How Do I Get the Best Interest Rate on a Loan?

Whether trying to consolidate debt with a personal loan or thinking about a loan to pay for a major life event, taking on debt is a financial move that warrants some consideration. It’s important to understand the financial commitment that taking on a personal loan — or any other debt — entails. This includes understanding interest rates you might qualify for, how a loan term affects the total interest charged, fees that might be charged by different lenders, and, finally, comparing offers you might receive.

Shopping around and comparing loans can increase your confidence that you’re getting the best interest rate on a loan.

What’s a Good Interest Rate on a Loan?

You may see advertisements for loan interest rates, but when you get around to checking your personal loan interest rate, what you’re offered may be different than rates you’ve seen. Why is that? A loan company may have interest rate ranges, but the lowest, most competitive rates may only be available to people who have excellent credit, as well as other factors.

When shopping around for a loan, it’s typical that when checking your rate, even with online personal loan companies, you can check your rate without affecting your credit score. This pre-qualification rate is just an estimate of the interest rate you would likely be offered if you were to apply for a loan, but it can give you a good estimate of what sort of rate you might be offered. You can compare rates to begin to filter potential companies to use to apply for a loan.

Recommended: Personal Loan Calculator

Getting a Favorable Interest Rate on a Loan

The potential interest rate on a loan depends on a few factors. These may include:

•   The amount of money borrowed.

•   The length of the loan.

•   The type of interest on your loan. Some loans may have variable interest (interest rates can fluctuate throughout the life of the loan) or a fixed interest rate. Typically, starting interest rates may be lower on a variable-rate loan.

•   Your credit score, which consists of several components.

•   Being a current customer of the company.

For example, your credit history, reflected in your credit score, can give a lender an idea of how much a risk you may be. Late payments, a high balance, or recently opened lines of credit or existing loans may make it seem like you could be a risky potential borrower.

If your credit score is not where you’d like it to be, it may make sense to take some time to focus on increasing your credit score. Some ways to do this are:

•   Analyzing your credit report and correcting any errors. If you haven’t checked your credit report, doing so before you apply for a loan is a good first step to making sure your credit information is correct. Then you’ll have a chance to correct any errors that may be bringing down your credit score.

•   Work on improving your credit score, if necessary. Making sure you pay bills on time and keeping your credit utilization ratio at a healthy level can help improve your credit score.

•   Minimize opening new accounts. Opening new accounts may temporarily decrease your credit score. If you’re planning to apply for a loan, it may be good to hold off on opening any new accounts for a few months leading up to your application.

•   Consider a cosigner or co-applicant for a loan. If you have someone close to you — a parent or a partner — with excellent credit, having a cosigner may make a loan application stronger. Keep in mind, though, that a cosigner will be responsible for the loan if the main borrower does not make payments.

Recommended: What is a Good APR?

Comparing Interest Rates on Personal Loans

When you compare loan options, it can be easy to focus exclusively on interest rates, choosing the company that may potentially offer you the lowest rate. But it can also be important to look at some other factors, including:

•   What are the fees? Some companies may charge fees such as origination fees or prepayment penalties. Before you commit to a loan, know what fees may be applicable so you won’t be surprised.

•   What sort of hardship terms do they have? Life happens, and it’s helpful to know if there are any alternative payment options if you were not able to make a payment during a month. It can be helpful to know in advance the steps one would take if they were experiencing financial hardship.

•   What is customer service like? If you have questions, how do you access the company?

•   Does your current bank offer “bundled” options? Current customers with active accounts may be offered lower personal loan interest rates than brand-new customers.

Recommended: Avoiding Loan Origination Fees

Choosing a Personal Loan For Your Financial Situation

Interest rates and terms aside, before you apply for a loan, it’s a good idea to understand how the loan will fit into your life and how you’ll budget for loan payments in the future. The best personal loan is one that feels like it can comfortably fit in your budget.

But it also may be a good idea to assess whether you need a personal loan, or whether there may be another financial option that fits your goals. For example:

•   Using a buy now, pay later service to cover the cost of a purchase. These services may offer 0% interest for a set amount of time.

•   Transferring high-interest credit card debt to a 0% or low-interest credit card, and making a plan to pay the balance before the end of the promotional rate.

•   Taking on a side hustle or decreasing monthly expenses to be able to cover the cost of a major purchase or renovation.

•   Researching other loan options, such as a home equity loan, depending on your needs.

Recommended: 39 Ways to Earn Passive Income Streams

The Takeaway

A loan is likely to play a big part in your financial life for months or years, so it’s important to take your time figuring out which loan option is right for you. And it’s also important to remember that interest rate is just one aspect of the loan. Paying attention to details like potential fees, hardship clauses, and other factors you may find in the small print may save you money and stress over time.

SoFi offers competitive unsecured personal loan options with fixed rates and no fees. Completing an easy online application will show what rate you qualify for — no commitment required and it won’t affect your credit score*.

Check your rate in just one minute.

Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio


*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.
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.

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.
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Source: sofi.com

5 Home Services You Should Not Pay For

Man holding up his hand to stop a home purchase
Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Homeownership certainly comes with a lot of unavoidable if sometimes unexpected expenses, from property taxes to insurance and repairs.

But there are many home-related costs we don’t necessarily need to pay for — and other things we’re not sure are worth it.

Following are some costs you might be on the fence about, and why we think you should avoid them.

1. Air duct cleaning

duct cleaning
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

Some companies advertise duct cleaning services to supposedly improve your home’s air quality.

Does it work? The Environmental Protection Agency is unconvinced.

It says, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems,” and suggests only having ducts cleaned in a few specific situations, such as if mold is visible inside your heating and cooling system or if there are vermin.

2. Custom framing

Selection of custom picture frames
Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Simply hanging artwork in your home shouldn’t be an expensive proposition, but it can be if you rely on custom framing jobs. In some cases, a frame can cost more than what it protects.

The reason custom framing gets so expensive, Vox explains, is the number of options available — a dizzying array of hundreds of frames and mats of all sizes, plus options for moldings and glazings.

For standard-sized images, a ready-made frame may suffice at a fraction of the cost. You can buy them new at a home goods store, or if you want a more “distressed” look and even greater savings, bring a tape measure to your local thrift store and size up some gently-used frames. So-called “floater frames” can provide style and flexibility for displaying art of unusual dimensions.

And then there are a growing number of specialty companies online, happy to provide custom-size frames at a lower cost than local frame shops. The New York Times’ Wirecutter recommends Framebridge, which has a flat fee, high-quality builds and the simplest ordering process among the tested companies.

3. Extended product warranties

Excited salesman
Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

It’s natural to want to get your money’s worth out of every purchase, and therefore to consider extending a warranty. But many experts suggest they’re usually just not worth it, including Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

This is doubly true if you use a credit card that automatically extends warranties or have another way to get a warranty. For instance, if you’re a Costco member, you can get a free two-year warranty on items such as TVs, computers and major appliances that you purchase there.

4. Self-storage rentals

storage units
sunlover / Shutterstock.com

Buying more stuff than you need is expensive enough. But what’s even worse is when you run out of space for all that stuff in your home and start paying somebody else to hold on to it for you.

Consider self-storage a temporary solution, for situations like moving a household. Otherwise, you’re paying potentially thousands to hide many things you’re probably going to forget about because they’re not important enough to keep handy or remember in your day-to-day life. All that money wasted because you can’t bear the thought of decluttering.

If you really must maintain a unit, check out “10 Ways to Cut the Cost of Self-Storage.”

5. Junk hauling

Upset woman in a cluttered garage
northallertonman / Shutterstock.com

So you’ve decided to declutter: Great! But don’t pay someone to get rid of your stuff.

Instead, turn to free ways to rid yourself of things you no longer need.

Search for local charities that are willing to pick up your donations. Post listings on websites such as Facebook, Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Using In-School Deferment as a Student

Undergraduate and graduate students in school at least half-time can put off making federal student loan payments, and possibly private student loan payments, with in-school deferment. The catch? Interest usually accrues.

Loans are a fact of life for many students. In fact, a majority of them — about 70% — graduate with student loan debt.

While some students choose to start paying off their loans while they’re still in college, many take advantage of in-school deferment.

What Is In-School Deferment?

In-school deferment allows an undergraduate or graduate student, or parent borrower, to postpone making payments on:

•   Direct Loans, which include PLUS loans for graduate and professional students, or parents of dependent undergrads; subsidized and unsubsidized loans; and consolidation loans.

•   Perkins Loans

•   Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans.

Parents with PLUS loans may qualify for deferment if their student is enrolled at least half-time at an eligible college or career school.

What about private student loans? Many lenders allow students to defer payments while they’re in school and for six months after graduation. Sallie Mae lets you defer payments for 48 months as long as you are enrolled at least half-time.

But each private lender has its own rules.

Recommended: How Does Student Loan Deferment in Grad School Work?

How In-School Deferment Works

Federal student loan borrowers in school at least half-time are to be automatically placed into in-school deferment. You should receive a notice from your loan servicer.

If your loans don’t go into automatic in-school deferment or you don’t receive a notice, get in touch with the financial aid office at your school. You may need to fill out an In-School Deferment Request .

If you have private student loans, it’s a good idea to reach out to your loan servicer to request in-school deferment. If you’re seeking a new private student loan, you can review the lender’s deferment rules.

Most federal student loans also have a six-month grace period after a student graduates, drops below half-time enrollment, or leaves school before payments must begin. This applies to graduate students with PLUS loans as well.

Parent borrowers who took out a PLUS loan can request a six-month deferment after their student graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time enrollment.

Requirements for In-School Deferment

Students with federal student loans must be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible school, defined by the Federal Student Aid office as one that has been approved by the Department of Education to participate in federal student aid programs, even if the school does not participate in those programs.

That includes most accredited American colleges and universities and some institutions outside the United States.

In-school deferment is primarily for students with existing loans or those who are returning to school after time away.

The definition of “half-time” can be tricky. Make sure you understand the definition your school uses, as not all schools define half-time status the same way. It’s usually based on a certain number of hours and/or credits.

Do I Need to Pay Interest During In-School Deferment?

For federal student loans and many private student loans, no.

If you have a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, interest will accrue during the deferment and be added to the principal loan balance.

If you have a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Perkins Loan, the government pays the interest while you’re in school and during grace periods. That’s also true of the subsidized portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Interest will almost always accrue on deferred private student loans.

Although postponement of payments takes the pressure off, the interest that you’re responsible for that accrues on any loan will be capitalized, or added to your balance, after deferments and grace periods. You’ll then be charged interest on the increased principal balance. Capitalization of the unpaid interest may also increase your monthly payment, depending on your repayment plan.

If you’re able to pay the interest before it capitalizes, that can help keep your total loan cost down.

Alternatives to In-School Deferment

There are different types of deferment aside from in-school deferment.

•   Economic Hardship Deferment. You may receive an economic hardship deferment for up to three years if you receive a means-tested benefit, such as welfare, you are serving in the Peace Corps, or you work full time but your earnings are below 150% of the poverty guideline for your state and family size.

•   Graduate Fellowship Deferment. If you are in an approved graduate fellowship program, you could be eligible for this deferment.

•   Military Service and Post-Active Duty Student Deferment. You could qualify for this deferment if you are on active duty military service in connection with a military operation, war, or a national emergency, or you have completed active duty service and any applicable grace period. The deferment will end once you are enrolled in school at least half-time, or 13 months after completion of active duty service and any grace period, whichever comes first.

•   Rehabilitation Training Deferment. This deferment is for students who are in an approved program that offers drug or alcohol, vocational, or mental health rehabilitation.

•   Unemployment Deferment. You can receive this deferment for up to three years if you receive unemployment benefits or you’re unable to find full-time employment.

For most deferments, you’ll need to provide your student loan servicer with documentation to show that you’re eligible.

Then there’s federal student loan forbearance, which temporarily suspends or reduces your principal monthly payments, but interest always continues to accrue.

Some private student loan lenders offer forbearance as well.

If your federal student loan type does not charge interest during deferment, that’s probably the way to go. If you’ve reached the maximum time for a deferment or your situation doesn’t fit the eligibility criteria, applying for forbearance is an option.

If your ability to afford your federal student loan payments is unlikely to change any time soon, you may want to consider an income-based repayment plan or student loan refinancing.

The goal of refinancing with a private lender is to change your rate or term. If you qualify, all loans can be refinanced into one new private loan. Playing with the numbers can be helpful.

Just know that if you refinance federal student loans, they will no longer be eligible for federal deferment or forbearance, loan forgiveness programs, or income-driven repayment.

Recommended: Student Loan Refinancing Calculator

The Takeaway

What is in-school deferment? It allows undergraduates and graduate students to buy time before student loan payments begin, but interest usually accrues and is added to the balance.

If trying to lower your student loan rates is something that’s of interest, look into refinancing with SoFi.

Students are eligible to refinance a parent’s PLUS loan along with their own student loans.

There are absolutely no fees.

It’s easy to check your rate.


We’ve Got You Covered


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.

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

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.
SOSL18266

Source: sofi.com

Stock Market Today: Stocks End Mixed After Data Dump

Investors had plenty to think about ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, chewing through a huge helping of economic data.

Kicking things off were weekly jobless claims – released a day early due to tomorrow’s holiday – which plunged to 199,000 in the week ended Nov. 20, well below last week’s 270,000 and economists’ forecast for 260,000 claims. What’s more, this was the lowest level for initial unemployment applications since 1969.

Also in focus were October’s personal income and spending data, which came in above estimates (up 0.5% and 1.3%, respectively, from September), and an upwardly revised reading on third-quarter gross domestic product (to 2.1% versus an initial estimate of 2.0%).

However, it wasn’t all roses. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index arrived at its lowest level in 10 years in November and the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index – a key inflation measure used by the Federal Reserve – rose 4.1% year-over-year in October, the quickest annual pace since 1991.

Plus, the release of the minutes from the latest Fed meeting showed several members of the committee said the central bank “should be prepared to adjust the pace of asset purchases” and/or raise interest rates sooner than anticipated if inflation continues to run hot.

“In terms of the Fed’s economic outlook, it’s clear that inflation has accelerated more than anyone expected it to, and the breadth of rising prices has increased substantially,” writes Bob Miller, BlackRock’s Head of Americas Fundamental Fixed Income.

“While the bar for an acceleration in the tapering of asset purchases is high, it is not insurmountable and looks reasonably likely to be cleared should we see another solid payroll report and inflation data release in December,” he adds. “Accelerating the asset purchase tapering would potentially end purchases in March 2022 and would then open the door for the Committee to consider lift off from the zero policy rate sometime in the second quarter of the year.”

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

At the close, the S&P 500 Index was up 0.2% at 4,701 and the Nasdaq Composite had gained 0.4% at 15,845. The Dow Jones Industrial Average wasn’t as resilient, falling 0.03% to 35,804.

As a reminder, the U.S. stock market will be closed tomorrow for Thanksgiving and trading will end early on Black Friday.

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Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 gained 0.2% to 2,331.
  • U.S. crude futures slipped 0.1% to end at $78.39 per barrel.
  • Gold futures eked out a marginal gain to settle at $1,784.30 an ounce.
  • Bitcoin retreated 0.7% to $57,453.50. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)
  • Gap (GPS) took it in the chin after earnings, with shares sliding 24.1%. In its third quarter, the clothing retailer reported adjusted earnings of 27 cents per share on $3.94 billion in revenue, well below the 50 cents a share and $4.43 billion in sales analysts were expecting. GPS also lowered its full-year forecast, citing rising freight costs and supply-chain disruptions due to factory closures in Vietnam. “In the third quarter, the Athleta and Gap brands continued to be the bright spots for GPS, as the brands have grown 48% and 8%, respectfully, compared to fiscal 2020,” says CFRA Research analyst Zachary Warring, who maintained his Hold rating on the stock while lowering his price target by $8 to $22. “The company reiterated its plan to open between 30 and 40 Old Navy stores and 20-30 Athleta stores in 2021 while closing 75 Gap and Banana Republic stores. We need to see how sales and margins hold up in fiscal 2023 to get more bullish on shares of GPS.”
  • Supply-chain issues were also a noted in Nordstrom’s (JWN) quarterly update. “While many retailers are dealing with macro-related supply chain disruptions, Rack [the retailer’s off-price chain] faces a unique challenge as off-price procurement of the same top brands we carry at Nordstrom is particularly difficult in an environment with production constraints and lower levels of clearance product,” said CEO Erik Nordstrom in the earnings call. While Rack contributed to roughly 50% of total sales in 2019, he added, it’s only brought in 42% of sales for the year-to-date. Overall, the company reported earnings of 39 cents a share and revenue of $3.6 billion in its third quarter, missing analysts’ estimates for earnings of 57 cents per share and revenue of $3.5 billion. The stock plunged 29% today.

The Pricing Power Advantage

Some of the best stocks to buy now are those that are able to navigate higher inflation.

Pricing power should be an important theme for investors when assessing relative returns of stocks, says a group of analysts at global research firm UBS, especially given the current environment of “surging shipping costs, rising raw materials, supply chain issues and accelerating wage growth.”

The team has been studying the share performance of companies with pricing power for some time. They found that shares of firms that can raise prices without consumers balking and taking their business elsewhere and that have solid margin momentum tend to outperform those without by around 20%, on average, over 12 months once inflation rises above 3% on an annualized basis.

So, if you’re looking for ways to protect your portfolio against rising inflation, consider this list of the stocks with a pricing power advantage, according to UBS. Each of these names has a high-conviction Buy rating from the research firm and ranks in the top third of its sector for pricing power, margin momentum and input cost exposure.

Source: kiplinger.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
The SoFi Money® Annual Percentage Yield as of 03/15/2020 is 0.20% (0.20% interest rate). Interest rates are variable subject to change at our discretion, at any time. No minimum balance required. SoFi doesn’t charge any ATM fees and will reimburse ATM fees charged by other institutions when a SoFi Money™ Mastercard® Debit Card is used at any ATM displaying the Mastercard®, Plus®, or NYCE® logo. SoFi reserves the right to limit or revoke ATM reimbursements at any time without notice.
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Source: sofi.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

These Healthcare Stocks Should Thrive in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, routine doctor and hospital visits, along with deferred medical procedures such as cataract surgery and heart valve replacements, are returning to normal.

The pandemic has been a global tragedy, but if there is one silver lining it is that the miraculous development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is helping to usher in a golden age for the pharmaceutical and health sciences industries.

“We’re seeing a revolution today in vaccine development,” says Andy Acker, manager of Janus Henderson Global Life Sciences.

Before COVID arrived, the fastest vaccine approval had been four years, and the average was 10 years; with COVID, two vaccines were approved in about 10 months. Validation of the mRNA technology used by Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) in their vaccines means that it will now be adopted to treat other medical indications. (The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.)

In truth, the COVID-19 medical challenge and the dramatic success of the vaccines have only served to accelerate a powerful trend of innovation in medicine. For instance, the sharply declining cost of gene sequencing is pushing forward the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor treatments to specific diseases, such as cancer.

“The science is exponentially improving for better outcomes,” says Neal Kaufman, manager of Baron Health Care fund.

Of course, the healthcare sector is also riding the (global) demographic wave of aging populations. At CVS Health drugstores, the number of prescription medicines purchased by people age 65 or older is three to four times that of 20- to 40-year-old people, says Jason Kritzer, co­manager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences.

In rapidly developing countries with expanding middle classes, such as China, quality healthcare is likely to be one of the first things people rising out of poverty will spend money on.

With innovation and some of these secular trends in mind, we identified six intriguing healthcare stocks that literally span the alphabet, from letter A to letter Z. We particularly like companies that address large and growing end markets, especially global ones. We give extra points to businesses that have less exposure to pricing pressure from insurance com­panies or the government. Returns and other data are through Nov. 5.

healthcare stockshealthcare stocks

1 of 7

Align Technology

Share price: $687

Market cap: $54 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 50

Maker of the Invisalign brand of clear, plastic braces for teeth, Align Technology (symbol ALGN) is a disruptive force in the global teeth-correction market, rapidly gobbling market share from traditional wires and brackets. Jeff Mueller, comanager of Polen Global Growth, credits the “Zoom effect” for accelerating the adoption of the aesthetically pleasing aligners: Workers stuck at home during the pandemic were staring at their own teeth every day on Zoom. “Vanity is increasing around the world,” Mueller says, adding that, due to the rise of smartphones, the internet and social media, “more people are taking pictures of themselves than ever before in the history of mankind.”

A lot of technology is used in the Invisalign process. It employs intra-oral scanners and modeling software, plus mass-customization manufacturing using 3D printing at several plants around the globe (each set of teeth is unique, and individuals change their aligners every two weeks). Because braces are generally for cosmetic purposes, they are not subject to pricing pressure from insurance companies or the government.

Align Technology’s revenues are currently growing by 25% to 30% a year as its market penetration rises, and Mueller expects earnings to continue to compound at double digits for quite a while.

2 of 7

Merck

Share price: $82

Market cap: $206 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 11

Dividend yield: 3.2%

CFRA analyst Sel Hardy thinks that Merck’s (MRK) COVID-19 antiviral pill, molnupiravir, is “a game changer.” The drug maker has applied for emergency-authorization use from the government; approval was expected before the end of 2021. Merck projects that global sales of the oral medication, which has demonstrated strong efficacy against multiple variants of COVID, could be $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of 2022.

Apart from this breakthrough drug, Hardy likes the way Merck is positioned. Sales of Keytruda, its versatile oncology drug, topped $14 billion in 2020 and continue to grow; its animal health division is expanding; and the firm’s $12 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma, a biotech firm with strengths in blood and cardiovascular treatments, will augment Merck’s product pipeline.

Hardy thinks Merck, which yields 3.2%, can compound earnings by at least 10% a year for the next three years.

3 of 7

Novo Nordisk

Share price: $113

Market cap: $259 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 31

Dividend yield: 1.3%

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk (NVO) focuses on two global pandemics: diabetes and obesity. The World Health Organization projects that the number of diabetics will expand from 460 million to 580 million by 2030, and it estimates that there are nearly 800 million obese people around the world. Novo pioneered insulin injections a century ago and has remained a global leader in diabetes care ever since. Multibillion-dollar drugs include Ozempic, a once-weekly prescription for adults with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar, and NovoRapid, a fast-acting insulin treatment. Novo’s sales are evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

Investors such as Samantha Pandolfi, comanager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences, are also excited about rapid growth in Novo’s newer weight-management business. Wegovy, prescribed for obese people with another disease, such as diabetes, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. Tests show Wegovy typically delivers a weight loss of 15% to 17%, and Pandolfi says sales are off to a blazing start. The century-old firm plows an impressive 12% of sales back into research and development, which helps it stay ahead of the competition and generate earnings growth in the low double digits.

4 of 7

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Share price: $617

Market cap: $243 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 29

Dividend yield: 0.2%

Eddie Yoon, manager of Fidelity Select Health Care Portfolio, calls Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) “the Walmart of life sciences.” Whether it’s a big pharma, biotech or university lab, customers come to this health sciences supermarket for analytical tools, lab equipment and services, and diagnostic kits and consumables. “They are the partner of choice for any pharma or biotech company of any size,” says Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds. Thermo has benefited from increased demand for its products and services due to COVID-19, and now the firm is poised to benefit from the rise in research and development spending among drug companies around the world.

One thing that distinguishes Thermo, according to health care stock analysts, is the quality of its management. The firm has successfully integrated several strategic acquisitions that helped broaden its menu of products and services. Tommy Sternberg, an analyst at William Blair, notes that Thermo is particularly adroit at staying close to customers and understanding what their scientists are working on. “They do a fantastic job of getting to know customers and their needs, and learning from customers to come up with more solutions more quickly,” says Sternberg.

5 of 7

UnitedHealth Group

Share price: $456

Market cap: $429 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 21

Dividend yield: 1.3%

The U.S. spends a staggering $4 trillion a year on health care. UnitedHealth (UNH)—with annual revenues of nearly $300 billion, a market value of $430 billion and 330,000 employees—is the industry’s largest player. As the top private health care insurance provider, it leads in managed care. Its OptumHealth unit offers pharmacy benefits and owns physician’s practices and surgical centers. Eaton Vance’s Kritzer calls Optum, an industry leader in the digitization of services, “a very large health IT company inside an insurance giant.” United helps the federal government manage costs through its Medicare Advantage plan (the most popular private plan). Plus, it enjoys high customer satisfaction, and it is counting a growing number of seniors as customers (about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day). Despite United’s massive size, William Blair’s Sternberg thinks it can sustain earnings-per-share growth of about 15% annually.

6 of 7

Zoetis

Share price: $217

Market cap: $103 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 42

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Like Align Tech­nology’s Invisalign, Zoetis’s (ZTS) main business—companion-animal health—was already riding a tailwind that picked up force thanks to lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Pet-ownership rates spiked as people grew more isolated and sought the companionship of dogs and cats, according to David Kalis, comanager of The Future Fund Active ETF. Zoetis markets vaccines, prescription drugs and diagnostic equipment directly to veterinarians. The industry is regulated, with FDA approval required for the drugs, but Zoetis benefits from the lack of insurance company price pressures and the fragmented nature of the firm’s customer base, notes Eaton Vance’s Pandolfi.

In fact, companion-animal ownership is growing globally, driven by aging populations and shrinking family sizes. Pet owners are treating their pets better, addressing ailments such as skin irritation and arthritis, and visiting the vet more frequently, says Pandolfi. Zoetis books about half of sales overseas; roughly 60% of revenues come from the companion-animal business and 40% from the less-profitable and slower-growing livestock animal division.

7 of 7

Invest in a Fund

Given the complexity and diversity of the health care sector, investing in a fund makes a lot of sense for many investors. Here are our favorites (returns and other data are through November 5).

Baron Health Care (symbol BHCFX, expense ratio 1.10%) is a young fund off to a sizzling start. Over the past three years, it returned 29.2% annualized, or nearly twice the return of the S&P 1500 Health Care index. Manager Neal Kaufman and assistant manager Joshua Riegelhaupt look for innovative, fast-growing companies. The largest holding is Natera, a clinical genetic-testing outfit.

Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX, 0.69%) is a member of the Kiplinger 25, the list of our favorite no-load funds. The fund has a 19.8% three-year annualized return, ahead of the 17.0% average annual gain of its peers. Eddie Yoon, who has piloted the fund since 2008, says he’s light on large pharmaceutical companies in the portfolio, preferring makers of devices used to help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments. The fund’s top three holdings are UnitedHealth, Boston Scientific and Danaher.

Ziad Bakri, a former physician, runs T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX, 0.76%), which has returned 21% annualized over the past three years. Nearly one-third of assets are invested in biotechnology, a high-risk, high-return segment of health care. Top positions include Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical.

If you prefer investing through exchange-traded funds, Simplify Health Care (PINK, $26, 0.50%) is an intriguing, actively managed ETF that launched on October 7. Through November 5, just shy of one month, it returned 5.9%. Manager Michael Taylor, a virologist by training who spent 20 years investing in health care stocks at some prominent hedge funds, expresses his views by increasing or decreasing the fund’s weighting of stocks in relation to the MSCI US Health Care Index.

Source: kiplinger.com