The Art of Mortgage Pre-Approval

Buying a home can feel like a cut-throat process. You may find the craftsman style house of your dreams only to be bumped out of the running by a buyer paying in all cash, or moving super swiftly. But fear not, understanding the home buying process and getting a mortgage pre-approval can put you back in the race and help you secure the house you want.

What is Mortgage Pre-approval?

Mortgage pre-approval is essentially a letter from a lender that states that you qualify for a loan of a certain amount and at a certain interest rate based on an evaluation of your credit and financial history. You’ll need to shop for homes within the price range guaranteed by your pre-approved mortgage. You can find out how much house you can afford with our home affordability calculator.

Armed with a letter of pre-approval you can show sellers that you are a serious homebuyer with the means to purchase a home. In many ways it’s competitive to buying a home in cash. In the eyes of the seller, pre-approval can often push you ahead of other potential buyers who have not yet been approved for a mortgage.

Getting pre-qualified for a mortgage is not the same as pre-approval. It’s actually a relatively simple process in which a lender looks at a few financial details, such as income, assets, and debt, and gives you an estimate of how much of a mortgage they think you can afford.

Taking out a mortgage is a huge step and pre-qualification can help you hunt down reputable lenders and find a loan that potentially works for you. Going through this process can be useful, because it gives you an idea of your buying power, or how much house you can afford.

Check out local real estate
market trends to help with
your home-buying journey.

It also gives you an idea of what your monthly payment might be and is a chance to shop around to various lenders to see what types of terms and interest rates they offer. Pre-qualification is not a guarantee that you will actually qualify for a mortgage.

Getting pre-approval is a more complicated process. You’ll have to fill out an application with your lender and agree to a credit check in addition to providing information about your income and assets. There are a number of steps you can take to increase your chances of pre-approval or to increase the amount your lender will approve. Consider the following:

Building Your Credit

Think of this as step zero when you apply for any type of loan. Lenders want to see that you have a history of properly managing your debt before offering you credit themselves. You can build credit history by opening and using a credit card and paying your bills on time. Or consider having regular payments , such as your rent, tracked and added to your credit score.

Checking Your Credit

If you’ve already established a credit history, the first thing you’ll want to do before applying for a mortgage is check your credit report and your FICO score. Your credit report is a history of your credit compiled from sources such as banks, credit card companies, collection agencies, and the government.

This information is collected by the three main credit reporting bureaus, Transunion, Equifax and Experian. Your FICO score is one number that represents your credit risk should a lender offer you a loan.
You’ll want to make sure that the information on your credit report is correct.

If you find any mistakes, contact the credit reporting agencies immediately to let them know. You don’t want any incorrect information weighing down your credit score, putting your chances for pre-approval at risk.

[embedded content]

Stay on Top of Your Debt

Your ability to pay your bills on time has a big impact on your credit score. If you can, make sure you make regular payments. And if your budget allows, you can make payments in full. If you have any debts that are dragging on your credit score—for example, debts that are in collection—work on paying them off first, as this can give your score a more immediate boost.

Watch Your Debt-to-income Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio is your monthly debts divided by your monthly income. If you have $1,000 a month in debt payments and make $5,000 a month, your debt-income ratio is $1,000 divided by $5,000, or 20%.

Lenders may assume that borrowers with a high debt-to-income ratio will have a harder time making their mortgage payments. Keep your debt-to-income ratio in check by avoiding making large purchases before seeking pre-approval for a mortgage. For example, you may want to hold off on buying a new car until you’ve been pre-approved.

Prove Consistent Income

Your lender will want to know that you’ve got enough money coming in each month to cover a potential mortgage payment. So, they’ll likely ask you to prove that you have consistent income for at least two years by taking a look at your income documents (W-2, 1099 etc.).

For some potential borrowers, such as freelancers, this may be a tricky process since you may have income from various sources. Keep all pay stubs, tax returns, and other proof of income and be prepared to show them to your lender.

What Happens if You’re Rejected?

Rejection hurts. But if you aren’t pre-approved, or you aren’t approved for a large enough mortgage to buy the house you want, you also aren’t powerless. First, ask the bank why they made the decision they did. This will give you an idea about what you might need to work on in order to secure the mortgage you want.

SoFi Mortgage.


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi Mortgages are not available in all states. Products and terms may vary from those advertised on this site. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria#eligibility-mortgage for details.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

SOMG18100

Source: sofi.com

6 Garage Sale Setup Tips to Best Display Your Items & Make More Money

Picture this: You’re cruising down the street one day, and you spot two garage sales on the same block. The first has racks of clothes, bins of books and records, and a few high-value items prominently displayed near the curb. The second features jumbled, messy piles and boxes scattered across the yard.

Which one would you stop at?

Presentation is crucial to a successful yard sale. You can and should advertise your sale, but you also want to encourage passers-by to stop and look at your wares. If your sale doesn’t make a good first impression, most will just keep going.

No matter how much good stuff your sale has, it won’t bring in shoppers who can’t see it easily. People passing on foot only have your sale in their sights for a couple of minutes at most, and drivers on the street see it for as little as a couple of seconds.

To draw them in, you must show off your sale items so effectively their first glimpse convinces them to take a closer look.

Garage Sale Tips for Presentation

A garage sale has two purposes. It’s a way to declutter your home and bring in some extra cash. And the best way to achieve both goals is to attract as many customers as possible.

When you’re trying to draw in shoppers, pricing isn’t the most crucial factor. Yes, yard sale shoppers love bargains, but if your garage sale items don’t look appealing, no one will even stop to look at the price tags.

So before you even get out the price stickers, you need to spend some time thinking about how to set up your yard sale display to catch the eye.

1. Clean Your Items

Suppose you’re shopping yard sales looking for outdoor furniture. You come across a set that looks sturdy, but the chair arms and backs are coated in grime and their cushions are mildewy. Would you buy them or keep looking for a set in better condition?

That illustrates how important cleaning is. Something that’s otherwise in perfectly good shape becomes a complete turn-off for buyers if it’s covered in dirt. Even if you haven’t used something in years, it can come out of storage sporting a thick coat of dust that makes buyers pass it over.

So before you even think about how to display pieces, give each of them a quick touch-up with a dusting cloth. If anything is especially dirty, take the time to scrub it down with soap and water.

Some garage sale items need more specific cleaning treatment. Run clothes through the washer and dryer to remove dirt and odors, and give shoes a quick polish to remove scuff marks. If you have purses or other bags to sell, clean out dirt and debris from their interiors (and while you’re at it, make sure there’s nothing of value left inside).

2. Show Off the Good Stuff

Shoppers get their first glimpse of your garage sale from either the street or the sidewalk. If all they can see in that first look is a bunch of cheap junk, many will keep moving instead of stopping to browse.

There may be some real gems hidden toward the back of your yard or garage, but many prospective buyers will never see them.

If you want to hold a successful garage sale that attracts as many buyers as possible, put your most appealing merchandise front and center. In my experience, the best yard sale items for attracting buyers include:

  • Antiques of any kind — furniture, houseware, jewelry
  • Appliances
  • Board games
  • Clothing and accessories in good condition, such as shoes and purses
  • Electronics like TVs and stereos
  • Furniture
  • Musical instruments
  • Sporting equipment, including bicycles and camping gear
  • Tools, including garden tools like lawn mowers

In general, large items have more curb appeal than small ones. For one thing, they’re easier to see from the street. Also, little things like cheap toys and kitchen utensils aren’t that expensive to buy new, so they don’t offer the potential for a major bargain.

Another helpful strategy is to display merchandise likely to appeal to men, such as golf clubs or power tools, as close to the road as possible. In my experience, women are more likely to stop at a garage sale than men, so you don’t need to go to as much effort to reel them in.

By displaying things that typically appeal to them most prominently, you’ll attract men as well as women to your sale.

3. Group Like Items Together

Once you’ve drawn customers to your sale, you want to keep them there as long as possible. It might seem like the way to do that is to place everything randomly so shoppers looking for specific finds have to hunt through every table at the sale to discover them. But that strategy is likely to backfire.

As a shopper, I always find it frustrating when a yard sale has no clear layout. If I’m looking for something in particular, such as clothing or books, I want to see all the clothing or books available in one place. If they’re scattered across all the tables at the sale, I’m likely to get frustrated and walk away.

To make shopping easy for your buyers, group similar items together. Make one table for clothing, one for books, one for housewares, and one for toys, for example. That way, people can go directly to the table that interests them and start browsing.

If you have a lot of one type of product, sort it into narrower categories, such as children’s books and adult books.

To make it easier for yourself, sort your merchandise into boxes by category before your sale. On the day of the sale, you can simply bring each box to its own table and start laying everything out.

4. Keep Everything Visible

The easiest way for you to sort goods into categories is to leave them in their boxes. But that isn’t easy for your buyers. No one wants to bend over a box pulling out one baby onesie after another until they find the size and color they’re after.

Haphazard piles of stuff aren’t appealing either. I’ve walked away from more than one rummage sale because all the clothes were in massive, unsorted piles on the tables. Digging through them all to find the few outfits in my size would have taken hours with no guarantee I’d find anything I liked.

To make your sale appealing, lay your wares out in ways that make them easy to see at a glance. There are multiple ways to display different types of merchandise, depending on how much of it you have and what condition it’s in.

Clothing

The best way to display clothing is on hangers on a portable clothes rack. That keeps garments off the ground and makes them easy to sort through. If you don’t have a clothing rack, look for a makeshift alternative, such as an old ladder or a sturdy clothesline strung between two trees.

If there’s no way to hang clothes, the next best option is to arrange them in neatly folded piles on a table. That’s also a suitable way to display clothes for babies and small children.

But note your neatly folded and stacked garments will invariably get unfolded and strewn about as the day goes on, so you have to tidy up your piles from time to time.

Whichever method you choose, try sorting clothes by size, type, and gender. That makes it still easier for buyers to find what they want. A nice added perk is to display garments like coats with their extra buttons if you still have them.

Accessories

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding one shoe in your size and then having to hunt around for the other before you can try them on. You can significantly increase your shoe sales by taking the time to line pairs up together, either on a table or on a sheet or blanket on the ground.

You can display purses and bags on tables, on the ground, or neatly lined up in boxes. Or if you have a large tree handy, you can make an eye-catching display by hanging handbags from its limbs.

Jewelry is a high-value commodity, so it’s worth making an extra effort to display it well.

Wrap a piece of cardboard in fabric, then stick in pins or small nails to hang necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. You can pin brooches directly to the fabric. If you have coordinating pieces, such as necklace-and-earring sets, display them together.

Books & Recordings

Books are easiest to see if they’re arranged side by side with their spines facing out so people can view the titles at a glance.

The easiest way to accomplish that is to line them up on a bookcase or shelf. But don’t use a bookcase you’re also planning to sell because if someone buys it, you’ll have to remove all the books in a hurry and find a new location for them.

You can also display books by lining them up in a box with their spines facing up. Or if you have a smaller selection of books, you can fan them out on a table faceup so shoppers can see their covers.

Whatever you do, don’t stack books in boxes or pile them on tables so shoppers have to lift each one out of the way to see what’s below it. For all but the most dedicated book buyers, that’s simply too much work to be worth it.

These same display ideas work well for audio or video recordings, including CDs, DVDs, video game cartridges, records, and cassettes. (Yes, there are still people who have held onto their old boomboxes and are willing to buy tapes if they’re cheap enough.) Make the titles visible, and don’t force your buyers to dig.

Furniture & Home Goods

When displaying furniture at a yard sale, consider what type of buyer it would appeal to.

Place sturdy pieces suitable for families near the street, where they’ll draw buyers in. Older, worn-out pieces might appeal to students furnishing a dorm room or DIY fans looking for pieces to make over. Display these pieces farther back but with prominent labels indicating their low prices.

Antique furniture creates a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, it’s an appealing item that can attract shoppers. However, if you place a lightweight piece too close to the street, an ambitious thief could snatch it when you turn your back. Large and heavy furnishings can go in the front, but it’s best to place smaller ones close to the checkout where you can keep an eye on them.

For smaller home decor, consider maximizing its visual appeal by creating little vignettes.

For instance, you can toss a bedspread over a couch to show off its pattern and add a couple of matching throw pillows. To sell a set of dishes, lay out one whole place setting on a table, complete with a napkin and flatware, and keep the rest stowed in a box.

Finally, if you’re selling old electronics, make sure you have all their parts — remotes, cords, and the manual if you have it — bundled along with the primary equipment. You can wrap them up and stash them in a clear plastic bag taped to the side.

Customers will appreciate being able to see at a glance that the equipment has all the necessary parts. And if they want to test the device to make sure it works, all the pieces they need are available. Consider running an extension cord to the house for testing purposes or at least having one handy for shoppers to use.

5. Make Space for Everything

Ideally, most of the goods at your yard sale should be on tables, so shoppers don’t have to bend down to look at them. If you don’t have enough tables to display your wares, borrow from neighbors or friends.

Also, look for ways to create more “table” space from scratch. For instance, you can lay plywood over a pair of sawhorses, milk crates, or even cardboard boxes. You can also use any naturally elevated surfaces in your yard, such as porch steps or retaining walls.

If you’ve tried all these tricks and still don’t have enough table space for everything, prioritize. Reserve your table space for high-value merchandise you really want buyers to see and delicate pieces that could break if left on the ground. Everything else can go on blankets or tarps.

Set out comfortable chairs for yourself and any helpers so you don’t have to spend the whole day on your feet. Set them near a small table or another surface you can use for making change and bagging purchases.

6. Promote Your Sale

No matter how good your yard sale looks, it won’t attract customers if no one comes close enough to see it. That’s why even the best yard sale needs adequate signage.

Before putting up signs, check to see if your town has any regulations about them.

For instance, it might regulate how many signs you can put up, how large they can be, what materials you can use, and where you can display them. It may also have rules about how long before the sale you can put signs up and how long you have after the sale to take them down.

While you’re at it, check all the other local regulations.

Some towns require you to get a garage sale permit, and others limit you to a certain number of sales per year. Putting up signs puts you on the local authorities’ radar, so make sure you’re not running afoul of any rules. Otherwise, the fines could eat into if not exceed your profits.

Once you have any necessary permits and are clear about the signage rules, it’s time to set about making them.

Good yard sale signs are large, clear, and easy to read. Include the address as well as an arrow to point passing motorists in the right direction. If your town allows it, hang signs at all the busiest intersections near your house. From there, leave a trail of signs all the way to your house, pointing shoppers the right way at every turn.

Ensure your yard sale signs include the date and times of your sale as well. I always find it frustrating to see a sign that says, “garage sale,” with an address and no date because I never know if the sale is coming up, currently going on, or already over.

Listing the date and taking down signs once the sale is over ensures shoppers don’t show up on the wrong day.

You can advertise your sale online as well. Sites like Garage Sale Finder exist specifically for this purpose. Many local Craigslist groups have a section for garage sale advertising as well. Other places to put the word out include social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor.


Final Word

A well-organized garage sale takes more work to set up than a haphazard one.

But putting in this extra effort maximizes the chances your sale will succeed once it gets going. Shoppers are more likely to stop for an attractive sale, and those who stop are more likely to stick around long enough to find something they want to buy.

By taking the time to display your goods well and price them right, you can host a great yard sale instead of just an OK one. And that helps you turn more of your clutter into cash.

Source: moneycrashers.com

8 Tips for How to Sell on Craigslist

Most of us have probably taken a deep, exasperated breath while surveying our homes, wondering how we managed to accumulate so much clutter. But there might be a way to turn that clutter into cash. It comes down to one word: Craigslist.

8 Tips for Selling on Craigslist

Selling on Craigslist seems easy, but it requires some know-how to get the intended result and money in your wallet. We scoured the Internet for the best tips.

So list that chair you’ve always hated. We’re here to help you find success and sell more of your items on Craigslist.

1. Take Photos That Work

Ever seen a Craigslist listing with an object you can’t quite make out? Is that a nightstand or a coffee table? Are they selling the whole dining room table set or just one chair?

A good photo can make your listing stand out while a bad photo has the potential to shut down any business. Take a good photo by posing your object in a well-lit spot, whether it’s in natural light or a warm artificial glow, and focus on the details that make your object special. Only photograph what you’re selling — leave extraneous things out of the picture.

2. It’s In the Details

Your listing can’t simply be a photo and the name of the object. You need a description and any relevant details — think dimensions or number of items or even age of the item, if relevant. It’s ideal for your listing to answer all of the questions a potential buyer might have so they don’t have time to really agonize over their purchase.

3. Tell the Truth

That being said, it’s important to be honest in your listing. If your couch has stains or your wooden dresser is chipped, add images that show the damage. Point that out to potential buyers in your description. People will be more likely to buy an item when they feel they are getting an upfront understanding of it.

One example: do not post the catalogue image of your piece of furniture from when it was brand new. (People do this.) Take a photo of your furniture piece as is — after all, that’s what you’re selling.

4. Be Simple

While you should absolutely share relevant details, there’s no need to tell the story of how your kids bounced around on these couch cushions or how the table was passed down in the family generation after generation. Potential buyers know they’re browsing for a used object, but they don’t want the legacy that comes with it. They want it to feel like their own.

And stick to simplicity in your listing title. Potential buyers often search for specific objects — trash cans or mirrors — and they likely won’t be searching with various adjectives.

5. Offer Delivery

Potential buyers love it when Craigslist sellers offer delivery. It’s an added perk and makes things easier, especially when the site caters to people from all over. Make sure to add a higher cost for delivery — whatever seems worth it to you based on location — and be safe. Bring someone along with you when you go to deliver.

6. The Price is Right

It really does boil down to whether the asking price is right. Craigslist is known for sellers that practically give items away, so it’s better to price your listing lower rather than higher. Interest is always key, and if you price it too high, you may have no takers.

But make sure you price your item at a level with which you’re comfortable. It’s not worth giving something away if it has sentimental value and you think it can go for more.

7. Reach Out to Your Network

Word of mouth is a powerful tool. If you think you might know someone in your social network — whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or more — who might be interested in what you’re selling, share it on those forums.

And better yet, if you have a specific buyer in mind, feel free to be direct and share your listing with friends and family. If it doesn’t work for them, they may know the right person.

8. Always Be Safe

Always remember that you are dealing with strangers online on Craigslist. If someone is coming to your house or you are going to theirs, have a friend with you. Don’t assume that you will be fine if you are alone. Entering a stranger’s house or allowing a stranger to enter yours always comes with risk. It’s better to be prepared and meet in a public place if that is the only way the meeting can take place.

Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.

<!–

–>



Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Understanding credit card security codes – Lexington Law

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.

Credit card security codes are an important security measure to prevent fraud and identity theft. They add an additional layer of safety when making purchases and help ensure the buyer is, in fact, the cardholder.

These security codes—often called CVV codes, short for “card verification value”—are three- or four-digit codes located directly on your credit card. They’re typically, but not always, asked for when making card-not-present transactions, such as those made online and over the phone. Here, we detail where to find them, how they work and why they’re important for consumer protection.

Where to Find Your CVV Code

The location of your CVV code depends on the credit card issuer:

  • Visa, Mastercard and Discover: The code will be three numbers on the back of the card to the right of the “authorized signature.”
  • American Express: The code will be four numbers on the front of the card above and to the right of the card number.
Where to locate your card's security code.

How to Find Your CVV Code Without the Card

Credit card security codes were designed to ensure that the person making a purchase actually has the card in their possession. Because of this, it’s impossible to look up your CVV code without having the physical card. This is why it’s important to have the physical card on hand if you need to make a purchase that requires a CVV code.

If an identity thief obtains your credit card number—for example, via shoulder surfing—may try to call the bank and pretend to be you in order to get the CVV code. However, banks typically don’t give out this information. Each financial institution has their own policies, but if you can’t read or access your CVV code, they will usually issue you a new card.

While most retailers require a CVV code when making card-not-present transactions, many don’t. In these instances, crooks would still be able to use your card.

How Are CVV Codes Generated?

According to IBM, CVV codes are generated using an algorithm. The algorithm requires the following information:

  • Primary account number (PAN)
  • Four-digit expiration date
  • Three-digit service code
  • A pair of cryptographically processed keys

Other Names for CVV Codes

Depending on the credit card company and when your card was issued, your security code may go by a different name. Even though there are many different abbreviations, the basic concept remains the same. Below are all the abbreviations and meanings for credit card security codes:

  • CID (Discover and American Express): Card Identification Number
  • CSC (American Express): Card Security Code
  • CVC (Mastercard): Card Verification Code
  • CVC2 (Visa): Card Validation Code 2
  • CVD (Discover): Card Verification Data
  • CVV (All): Card Verification Value
  • CVV2 (Visa): Card Verification Value 2
  • SPC (Uncommon): Signature Panel Code

Credit Card Security Code Precautions

While CVVs offer another layer of security to help protect users, there are still some things to be aware of when making card-not-present transactions.

  • Sign the back of your credit card as soon as you receive it.
  • Keep your CVV number secure. Never give it out unless absolutely necessary—and if you fully trust the person.
  • Review each billing statement to ensure there are no transactions you don’t recognize or didn’t authorize. If there are, contact your financial institution immediately and consider freezing your credit.
Credit card security precautions.

Protecting your identity requires constant vigilance—but emerging technology may have the potential to mitigate some of the risk of credit card fraud.

Shifting CVVs: The Future of Credit Card Safety?

Since chip-enabled cards replaced magnetic stripes, in-person credit card fraud has taken a big dip. Crooks are turning toward online and card-not-present methods of fraud. CVV codes are good at combating this type of fraud—but shifting CVVs, also referred to as dynamic CVVs, may be even better.

The technology works by displaying a temporary CVV code on a small battery-powered screen on the back of the card. The code regularly changes after a set interval of time. This helps thwart fraud because by the time a hacker has illegally obtained a shifting CVV code and tried to make a purchase, it will likely have changed.

Despite the security benefits, shifting CVVs haven’t been widely implemented due to high cost, and it remains to be seen if the technology and process can scale. Financial institutions have many measures in place, such as fraud alert, to notify you of potentially suspicious activity.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call your credit card company, change your passwords and notify any credit bureaus and law enforcement agencies. By regularly checking your credit card statements, being careful about who you give your information to and being vigilant when making purchases, you’ll help do your part in keeping your identity secure.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

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

5 Tips for Approaching the Open House

In this article:

For decades, sellers and their agents have been using open houses to help generate interest in their listings. Open houses give the general public the chance to view a home without scheduling a private showing. While open houses do get a lot of curious neighbors and casual browsers, they can be a good opportunity for serious buyers to decide if a home is worth pursuing further, or a way to get a better grasp on neighborhood home values. 

In fact, 59% of home buyers attended an open house during their shopping process last year and 43% of buyers said attending the open house was very or extremely important to determining if the home was right for them.* On average, home buyers attended 2.6 open houses before buying.

Whether you’re a sincere buyer or simply curious about the inside of a home, you should know how open houses work and understand how you can be a good open house attendee. 

Note: If open houses are restricted or unavailable due to public health concerns, work with your agent to arrange a private tour or video tour. All Zillow-owned homes include a self-tour option — just use our app to unlock the door and tour at your convenience.

What is an open house?

An open house is an event during which potential buyers can tour a home that’s on the market. It’s usually hosted by the seller’s listing agent, or by the seller themselves, in case of a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listing. Open houses usually take place on weekends, during a set range of hours typically midday.

Open house benefits for buyers

No scheduling required: Unlike a private showing, you don’t need to set up a specific appointment to see a home. Simply show up during the open house hours and view the home at your own pace. 

Scope out the competition: If you’re interested in a home, attending the open house can help you gauge interest from other buyers. This can be helpful when determining how quickly you need to submit an offer and how much you should offer. 

Understand current home values: Seeing what homes are selling for in your area and what you can buy at a particular price point can be helpful if you’re just starting your search. 

Redefine your nonnegotiable home features: Checking out homes in person can help you redefine your list of must-haves: Do you really need that extra bedroom? What does a backyard of this size really look like?

How do open houses work?

Not every seller or listing agent will hold one, but here’s the typical process for sellers setting up an open house:

  1. The seller and their agent determine a day and time for the open house.
  2. The agent lists the open house on the local MLS.
  3. The agent advertises the open house on social media, online and with print ads or flyers. 
  4. The agent prepares for the open house — purchasing refreshments, printing flyers, setting up signs and adding little touches to make the home feel welcoming to buyers. (Yes, as a shopper, you can eat the cookies.)
  5. The agent hosts the event, greeting buyers and answering questions about the property and community.
  6. Buyers remove their shoes, tour the home, take pictures and video (if allowed) and jot down important notes. 
  7. Any buyer who liked the house will contact their own agent. They’ll then set up a private showing to see the home again or they’ll submit an offer right away — the latter is common in fast-moving real estate markets.

Who hosts an open house?

The person hosting an open house could be any one of the following: 

  • Listing agent: As the person hired to sell the home, the listing agent should be an expert on the property. 
  • Listing agent’s team member or associate: A busy listing agent may also send another agent in their place — either someone on their team or another agent in their office. They should be experts in the local market, but may not be as familiar with the individual home. 
  • Homeowner: If a home is for sale by owner (FSBO), the homeowner will be hosting their own open house. They’re undoubtedly the expert on the home, but their local market expertise may be limited. 

How to prepare for an open house

There are times when you might just stumble upon an open house while you’re on a walk or running errands. But if you’re intentionally looking for open houses as part of your home-buying strategy, try these tips.

Seek out relevant open houses

If you plan to visit multiple open houses in one day, make sure you’re focusing on listings that fit your criteria for budget and location. It’s not worth wasting time looking at homes outside your budget or those that are too far from your work or school. 

Tip: With Zillow’s home search tool, buyers can filter by homes with upcoming open houses (this filter can be applied in addition to other search filters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location). When you use the open houses filter in conjunction with filters for your other criteria, you can easily find the right open houses for your search.

A map of home listings on Zillow.

You can also tour most Zillow-owned homes any time between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., any day of the week — just select the tour option on the listing. Although the listing agent will not be present, you can avoid a busy open house and rest assured the property is in move-in ready condition.

Do research on the market beforehand

With help from your agent or on your own, find out how each home you’re planning to visit stacks up against others nearby. Is the price in line with similar listings in the area? Are there any defects? Has it gone under contract recently and then returned to the market? Are there a lot of other interested buyers? Has it been sitting on the market for a long time? (“Days on market” is an indicator of a stale listing, but the standard number of days on market can vary based on where you live.)

Stay open-minded

If you’re searching on a tight budget in a hot neighborhood, there’s a good chance that the home that fits the bill will need some TLC. Fortunately, attending an open house can give you a better idea of the home’s condition and potential, while also giving you the opportunity to ask renovation-related questions — e.g., the location of load bearing walls and the details of local regulations. 

How to attend an open house

Now that you’ve done your research and are prepared to add some open houses to your home search, here’s what you should do once the day arrives. 

Ask questions

An open house is your best opportunity to ask the listing agent (or their associate) your questions — don’t be shy. Ask questions that you wouldn’t be able to answer just by reading a home’s listing description, such as:

  • What are the HOA restrictions?
  • Has the seller done a property tax appeal?
  • Have there been any recent renovations or repairs?

Tip: If you’re not currently working with an agent and you ultimately decide you aren’t interested in a particular home you tour, the open house could help you see if the listing agent might be the right person to represent you — many agents represent both buyers and sellers. 

Be honest

If anyone other than the listing agent or the homeowner is hosting the open house, they’re likely an agent hoping to find potential buyer clients. If you’re already working with an agent (or if you have no real interest in buying), be honest.

Check for damage and disrepair

Professional or edited photos can make a home look a lot better online than it is in person. At an open house, take the opportunity to closely evaluate a home’s condition and take note of any potential defects that would factor into your offer price. 

Assess the windows: Look for flaking paint, misaligned sashes and condensation due to air leaks. These could be signs of windows that need replacement. 

Check for water damage: Look for warped baseboards, ceiling stains and musty smells. 

Make note of cracks: Noticeable cracks in the ceiling or drywall could indicate foundation issues. 

Test functions: Open cabinets, doors and drawers. Run the faucets. Check the water pressure. An open house is a good opportunity to make sure every part of the home is in good working order. 

Gauge potential renovation needs: Home improvements can really add up. As you walk through a home, keep an eye out for urgent renovation needs like floors, fixtures or large repainting projects.

Open house tips for buyers

Whenever you attend an open house, put yourself in the seller’s shoes — you’re letting a bunch of strangers walk through your home while you’re not there. While every seller wants their open house to net a buyer, they also want to keep their home safe and their furnishings free of damage.

Do

  • Take off your shoes or wear booties if requested.
  • Greet the host and provide your name.
  • Sign in if necessary or requested (this is a safety issue for the seller and their agent).
  • Take notes on your phone about your likes, dislikes and follow-up questions.
  • Ask if you can capture a video (if the listing doesn’t already include a video).
  • Respect other buyers and guests. 
  • Wait for others to exit a room before you enter.
  • Provide feedback if requested.
  • Thank the person hosting the event.

Don’t

  • Refuse to comply with an agent or homeowner’s house rules.
  • Criticize the home or the owner’s style.
  • Listen in on other visitors’ conversations.
  • Touch the owner’s belongings.
  • Let kids run around without supervision.
  • Bring food or beverages in (except water).
  • Reveal information that would compromise your negotiating power, like your budget or level of interest in the home.
  • Bring pets.

*Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019 survey data

Source: zillow.com

Do You Own the Land Under Your Home?

Do your due diligence to ensure you know about liens, easements or land grants made on property you’re thinking about purchasing.

When you buy a home, you probably assume that you own everything in and around it within the property lines. But in some parts of the country, homeowners are discovering the property they’re buying does not fully include the land beneath it.

For example, in Tampa Bay, FL a family realized at closing that their home builder had already signed away the rights to the land underneath their home to its own energy company. The “mineral rights” grant gave the energy company the freedom to drill, mine or explore for precious minerals beneath the home.

How is this even possible, and how can it be avoided? Who really owns the land beneath your home? Here’s what you need to know.

You probably own the land

Generally speaking, it’s likely that you own the property underneath and around your house. Most property ownership law is based on the Latin doctrine, “For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to heaven and down to hell.”

There can be exceptions, though. On occasion, a buyer will uncover an easement for a driveway or walkway that goes through their property. This is why it’s important to carefully review contracts and disclosures.

Contract and disclosures

A seller, be it a home builder or a homeowner, can’t claim any sort of rights to the property without first disclosing those rights in the real estate contract or in some sort of disclosure statement.

Each state is different with regard to how things are disclosed. Many disclosure statements require the seller to tell the buyer whether or not someone else has laid claim to the property or if the buyer is limited to claims in the future. If the seller is unaware, or the home you’re purchasing is in a state that doesn’t require the seller to disclose, then you should carefully review the property’s title report before signing off.

Preliminary title report

There can be a situation in which a seller doesn’t know that someone else has laid claim to the property. For example, this could happen in the case of a resale in a newer subdivision where the current owner bought from a homebuilder directly.

Throughout the years, there have been instances when an easement, encroachment or even a small mechanic’s lien sits on a title unbeknownst to the current seller. When this happens, all parties must work together to determine the best course of action. Access to the land below your home would have to be granted via a deed and, as such, it would show up on the preliminary title report.

The title report provides ownership information and acknowledges loans, deeds or trusts, easements, encroachments, unpaid property taxes or anything else that has been recorded against the property. If a homebuilder deeded mineral rights to themselves, for instance, they would have had to record that deed. If so, it stays on the title report until they and the current owner agree to take it off.

How to avoid last-minute disclosures

In Tampa Bay, unsuspecting homeowners signed over to the builder’s holding company the “eternal rights to practically anything of value (found) buried underground, including gold, groundwater and gemstones,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. If that weren’t enough, homeowners who didn’t realize they had signed over the mineral rights, or who did so at the last minute under duress, could have trouble selling their home later to wary buyers.

With any home purchase, you should give yourself enough time so that you can do your due diligence, either as a contingency to the contract or in the period leading up to the contract before you sign it.

When buyers think about due diligence, they immediately think “property inspection.” And in the case of new construction, it’s uncommon to do an inspection. But there is so much more to due diligence than a simple property inspection.

Never wait until the closing to discover such a big disclosure, as the unfortunate buyers in Tampa Bay experienced. It’s common practice for a good listing agent or seller, in states where disclosure is required, to raise something like mineral rights as a red flag to all buyers from the get-go.

Deeding access to the land below your home isn’t simply some “fine print” buried in the closing papers that could be easily overlooked. Such a disclosure would require paragraphs, if not pages, of documentation.

Best course of action: Review all documentation, disclosures and title paperwork prior to signing a real estate contract or during a due diligence period. If you’re uncertain, ask your agent for help reviewing the documents or hire a real estate attorney to pore through the paperwork on your behalf.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com

7 Tips on How to Take Pictures of Items to Sell

To put it simply: knowing how to take pictures of items to sell online has almost as much of an impact on your success as the actual object. It’s the presentation, the first way a shopper sees your product.
Before Christine Soojung Han of Vintage Sooj even shoots a photograph, she asks herself some philosophical questions. What is she trying to achieve with this photograph? What is she hoping to emulate or what kind of mood does she want to evoke? In essence, what story is she telling with the photograph.
Lighting was the first piece of advice that Chen offered. Finding the right place in your home is a matter of finding south-facing windows and, ideally, more than one window. You want to have lots of natural light. How the light comes through your window will change by season and time of day.

Pro Advice on How to Take Pictures of Items to Sell Online

Han found natural light to be too fickle. She started out with simply soft sunlight, but that was too dependent on the weather. So she bought soft boxes for light and studio lighting for about 0 and that upgraded her lighting set-up.

1. Decide What Style Photography You Want

“Avoid a crazy wallpaper wall,” she said. “That’s not for everybody and it really becomes a distraction. You want to be able to look at your furniture and not your wallpaper.”
Privacy Policy
Chen would post as many photos as possible if she could, but social media sites limit how many photos a seller can post. Chen’s adage is: take as many photos as possible. More photos offer more details and more chances for someone to fall in love with your item.

2. Find the Right Background. Be Consistent.

Ready to stop worrying about money?
You don’t have to have fancy equipment to start: smartphone cameras work fine.
When Han first started, she used props in some of her photos, like pampas grass or a stool. She found the props to be distracting, so now she models the clothes in most of her photos and adds accessories to the outfits. She doesn’t want to take attention away from the product itself.
But don’t worry, we’re about to let you in on some tips to make bank on. We consulted with the pros so you don’t have to do all of that legwork. Instead, let two eCommerce gurus guide you through the art of putting your best foot forward — photographically speaking, that is.
For Chen, staging is pivotal to creating a lived-in scene with her furniture. The important thing with staging is to strike a balance between domestic beauty and distraction. Chen suggests simple objects like a round mirror or a couple of white or black-covered books. She always likes to have vases on hand to hold flowers cut from her garden.
With clothing, much of that comes down to style: do you want something moodier with shadow or do you want crisp and clean images? Is this a stylized portrait or is this simply about the clothes? Researching and having a style of image in mind that you want to achieve makes it easier from the outset.

3. Lighting Matters

Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Chen takes photos to show how deep a dresser drawer is or what the top surface looks like. She shares photos of the furniture legs and hardware, because that can make a difference to a buyer and is often another aspect of her design. If she can add a video, she does. A video gives people the sense of the full scope of an item and what it looks like in natural daylight.

4. Stage Your Photograph

Chen echoes the same premise for furniture.
When it comes to furniture product photos, Chen says, capturing the details is key. What makes your piece special? Take a photo of that. Examples of Chen’s clean photo styling can be studied on Instagram.

5. Capture the Details of Your Items

Chen calls taking a good photo “50% of the work.” She recently bought a dresser online for . Although Chen usually sands, paints and refurbishes the furniture she sells, this piece was in such good shape that she did nothing to it. She took some well-lit and aesthetically appealing photos and sold it for 5. She made almost 0 off of the dresser with little additional work.
Both Han and Chen say photos have made a difference in attracting buyers. Han will often reshoot a piece that hasn’t sold after some time. She might try different lighting or a different background to highlight the piece. Once she posts that new photo, she can usually sell the item right away.

6. Edit Your Photos

Often, entrepreneurs who start an online business aren’t photographers. Sometimes, they don’t even have a background in a creative industry and it’s unlikely they will have camera equipment beyond their smartphones. They’re passionate about their businesses selling vintage clothing or refurbishing vintage furniture, but they’re self-taught. For many, the internet has been their teacher.

7. Use Multiple Photos

Chen doesn’t like to use artificial lighting, because she finds it changes the color of the furniture in photos.

Photos Make a Difference

The axiom “photo, photo, photo” may be to online selling what “location, location, location” is to real estate.
“You see people use printed backgrounds or landscapes, but I think, no matter what you decide to use, it shouldn’t be distracting, because you want the attention to be on the clothing,” Han said.
Both Han and Sara Chen of the upcycled furniture company Sara Chen Design suggest keeping the background clean and neutral. Chen uses white walls as her backdrop, but in the last year, she has spruced it up by adding board and batten wood paneling to her staging wall. Chen has a space in her house specifically designated for staging, a luxury not everyone has.
Han, who started her business in a tiny apartment, began taking photos with a bedsheet as her background. That got tedious because she had to steam the wrinkles out each time. Now, she uses color paper backdrops that she bought cheaply from a photographer who was looking to downsize equipment. Examples of Han’s backgrounds can be studied on Etsy. Scroll through the pages to see where she used bedsheets. <!–

–>




“Photos make such a big difference,” Chen said. “You need to take time to take better photos if you want to sell for more money.”

Understanding credit card security codes

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.

Credit card security codes are an important security measure to prevent fraud and identity theft. They add an additional layer of safety when making purchases and help ensure the buyer is, in fact, the cardholder.

These security codes—often called CVV codes, short for “card verification value”—are three- or four-digit codes located directly on your credit card. They’re typically, but not always, asked for when making card-not-present transactions, such as those made online and over the phone. Here, we detail where to find them, how they work and why they’re important for consumer protection.

Where to Find Your CVV Code

The location of your CVV code depends on the credit card issuer:

  • Visa, Mastercard and Discover: The code will be three numbers on the back of the card to the right of the “authorized signature.”
  • American Express: The code will be four numbers on the front of the card above and to the right of the card number.
Where to locate your card's security code.

How to Find Your CVV Code Without the Card

Credit card security codes were designed to ensure that the person making a purchase actually has the card in their possession. Because of this, it’s impossible to look up your CVV code without having the physical card. This is why it’s important to have the physical card on hand if you need to make a purchase that requires a CVV code.

If an identity thief obtains your credit card number—for example, via shoulder surfing—may try to call the bank and pretend to be you in order to get the CVV code. However, banks typically don’t give out this information. Each financial institution has their own policies, but if you can’t read or access your CVV code, they will usually issue you a new card.

While most retailers require a CVV code when making card-not-present transactions, many don’t. In these instances, crooks would still be able to use your card.

How Are CVV Codes Generated?

According to IBM, CVV codes are generated using an algorithm. The algorithm requires the following information:

  • Primary account number (PAN)
  • Four-digit expiration date
  • Three-digit service code
  • A pair of cryptographically processed keys

Other Names for CVV Codes

Depending on the credit card company and when your card was issued, your security code may go by a different name. Even though there are many different abbreviations, the basic concept remains the same. Below are all the abbreviations and meanings for credit card security codes:

  • CID (Discover and American Express): Card Identification Number
  • CSC (American Express): Card Security Code
  • CVC (Mastercard): Card Verification Code
  • CVC2 (Visa): Card Validation Code 2
  • CVD (Discover): Card Verification Data
  • CVV (All): Card Verification Value
  • CVV2 (Visa): Card Verification Value 2
  • SPC (Uncommon): Signature Panel Code

Credit Card Security Code Precautions

While CVVs offer another layer of security to help protect users, there are still some things to be aware of when making card-not-present transactions.

  • Sign the back of your credit card as soon as you receive it.
  • Keep your CVV number secure. Never give it out unless absolutely necessary—and if you fully trust the person.
  • Review each billing statement to ensure there are no transactions you don’t recognize or didn’t authorize. If there are, contact your financial institution immediately and consider freezing your credit.
Credit card security precautions.

Protecting your identity requires constant vigilance—but emerging technology may have the potential to mitigate some of the risk of credit card fraud.

Shifting CVVs: The Future of Credit Card Safety?

Since chip-enabled cards replaced magnetic stripes, in-person credit card fraud has taken a big dip. Crooks are turning toward online and card-not-present methods of fraud. CVV codes are good at combating this type of fraud—but shifting CVVs, also referred to as dynamic CVVs, may be even better.

The technology works by displaying a temporary CVV code on a small battery-powered screen on the back of the card. The code regularly changes after a set interval of time. This helps thwart fraud because by the time a hacker has illegally obtained a shifting CVV code and tried to make a purchase, it will likely have changed.

Despite the security benefits, shifting CVVs haven’t been widely implemented due to high cost, and it remains to be seen if the technology and process can scale. Financial institutions have many measures in place, such as fraud alert, to notify you of potentially suspicious activity.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call your credit card company, change your passwords and notify any credit bureaus and law enforcement agencies. By regularly checking your credit card statements, being careful about who you give your information to and being vigilant when making purchases, you’ll help do your part in keeping your identity secure.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

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

What Are Bonds – Basics of Investing in Corporate vs. Municipal Bonds

When building a balanced investing portfolio, you’ll want to include bonds in your asset allocation. These assets provide safety and stability, offering relatively slow growth and reliable returns.

As you begin to research which bonds to buy, you’ll realize there are several different types of bonds,  with the two most common being corporate bonds and municipal bonds.

What’s the difference, and what are the pros and cons that come along with investing in each type of bond? Let’s review the basics of bonds and then look at the two types side by side to help you choose which is right for you.

What Are Bonds?

Bonds are a form of fixed-income security known for providing a relatively safe store of value that are often used to offset risk in a well-balanced investment portfolio. Bonds are essentially loans given to the issuer by the investor, making them a debt instrument.

Investors make money by investing in bonds in one of two ways:

  • Coupon Rates. The most common return on investment derived from bonds is known as the coupon rate, or the interest rate on the bond. As with many other types of loans, the investor pays the full face value of the bond upon purchase and receives interest payments until the maturity date of the bond, at which point their initial investment is returned to them.
  • Premium. In some cases, bonds can be purchased at a discount to their face value. When the bond matures, the investor receives the full face value of the asset, providing a return on investment. For example, an investor may purchase a $1,000 bond for $950. Once the bond matures, the full $1,000 is repaid, leaving the investor with $50 in profits.

What Are Municipal Bonds?

Municipal bonds are commonly referred to as muni bonds, or simply munis. These bonds are issued by local governments, generally on the state or county level, and should not be confused with Treasury bonds, which are issued on a federal level and backed by the full faith and security of the U.S. federal government.

There are two common types of munis on the market today:

  1. Revenue Bonds. Revenue bonds are bonds issued by a municipality that are backed by the revenue generated from a specific project. For example, local municipal governments often issue water and sewer bonds, which are paid back with the revenue collected by the local government for the provision of clean drinking water and sewage services to residents within the locality.
  2. General Obligation Bonds. General obligation bonds aren’t backed by any project revenue. Instead, they’re backed by the taxing authority of the issuers at hand and paid back with tax dollars paid for local income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, or any other tax revenue received by the local authorities that issued the muni.

What Are Corporate Bonds?

Rather than being issued by a local, state, or federal government, these bonds are debt instruments issued by corporations; they act as loans made from the bondholder to the corporation that issued the security. There are different categories of corporate bonds, including:

  • Collateral Trust Bonds. Collateral trust bonds use collateral other than real estate to secure the bond. For example, a company may secure bond issues with shares of stock, bonds, or other securities.
  • Debenture Bonds. Debenture bonds are corporate bonds that aren’t secured by any collateral. These bonds are generally issued by corporations with the best credit ratings, because companies with poor credit won’t be able to attract investors to these securities.
  • Convertible Debentures. Convertible bonds give the investor the ability to convert the bond into a specified number of shares at a specified time. For example, a company may sell a convertible bond that may be converted into 25 shares of its common stock after two years. Because these bonds can be converted into common stock, they are generally more attractive to investors, but it’s a tradeoff. These types of bonds generally come with low coupon rates.
  • Guaranteed Bonds. Guaranteed bonds are guaranteed not only by the corporation that issues them, but also by a second company. This greatly reduces the level of risk because another company guarantees to step in and fulfill the obligations of repaying the bond if the original borrower defaults.
  • High-Yield Bonds. High-yield bonds, also known as junk bonds, are bonds that have been rated by rating agencies to be below investment grade. These companies generally have significantly high credit risk and must offer higher yields in order to attract investors.

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.


Key Factors to Consider

There are several factors you should take into account when making a decision to buy either corporate or municipal bonds. Some of the most important of these factors include the quality of the entity issuing the bond, the tax implications, yield, liquidity, and how the money raised through the issuance of the bond will be used.

Here’s how corporate and municipal bonds compare:

Quality of Issuer

One of the first details you should look into before purchasing a bond or any other debt instrument is the quality of the issuer. Bond issuers will have different credit ratings, meaning that when you invest in the securities they’ve made available, you’ll be taking on credit risk.

There are two agencies that provide bond issuer credit ratings: Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Moody’s rating scale ranges from C to AAA, with AAA being the best possible rating. Standard & Poor’s follows a scale ranging from D to AAA, with AAA also being the best possible rating.

Higher ratings mean the bond is generally at lower risk of the issuer defaulting. After all, if the entity that issues the security fails to meet its obligations, those who invest in it stand to lose.

Corporate Bonds Come With Higher Default Rates

Corporate bonds are issued by corporations, and every corporation is different. Some make more money than others, some are managed by better management teams, and some will fulfill their obligations consistently while others fail.

Compared to municipal bonds, instruments issued by corporations come with a higher default risk, making it especially important to pay attention to how rating agencies rate the bond in question before you invest.

The good news is that even corporations rarely default. According to the Corporate Finance Institute, only about 0.13% of corporations that issue a bond will default.

Municipal Bonds Come With Lower Default Risk

Municipal bonds are generally an even safer bet than corporate bonds. According to ETF.com, only about 0.08% of munis end up in default. Because these bonds are issued by local governments, entities known for top-notch credit quality, and generally rated AAA by S&P Global, investors can rest assured that they will be paid as agreed in the vast majority of cases.

Tax Implications

Any time you make money — whether from a side hustle, income from your day job, or investment returns — you typically have to pay taxes. However, not all income is taxed equally. Here are the tax implications you’ll need to consider when deciding whether to invest in corporate or municipal bonds.

How Corporate Bonds Are Taxed

Bonds issued by corporations are often called taxable bonds because earnings generated through these investments will be susceptible to both federal income tax and state income tax at the general income tax rate. The exact rate you’ll pay on your returns depends on your tax bracket.

How Municipal Bonds Are Taxed

Gains generated through investments in municipal bonds are always tax exempt on the federal level and are often tax free on the state level as well. The tax exemption is essentially a “thank you” from both federal and local governments for using your investment dollars to invest in projects that support your community.

While in the vast majority of instances, munis are exempt from state and local taxes, there are some cases in which this is not true. For example, if you purchase a municipal bond offered by a municipality other than the one in which you reside, your local authorities may choose to tax returns on that bond at the standard local income tax rate.

For example, if you live in New York City and you invest in a municipal bond issued by a government body in Florida New York City may charge you its normal local tax rate on the returns generated through that investment.

Yields

Returns on bonds are known as yields, and they vary wildly from one to another depending on the credit of the issuing entity, the maturity date of the bond, and other factors.

Generally speaking, here’s how yields compare between corporate and municipal bonds:

Corporate Bonds Generally Have Higher Yields

Local governments are highly trusted entities that are known for maintaining excellent credit. On the other hand, corporations will vary wildly in financial strength and creditworthiness.

Because corporations are usually less creditworthy than governments, bonds issued by corporations generally offer higher interest rates. After all, if the yields on corporate bonds were the same as the yields on government bonds, nobody would lend to riskier corporations. Who would want to buy a bond from a corporation when the same returns can be generated by investing in lower-risk munis?

Munis Provide Small Gains

Bonds issued by the government come with a lower default risk and therefore are the safer option for investors. However, when investing, safer options generally provide lower returns, and municipal bonds are no exception.

The extremely low default risk is considered in the pricing of these bonds, resulting in lower interest rates, smaller interest payments, and lower overall returns.

That is, until you account for taxes. For example, a high income earner may find that investing in municipal bonds is a better fit because they are exempt from state and federal taxes. By contrast, much of the returns on corporate bonds would be erased by taxes for an investor in the highest tax bracket.

Liquidity

Liquidity should always be a consideration for investors, whether they’re investing in bonds or any other asset. Liquidity refers to the ease or difficulty of converting an investment back into cash if desired.

Investors will find it difficult to convert bonds with low levels of liquidity into cash prior to their maturity dates, while bonds with high levels of liquidity are easy to offload and turn into spendable money on demand.

Corporate Bonds Are Often Less Liquid

While any form of bond can be sold on a secondary market, for a bond to be sold, there must be a buyer. In some cases, investments in high-risk bonds and other bonds issued by corporations may become illiquid if no other investors are interested in purchasing them.

Moreover, bond liquidity decreases in general in times of economic and market positivity. During bull markets, investors tend not to want their money tied up in fixed-income assets, instead focusing on the larger potential for returns offered by stocks.

Municipal Bonds Are Highly Liquid

The municipal bond market is very active, with these bonds often being easier to offload than bonds issued by corporations. That’s because muni bonds are issued by entities that are all but guaranteed to cover their obligations while providing tax benefits, making them attractive investments for high income earners.

How Funds Are Used

Investors are becoming increasingly concerned with the way in which their investments are spent. In fact, there’s an entire movement surrounding social impact investing, or investing in assets that use your funds to make an impact for causes you care about.

So, how exactly is your money spent when you invest in these two different types of bonds?

How Corporations Use Money Raised Through Bond Sales

Corporations may be looking to raise money for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common are:

  • Working Capital. It costs money to make money, and running a business can be a very expensive endeavor. In some cases, corporations will have their money tied up in inventory, new equipment, and other assets necessary to keep it moving in the right direction and need working capital for general purposes. Companies can issue bonds as a way to raise cash for their operational needs today by promising to repay investors in the future.
  • Acquisitions. Companies often acquire one another, merging two companies into one in transactions where the sum of all parts has a greater value than the original assets. However, acquisitions are expensive business, and corporations often need additional funding to execute merger and acquisition agreements.
  • Research. Research and development are major expenses for just about every publicly traded company on the market today. In some cases, corporations will issue bonds in order to fund this research.

How Municipalities Use Money Raised Through Bond Sales

The vast majority of bonds issued by government agencies are issued to fund public projects.

For example, when a major thoroughfare is riddled with potholes or your county’s library is in need of repair, governments often issue bonds in order to cover the costs associated with these projects. Governments can repay investors either through revenue generated by the project they fund or through tax revenues.


The Verdict: Should You Choose Corporate or Municipal Bonds?

As you can see above, there are several reasons to invest in both types of bonds, with each having its own list of pros and cons. As with any other investment vehicle, each type of bond will be suitable for different investors with different goals.

You Should Invest In Corporate Bonds If…

Bonds issued by corporations are best suited for bond investors who have a relatively low income tax burden and are looking to generate larger gains out of their safe-haven investments. These bonds are best suited for investors who:

  • Are In a Low Tax Bracket. Returns from bonds issued by corporations are taxed at the standard income tax rate, which varies wildly depending on the amount of money you earn on a regular basis. As your tax rate increases, bonds issued by corporations become less attractive than tax-exempt munis.
  • Are Willing to Accept Higher Levels of Risk. Based on historical default rates, corporations are nearly twice as likely to default on bond obligations than governments. As a result, corporate bond investors should be comfortable with a higher level of risk.
  • Want to Generate Larger Returns. Due to the higher risk associated with bonds issued by publicly traded companies, these bonds come with higher yields than bonds issued by governments.

You Should Invest In Municipal Bonds If…

Municipal bonds are worth considering if you’re an investor with a generally low risk tolerance, you’re a high income earner and tax implications mean quite a bit to you, or you’re interested in funding public projects with your safe-haven investing dollars. These bonds are best suited for you if:

  • You’re In a High Tax Bracket. High-income earners are taxed at a higher rate. Because bonds issued by the government are generally tax-free investments, they are well suited for investors who have a relatively high tax burden, acting not only as safe havens, but also tax havens.
  • You Have a Low Risk Tolerance. Municipal bonds are about as safe as investments come. Most local governments have never defaulted and enjoy a high credit rating; investments in these entities are very unlikely to result in default.
  • You’re Looking For a Store of Value. Investments in bonds issued by the government are a great store of value, which is what makes them so attractive as safe-haven investments. Even in times of economic concern, these bonds are known to generate returns rather than losses.
  • You’re Interested in Funding Public Projects. Government bonds are used to fund public projects that improve conditions for the community around you. Not only are these investments capable of generating returns and stability, there’s a feel-good effect involved in making these investments.

Both Are Great If…

If you aren’t in the uppermost income tax brackets, have a moderate tolerance for risk, and are looking to generate greater diversification across your safe-haven investments, you might invest in a mix of corporate and municipal bonds. This approach offers you a balance of the larger gains from corporate bonds and the tax benefits from munis. Investors who would benefit most from a mix between the two:

  • Want Higher Returns While Minimizing Tax Burden. By investing in both types of bonds, you’ll reduce your tax burden compared to corporate bond investments alone while enjoying higher earnings potential than provided by municipal bond investments alone.
  • Have a Moderate Tolerance for Risk. Bonds in general — with the exception of junk bonds — are relatively safe investments. However, some assets within the class are safer than others. Mixing corporate investments into your portfolio of municipal investments will lead to a slight increase in the overall risk level across your portfolio. As an investor, you’ll have to be comfortable with that added risk in exchange for the greater returns.
  • Want High Levels of Diversification. Diversification helps to reduce risk across investment portfolios. By investing in multiple assets across multiple categories, investors don’t have to fear detrimental declines should one, or even a handful, of these assets experience losses.

Final Word

Deciding between corporate and municipal bonds is a decision that should be based on your comfort with risk and your needs for yield and liquidity from your safe-haven investments

It’s also important to consider your returns from a tax perspective. Compare the yields on bonds issued by corporations to those on available munis to make sure the increased returns aren’t outweighed by the taxes you’d pay on your gains.

As is always the case, investors should take the time to research the bonds they’re investing in, considering historic returns, the issuer of the bond, and where the money they’re investing is going. By doing your research before making your investment, you’ll rest assured that they fall in line with your goals.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Understanding Single-Family Home HOAs

Before you buy a home in an HOA-governed community, make sure you review the rules thoroughly.

What does HOA mean?

HOA means homeowners association. It can also be referred to as HOD or Home Owners Dues. HOAs can exist in planned housing developments, town homes, and condos. It is generally billed on a monthly basis.

Most people think of homeowners associations (HOAs), legally known as Common Interest Developments, as related to attached housing structures like condominiums or town homes. But this is not always the case.

Around the 1980s, developers started building communities of single-family homes that were actually Common Interest Developments. These communities came with their own sets of rules, regulations and HOA fees.

The reason builders starting developing communities in the HOAs structure was to maintain order and the aesthetics of a community. Their rules keep home paint colors and front yards in harmony, restrict building additions that don’t fit into the neighborhood, and stop owners from parking broken-down vehicles in their driveways or front yards. Such regulations assure new and existing owners that a neighbor’s behavior and choices will not diminish property values.

But they also mean that you must follow the rules yourself, and typically contribute monthly fees to manage and run the HOA for the benefit of all owners. When residents violate these rules — which can cause stress for other owners and hurt property values– the HOA will typically step in and enforce them with violation notices, fines and possibly litigation, if the issue gets that far.

The root of the issue

Often, the problem is not the rules, it’s that people don’t read the rules and regulations before they buy into a community, and then they violate the rules. But ignorance is no excuse — those rules are recorded on the property title, and likely given to every buyer to review before they purchase a home in a standard transaction. Owners are still bound by those rules whether they received and read them or not.

If you are buying into an HOA-governed community, be sure to read the rules and regulations before you buy. Once you’ve read them, if you don’t like them, then you should avoid buying a property in that community.

What if you already own in an HOA, and don’t like the rules or how the elected HOA board of directors interprets and enforces them? Luckily, an HOA is a democracy and the owners can vote out the board of directors and change the rules!

Any member-owner can try to get elected to the board and change the regulations. They just have to get enough other community members to support their opinion and vision for the community.

Unfortunately, most community members never go to a board meeting and never get involved. They just complain about the board — who are all volunteers, by the way — and complain about HOA fees, rules, and special assessments, etc.

If you are one of those owners who doesn’t like the rules, then get involved and take the time to campaign in your community, get on the board, and change the regulations.

Do Renters Pay HOA Dues?

“The landlord cannot force you to pay the HOA unless that is what is required in the lease. If it is part of the lease, then you have to pay. If not, you don’t, but the owner may decide to find another tenant when the lease is up.

If the HOA is not doing their job in clearing snow, I would write them a letter and send copy to the landlord. You are not the owner so they may not listen, but it gives you proof of the issue and may prompt the owner to act.”

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com