What Can You Use Student Loans For?

To attend college these days, many students take out student loans. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to afford the hefty price tag of tuition and other expenses.

According to U.S. News & World Report, among the college graduates from the class of 2020 who took out student loans, the average amount borrowed was $29,927. In 2010, that number was $24,937 — a difference of about $5,000.

Student loans are meant to be used to pay for your education and related expenses so that you can earn a college degree. Even if you have access to student loan money, it doesn’t mean you should use it on general living expenses. By learning the answer to, “What can you use a student loan for?” you will make better use of your money and ensure you’re in a more stable financial situation post-graduation.

Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

5 Things You Can Use Your Student Loans to Pay For

Here are five things you can spend your student loan funds on.

1. Your Tuition and Fees

Of course, the first thing your student loans are intended to cover is your college tuition and fees. The average college tuition and fees for a private institution in 2021-2022 is $38,185, while the average for a public, out-of-state school is $22,698 and $10,338 for a public, in-state institution.

2. Books and Supplies

Beyond tuition and fees, student loans can be used to purchase your textbooks and supplies, such as a laptop, notebooks and pens, and a backpack. Keep in mind that you may be able to save money by purchasing used textbooks online or at your campus bookstore. Hard copy textbooks cost, on average, between $80 and $150; you may be able to find used ones for a fraction of the price. Some students may find that renting textbooks may also be a cost-saving option.

Recommended: How to Pay for College Textbooks

3. Housing Costs

Your student loans can be used to pay for your housing costs, whether you live in a dormitory or off-campus. If you do live off-campus, you can also put your loans towards paying for related expenses like your utilities bill. Compare the costs of on-campus vs. off-campus housing, and consider getting a roommate to help you cover the costs of living off-campus.

4. Transportation

If you have a car on campus or you need to take public transportation to get to school, work, or your internships, then you can use your student loans to pay for those costs. Even if you have a car, you may want to consider leaving it at home when you go away to school, because gas, maintenance, and a parking pass could end up costing much more than using public transportation and your school’s shuttle, which should be free.

5. Food

What else can you use student loans for? Food would qualify as a valid expense, whether you’re cooking meals at home or you’ve signed up for a meal plan. This doesn’t mean you should eat out at fancy restaurants all the time just because the money is there. Instead, you could save by cooking at home, splitting food costs with a roommate, and asking if local establishments have discounts for college students.

Recommended: How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt: 6 Options

5 Things Your Student Loans Should Not Cover

Now that you know what student loans can be used for, you’re likely wondering what they should not be used for as well. Here are five expenses that cannot be covered with funds from your student loans.

1. Entertainment

While you love to do things like go to the movies and concerts and bowling, you should not use your student loans to pay for your entertainment. Your campus likely offers plenty of free and low-cost entertainment like sports games and movie nights, so pursue those opportunities instead.

2. A Vacation

College is draining, and you deserve a vacation from the stress every once in a while. However, if you can’t afford to go on spring break or another type of trip, then you should put it off at this time. It’s never a good idea to use your student loans to cover these expenses.

3. Gym Membership

You may have belonged to a gym at home before you went to college, and you still want to keep up your membership there. You can, as long as you don’t use your student loans to cover it. Many colleges and universities have a gym or fitness center on campus that is available to students and included in the cost of tuition.

4. A New Car

Even if you need a new car, student loans cannot be used to buy a new set of wheels. Consider taking public transportation instead of buying a modest used car when you save up enough money.

5. Extra Food Costs

While you and your roommates may love pizza, it’s not a good idea to use your student loan money to cover that cost. You also shouldn’t take your family out to eat or dine out too much with that borrowed money. Stick to eating at home or in the dining hall, and only going out to eat every once in a while with your own money.

Student Loan Spending Rules

The federal code that applies to the misuse of student loan money is clear. Any person who “knowingly and willfully” misapplied funds could face a fine or imprisonment.

Your student loan refund — what’s left after your scholarships, grants, and loans are applied toward tuition, campus housing, fees, and other direct charges — isn’t money that’s meant to be spent willy-nilly. It’s meant for education-related expenses.

The amount of financial aid a student receives is based largely on each academic institution’s calculated “cost of attendance,” which may include factors like your financial need and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your cost of attendance minus your EFC generally helps determine how much need-based aid you’re eligible for. Eligibility for non-need-based financial aid is determined by subtracting all of the aid you’ve already received from your cost of attendance.

Starting for the 2024-2025 school year, the EFC will be replaced with the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI will work similarly to the EFC though there will be some important changes such as adjustments in Pell Grant eligibility.

Additionally, when you took out a student loan, you probably signed a promissory note that outlined what you’re supposed to be spending your loan money on. Those restrictions may vary depending on what kind of loan you received — federal or private, subsidized or unsubsidized. If the restrictions weren’t clear, it’s not a bad idea to ask your lender, “What can I use my student loan for?”

If you’re interested in adjusting loan terms or securing a new interest rate, you could consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi. Refinancing can allow qualifying borrowers to secure a lower interest rate or preferable terms, which could potentially save them money over the long run. Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from all federal borrower benefits and protections, inducing deferment options and the ability to pursue public service loan forgiveness, so it’s not the right choice for all borrowers.

The Takeaway

Student loans can be used to pay for qualifying educational expenses like tuition and fees, room and board, and supplies like books, pens, a laptop, and a backpack. Expenses like entertainment, vacations, cars, and fancy dinners cannot generally be paid for using student loans.

If you have student loans and are interested in securing a new — potentially lower — interest rate, consider refinancing.

There are no fees to refinance a student loan with SoFi and potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

Learn more about student loan refinancing with SoFi.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
External Websites: 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.
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

Stock Market Today: New COVID Strain Sinks Stocks in Short Session

Thought you were in for a quiet day of post-Thanksgiving trading?

Sorry, just the opposite as stocks spiraled downward in today’s abbreviated session.

The reason? A new strain of COVID-19 – B.1.1.529, which was assigned the Greek letter “Omicron” by the World Health Organization (WHO) – that possesses several mutations and was identified recently in Africa, with cases detected in Hong Kong and Europe as well.

“The new COVID variant has dominated attention and led to a sharp selloff among risk assets this morning, and will be closely followed just as a number of countries have moved to tighten up restrictions and even enter lockdowns once again,” says Jonathan Jayarajan, research analyst at Deutsche Bank.

Sign up for Kiplinger’s FREE Investing Weekly e-letter for stock, ETF and mutual fund recommendations, and other investing advice.

Not much is known about this new strain, but several countries have already restricted travel to and from South Africa, including the U.K., France, Germany and Singapore, and the WHO scheduled an emergency meeting Friday where they labeled it a “variant of concern.”

When the closing bell mercifully rang during this sell-first, ask-questions-later session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.5% at 34,899 – its worst day of the year – the S&P 500 Index was off 2.3% at 4,594 and the Nasdaq Composite was 2.2% lower at 15,491.

But it wasn’t just stocks that got hit. Oil prices were down 13.1% to $68.15 per barrel – their lowest settlement since mid-September.

stock price chart 112621stock price chart 112621

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 plummeted 3.7% to 2,245.
  • Gold futures eked out a marginal gain to settle at $1,785.50 an ounce.
  • Bitcoin wasn’t spared from the selling, sinking 5.6% to $54,256.53. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 1 p.m.)
  • Amid today’s COVID-induced broad-market plunge, traditional reopening plays sold off. Airlines and cruise stocks were among the hardest hit, with names like American Airlines (AAL, -8.8%), Delta Air Lines (DAL, -8.3%), Carnival (CCL, -11.0%) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH, -11.4%) all ending sharply in the red.
  • On the flip side, several vaccine makers and stay-at home stocks got a bid. Pfizer (PFE, +6.1%), BioNTech (BNTX, +14.2%), Peloton Interactive (PTON, +5.7%) and Zoom Video Communications (ZM, +5.7%) were some of the day’s biggest gainers.

Don’t Panic

Yes, uncertainty around the new strain is spooking global investors and comes “on the heels of markets beginning to price in a faster pace of policy tightening [from the U.S. Federal Reserve],” say analysts at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute (WFII).

And both of these events occur ahead of a debt-ceiling debate that is about to ramp up again on Capitol Hill (the stopgap bill passed by Congress in late September only runs through Dec. 3) – which could exacerbate volatility.

Still, WFII’s analysts note that “the global economy continues to be on solid ground, and fiscal and monetary policy remain supportive, despite some deceleration.” As such, they recommend looking past these short-term concerns and taking advantage of the pullback in stocks by buying equities.

While they highlight financials and technology as two of their preferred sectors, we also recommend dividend-paying stocks, which can help investors ride out market volatility with a bit less stress.

Dividend stocks come in a range of flavors, whether it be with those that pay shareholders on a monthly basis or with those that are boosting their dividends by a substantial amount. Here, we’ve compiled a list of companies that appear to be in their prime dividend-growth days and have announced income increases of between 100% and 650% this year.

Source: kiplinger.com

9 Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

For most people, buying a home is the biggest purchase decision of a lifetime. In fact, it’s one of the biggest decisions, period. 

Your mortgage is probably the largest debt you’ll ever take on, and taking care of a house is one of the largest responsibilities. Next to getting married or having children, it’s hard to think of anything that will have a greater impact on your life. 

With so much at stake, it makes sense to learn as much as possible about the process before you take the plunge. You can find lots of articles about home buying online, of course, just like any other subject. But for a really in-depth take on the topic, you can’t beat a good book.

Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

There are literally hundreds of books on home buying, covering the subject from every possible angle. Some real estate books provide a walk-through of the whole process. Some focus on the legal details. And some are all about getting the best deal on a mortgage.

With so many books to choose from, how do you find one that’s useful for you? To get started, look at what books other people have found most helpful. The books on this list all get good reviews from finance professionals, as well as ordinary homeowners.


1. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” by Eric Tyson & Ray Brown 

All the books in the “Dummies” series explain complex topics — from computer languages to sports — to people who know nothing about them. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” takes the same approach. It covers all the basics of buying a home in an easy-to-digest form.

This comprehensive guide covers every step of the home-buying process, including:

The book is ideal for first-time home buyers because it assumes no prior knowledge. It’s all in plain English, with no fancy lingo. You can read it from cover to cover or dip into it as needed to learn about specific topics.

To aid reading, the pages are peppered with icons marking key points. These include a light bulb for tips, a warning sign for pitfalls to avoid, and a deerstalker cap for topics to research on your own. They make it easy to spot important info at a glance.


2. “Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” by Nancy Conner 

The “Missing Manuals” series deals mostly with computer software and hardware. But it’s branched out into finance, another subject that ought to come with instructions. In this volume, Conner, a real estate investor, walks you through the home-buying process from start to finish.

“Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” is a step-by step guide to all the ins and outs of home buying. Its includes chapters on:

  • Choosing a real estate agent, mortgage lender, and lawyer
  • Choosing the right neighborhood
  • Finding your dream home 
  • Figuring out how much to offer on a house 
  • Financing your down payment
  • Comparing mortgages
  • Inspections
  • Closing costs

And it does all this with simple language and handy, bite-size chunks of information. Fill-in forms throughout the book help you apply the author’s expert advice to your specific situation.


3. “NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” by Ilona Bray J.D., Alayna Schroeder & Marcia Stewart 

The legal website NOLO is the top place to find legal advice online. Along with its free articles, the site offers an array of do-it-yourself forms, books, and software. This walk-through guide to homebuying is just one example.

“NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” covers most of the same topics as the Dummies and Missing Manual books, but from a different angle. It focuses on all the legal ins and outs of the home-buying process.

Although three attorneys wrote this book, it doesn’t rely on their knowledge alone. It draws on the knowledge of 15 other real estate professionals, including Realtors, loan officers, investors, home inspectors, and landlords. It’s like having your own private team of experts. For example:

  • A real estate agent offers tips on how to dress for an open house. 
  • A mortgage broker explains the risks of oral loan preapprovals. 
  • A closing expert discusses the importance of title insurance. 

Along with the expert advice, the book provides real-world stories from over 20 first-time home-buyers. Their experiences let you preview the process before jumping in yourself.


4. “Home Buyer’s Checklist: Everything You Need to Know — But Forgot to Ask — Before You Buy a Home” by Robert Irwin 

Every home-buying guide talks about the need for a home inspection. However, there are many problems home inspectors don’t always look for. The only way to detect them is to ask the right questions. In “Home Buyer’s Checklist,” Robert Irwin tells you what those questions are.

Irwin is a real estate professional with over three decades of experience. He knows all about the hidden flaws in homes and how to track them down. Irwin walks you through a house room by room and points out possible problem areas, such as:

  • Doors and door frames
  • Windows and window screens
  • Fireplaces
  • Light fixtures
  • Floors
  • Woodwork
  • Attic insulation

For each area, he notes possible problems and how to spot them. He also explains what they cost to fix and what damage they can cause if you don’t fix them. And he helps you use that information to your advantage in negotiating the price of the house.

Armed with this information, you can avoid unpleasant surprises when you move into your new home. It won’t make your house’s problems go away, but it will prepare you to deal with them — and keep the money in your pocket to do it.


5. “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)” by Gary Eldred

To first-time homebuyers, the real estate market is a big, confusing place. In “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them),” Gary Eldred offers you a map to help you find your way around.

Eldred’s guide draws on the real-world experiences of homebuyers, home builders, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders. They shed light on the mistakes homebuyers make most often, such as:

  • Believing everything a real estate agent says
  • Underestimating the cost of owning a home
  • Buying in an upscale neighborhood that’s on the decline
  • Paying too much for a house
  • Letting your agent handle the price negotiations
  • Staying out of the housing market due to fear

With the help of Eldred’s examples, you can avoid these pitfalls and find a house that’s both a comfortable home and a sound investment.


6. “No Nonsense Real Estate: What Everyone Should Know Before Buying or Selling a Home” by Alex Goldstein 

As both a Realtor and a real estate investor, Alex Goldstein has been on both sides of a real estate transaction. This gives him a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the home buying process.

In “No Nonsense Real Estate,” Goldstein puts that experience to work for you. He offers a step-by-step guide to the home buying process in language a first time home buyer can easily understand. This comprehensive guide covers:

  • The economics of the housing market in simple terms
  • The pros and cons of working with a real estate agent
  • What to look for in a home
  • Assembling a real estate team
  • Types of homes, such as single-family homes, condos, and co-ops
  • Traditional home loans and non-bank financing
  • Tips for sellers to get the best price on a home
  • The five elements of a successful real estate negotiation
  • Real estate contracts and closing costs
  • The eight steps of a real estate closing
  • The basics of real estate investing
  • A real-world case study of a home purchase
  • A list of frequently asked questions
  • A glossary of real estate terms

As a bonus, all buyers of the book gain access to a library of training videos and materials. They can help you find a real estate agent in your area, evaluate investment properties, and more.


7. “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” by Jack Guttentag

One of the most intimidating parts of buying your first home is getting your first mortgage. Not only is it likely the biggest loan you’ve ever taken out, there are dozens of options to consider. And the jargon loan officers use, from “escrow” to “points,” doesn’t make it any easier.

Jack Guttentag’s “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” offers a solution. The author, a former professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tells you everything you need to know about how mortgages work and what your options are. The book includes:

  • A glossary of mortgage terms, from “A-credit” to “Zillow mortgage”
  • Advice on nitty-gritty issues such as the risks of cosigning a loan and the pros and cons of paying points versus making a larger down payment 
  • The lowdown on common mortgage myths, traps, and hidden costs to avoid
  • At-a-glance tables on topics like affordability and interest costs for fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages

For first-time homebuyers grappling with the details of choosing and signing a mortgage, it’s a must-read.


8. “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye” by Elysia Stobbe 

Another book that focuses on mortgages is “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye.” As the whimsical title suggests, mortgage expert Elysia Stobbe understands how frustrating the mortgage approval process can be. 

To keep you sane, she helps break the process down into bite-sized chunks of info that are easy to manage. Her guide walks you through such details as types of mortgages, loan programs, interest rates, mortgage insurance, and fees. 

Stobbe explains how to find the right lender, choose the best real estate agent to handle negotiations, and find an appropriate type of loan. She also devotes a lot of space to mistakes you should avoid. And she supports it all with interviews with top real estate professionals.


Buying a home is such a huge, complicated process that it’s often hard to figure out where to start. In “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask,” Ilyce R. Glink addresses this problem by breaking the process down into a series of questions.

This approach makes it easy to find the information you want. Look through the table of contents to find the question that’s on your mind, then flip to the right page to see the answer. Glink tackles questions on all aspects of home buying, such as:

  • Should I buy a home or continue to rent?
  • How much can I afford to spend?
  • Is a new construction home better than an existing home?
  • What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a broker?
  • Where should I start looking for my dream home?
  • What should I look for at a house showing?
  • How does my credit score affect my chance of getting a mortgage?
  • How do I make an offer on a home?
  • Do I need a home inspection?
  • What happens at the closing?

Glink combines advice from top brokers, real-world stories, and her own experience to provide solid answers to all these questions. And she wraps it up with three appendices covering mistakes to avoid and simple steps to make the home-buying process easier.


Final Word

All the books on this list offer a good grounding in the basics of home buying. But if you’re looking for more details on any part of the process, there’s sure to be a book for that too.

You can find books on just about every aspect of home buying. There are books on every stage of the process, from raising cash for a down payment to preparing for your closing. There are books about home buying just for single people and books on buying a home as an investment.

And once you move into your new home, there are more books to help you organize it, decorate it, and keep it in repair. Just search for the topic that interests you at Amazon, a local bookstore, or your local public library.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

Make Your Own DIY Wrapping Paper This Christmas

Each gift you give is unique and you should wrap them as such.

When it comes time to wrap Christmas gifts, finding the perfect wrapping paper is a little difficult. You want to wrap your gifts for your friends nicely, but you don’t want them to look like every other present out there. Just like all of your Christmas decorations, you want your gift wrappings to have a personality to them. To add your own flair to each gift you give this holiday season, make your own DIY Christmas wrapping paper. Here’s how you can get started making your own one-of-a-kind gift wrapping.

Materials

Before you begin, you’ll need to gather your materials. You’ll definitely need paper, but there are other optional materials you’ll want to consider for your DIY Christmas wrapping paper.

Roll of butcher paper

Roll of butcher paper

Paper

Decide on what paper you want to use. If you want to make a roll of wrapping paper, you’ll want to get butcher paper or a roll of craft or art paper. Art and craft paper can come in many different colors, so you choose what you like.

You can also use other paper, depending on the size of the gift. Newspaper works well for medium-sized gifts and printer or construction paper can do the trick for smaller presents.

Other optional items

You can really use anything you want to decorate your wrapping paper. Consider some of these to bring your paper to life:

  • Paint and paintbrushes
  • Ink pads and stamps
  • Craft foam
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Glitter
  • Sequins
  • Glue/glitter glue
  • Stencils
  • Stickers
  • Ribbon/string

Once you’ve gathered all of the materials you want to use, start making your own DIY Christmas wrapping paper!

Ways to make Christmas wrapping paper

Making your own wrapping paper really comes down to your own preferences and creativity. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Newspaper and watercolor

Grab some plain newspaper and watercolor paints. Using red, green and white watercolors and a large paintbrush, create large patches of each color on the newspaper, letting the paints blend together on the edges. This makes for a unique vintage-style wrapping paper.

Painting paper

Painting paper

Freehanded paint design

If you’re comfortable with it, you can freehand designs with paint. Cut off a piece of butcher paper, then use some paint and a paintbrush to paint a pattern or design. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as you want! Some Christmas designs you can paint, no matter your skill level, are a Christmas tree, leaves and holly berries, ornaments, stockings and candy canes.

Markers and stencils

Simply set your stencil on your paper, then use markers to fill it in. There are many ways you can lay out your stencil, whether you want individual designs that are large or a continuous pattern of something small.

Stamps and paint

Stamps and paint

Stamps and paint

Paint and stamps make for a quick and easy wrapping paper. Grab a stamp you can use with paint or make your own using craft foam or even a potato. Put some paint in a flat container or on a plate and dip your stamp into it. Then, stamp away! You can usually dip it once and stamp it a few times before needing to reload it with paint.

Painted handprint reindeer

This is great to involve the kids with. Put some brown paint in a pie tin or on a paper plate. Dip a tiny hand in the paint palm-down, making sure to cover the entire palm and all of the fingers (you may need to use a paintbrush to get it all covered). Use the hand like a stamp and place it on the paper. Next, grab a paintbrush and paint lines from the fingers to look like antlers. Add some eyes and a red nose on the palm to make the face. Voila! You’ve got a reindeer. Repeat as many times as you want across the wrapping paper.

Ink stamp

Ink stamp

Inked stamps

If you’d rather have designs or patterns that have finer lines, rubber stamps and ink are a good option. Grab a few different colors of ink pads and some of your favorite Christmas stamps. Then simply choose your favorite stamp designs and ink colors, and stamp them onto your paper!

Glitter snowflakes

If you want to add some sparkle and shimmer to your wrapping paper, you can make glitter snowflakes (or really any design). Use glue to draw out snowflakes or your desired design. Immediately after drawing a design, sprinkle glitter over the glue and wait for the glue to dry. Once dry, dump the excess glitter into a container to reuse. If you don’t want to worry about making a mess with glitter, there’s also the option of using glitter glue to make the designs, then letting it dry.

Colored paper cutouts

To add a little more texture and clean lines to your wrapping paper, you can add paper cutouts to it. Choose a few colors of construction paper and cut out designs. Glue the cutouts onto the wrapping paper

Additional items

Wrapping paper isn’t the only thing that can make gifts look great. Using a combination of ribbons, string and other additional pieces to decorate your wrapped presents can make them look festive and unique.

Foliage on present

Foliage on present

Plant foliage

Add small branches from evergreen trees such as fir, pine or spruce to give your packages a wintery feel. You can also grab some holly and tie it to your wrapped present for another Christmas-related decoration.

Ribbon and string

Accompany your handmade wrapping paper with matching ribbon or string. You can find a wide ribbon for large packages and tie elaborate bows or you can use thin, string-like twine to tie around gifts.

Mini ornaments

Mini ornaments

Miniature ornaments

Find small ornaments you can tie onto the gift with string or ribbon. There are plenty of different designs to choose from that will match any type of wrapping paper.

Gift tags

Cut out gift tags from construction paper. Either punch a hole in one side and tie it onto your package or use double-sided tape to attach it to the wrapping paper. You can also decorate the tags with paint, markers, stamps, etc.

Start wrapping!

Now that you’ve got some ideas for DIY Christmas wrapping paper, it’s time to get to work! Whether you’re making your own gifts or buying the perfect present, you can use your own creativity to make wrapping paper that represents how much you care about the people you’re giving presents to. Happy wrapping!

Source: rent.com

23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but you live in an area that doesn’t get any snow, you can use spray snow to make your winter wonderland dreams come true. You can spray artificial snow on your windows to create a frosted look or spray your front door wreath to make it appear to be covered with snowflakes. A can of spray snow costs less than on Amazon.
Dress up your dining table to bring out the joy of the holiday season. Drape your table with a red, green or white tablecloth and fill a vase or tray with seasonal elements, such as pine cones, holly leaves, cranberries, sprigs of pine needles, jingle bells, candy canes or candles.
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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

1. Wall Christmas Trees

Turn empty flower pots into outdoor Christmas decor with just a little paint. You’ll need at least three pots of varying sizes. Paint them white if you want to create a snowman out of your flower pots or green to make a flower pot Christmas tree. Once dried, stack the pots on top of each other upside down and paint additional embellishments, like a face and buttons on your snowman or ornaments and tinsel on your Christmas tree.

2. Get an Artificial Christmas Tree

You can buy boxes of candy canes for cheap at grocery stores or dollar stores around this time of the year. Fill candy dishes full of these red and white striped treats to go on your tablescape, coffee table or end tables. Or hang one or two candy canes on your Christmas tree in place of buying more pricy ornaments.

A woman decorates a tiny Christmas tree.
Getty Images

3. Get a Tiny Tree

The weather’s getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Before you know it, Christmas will be here.

4. Garland

Transform your doors into the biggest presents ever by covering them in wrapping paper. You can use wrapping paper to decorate your interior doors as well as your front door. Add ribbon or a big bow for extra embellishment.

5. DIY Ornaments

Talk about easy Christmas decorations that make your home merry. You can also stack your wrapped present props in an empty corner, by the base of your staircase or on your front porch.

6. Twinkling Lights

Rather than buying an advent calendar this year, make your own. This post from Country Living has several ideas. Come up with whatever little treat, token or message you want to open each day.

7. Window Stickers

Whether you use a kit or make your own gingerbread from scratch, a gingerbread house is a fun holiday project that can double as Christmas decor. Just know it probably won’t last long — so consider this a temporary decoration!

8. Candles

Bundling up on a snowy day to go to the Christmas tree farm and chop down the perfect tree may be a sweet holiday outing, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by opting for an artificial Christmas tree. Now, artificial trees can get pricy themselves, depending on what size and type you choose. However, you can reuse the tree for years to come, rather than having to put it out to the curb when the new year rolls around.

A front door is wrapped in wrapping paper.
Getty Images

9. Decorate Your Doors

Candles are a simple and low-cost way to add a bit of Christmas spirit to a room. You can create a tablescape with red, green, white or gold candles — or set them on the mantle or a wide window ledge. Set battery-operated votive candles inside Mason jars painted in holiday colors for a flame-free decor option.

10. Bells Around Door Knobs

This winter craft doubles as a cheap Christmas decoration. You may be able to make it with items you already have at home: white tube socks, rice, buttons, pins and a scrap of fabric. This post from Darkroom and Dearly tells you exactly how to create them.

11. Decorate With Ribbon

Instead of buying an expensive 7-foot tree, you can save money by getting a much smaller tree that’ll fit on your tabletop. In addition to spending less on the tree, you’ll save on the amount of lights and ornaments you’ll need to decorate it.

12. Wrap Empty Boxes

Dress up your windows with seasonal decals. You can find window stickers of snowflakes, ornaments, gingerbread men and more at the dollar store, craft store and major retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If stored properly, you can even reuse them for next year.

13. Holiday Cards Display

An easy way to light up the outside of your house without needing yards of string lights and a ladder is to use a light projector. You can buy one on Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and similar retailers for under .

14. Make your Own Advent Calendar

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A boy eats a gingerbread house he made.
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15. Gingerbread House

Deck the halls without wrecking your finances. Here are 23 festive ideas for cheap Christmas decorations.

16. Display Your Kids’ Holiday Artwork

A flat Christmas tree hung on the wall is a great space saver and money saver. You can make wall Christmas trees out of a string of lights, garland, a large piece of felt or even Washi tape. Check out this article from Apartment Therapy for ideas. It looks festive with or without a tree topper!

17. Create a Holiday Tablescape

Make your home not only look but sound festive by tying jingle bells to some red or green ribbon and then wrapping them around your door knobs. Whenever someone opens a door, the kiddos in the house will be looking over their shoulders to see if Santa’s coming.

18. Sock Snowmen

While you’re out shopping for gifts, it can be very tempting to add a bunch of holiday decorations to your cart to help get your home looking merry and bright. But the cost of Christmas decorations often gets overlooked when making your holiday budget — and you end up spending way more than you thought you would.

A person decorates their Christmas tree with candy canes.
Getty Images

19. Candy Canes

To avoid that post-holiday regret, consider these low-budget suggestions for decorating for Christmas.

21. Fake Snow in Windows

Forget the store-bought ornaments, and pick up your hot glue gun. Create wonderful holiday memories while crafting ornaments you can hang on your tree or use as decor around the house. See this Good Housekeeping post for over 75 ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments.

22. Flower Pot Decorations

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

23. Light Projector

A string of lights can really spread holiday cheer. To save money, opt for shorter strings of light to cover smaller areas — such as a window or mantle piece, rather than along your gutters or around a 7 foot tree. You can also use a string of lights on a blank stretch of wall in the shape of a star or to spell out “Merry Christmas” in cursive.
You can use ribbon for more than just wrapping presents. Take some thick ribbon in Christmas colors like red, green or gold and use it to make bows to hang on your Christmas tree, your mantle and even on door knobs or drawer pulls. Tie them around a glass vase with a candle inside for a simple Christmas centerpiece. <!–

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Garland is a low-budget Christmas decoration that instantly adds holiday spirit to a room. In addition to stringing garland around your Christmas tree, you can hang strings of garland above your mantle, over your doorways, around your window frames or wrapped around the banister of your staircase. Instead of buying your garland, you can make your own using natural elements like dried citrus and pine cones, construction paper, popcorn or cheap ball ornaments.

New Ways to Invest in Bitcoin

The launch of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) based on bitcoin futures in October was epic. Less than a month after it opened, ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO) had $1.26 billion in assets – one of the biggest ETF debuts ever. A second bitcoin futures fund, Valkyrie Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BTF), opened two days after the ProShares fund.

The bitcoin futures ETFs are actively managed and use similar strategies. The managers buy one-month forward futures contracts – the nearest-dated contract – tied to bitcoin prices. Every month, they close or sell those contracts before they expire and buy new contracts dated for the next month.

You can’t actually invest in bitcoin’s spot price –the price at which an asset can be bought or sold for immediate delivery – says Simeon Hyman, head of investment strategy at ProShares. “So the futures market is a good place to get bitcoin exposure,” he says. Because of the way futures contracts are sold, a certain amount of cash per contract needs to be held in collateral. That’s why these ETFs are heavy in Treasuries and cash.

Both ProShares and Valkyrie examined how their respective futures-based strategies would have performed in the past, relative to the spot price of bitcoin, and found a high correlation – a so-called beta of 0.87 to 0.99 – between the two. For context, S&P 500 index funds typically have a beta of 1.0 with the stock benchmark.

But futures investing comes with some unique risks. Because of how these securities are priced, shifts in supply and demand for the underlying asset – in this case, bitcoin – can impact contract prices and the fund’s returns.

ETFs also have limits on the amount of any given contract they can own, says Steven McClurg, Valkyrie Funds’ chief investment officer. Funds with sizable assets may be forced to purchase longer-dated futures contracts, and that can increase volatility. In early November, for instance, ProShares’ BITO held November and December contracts.

Even so, the ETFs offer an easier way to gain bitcoin exposure than buying the actual cryptocurrency. You don’t have to open a digital currency exchange account or remember any passwords. But if you plan to invest, devote only a small portion of your portfolio to this kind of futures ETF.

There are other ways to gain exposure to bitcoin and blockchain, the technology behind the digital asset. Invesco Alerian Galaxy Crypto Economy ETF (SATO) focuses on companies that enable the crypto economy, such as Canaan (CAN), a Chinese maker of servers and microprocessors used to create bitcoin. Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) has yet another approach: Every share in the trust is backed by bitcoin.

bitcoin etfsbitcoin etfs

Source: kiplinger.com

Seeking Alpha Review – Is the Premium Subscription Worth It?

At a glance

Seeking Alpha Logo

Our rating

  • What It Is: Seeking Alpha is a stock market news and research website that produces more than 10,000 articles per month, designed to give readers investment ideas and tools for evaluating different investments.
  • Membership Fees: Basic, Free; Premium, $29.99 per month or $239.88 annually ($19.99 per month); Pro, $299 per month or $2,388 annually ($199 per month).
  • Pros: Detailed research and opinions from bears and bulls, proprietary rating systems, intuitive stock screener, portfolio monitoring, earnings calls and transcripts, and notable calls from Wall Street experts.
  • Cons: Relatively high monthly fee, many of the premium features can be found free elsewhere, few tools for technical traders, and the vast amount of information can overwhelm newcomers.

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Everything you read when it comes to learning how to invest tells you that research is the foundation of profitable investment choices. One of the best research tools for the fundamental investor is found at SeekingAlpha.com.

Seeking Alpha is an investment research service fueled by more than 7,000 contributors who produce more than 10,000 articles per month, with each having a unique stance on the topics they cover. Investors can benefit quite a bit from the company’s free services, but if you’re willing to pay for the premium service, even more tools are unlocked.

What Is Seeking Alpha?

At its core, Seeking Alpha is a crowdsourcing website that sources valuable investment research through a vast consortium of contributors. Seeking Alpha was designed for individual investors who are interested in choosing individual stocks. 

The vast majority of the content on the website is available for free for the first 10 days after publication. However, if you’re interested in in-depth research, stock screening tools, and proprietary rating systems, you’ll need to sign up for one of the company’s subscription services.


Pricing

There are three different pricing models available.

  1. Basic. The Basic subscription is absolutely free. With this subscription, you’ll gain access to free articles for the first 10 days after their publication as well as some portfolio management tools. For most casual investors who aren’t interested in diving deep into research and fundamental analysis, the Basic subscription is a great fit. 
  2. Premium. The Premium service unlocks all articles on the website regardless of their age. Premium members also get access to a customized news platform, an intuitive stock screener, proprietary Quant ratings, unlimited conference call transcripts, earnings call audio, and exclusive author ratings. In exchange, members agree to pay $29.99 per month or $239.88 paid annually ($19.99 per month). You can also try before you buy with the company’s 14-day free trial. 
  3. Pro. The Pro service comes with a price tag that will turn off most mom-and-pop investors at $299 per month or $2,388 paid annually ($199 per month). Designed for investors who manage large portfolios, the Pro service offers a curated collection of the most in-depth research offered through the platform. 

Key Features

As a research-centric service, the vast majority of key features offered by Seeking Alpha have to do with getting to know the companies you invest in before risking your hard-earned money on them. Some of the most exciting features you’ll gain access to when you sign up include:

Thorough Investment Research

With more than 7,000 contributors offering up more than 10,000 articles per month, you’ll have everything you need to research just about any publicly traded company and make a quality investment decision.

The vast majority of these articles are labeled as investment ideas that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Long Ideas. Long ideas are investment ideas centered around stocks that the authors believe will head up in value in the long term. 
  • IPO Analysis. Initial public offerings, or IPOs, are a hot topic among investors, and tools that help determine whether an IPO is priced fairly and has strong potential to grow in value are invaluable. The IPO analysis offered by Seeking Alpha is one of the best ways to go about analyzing an IPO trade.
  • Quick Picks. Quick picks are articles centered around stocks based on a specific investment theme or fundamental data. 
  • Fund Letters. Fund letters is a curated list of select letters from professionally managed funds to their investors outlining the investing landscape and their goals moving forward. 
  • Editor’s Picks. Editor’s picks are articles that are hand-selected by the editors at Seeking Alpha based on in-depth research, the author’s track record, and other factors.  
  • Stock Ideas by Sector. The Stock Ideas by Sector section of the Seeking Alpha website lets you quickly scan through any sector of the market. 

Beyond the basic search functions of the website and access to all articles regardless of how old they are, Premium members also enjoy a customizable news dashboard that displays articles on stocks and investment strategies they’re interested in first, making combing through the vast sea of content on SeekingAlpha.com far easier. 

Note that although investment ideas are shared on the company’s website, nothing on the site constitutes investment advice. The author couldn’t possibly know your unique goals, financial capabilities, risk tolerance, and other factors that make you, well, you. The platform is designed as a research tool. You should never blindly make an investment just because the title of an article on the platform suggests big gains are ahead. 

Article Sidebar

The article sidebar is a feature that’s only available to Seeking Alpha Premium subscribers, but it alone is worth the subscription fee for many investors. 

When making investment decisions based on what you read online, it’s important to validate the source of the research and ensure the author and the stock are worth following in the first place. The Article Sidebar makes this simple to do at a glance by offering a brief bullish and bearish synopsis of the stock, stock ratings from the authors on the platform, a real-time stock price chart, and ratings for the author who contributed the piece.

Quant Ratings

Technology and computerized trading algorithms have reshaped the investing industry. Today, the market is more active than ever before, and algorithms provide a trove of data on the potential of any investment. 

However, the details offered up by these algorithms are often difficult to understand, and therefore often are ignored by novice investors. 

The good news is that Seeking Alpha offers its readers quant ratings, which algorithmically rate stocks in an easy-to-understand way. These ratings are based on five key factors: value, growth, profitability, EPS revisions, and momentum.

Factor Scorecards

Factor investing has become a popular concept. The idea is that by investing in stocks that come with risk premiums like small-cap, value, growth, and other characteristics, you’ll be able to beat the average market performance in your portfolio. 

When analyzing these factors, Seeking Alpha offers an easy-to-understand score ranging from A+ to F.

  • REIT Scorecard: On scorecards for real estate investment trusts (REITs), Seeking Alpha provides scores based on funds from operations as well as adjusted funds from operations. 
  • Dividend Stock Scorecard: Dividend stocks are a great way to generate income through your investments. The Dividend Stock Scorecard takes various factors into account, considering not only whether the stock pays competitive dividends, but also whether those dividends are sustainable. 

Earnings Call Transcripts & Recordings

Earnings reports are some of the most important events in the stock market. Every quarter, publicly traded companies are required to provide updated financial information, letting investors in on the financial stability and growth prospects for the company. 

Basic members have access to earnings call transcripts, but if you want to listen to the recorded calls, you’ll need to upgrade to a Premium subscription. 

Earnings Estimates & Surprises

Basic members have access to past earnings data from the company’s they’re interested in as well as information on dividends. 

For premium members, the data becomes a bit more intuitive, offering analyst forecasts and earnings surprises, which show the extent to which the company beat or missed earnings expectations in recent quarters. 

Notable Calls

Across Wall Street, there are tons of investment grade funds and investing professionals that manage money for individual investors. These fund managers often provide quarterly letters to their investors outlining the state of the market and how they plan on capitalizing on it in the future. 

The Notable Calls section of the website, only accessible by Premium and Pro members, is a curated list of these quarterly announcements from some of the most well-respected hedge funds and investment-grade funds. 

Intuitive Stock Screener

Stock screeners make it easy to find the types of opportunities you’re looking for in the stock market. It seems as though every investing-centric website offers one. However, the screener offered by Seeking Alpha is one of the best in the business. 

As with any stock screener, you’ll be able to screen opportunities by volume, sector, stock price, and more. However, what’s unique about the Seeking Alpha screener is that it lets you screen stocks based on the company’s proprietary Quant Ratings and Factor Scores. 

So, if you’re looking for a technology stock that has both a high Quant Rating and Factor Score and is experiencing exceptionally high volume, you won’t have any issues digging an opportunity up. 

Personalized Alerts

Personalized alerts are available to all Seeking Alpha subscribers. These alerts come via email, informing you of any news and analyst upgrades or downgrades of the stocks you’re interested in. 

While the service is available to all users, Premium members get all the data in the email they receive, while Basic members must click to the Seeking Alpha website to see the full information associated with the alert. 

Portfolio Monitoring

Investors are able to connect their live investment portfolios to Seeking Alpha and monitor their holdings through the platform. Through the portfolio monitoring service, you’ll be able to track your portfolio and pinpoint the investments that are doing best and worst for you. 

Moreover, when you attach your portfolio, you’ll receive alerts when news and opinion articles are published around a ticker you invest in. Premium members enjoy faster time-to-delivery, ensuring you’re one of the first to see the news on stocks you invest in. 


Advantages

Seeking Alpha is one of the most successful investing-centric websites online today, and that popularity didn’t just happen out of the blue. There are several benefits to taking advantage of the services provided by the company, the most significant being:

1. Investing Ideas

Finding quality investment opportunities is arguably one of the most difficult parts of the investing process. Seeking Alpha is essentially a curated list of the best investment ideas produced by thousands of authors. 

Considering the sheer scale of content produced, you’ll be able to find quality ideas no matter whether your preferred style of investing is growth, value, or income.  

2. Free Services

For many investors, the content available under the Basic membership will provide everything you need to make wise decisions in the stock market.  

3. Proprietary Scores

The proprietary scoring system used by the company to provide at-a-glance information about stocks is second to none. Not only does the company take general fundamental data into account when creating these scores, it adds in a risk premium factor that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

4. Portfolio Monitoring

When managing your own self-directed investment portfolio, monitoring your performance in the market is key. The company makes this simple for both free and paid users, including email alerts when important news is released about a stock you’ve invested in.  


Disadvantages

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to consider signing up for this service. However, as with any rose, there are some thorns to be mindful of before grabbing a fistful and taking a whiff:

1. Not the Best Option for Technical Traders

If you’re a swing trader or day trader who relies heavily on technical analysis, you won’t find much value in the service. The company’s core focus is on providing fundamental data and research, and it leaves most technical data to companies that focus on providing that type of information. 

2. Many Features Are Found Elsewhere Free

While the company does make it easy to access tools in one space, much of what it provides can be found elsewhere for free. For example, there are tons of websites that publish free opinion articles on stocks, and a simple search on Google will provide a list of articles on the stocks you’re interested in. 

Moreover, stock screeners, portfolio monitoring services, and earnings data are all widely available for free online. However, it is worth mentioning that most free services don’t go as far in depth as the tools available at Seeking Alpha. 

3. It’s Expensive

Sure, $29.99 per month doesn’t sound like much, but if you have a beginner investment portfolio that consists of $1,000 in stocks, you’ll have to earn a return of nearly 3% per month just to cover the cost of the service. As such, the Premium service is most worthwhile for investors who have a portfolio value of at least $10,000. 

4. No Buy Recommendations

Seeking Alpha is not an alert service. In fact, the disclaimer on all articles on the website suggest that investors should make their own decisions. There are plenty of services with similar pricing that actually offer alerts, recommending when investors should buy or sell stocks. If you’re looking for an alert service that does so, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  


Final Word

All in all, Seeking Alpha is a great tool for the fundamental investor who takes the time to research what they’re buying before diving into a stock. With so many authors and articles on the platform, investors are able to see stocks they’re interested in from multiple points of view, helping to avoid investing based on a few skewed opinions. 

Moreover, Seeking Alpha is a great add-on service to those who use the Motley Fool Stock Advisor, which gives two trade ideas per month. By cross-referencing the ideas provided through the Motley Fool or another alert service with the in-depth research Seeking Alpha provides, you’ll be able to form educated opinions about whether the recommendations are worth following. 

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The Verdict

Seeking Alpha Logo

Our rating

Seeking Alpha is a valuable research tool for the fundamental investor. While it doesn’t offer much for technical traders and has a relatively high premium membership fee (starting at $29.99 per month), it is a great option for active investors looking to add detailed research to their repertoire of tools.

While there are plenty of benefits for paying subscribers, the service is relatively expensive compared to its competitors, and some premium features can be found elsewhere for free. However, active fundamental investors will benefit greatly from the detailed research and proprietary scoring system Seeking Alpha offers.

Editorial Note:
The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: moneycrashers.com

It Still Pays to Wait to Claim Social Security

Laurence Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and author of Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life. He also developed MaxiFi Planner and Maximize My Social Security—software programs designed to help users raise their living standards by getting the most out of their Social Security benefits.

In its most recent annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees said that if nothing is done, the trust fund will be depleted by 2033, which would mean Social Security would be able to pay out only 76% of promised benefits. What do you say to people who plan to file at age 62—which results in about a 25% cut in benefits—because they’re afraid the program will run out of money? I have run through our software a benefit cut starting in 2031, and you still see a very major gain from waiting to collect. But I don’t see the politicians cutting benefits directly. I think they’re going to raise taxes on the rich. Congress could also use general revenue to finance Social Security, or they could partially index benefits for the rich. Historically, they phase in changes, so anybody who is close to retirement is quite safe—and by close I mean 55 and older.

Yet many people fear that if they postpone claiming Social Security until age 70, they’ll die before they’ll be able to take advantage of the higher benefits. What’s your response to that? They’re ignoring longevity risk. If you’re 98 and collecting a Social Security check that’s 76% higher and adjusted for inflation, that’s where you want to be. A lot of people will live that long. If you buy home insurance and your house doesn’t burn down, are you shortchanged because you paid the premium? You’re protecting yourself against catastrophic events. Financially, the catastrophic event is living to 100.

Thanks to big increases in home values, seniors have seen their housing wealth grow to a record $9.6 trillion. Are reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to tap that equity while remaining in their homes, a good source of retirement income? When the Federal Housing Administration insured most reverse mortgages, I thought, they can’t be that bad. But when I spent several weeks looking at them carefully with software, I decided that they’re way too expensive. They’ve got huge fees. You could sell your home and move into a continuing care retirement community—that’s like buying an annuity and long-term-care insurance at the same time. Or you could sell the house to the kids and write a contract in which they let you stay in it until you die. You take care of me and as soon as I die, you get the house. I die early, you win. I die late, I win. But it’s a win-win because we’re insuring each other.

What did the pandemic teach us, if anything, about the state of personal finances in the U.S.? We don’t save enough. The Chinese save 30% of their disposable income. We save very little. This is a wake-up call. The pandemic got me to think about what I was spending on housing, living in Boston. We downsized and moved to Providence, where house prices were a third as expensive. The pandemic has been a saving and spending wake-up call for us, just as the Great De­pression was for those who lived through it. We’ve realized life is much riskier than we thought. The pandemic is making us all reevaluate our finances and what really matters, which doesn’t include driving a BMW.

Source: kiplinger.com