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.
SOPL0821025

Source: sofi.com

Where to Find Yield in 2022

It is daunting to expect a big profit, or even any profit, over the next several months from standard bonds or bond funds. Breaking even would be acceptable while interest rates and inflation churn. But as I consider 2022, I aver that the economy is marking time until an inevitable return to its pre-pandemic formula of 2% growth, 2% inflation and 2% long-term interest rates, which may land at 2.5% post-COVID. That’s a beneficial backdrop for plenty of income-paying investments, and now is a good time to accumulate income investments that zig when growth and inflation also zig.

I looked up 2021 returns (through November 5) for 15 of my most-trusted funds and trusts. The three most successful were Pimco Corporate & Income Strategy (symbol PCN), BNY Mellon Municipal Bond Infrastructure (DMB) and Nuveen Preferred and Income Term (JPI), with respective total returns of 15.3%, 10.3% and 9.8%. I continue to endorse all three. I am sold on the appeal of leveraged closed-end debt funds and also see no end to the popularity of junk bonds and floating-rate bank loan funds. All of them benefit from economic vigor; the tendency for debt-ratings upgrades; the unusually low incidence of bond defaults and loan delinquencies; and the phenomenal amount of cash out there seeking any reasonable yield. If you value the Treasury’s full faith and credit, in­flation-linked Series I savings bonds are paying 7.12% until May because of the spike in the consumer price index. The yield will then reset, but the bonds will remain attractive. In addition, explore the following asset classes for 2022, using ETFs or closed-ends if you prefer them to individual securities:

Floating-rate bank loan funds. Fidelity Floating Rate High Income (FFRHX) is the best-known; Invesco Senior Loan (BKLN) is a cromulent ETF and one of the Kiplinger ETF 20, the list of our favorite exchange-traded funds. Keep these well fed if you already own them.

High-yield bonds. Vanguard’s offerings have the low-expense-ratio edge, but spreading money among a few managers makes sense. I prefer active management to indexing. New junk-bond yields have contracted to 4%, but capital gains can pad this.

Preferred stocks. New offerings number about one a week and offer yields of about 5%. Or try closed-end funds such as Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred Income Fund (PFD) and pounce when the premiums to net asset value tighten. Six-month-old Fidelity Preferred Securities & Income ETF (FPFD) shows great promise.

Short-term, high-rate lenders. Ready Capital (RC, $16) finances small commercial loans and mortgages; the stock yields north of 10%. RiverNorth Specialty Finance (RSF, $20) invests in an array of debt, including small-business loans. It is an interval fund; you buy it as you would a regular mutual fund but can only sell quarterly. The design lets managers hold rare or unusual high-income investments. Distributions run about 8%, cushioning share-price gyrations.

Taxable muni­cipals. These are my pick for cautious savers. These high-coupon munis sagged early in 2021 but are reviving of late. Invesco Taxable Municipal Bond ETF (BAB) distributes close to 3%, and all its bonds are rated A or better.

Source: kiplinger.com

Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
Get the Penny Hoarder Daily
Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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Average Student Loan Debt by State in 2021

Student loan debt nationwide increased by 8.28% in 2020, the largest increase since 2013, according to the latest report from EducationData.org. That spike was most likely fueled by rising unemployment and 3.2 million new federal student loan borrowers.

Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category in the country behind only housing debt . Nationwide, nearly 40% of college attendees report some type of educational debt, and 65% graduate with student debt, the report showed.

A recent report from EducationData.org details the average student loan debt per borrower (based on all student loan debt, not just that owed by undergraduate borrowers) in each state. Overall, residents of Washington, D.C., have the nation’s highest federal student loan debt at more than $55,000 per borrower when looking at the total student loan debt owed by individuals in the state. Of every state, North Dakota has the lowest average federal student loan debt, with residents there owing an average of just $29,446.

Student Loan Debt in Each State

Read on for an overview of what student loan debt looks like across the country according to EducationData.org . This data is reflective of all borrowers, not just undergraduate students.

Alabama

Average borrower debt: $37,348
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alabama

Alaska

Average borrower debt: $34,431
Total student loan debt: $2.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alaska

Arizona

Average borrower debt: $35,454
Total student loan debt: $30.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arizona

Arkansas

Average borrower debt: $33,525
Total student loan debt: $12.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arkansas

California

Average borrower debt: $36,937
Total student loan debt: $142.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in California

Colorado

Average borrower debt: $37,120
Total student loan debt: $28.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Colorado

Connecticut

Average borrower debt: $35,448
Total student loan debt: $17.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Connecticut

Delaware

Average borrower debt: $37,338
Total student loan debt: $4.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Delaware

District of Columbia

Average borrower debt: $55,077
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion

Florida

Average borrower debt: $38,481
Total student loan debt: $98.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Florida

Georgia

Average borrower debt: $41,843
Total student loan debt: $67.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Georgia

Hawaii

Average borrower debt: $36,575
Total student loan debt: $4.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Hawaii

Idaho

Average borrower debt: $33,100
Total student loan debt: $7.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Idaho

Illinois

Average borrower debt: $38,071
Total student loan debt: $61.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Illinois

Indiana

Average borrower debt: $33,106
Total student loan debt: $29.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Indiana

Iowa

Average borrower debt: $30,848
Total student loan debt: $13.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Iowa

Kansas

Average borrower debt: $33,130
Total student loan debt: $12.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kansas

Kentucky

Average borrower debt: $33,023
Total student loan debt: $19.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kentucky

Louisiana

Average borrower debt: $34,683
Total student loan debt: $22.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Louisiana

Maine

Average borrower debt: $33,352
Total student loan debt: $6.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maine

Maryland

Average borrower debt: $43,219
Total student loan debt: $35.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maryland

Massachusetts

Average borrower debt: $34,549
Total student loan debt: $30.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Massachusetts

Michigan

Average borrower debt: $36,295
Total student loan debt: $50.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Michigan

Minnesota

Average borrower debt: $33,822
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Minnesota

Mississippi

Average borrower debt: $37,080
Total student loan debt: $16.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Mississippi

Missouri

Average borrower debt: $35,706
Total student loan debt: $29.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Missouri

Montana

Average borrower debt: $33,953
Total student loan debt: $4.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Montana

Nebraska

Average borrower debt: $32,138
Total student loan debt: $7.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nebraska

Nevada

Average borrower debt: $33,863
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nevada

New Hampshire

Average borrower debt: $34,353
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Hampshire

New Jersey

Average borrower debt: $35,730
Total student loan debt: $41.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Jersey

New Mexico

Average borrower debt: $34,237
Total student loan debt: $7.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Mexico

New York

Average borrower debt: $38,107
Total student loan debt: $91.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New York

North Carolina

Average borrower debt: $37,861
Total student loan debt: $48.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Carolina

North Dakota

Average borrower debt: $29,446
Total student loan debt: $2.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Dakota

Ohio

Average borrower debt: $34,923
Total student loan debt: $61.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Ohio

Oklahoma

Average borrower debt: $31,832
Total student loan debt: $15.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oklahoma

Oregon

Average borrower debt: $37,251
Total student loan debt: $20.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oregon

Pennsylvania

Average borrower debt: $35,804
Total student loan debt: $63.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Average borrower debt: $32,212
Total student loan debt: $4.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Rhode Island

South Carolina

Average borrower debt: $38,662
Total student loan debt: $27.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Carolina

South Dakota

Average borrower debt: $31,858
Total student loan debt: $3.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Dakota

Tennessee

Average borrower debt: $36,549
Total student loan debt: $30.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Tennessee

Texas

Average borrower debt: $33,123
Total student loan debt: $116.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Texas

Utah

Average borrower debt: $32,781
Total student loan debt: $9.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Utah

Vermont

Average borrower debt: $38,411
Total student loan debt: $2.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Vermont

Virginia

Average borrower debt: $39,472
Total student loan debt: $41.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Virginia

Washington

Average borrower debt: $35,521
Total student loan debt: $27.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Washington

West Virginia

Average borrower debt: $32,258
Total student loan debt: $7.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in West Virginia

Wisconsin

Average borrower debt: $32,272
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wisconsin

Wyoming

Average borrower debt: $30,246
Total student loan debt: $1.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wyoming

The Takeaway

The average amount of debt held by borrowers varies from state to state. The five states with the highest average amount of student loan debt per borrower are; Washington D.C., Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina. The five states with the lowest average of student loans per borrower are; South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wyoming, and North Dakota. North Dakota is the only state where the average borrower owes less than $30,000.

For millions, student loans are a necessary part of paying for college. When federal aid and savings aren’t enough to pay for school, some borrowers turn to private student loans. While private lenders are not required to offer the same benefits or protections as federal student loans, they can be helpful for borrowers who have exhausted all other options and are looking to fill in gaps in funding. Student loans with SoFi have no hidden fees and borrowers are able to choose from four repayment plans.

Find out more about private student loans available from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/FangXiaNuo


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.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

When Actively Managed Funds Are Worth It

It’s hard to beat the market and the index funds that track them.

The numbers don’t lie: Only one-fourth of all actively managed funds in the U.S. topped the average of their index fund counterparts over the 10-year period that ended in June, according to the latest Active/Passive Barometer report by Morningstar.

But in certain pockets of the market, active managers do a better job of beating their benchmarks. Studies show that active funds that invest in small and midsize companies, foreign shares and intermediate-term bonds, for instance, have had more success beating their benchmarks than funds in other market segments, according to Morningstar.

“Areas of the market that are less picked over are more target rich for active fund managers,” says Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar. Why’s that? “There’s less opportunity if you’re coming up with the 12 millionth investment thesis for Apple.”

Indeed, it can be difficult for active managers to stand out in highly trafficked market corners, such as large-company stocks. Most of these firms are as closely followed as your favorite sports team or Netflix TV series. More than 50 analysts track Amazon.com’s (AMZN) every move, for example. That goes some way to explain why only 17% of all U.S. large-company funds outpaced the S&P 500 over the 10-year period ending in June, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Herewith, a guide to where it pays to go active and some funds to consider.

The best portfolios will use index funds for heavily trampled parts of the market and put active funds to work for those asset classes in which an active manager has a better shot of beating the index. “A blend of the two is a good way to go,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and founder of Azoury Financial. (Unless otherwise noted, returns and data are through Nov. 5.)

Find Stocks That are Flying Under the Radar

In general, the smaller the company, the less likely it is to be followed by the Wall Street research machine.

“It’s almost like deep-sea diving,” says Morningstar’s Johnson. The smaller the company’s market value, “the murkier it gets and the fewer predators there are.”

That’s a good environment for active fund managers. It boosts a manager’s odds of identifying a good opportunity ahead of rivals, says Craigh Cepukenas, a comanager for Artisan Small Cap (ARTSX, expense ratio 1.21%) and Artisan Mid Cap (ARTMX, 1.18%) funds. The strategy at both funds is to discover disruptive companies that are driving change, then hold them even after they’ve become larger companies. “We let our winners run,” says Cepukenas.

The Artisan funds also favor under-the-radar companies. Only six Wall Street analysts cover Valmont Industries (VMI), for example. The maker of metal products, such as poles used for traffic lights, is a top-20 holding in Artisan Small Cap. Some of the fund’s other low-profile holdings, such as digital health company OptimizeRx (OPRX) and Advanced Drainage Systems (WMS), a water management company, have even fewer analysts following them.

Active funds are all about exploiting what Wall Street dubs market “inefficiencies,” which occur when securities’ market prices vary from their true fair value, says Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network.

That’s what makes active midsize stock funds appealing: Midsize companies often fall through the cracks. They “lack the excitement of small companies and the name recognition of large names,” says Artisan’s Cepukenas.

In particular, actively managed funds that focus on fast-growing midsize U.S. companies tend to shine brightest against their index fund rivals. Alger Mid Cap Growth (AMGAX, 1.30%) ranks among those index beaters. It has topped its benchmark, the Russell Mid Cap Growth index, and its category peers over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods. The fund typically charges a 5.25% load, but you can buy shares for no fee at Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

Look Overseas to International Stocks

International stock pickers have an edge over their benchmarks in part because they have “boots on the ground” in the countries where they invest, says Dan Genter, CEO and chief investment officer of RNC Genter Capital Management. That allows them to better understand what drives local economies and ferret out companies with growth potential before the competition does.

The managers at Wasatch Emerging Markets Select (WAESX, 1.51%) and Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap (WAEMX, 1.95%), for instance, aren’t afraid to look beyond their foreign-stock benchmarks to find undiscovered opportunities. 

When the managers travel abroad, local brokers who help them set up company meetings often say, “Nobody ever visits this company. Why do you care?” says Ajay Krishnan, a comanager for both funds. But that’s precisely the draw. Both Wasatch funds have outpaced their benchmarks over the past one, three and five years.

Among foreign-stock funds, those that favor bargain-priced shares have tended to fare best against their index fund counterparts, according to Morningstar.

Some foreign large value funds to consider include Causeway International Value (CIVVX, 1.10%), a fund that zeroes in on good companies going through a rough patch. Oakmark International (OAKIX, 1.04%) is a Morningstar gold-rated fund that seeks stocks trading 30% below their business value using what Morningstar analyst Andrew Daniels calls “old-fashioned detective work.”

Being Choosy With Bonds

Active bond fund managers can be nimbler than their index fund counterparts – weeding out or avoiding low-quality issues that might make up sizable parts of many bond indexes or giving more weight to more-opportunistic segments of the market.

The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond index, for example, currently has a large weighting (45.1%) in U.S. Treasuries but smaller helpings of higher-yielding bonds, such as mortgage-backed securities and corporate-issued debt. In recent years, any intermediate-term bond fund managers willing to tilt their portfolio toward higher-yielding bond sectors, such as corporate debt rated triple-B or lower, or asset-backed securities with higher yields, could improve their chances of outpacing the Agg, says Commonwealth Financial Network’s Price.

That’s partly why Fidelity Total Bond ETF (FBND, 0.36%) has topped the Agg index over the past one, three and five years. The fund currently holds more than 10% of its assets in high-yield debt (credit rated double-B to triple-C), which helped boost returns; by contrast, the Agg doesn’t hold any high-yield debt.

Baird Aggregate Bond (BAGSX, 0.55%) stays in investment-grade territory (debt rated triple-A to triple-B) but lately has gained an edge by loading up on more corporate debt than the Agg, particularly in financials. The fund beat the index over the past one, three and five years.

Source: kiplinger.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.

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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

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


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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