around $1.6 billion and a value per coin of around $90. Bitcoin Gold’s value was over $470 per coin at least twice in 2017, but has been under $100 since early 2018.

Bitcoin Gold vs. Bitcoin Cash Value

When comparing Bitcoin Gold vs Bitcoin Cash, the numbers speak for themselves: the original fork has a total value of almost $11 trillion, volume of almost $3 billion, and a value per coin of over $500. Bitcoin Cash is about 87 percent from its absolute peak value but is still substantially more valuable than its forked cousin on a “per coin” basis, at least so far, when it comes to Bitcoin Cash vs Bitcoin Gold, Bitcoin Cash is winning.

How to Invest in Bitcoin Gold

Bitcoin Gold is not available to buy and sell on mainstream exchanges like Coinbase, but, according to its organizers, it is available to trade on exchanges like Binance and Bitfinex.

The Takeaway

Bitcoin Gold is yet another hard fork of Bitcoin, like Bitcoin Cash. What distinguishes Bitcoin Gold is its intent: To further decentralize and democrative mining, making it more accessible to individual miners, rather than large groups with massive computing power.

For investors interested in building a crypto portfolio, buying crypto on SoFi Invest® can be a great way to start trading crypto. You can get started with just $10, we keep your crypto secure and protected from fraud, and you can manage your account in the SoFi app.

Find out how to invest in crypto with SoFi Invest.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Source: sofi.com

How to Refinance Your Home Mortgage – Step-by-Step Guide

Deciding to refinance your mortgage is only the beginning of the process. You’re far more likely to accomplish what you set out to achieve with your refinance — and to get a good deal in the meantime — when you understand what a mortgage refinance entails.

From decision to closing, mortgage refinancing applicants pass through four key stages on their journey to a new mortgage loan.

How to Refinance a Mortgage on Your Home

Getting a home loan of any kind is a highly involved and consequential process.

On the front end, it requires careful consideration on your part. In this case, that means weighing the pros and cons of refinancing in general and the purpose of your loan in particular.

For example, are you refinancing to get a lower rate loan (reducing borrowing costs relative to your current loan) or do you need a cash-out refinance to finance a home improvement project, which could actually entail a higher rate?

Next, you’ll need to gather all the documents and details you’ll need to apply for your loan, evaluate your loan options and calculate what your new home mortgage will cost, and then begin the process of actually shopping for and applying for your new loan — the longest step in the process.

Expect the whole endeavor to take several weeks.

1. Determining Your Loan’s Purpose & Objectives

The decision to refinance a mortgage is not one to make lightly. If you’ve decided to go through with it, you probably have a goal in mind already.

Still, before getting any deeper into the process, it’s worth reviewing your longer-term objectives and determining what you hope to get out of your refinance. You might uncover a secondary or tertiary goal or benefit that alters your approach to the process before it’s too late to change course.

Refinancing advances a whole host of goals, some of which are complementary. For example:

  • Accelerating Payoff. A shorter loan term means fewer monthly payments and quicker payoff. It also means lower borrowing costs over the life of the loan. The principal downside: Shortening a loan’s remaining term from, say, 25 years to 15 years is likely to raise the monthly payment, even as it cuts down total interest charges.
  • Lowering the Monthly Payment. A lower monthly payment means a more affordable loan from month to month — a key benefit for borrowers struggling to live within their means. If you plan to stay in your home for at least three to five years, accepting a prepayment penalty (which is usually a bad idea) can further reduce your interest rate and your monthly payment along with it. The most significant downsides here are the possibility of higher overall borrowing costs and taking longer to pay it off if, as is often the case, you reduce your monthly payment by lengthening your loan term.
  • Lowering the Interest Rate. Even with an identical term, a lower interest rate reduces total borrowing costs and lowers the monthly payment. That’s why refinancing activity spikes when interest rates are low. Choose a shorter term and you’ll see a more drastic reduction.
  • Avoiding the Downsides of Adjustable Rates. Life is good for borrowers during the first five to seven years of the typical adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) term when the 30-year loan rate is likely to be lower than prevailing rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. The bill comes due, literally, when the time comes for the rate to adjust. If rates have risen since the loan’s origination, which is common, the monthly payment spikes. Borrowers can avoid this unwelcome development by refinancing to a fixed-rate mortgage ahead of the jump.
  • Getting Rid of FHA Mortgage Insurance. With relaxed approval standards and low down payment requirements, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage loans help lower-income, lower-asset first-time buyers afford starter homes. But they have some significant drawbacks, including pricey mortgage insurance that lasts for the life of the loan. Borrowers with sufficient equity (typically 20% or more) can put that behind them, reduce their monthly payment in the process by refinancing to a conventional mortgage, and avoid less expensive but still unwelcome private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • Tapping Home Equity. Use a cash-out refinance loan to extract equity from your home. This type of loan allows you to borrow cash against the value of your home to fund things like home improvement projects or debt consolidation. Depending on the lender and jurisdiction, you can borrow up to 85% of your home equity (between rolled-over principal and cash proceeds) with this type of loan. But mind your other equity-tapping options: a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

Confirming what you hope to get out of your refinance is an essential prerequisite to calculating its likely cost and choosing the optimal offer.


2. Confirm the Timing & Gather Everything You Need

With your loan’s purpose and your long-term financial objectives set, it’s time to confirm you’re ready to refinance. If yes, you must gather everything you need to apply, or at least begin thinking about how to do that.

Assessing Your Timing & Determining Whether to Wait

The purpose of your loan plays a substantial role in dictating the timing of your refinance.

For example, if your primary goal is to tap the equity in your home to finance a major home improvement project, such as a kitchen remodel or basement finish, wait until your loan-to-value ratio is low enough to produce the requisite windfall. That time might not arrive until you’ve been in your home for a decade or longer, depending on the property’s value (and change in value over time).

As a simplified example, if you accumulate an average of $5,000 in equity per year during your first decade of homeownership by making regular payments on your mortgage, you must pay your 30-year mortgage on time for 10 consecutive years to build the $50,000 needed for a major kitchen remodel (without accounting for a potential increase in equity due to a rise in market value).

By contrast, if your primary goal is to avoid a spike in your ARM payment, it’s in your interest to refinance before that happens — most often five or seven years into your original mortgage term.

But other factors can also influence the timing of your refinance or give you second thoughts about going through with it at all:

  • Your Credit Score. Because mortgage refinance loans are secured by the value of the properties they cover, their interest rates tend to be lower than riskier forms of unsecured debt, such as personal loans and credit cards. But borrower credit still plays a vital role in setting their rates. Borrowers with credit scores above 760 get the best rates, and borrowers with scores much below 680 can expect significantly higher rates. That’s not to say refinancing never makes sense for someone whose FICO score is in the mid-600s or below, only that those with the luxury to wait out the credit rebuilding or credit improvement process might want to consider it. If you’re unsure of your credit score, you can check it for free through Credit Karma.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio. Mortgage lenders prefer borrowers with low debt-to-income ratios. Under 36% is ideal, and over 43% is likely a deal breaker for most lenders. If your debt-to-income ratio is uncomfortably high, consider putting off your refinance for six months to a year and using the time to pay down debt.
  • Work History. Fairly or not, lenders tend to be leery of borrowers who’ve recently changed jobs. If you’ve been with your current employer for two years or less, you must demonstrate that your income has been steady for longer and still might fail to qualify for the rate you expected. However, if you expect interest rates to rise in the near term, waiting out your new job could cancel out any benefits due to the higher future prevailing rates.
  • Prevailing Interest Rates. Given the considerable sums of money involved, even an incremental change to your refinance loan’s interest rate could translate to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars saved over the life of the loan. If you expect interest rates to fall in the near term, put off your refinance application. Conversely, if you believe rates will rise, don’t delay. And if the difference between your original mortgage rate and the rate you expect to receive on your refinance loan isn’t at least 1.5 percentage points, think twice about going ahead with the refinance at all. Under those circumstances, it takes longer to recoup your refinance loan’s closing costs.
  • Anticipated Time in the Home. It rarely makes sense to refinance your original mortgage if you plan to sell the home or pay off the mortgage within two years. Depending on your expected interest savings on the refinance, it can take much longer than that (upward of five years) to break even. Think carefully about how much effort you want to devote to refinancing a loan you’re going to pay off in a few years anyway.

Pro tip: If you need to give your credit score a bump, sign up for Experian Boost. It’s free and it’ll help you instantly increase your credit score.

Gathering Information & Application Materials

If and when you’re ready to go through with your refinance, you need a great deal of information and documentation before and during the application and closing processes, including:

  • Proof of Income. Depending on your employment status and sources of income, the lender will ask you to supply recent pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements.
  • A Recent Home Appraisal. Your refinance lender will order a home appraisal before closing, so you don’t need to arrange one on your own. However, to avoid surprises, you can use open-source comparable local sales data to get an idea of your home’s likely market value.
  • Property Insurance Information. Your lender (and later, mortgage servicer) needs your homeowners insurance information to bundle your escrow payment. If it has been more than a year since you reviewed your property insurance policy, now’s the time to shop around for a better deal.

Be prepared to provide additional documentation if requested by your lender before closing. Any missing information or delays in producing documents can jeopardize the close.

Home Appraisal Blackboard Chalk Hand


3. Calculate Your Approximate Refinancing Costs

Next, use a free mortgage refinance calculator like Bank of America’s to calculate your approximate refinancing costs.

Above all else, this calculation must confirm you can afford the monthly mortgage payment on your refinance loan. If one of your aims in refinancing is to reduce the amount of interest paid over the life of your loan, this calculation can also confirm your chosen loan term and structure will achieve that.

For it to be worth it, you must at least break even on the loan after accounting for closing costs.

Calculating Your Breakeven Cost

Breakeven is a simple concept. When the total amount of interest you must pay over the life of your refinance loan matches the loan’s closing costs, you break even on the loan.

The point in time at which you reach parity is the breakeven point. Any interest saved after the breakeven point is effectively a bonus — money you would have forfeited had you chosen not to refinance.

Two factors determine if and when the breakeven point arrives. First, a longer loan term increases the likelihood you’ll break even at some point. More important still is the magnitude of change in your loan’s interest rate. The further your refinance rate falls from your original loan’s rate, the more you save each month and the faster you can recoup your closing costs.

A good mortgage refinance calculator should automatically calculate your breakeven point. Otherwise, calculate your breakeven point by dividing your refinance loan’s closing costs by the monthly savings relative to the original loan and round the result up to the next whole number.

Because you won’t have exact figures for your loan’s closing costs or monthly savings until you’ve applied and received loan disclosures, you’re calculating an estimated breakeven range at this point.

Refinance loan closing costs typically range from 2% to 6% of the refinanced loan’s principal, depending on the origination fee and other big-ticket expenses, so run one optimistic scenario (closing costs at 2% and a short time to breakeven) and one pessimistic scenario (closing costs at 6% and a long time to breakeven). The actual outcome will likely fall somewhere in the middle.

Note that the breakeven point is why it rarely makes sense to bother refinancing if you plan to sell or pay off the loan within two years or can’t reduce your interest rate by more than 1.5 to 2 percentage points.


4. Shop, Apply, & Close

You’re now in the home stretch — ready to shop, apply, and close the deal on your refinance loan.

Follow each of these steps in order, beginning with a multipronged effort to source accurate refinance quotes, continuing through an application and evaluation marathon, and finishing up with a closing that should seem breezier than your first.

Use a Quote Finder (Online Broker) to Get Multiple Quotes Quickly

Start by using an online broker like Credible* to source multiple refinance quotes from banks and mortgage lenders without contacting each party directly. Be prepared to provide basic information about your property and objectives, such as:

  • Property type, such as single-family home or townhouse
  • Property purpose, such as primary home or vacation home
  • Loan purpose, such as lowering the monthly payment
  • Property zip code
  • Estimated property value and remaining first mortgage loan balance
  • Cash-out needs, if any
  • Basic personal information, such as estimated credit score and date of birth

If your credit is decent or better, expect to receive multiple conditional refinance offers — with some coming immediately and others trickling in by email or phone in the subsequent hours and days. You’re under no obligation to act on any, sales pressure notwithstanding, but do make note of the most appealing.

Approach Banks & Lenders You’ve Worked With Before

Next, investigate whether any financial institutions with which you have a preexisting relationship offer refinance loans, including your current mortgage lender.

Most banks and credit unions do offer refinance loans. Though their rates tend to be less competitive at a baseline than direct lenders without expensive branch offices, many offer special pricing for longtime or high-asset customers. It’s certainly worth taking the time to make a few calls or website visits.

Apply for Multiple Loans Within 14 Days

You won’t know the exact cost of any refinance offer until you officially apply and receive the formal loan disclosure all lenders must provide to every prospective borrower.

But you can’t formally apply for a refinance loan without consenting to a hard credit pull, which can temporarily depress your credit score. And you definitely shouldn’t go through with your refinance until you’ve entertained multiple offers to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Fortunately, the major consumer credit-reporting bureaus count all applications for a specific loan type (such as mortgage refinance loans) made within a two-week period as a single application, regardless of the final application count.

In other words, get in all the refinance applications you plan to make within two weeks, and your credit report will show just a single inquiry.

Evaluate Each Offer

Evaluate the loan disclosure for each accepted application with your objectives and general financial goals in mind. If your primary goal is reducing your monthly payment, look for the loan with the lowest monthly cost.

If your primary goal is reducing your lifetime homeownership costs, look for the loan offering the most substantial interest savings (the lowest mortgage interest rate).

Regardless of your loan’s purpose, make sure you understand what (if anything) you’re obligated to pay out of pocket for your loan. Many refinance loans simply roll closing costs into the principal, raising the monthly payment and increasing lifetime interest costs.

If your goal is to get the lowest possible monthly payment and you can afford to, try paying the closing costs out of pocket.

Choose an Offer & Consider Locking Your Rate

Choose the best offer from the pack — the one that best suits your objectives. If you expect rates to move up before closing, consider the lender’s offer (if extended) to lock your rate for a predetermined period, usually 45 to 90 days.

There’s likely a fee associated with this option, but the amount saved by even marginally reducing your final interest rate will probably offset it. Assuming everything goes smoothly during closing, you shouldn’t need more than 45 days — and certainly not more than 90 days — to finish the deal.

Proceed to Closing

Once you’ve closed on the loan, that’s it — you’ve refinanced your mortgage. Your refinance lender pays off your first mortgage and originates your new loan.

Moving forward, you send payments to your refinance lender, their servicer, or another company that purchases the loan.


Final Word

If you own a home, refinancing your mortgage loan is likely the easiest route to capitalize on low interest rates. It’s probably the most profitable too.

But low prevailing interest rates aren’t the only reason to refinance your mortgage loan. Other common refinancing goals include avoiding the first upward adjustment on an ARM, reducing the monthly payment to a level that doesn’t strain your growing family’s budget, tapping the equity you’ve built in your home, and banishing FHA mortgage insurance.

And a refinance loan doesn’t need to achieve only one goal. Some of these objectives are complementary, such as reducing your monthly payment while lowering your interest rate (and lifetime borrowing costs).

Provided you make out on the deal, whether by reducing your total homeownership costs or taking your monthly payment down a peg, it’s likely worth the effort.

*Advertisement from Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS 1681276.Address: 320 Blackwell St. Ste 200, Durham, NC, 27701

Source: moneycrashers.com

The Benefits of Working Longer

Financial planners and analysts have long advised workers who haven’t saved enough for retirement to work longer. But even if you’ve done everything right—saved the maximum in your retirement plans, lived within your means and stayed out of debt—working a few extra years, even at a reduced salary, could make an enormous difference in the quality of your life in your later years. And given the potential payoff, it’s worth starting to think about how long you plan to continue working—and what you’d like to do—even if you’re a decade or more away from traditional retirement age.

Larry Shagawat, 63, is thinking about retiring from his full-time job, but he’s not ready to stop working. Fortunately, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Shagawat, who lives in Clifton, N.J., began his career as an actor and a magician. But marriage (to his former magician’s assistant), two children and a mortgage demanded income that was more consistent than the checks he earned as an extra on Law & Order, so he landed a job selling architectural and design products. The position provided his family with a comfortable living.

Now, though, Shagawat is con­sidering stepping back from his high-pressure job so he can pursue roles as a character actor (he’s still a member of the Screen Actors Guild) and perform magic tricks at corporate events. He also has a side gig selling golf products, including a golf cart cigar holder and a vanishing golf ball magic trick, through his website, golfworldnow.com. “I’ll be busier in retirement than I am in my current career,” he says.

Shagawat’s second career offers an opportunity for him to return to his first love, but he’s also motivated by a powerful financial incentive. His brother, Jim Shagawat, a certified financial planner with AdvicePeriod in Paramus, N.J., estimates that if Larry earns just $25,000 a year over the next decade, he’ll increase his retirement savings by $750,000, assuming a 5% annual withdrawal rate and an average 7% annual return on his investments.

Do the math

For every additional year (or even month) you work, you’ll shrink the amount of time in retirement you’ll need to finance with your savings. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to continue to contribute to your nest egg (see below) while giving that money more time to grow. In addition, working longer will allow you to postpone filing for Social Security benefits, which will increase the amount of your payouts.

For every year past your full retirement age (between 66 and 67 for most baby boomers) that you postpone retiring, Social Security will add 8% in delayed-retirement credits, until you reach age 70. Even if you think you won’t live long enough to benefit from the higher payouts, delaying your benefits could provide larger survivor benefits for your spouse. If you file for Social Security at age 70, your spouse’s survivor benefits will be 60% greater than if you file at age 62, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Liz Windisch, a CFP with Aspen Wealth Management in Denver, says working longer is particularly critical for women, who tend to earn less than men over their lifetimes but live longer. The average woman retires at age 63, compared with 65 for the average man, according to the Center for Retirement Research. That may be because many women are younger than their husbands and are encouraged to retire when their husbands stop working. But a woman who retires early could find herself in financial jeopardy if she outlives her husband, because the household’s Social Security benefits will be reduced—and she could lose her husband’s pension income, too, says Andy Baxley, a CFP with The Planning Center in Chicago.

Calculate the cost of health care

Many retirees believe, sometimes erroneously, that they’ll spend less when they stop working. But even if you succeed in cutting costs, health care expenses can throw you a costly curve. Working longer is one way to prevent those costs from decimating your nest egg.

Employer-provided health insurance is almost always less expensive than anything you can buy on your own, and if you’re 65 or older, it may also be cheaper than Medicare. If you work full-time for a company with 20 or more employees, the company is required to offer you the same health insurance provided to all employees, even if you’re older than 65 and eligible for Medicare. Delaying Medicare Part B, which covers doctor and outpatient services, while you’re enrolled in an employer-provided plan can save you a lot of money, particularly if you’re vulnerable to the Medicare high-income surcharge, says Kari Vogt, a CFP and Medicare insurance broker in Columbia, Mo. In 2021, the standard premium for Medicare Part B is $148.50, but seniors subject to the high-income Medicare surcharge will pay $208 to $505 for Medicare Part B, depending on their 2019 modified adjusted gross income. Medicare Part A, which covers hospitalization, generally doesn’t cost anything and can pay for costs that aren’t covered by your company-provided plan.

Vogt recalls working with an older couple whose premiums for an employer-provided plan were just $142 a month, and the deductible was fairly modest. Because of their income levels, they would have paid $1,150 per month for Medicare premiums, a Medicare supplement plan and a prescription drug plan, she says. With that in mind, they decided to stay on the job a few more years.

The math gets trickier if your employer’s plan has a high deductible. But even then, Vogt says, by staying on an employer plan, older workers with high ongoing drug costs could end up paying less than they’d pay for Medicare Part D. “If someone is taking several brand-name drugs, an employer plan is going to cover those drugs at a much better price than Medicare.”

Even if you don’t qualify for group coverage—you’re a part-timer, freelancer or a contract worker, for example—the additional income will help defray the cost of Medicare premiums and other expenses Medicare doesn’t cover. The Fidelity Investments annual Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate projects that the average 65-year-old couple will spend $295,000 on health care costs in retirement.

Long-term care is another threat to your retirement security, even if you have a well-funded nest egg. In 2020, the median cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home was more than $8,800 a month, according to long-term-care provider Genworth’s annual survey.

If you’re in your fifties or sixties and in good health, it’s difficult to predict whether you’ll need long-term care, but earmarking some of your income from a job for long-term-care insurance or a fund designated for long-term care will give you peace of mind, Baxley says.

And working longer could not only help cover the cost of long-term care but also reduce the risk that you’ll need it in the first place. A long-term study of civil servants in the United Kingdom found that verbal memory, which declines naturally with age, deteriorated 38% faster after individuals retired. Other research suggests that people who continue to work are less likely to experience social isolation, which can contribute to cognitive decline. Research by the Age Friendly Foundation and RetirementJobs.com, a website for job seekers 50 and older, found that more than 60% of older adults surveyed who were still working interacted with at least 10 different people every day, while only 15% of retirees said they spoke to that many people on a daily basis (the study was conducted before the pandemic). Even unpleasant colleagues and a bad boss “are better than social isolation because they provide cognitive challenges that keep the mind active and healthy,” economists Axel Börsch-Supan and Morten Schuth contended in a 2014 article for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

A changing workforce

Many job seekers in their fifties or sixties worry about age discrimination—and the pandemic has exacerbated those concerns. A recent AARP survey found that 61% of older workers who fear losing their job this year believe age is a contributing factor.  But that could change as the economy recovers, and trends that emerged during the pandemic could end up benefiting older workers, says Tim Driver, founder of RetirementJobs.com. Some companies plan to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely, a shift that could make staying on the job more attractive for older workers—and make employers more amenable to accommodating their desire for more flexibility. “People who are working longer already wanted to work from home, and this has helped them do that more easily,” Driver says. To make that work, though, older workers need to stay on top of technology, which means they need to be comfortable using Zoom, LinkedIn and other online platforms, he says.  

More-flexible arrangements—including remote work—could also benefit older adults who want to continue to earn income but don’t want to work 50 hours a week. Baxley says some of his clients have gradually reduced their hours, from four days a week while they’re in their fifties to three or two days a week as they reach their sixties and seventies.

That assumes, of course, that your employer doesn’t lay you off or waltz you out the door with a buyout offer you don’t think you can refuse. But even then, you don’t necessarily have to stop working. The gig economy offers opportunities for older workers, and you don’t have to drive for Uber to take advantage of this emerging trend. There are numerous companies that will hire professionals in law, accounting, technology and other fields as consultants, says Kathy Kristof, a former Kiplinger columnist and founder of SideHusl.com, a website that reviews and rates online job platforms. Examples include FlexProfessionals, which finds part-time jobs for accountants, sales representatives and others for $25 to $40 an hour, and Wahve, which finds remote jobs for experienced workers in accounting, insurance and human resources (pay varies by experience).

Job seekers in their fifties (or even younger) who want to work into their sixties or later may want to consider an employer’s track record of hiring and retaining older workers when comparing job offers. Companies designated as Certified Age Friendly Employers by the Age Friendly Foundation have been steadily increasing and range from Home Depot to the Boston Red Sox. Driver says age-friendly employers are motivated by a desire for a more diverse workforce—which includes workers of all ages—and the realization that older workers are less likely to leave. Contrary to the assumption that older workers have one foot out the door toward retirement, their turnover rate is one-third of that for younger workers, Driver says.

At the Aquarium of the Pacific, an age-friendly employer based in Long Beach, Calif., employees older than 60 work in a variety of jobs, from guest service ambassadors to positions in the aquarium’s retail operations, says Kathie Nirschl, vice president of human resources (who, at 59, has no plans to retire anytime soon). Many of the aquarium’s visitors are seniors, and having older workers on staff helps the organization connect with them, Nirschl says.

John Rouse, 61, is the aquarium’s vice president of operations, a job that involves everything from facility maintenance to animal husbandry. He estimates that he walks between 12,000 and 13,000 steps a day to monitor the aquarium’s operations.

Rouse says he had originally planned to retire in his early sixties, but he has since revised those plans and now hopes to work until at least 68. He has a daughter in college, which is expensive, and he would like to delay filing for Social Security. Plus, he enjoys spending time at the aquarium with the fish, animals and coworkers. “It’s a great team atmosphere,” he says. “It has kept me young.”

New rules help seniors save

If you’re planning to keep working into your seventies—which is no longer unusual—provisions in the 2019 Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act will make it easier to increase the size of your retirement savings or shield what you’ve saved from taxes.

Among other things, the law eliminated age limits on contributions to an IRA. Previously, you couldn’t contribute to a traditional IRA after age 70½. Now, if you have earned income, you can contribute to a traditional IRA at any age and, if you’re eligible, deduct those contributions. (Roth IRAs, which may be preferable for some savers because qualified withdrawals are tax-free, have never had an age cut-off as long as the contributor has earned income.)

The law also allows part-time workers to contribute to their employer’s 401(k) or other employer-provided retirement plan, which will benefit older workers who want to stay on the job but cut back their hours. The SECURE Act guarantees that workers can contribute to their employer’s 401(k) plan, as long as they’ve worked at least 500 hours a year for the past three years. Previously, employees who had worked less than 1,000 hours the year before were ineligible to participate in their employer’s 401(k) plan.

Delayed RMDs. If you have money in traditional IRAs or other tax-deferred accounts, you can’t leave it there forever. The IRS requires that you take minimum distributions and pay taxes on the money. If you’re still working, that income, combined with required minimum distributions, could push you into a higher tax bracket.

Congress waived RMDs in 2020, but that’s unlikely to happen again this year. Thanks to the SECURE Act, however, you don’t have to start taking them until you’re 72, up from the previous age of 70½. Keep in mind that if you’re still working at age 72, you’re not required to take RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) plan until you stop working (unless you own at least 5% of the company).

One other note: If you work for yourself, whether as a self-employed business owner, freelancer or contractor, you can significantly increase the size of your savings stash. In 2021, you can contribute up to $58,000 to a solo 401(k), or $64,500 if you’re 50 or older. The actual amount you can contribute will be determined by your self-employment income.

chart that shows payoff from putting off retirement for a few yearschart that shows payoff from putting off retirement for a few years

Source: kiplinger.com