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

Dow Jones vs. Nasdaq vs. S&P 500 – What Are the Differences?

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Wondering how “the market” did today?

When American investors refer to “the market” or “the stock market,” they’re usually referring to one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges: the Dow Jones, the Nasdaq, and the S&P 500. Or all three. 

But these indexes represent different stocks and market segments, so you should understand the differences before investing in stocks. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

The oldest U.S. stock exchange, the Dow Jones Industrial Average — or the DJIA, Dow, or Dow Jones for short — began in 1896 as a way to track the 12 largest industrial companies of the era. 

Today the Dow includes 30 blue-chip companies ranging from Microsoft to Coca Cola to Disney, and the index features all industries except for utilities and transportation. These market sectors have their own separate Dow Jones indexes. 

The DJIA doesn’t swap in or out companies often, and the criteria remains vague. Aside from being some of the largest companies in the country, the companies are expected to be leaders in their industry. A committee meets periodically to vote on keeping or replacing members of the index. 

Stocks in the Dow Jones are weighted by price, so stocks with higher prices make up a greater percentage of the total index. If a $100 stock rises by $10, and a $5 stock also rises by $10, both changes are weighted equally, even though that jump in price represents a much larger leap in value for the $5 stock. 

The Dow offers some insight into how the nation’s largest companies are performing. But with only 30 companies, it hardly represents the U.S. stock market as a whole. The price weighting also distorts the index’s performance, as a company’s share price tells you less than its market capitalization (market cap). 

Take the index’s movements with a grain of salt, and consider it more of an ultra-high cap bellwether rather than a definitive statement about U.S. stock trends.


The S&P 500

The S&P 500 index includes 500 U.S. companies rather than only 30, making it a broader indicator of U.S. large cap stocks. These companies include Alphabet (Google), 3M, Allstate, Amazon, and Microsoft. Note that companies can appear in multiple stock indexes, as Microsoft does. 

The number of companies included in the S&P has changed over time. Going back to 1927, the S&P has returned around 10% per year on average. That includes an era when the index only included 90 companies, before expanding to 500 in 1957. 

Like the Dow, the stocks making up the S&P 500 are determined by a committee. As of 2021, companies must have a market cap of at least $13.1 billion, have positive earnings for at least the last four quarters, maintain adequate liquidity based on price and trading volume, and at least 50% of shares must be owned by the public (known as public float).

Unlike the Dow, the S&P 500 is weighted by market cap rather than price. Market capitalization includes the total value of all a company’s shares: the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. 

Imagine a company with shares priced at $1,000, but which only has 100 shares in circulation, for a total market cap of $100,000. In contrast, another company has 1 million shares in circulation, but each share is worth only $10, for a total market cap of $10 million. Which company has a higher market value? The one with a market cap of $10 million of course, which is why the S&P 500 weights by market cap rather than stock price.  

The S&P 500 offers a broader picture of how U.S. stocks are trending. Even so, the index represents the largest U.S. companies, and tells you nothing of how smaller companies have performed.


The Nasdaq Composite

First and foremost, understand that the Nasdaq is a stock exchange, and was in fact the first completely electronic stock exchange. The Nasdaq Composite is the stock index, which includes over 3,000 of the companies traded on the Nasdaq. The index includes all companies with common stock trading on the Nasdaq, but excludes preferred stock, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and other types of securities. 

While investors tend to think of the Nasdaq as an exchange for technology stocks, stocks from all market sectors trade on the Nasdaq. Even so, the Nasdaq Composite index does disproportionately feature tech stocks. 

Example companies listed on the Nasdaq include Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, and Intel. Many investors and pundits use the Nasdaq Composite as a barometer for the technology sector as a whole, even though it includes many non-tech companies (such as PepsiCo). 

Like the S&P 500, the Nasdaq Composite is weighted by market capitalization. 

Don’t confuse the Nasdaq Composite — which includes nearly every stock that trades on the Nasdaq — with the Nasdaq 100. The latter includes just 100 of the largest non-financial stocks that trade on the Nasdaq, such as Starbucks, Adobe, and Amazon. 


Which Index Should You Follow?

As a broad measure of the U.S. stock market, the S&P 500 serves as the most representative index. It includes companies in every industry, and is weighted by market cap. Even so, it includes only large-cap companies. 

For a more tech-oriented weathervane, follow the Nasdaq Composite’s movements. If you want a glimpse into small-cap stocks, check the Russell 2000. 

The Dow Jones may get the most attention from reporters, but it actually represents the U.S. market least well of the three major indexes. The sample size is too small, and being price-weighted further distorts its value.


Final Word

The three major stock indexes above only represent U.S. stocks, not international companies. 

For more global exposure, you can explore foreign stock market indexes such as the S&P Europe 350 Index or the Dow Jones Asian Titans 50 Index. 

Better yet, save yourself the stress and don’t bother following the stock market’s movements at all. Instead, automate your stock investments with a robo-advisor, and simply dollar-cost average your investments in index funds. Avoid emotional investing by ignoring the daily volatility of the market. 

While day traders need to stay glued to their stock tickers, you don’t. The stock market rises and falls, and over the long term it averages a strong upward trend. I sleep easily at night knowing that when it goes up, I enjoy a higher net worth. When it goes down, I get to buy stocks at a discount. No matter what happens, I win — because I participate in the market on autopilot, without letting emotions affect my investment decisions.

.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-content-wrappadding:30px 30px 30px 30px;background-color:#f9fafa;border-color:#cacaca;border-width:1px 1px 1px 1px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-contents-titlefont-size:14px;line-height:18px;letter-spacing:0.06px;font-family:-apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,”Segoe UI”,Roboto,Oxygen-Sans,Ubuntu,Cantarell,”Helvetica Neue”,sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”;font-weight:inherit;text-transform:uppercase;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-content-wrap .kb-table-of-content-listcolor:#001c29;font-size:14px;line-height:21px;letter-spacing:0.01px;font-family:-apple-system,BlinkMacSystemFont,”Segoe UI”,Roboto,Oxygen-Sans,Ubuntu,Cantarell,”Helvetica Neue”,sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”;font-weight:inherit;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-content-wrap .kb-table-of-content-list .kb-table-of-contents__entry:hovercolor:#16928d;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-content-list limargin-bottom:7px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-table-of-content-list li .kb-table-of-contents-list-submargin-top:7px;.kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-basiccircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-basiccircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:before, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-arrowcircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-arrowcircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:before, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-xclosecircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:after, .kb-table-of-content-nav.kb-table-of-content-id_b1122d-50 .kb-toggle-icon-style-xclosecircle .kb-table-of-contents-icon-trigger:beforebackground-color:#f9fafa;

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car – 10 Simple Steps

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Do you recognize this scenario? You’re planning to rent a small car for a vacation or business trip. Yet somehow, when you walk away from the car rental counter, you’re holding the keys to a much bigger car with a much bigger price tag. 

If this has happened to you, it was no accident. You were a victim of upselling — one of the many tricks car rental companies use to squeeze more money out of you. They lure you, scare you, or badger you into driving away with a bigger car than you planned. 

To save money on car rentals, you need to beat the agencies at their own game. First, do some research to figure out exactly what car you need. Then, shop around and use discounts to make sure you pay the lowest possible rate for it. 

How to Get the Best Price on a Rental Car

Getting the best rate on your car rental is largely a matter of doing your homework. You have to know what kind of car you need, when to book it, and where to shop for the best prices. You also need to know how to avoid tricky upsells and hidden fees.

1. Know What You Need

If you’ve ever rented a car before, you know rental companies often try to upsell you. When you arrive to pick up your vehicle, they don’t hand over the keys right away. 

Instead, they suggest you upgrade to a larger model than the one you booked. Often, they say it will offer more comfort, more power, or even better gas mileage. 

That last statement is unlikely to be true. In general, bigger cars use more gas than smaller ones. If you let the rental clerk talk you into a bigger model, you’ll end up paying more for gas and the car itself.

As for the extra room and extra power, they probably don’t matter. If you’re driving by yourself or with just one or two other people, a compact car should have enough space. And you’re unlikely to need more power unless you’re planning to drive up steep mountain roads or in deep snow.

If there’s any doubt in your mind about how much car you need, do some research before you book. Look for reviews of the model you’re considering and see what owners say about its comfort, mileage, and power. 

Then, when the clerk starts trying to sell you on a bigger model, you can say with confidence that the one you booked is just fine for your needs.

2. Book Early, Especially During Peak Travel Times

Car rental companies have a limited number of cars in their fleets. During peak travel times, every vehicle is in demand as customers flock to travel destinations. And when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. That’s simple economics.

So if you’re traveling during a busy travel season, reserve your car as far in advance as possible. You’ll avoid paying a premium for booking during the busy season or, worse still, finding the vehicle you want is unavailable.

3. Take Advantage of Discounts

Never pay full price for a rental car without checking for discounts first. There are all kinds of programs that can offer you a better price on a rental, including:

  • Military Discounts. Many car rental companies, including Alamo and Budget, offer discounts for military service members and veterans. Some also have special deals for other government employees or first responders, such as firefighters and police. If you belong to any of these groups, always ask about discounts when booking a rental.
  • USAA Rates. If your spouse or parent is in the military, you could get a discount through USAA. This financial provider serves active military members, veterans, and their spouses and children. Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz have special USAA rates. 
  • Senior Discounts. Several rental car agencies work with AARP to provide discounts for older adults. AARP members can save up to 30% at Avis, Budget, and Payless. And all travelers over 50 can get lower prices from Hertz through its Fifty Plus program.
  • Corporate Codes. Many businesses have partnerships with car rental companies. Their employees get better rates, and the agencies benefit from the extra business. Check your corporate travel site to see if your company has such a program. 
  • University Codes. Universities also cut deals with rental car agencies. Both students and alumni can get lower daily rates and other perks, such as a free additional driver. Check the student benefits or alumni deals page for rental car discounts.
  • Frequent Flyer Programs. Some frequent flyer programs can get you a reduced rate on a car rental. For instance, United MileagePlus members enjoy discounts and earn bonus miles when they rent through Hertz.
  • AAA. Being a member of AAA gets you discounts on all kinds of services, including rental cars. Currently, members can save between 8% and 20% off the base rate with Thrifty, Dollar, or Hertz. Check your local AAA website for the latest deals.
  • Costco. This warehouse club offers discounts on a lot more than groceries. One of the many benefits of Costco membership is its discounts on car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. Visit the Costco Travel site to access the latest exclusive deals.

4. Join a Loyalty Program

Many rental car agencies have loyalty programs that offer various discounts and perks. Most loyalty programs are free to join, and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.  

Joining one of these programs could get you benefits like:

  • Free upgrades
  • The ability to skip the line when you pick up your rental
  • A guarantee the car you sign up for will be available
  • An account that stores your rental preferences for future use
  • Rewards points you can cash in for free rentals or upgrades

And there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for multiple programs. You could join one for each rental agency you use. In fact, if you’ve already reached elite status with one company, you can usually carry over that status when you sign up for another agency’s program as well.

Some agencies, such as Avis and Hertz, also have special programs just for small-business owners. If you own a small business, these programs can give you a percentage off the base price every time you rent a car.

5. Compare Prices

Joining a loyalty program doesn’t mean you have to be loyal to one car rental company. It always makes sense to shop around and see if another company can offer a better price.

You could do that by calling several companies for quotes, but you don’t have to. There are several websites you can use to check rental prices across multiple agencies. 

One leading comparison site is AutoSlash. This free site factors in discounts from AAA and Costco and searches for online coupons to cut your rental price. It even notifies you if the rental rate drops after you book your car. That allows you to cancel it and rebook at the lower price.

However, AutoSlash isn’t the only site in the business. Other places to look for deals include CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Priceline.

6. Check Smaller Car Rental Companies

When you’re comparing prices, don’t limit yourself to the major rental car agencies. Small off-brand agencies such as Fox Rent A Car can offer significantly lower rates than the big companies.

These small agencies aren’t available everywhere, and they may not show up in results from sites like AutoSlash. But if there’s one in your area, it’s worth a call to see if they can beat the big companies’ prices. To find small local agencies, search the Internet for “car rental near me.”

7. Look for Coupon Codes

When you’re searching for rental car prices, do an extra search for coupon codes you can tack on at checkout. With the right code, you can save as much as 50% off the regular rental rate. 

On top of that, you can often combine these coupon codes with other discounts. For instance, they sometimes stack with savings from loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs.

If you shop through AutoSlash, it automatically seeks coupon codes for you. Other places to look for deals include Groupon and LivingSocial. Also, money-saving browser extensions like Capital One Shopping search for coupon codes and apply them every time you shop. 

8. Read the Fine Print

It’s not unusual to see online ads promising car rentals as low as $15 per day. These prices sound too good to be true — and they are. The price you pay is usually much higher due to taxes and fees excluded from the advertised rate. 

You can’t avoid all these extra fees. However, you can at least be aware of them to avoid any surprises. And you can always say no to extraneous car rental fees.

When comparing prices, look at the final price with all taxes and fees included. That way, you know you’re comparing apples to apples. 

9. Prepay

Most car rental companies offer two different daily rental rates: one for prepayment and a higher one for paying when you pick up the car (or simply renting on the spot). For instance, Budget charges rates up to 35% less when you pay ahead.

But despite the savings, prepaying isn’t always the smart move. If you prepay for your car and have to change your plans, you could get hit with a hefty cancellation fee. 

For instance, Alamo charges $50 for canceling a prepaid rental or $100 if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. Canceling a regular reservation is only $50 with less than 24 hours’ notice and free if you cancel earlier than that. 

To avoid these fees, don’t prepay for your rental unless your travel schedule is fixed.

10. Use a Rewards Card

Once you’ve decided which car to rent and where, there’s still one more way to save: by choosing the right card to pay with. Many travel rewards credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer special perks and discounts on car rentals. 

Depending on the card, you could pay a lower daily or weekly rate or earn extra rewards points. You could also get perks like free upgrades, free rental car insurance, a free additional driver, or a grace period on late returns.

Moreover, if you already have rewards points on one of these cards, you can sometimes get a bonus by cashing them in for travel deals, including car rentals. If your card offers a 50% bonus on travel, you could book a $30-per-day car rental with only $20 worth of rewards.


Final Word

There’s one tip that could potentially save you more than anything else. When planning your trip, think carefully about whether you need a rental car at all. 

In some cases, you can get by without a car. Instead, you can rely on a combination of rides from friends, public transportation, and ridesharing. 

That works particularly well if you only need the vehicle to get to and from the airport. In that case, paying by the ride is probably cheaper than renting a car that will spend most of the trip parked.

Another option is to take advantage of the sharing economy. It’s often possible to get a car through a peer-to-peer service like Turo for much less than a traditional rental. 

These services can offer access to vehicles rental agencies don’t have, such as sports cars or electric vehicles. And you don’t have to deal with any high-pressure sales tactics at the rental counter.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

9 Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

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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

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Self-employment has its perks but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to build wealth for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA, meanwhile, follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Investing for Your Retirement When Self-Employed

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how much you need and want to save for retirement and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA, but not everyone can contribute to one. It’s also important to consider whether you need to give some thought to retirement planning for employees.

If you’re hoping to mirror or replicate the traditional 401(k) plan experience, then you might lean toward a solo 401(k). Whether you can contribute to one of these plans depends on your business structure. Business owners with no employees or whose only employee is their spouse can use a solo 401(k).

Meanwhile, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as the owner of a business as well as your eligible employees, if you have any. It’s also helpful to think about what kind of investment options you might prefer. What you can invest in through a solo 401(k) plan may be different from what a SEP IRA offers, which can affect how you grow wealth for retirement.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA Comparisons

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). You can set up either type of account if you operate as a sole proprietorship and have no employees. And both can offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs. Under SEP IRA rules, for instance, neither employee nor catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA, which you may have with a solo 401(k). Choosing a Roth solo 401(k) might appeal to you if you’d like to be able to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans. If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k) SEP IRA
Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) plan is a traditional 401(k) that covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages now offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits

Just like other 401(k) plans, solo 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. You can make contributions as both an employee and an employer. Here’s how annual solo 401(k) contribution limits work for elective deferrals:

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits by Age in 2021 (Elective Deferrals) Annual contribution in 2022
Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution in 2021 and 2022
Under 50 $19,500 N/a N/a
50 and Older $19,500 $6,500 $20,500

The limit on 401(k) contributions, including elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions, is $58,000 for 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. That doesn’t include an additional $6,500 allowed for catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re self-employed, the IRS requires you to make a special calculation to figure out the maximum amount of elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions you can make for yourself. This calculation reflects on your earned income, or means your net earnings from self-employment after deducting one-half of your self-employment tax and contributions for yourself.

The IRS offers a rate table you can use to calculate your contributions. You can set up automatic deferrals to a solo 401(k), or make contributions at any point throughout the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA or Simplified Employee Pension Plan is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for those self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees, and its one of the easiest retirement plan to set up and maintain. So if you’re a freelancer or a gig worker, you might consider using a SEP IRA to plan for retirement.

SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

SEP IRA Contributions

SEP IRA contributions use pre-tax dollars. Amounts contributed are tax-deductible in the year you make them. All contributions are made by the employer only, which is something to remember if you have employees. Unlike a traditional 401(k) that allows elective deferrals, your employees wouldn’t be able to add money to their SEP IRA through paycheck deductions.

Here’s how SEP IRA contributions work.

SEP IRA Contributions by Age

Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution
Under 50 Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 in 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a
50 and Older Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a

The IRS doesn’t allow catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA, a significant difference from solo 401(k) plans. So it’s possible you could potentially save more for retirement with a solo 401(k), depending on your age and earnings. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to follow the same IRS rules for figuring your annual contributions that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

You can make SEP IRA contributions at any time until your taxes are due, in mid-April of the following year.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward growing wealth.

If you’re ready to start saving for the future, one way to get started is by opening a brokerage account on the SoFi Invest investment platform. All members get complimentary access to a financial advisor, which can help you create a plan to meet your long-term goals.

Photo credit: iStock/1001Love


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Source: sofi.com

Using Income Share Agreements to Pay for School

Many students end up taking out loans to finance the cost of college. As of the first quarter of 2021, Americans collectively held $1.57 trillion in student debt, up $29 billion from the previous quarter. And a significant share of borrowers were struggling with their debt burdens: Just under 6% of total student debt was 90 days or more past due or in default.

Students looking for alternatives to student loans can apply for grants and scholarships, take on work-study jobs or other part-time work, or find ways to save on expenses.

Recently, another alternative has appeared on the table for students at certain institutions: income share agreements. An income share agreement is a type of college financing in which repayment is a fixed percentage of the borrower’s future income over a specified period of time.

As this financing option grows in popularity, here are some key things to know about how these agreements operate and to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

How Income Share Agreements Work

Unlike student loans, an income share agreement, also known as an income sharing agreement or ISA, doesn’t involve a contract with the government or a private lender. Rather, it’s a contract between the student and their college or university.

In exchange for receiving educational funds from the school, the student promises to pay a share of his or her future earnings to the institution for a fixed amount of time after graduation.

ISAs don’t typically charge interest, and the amount students pay usually fluctuates according to their income. Students don’t necessarily have to pay back the entire amount they borrow, as long as they make the agreed-upon payments over a set period. Though, they also may end up paying more than the amount they received.

Income share agreements only appeared on the scene in the last few years, but they are quickly expanding. Since 2016, ISA programs have launched at places like Purdue University in Indiana, Clarkson University in New York, and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. Each school decides on its own terms and eligibility guidelines for the programs. The school itself or outside investors may provide funds for ISAs.

Purdue University was one of the first schools to create a modern ISA program. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who meet certain criteria, including full-time enrollment and satisfactory academic progress, are eligible to apply.

Students may have a six-month grace period after graduation to start making payments, similar to the six-month grace period for student loans, and the repayment term at Purdue is typically 10 years. For some schools, however, the repayment term ranges from two to 10 years.

The exact amount students can expect to pay depends on the amount they took out and their income. The university estimates that a junior who graduates in 2023 with a marketing major will have a starting salary of $51,000 and will see their income grow an average of 4.7% a year.

If that student borrowed $10,000 in ISA funds, he or she would be required to pay 3.39% of his or her income for a little over eight years. The total amount that student would pay back is $17,971. The repayment cap for the 2021-2022 school year is $23,100.

Again, every ISA is different and may have different requirements, so be sure to check with your college or university for all the details.

The Advantages of Income Share Agreements

ISAs aren’t for everyone, but they can be beneficial for some students. For example, students who don’t qualify for other forms of financial aid, such as undocumented immigrants, may have few other options for funding school.

For students who have already maxed out their federal loans, ISAs can be a more affordable option than Parent PLUS loans or private student loans, both of which sometimes come with relatively high interest rates and fees.

Compared to student loans, many ISAs also protect students by preventing monthly payments from becoming unaffordable. Since the amount paid is always tied to income, students should never end up owing more than a set percentage for a fixed period of time. However, a student’s field of study may impact this. Students who are high earners after college may end up paying more to repay an ISA than they would have under other financing options.

If a student has trouble finding a well-paying job, or finding one at all, payments typically shrink accordingly. For example, Purdue sets a minimum income amount below which students don’t pay anything.

In Purdue’s case, the student won’t owe anything else once the repayment period is over, compared to student loans that can multiply exponentially over time due to accrued interest.

Purdue and several other universities also set the amount and length of repayment based on a student’s major, meaning monthly payments can be more tailored to graduates’ fields and salaries than student loans are. For fortunate students who see their income rise beyond expectations, many schools ensure the student won’t pay beyond a certain cap.

Potential Pitfalls of Income Share Agreements

ISAs come with some risks and drawbacks, as well. Firstly, since the repayment amount is based on income, a student who earns a lot after graduation might end up paying more than they would have with some student loans. This is because if a student earns a high income after graduating, they’d pay more to the fund. Second, the terms of repayment can vary widely, and some programs require graduates to give up a huge chunk of their paychecks.

For example, Lambda School , an online program that trains students to be software engineers, requires alums who earn at least $50,000 to pay 17% of their income for two years (up to $30,000). This can be a burden for recent graduates, especially compared to other options like income-driven repayment, which determines the percentage of income going towards student loans based on discretionary income.

Currently, there is very little regulation of ISAs, so students should read ISA terms carefully to understand what they’re signing up for.

No matter what, income share agreements are still funding that needs to be repaid, often at a higher amount than the principal.

So you’re still paying more overall for your education compared to finding sources of income like scholarships, a part-time job, gifts from family, or reducing expenses through lifestyle changes or going to a less expensive school.

How Do Income Share Agreements Impact You?

Many schools’ ISA programs are designed to fill in gaps in funding when students do not receive enough from other sources, such as financial aid, federal or private student loans, scholarships or savings. Thus, it’s important to understand how an ISA will impact both your long-term finances and other methods to pay for college.

ISAs do not impact need-based aid like grants or scholarships. Students with loans, however, could have a more complicated repayment plan with multiple payments due each month.

With ISAs, there is less clarity as to how much you’ll end up repaying from up to 10 years of income. As your income changes, your payment will remain the same percentage unless it falls below the minimum income threshold ($1,666.67 at Purdue) or reaches a repayment cap.

Whereas students may pay more than the loan principal to reduce interest, ISAs often require reaching a repayment cap of roughly double the borrowed amount to be paid off early.

Depending on your future income and career path, an ISA could cut into potential savings and investments or serve as a safety net for a less stable occupation.

Who Should Consider An ISA?

As previously mentioned, income share agreements are an option for students who have maxed out on federal loans and scholarships. There are other circumstances when an ISA may or may not be worth considering.

Colleges may require a minimum GPA to be eligible for an ISA. For instance, Robert Morris University requires incoming students to have a 3.0 high school GPA and maintain a 2.75 GPA during their studies for continued funding eligibility. Taking stock of how an ISA aligns with your academic performance before accepting funding could reduce stress later on.

Since ISA programs structure repayment as a percentage of income, graduates who secure high-paying jobs can end up paying a significant sum compared to the borrowed amount. An ISA term could be more favorable to students planning to enter sectors with more gradual salary growth, such as civil service.

Repayment plans at income sharing agreement colleges are not uniform. Students at schools with lower payment caps and early repayment options may find ISAs more advantageous.

Considering Private Loans

Students should generally exhaust all their federal options for grants and loans before considering other types of debt. But for some students looking to fill gaps in their educational funding, private student loans may make more sense for their needs than ISAs.

Recommended: Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

In particular, students who expect to have high salaries after graduation may end up paying less based on interest for a private student loan than they would for an ISA. Some private loans can also allow you to reduce what you owe overall by repaying your debt ahead of schedule.

SoFi doesn’t charge any fees, including origination fees or late fees. Nor are there prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early. You can also qualify for a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate when you sign up for automated payments.

The Takeaway

As mentioned, an income share agreement is an alternate financing option for college. An ISA is generally used to fill in gaps in college funding. Generally, it’s an agreement between the borrower and the school that states the borrower will repay the funds based on their future salary for a set amount of time.

One alternative to an ISA could be private student loans. Keep in mind that private loans are generally only considered as an option after all other sources of federal aid, including federal student loans, have been exhausted.

If you’ve exhausted your federal loan options and need help paying for school, consider a SoFi private student loan.


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Source: sofi.com

Paying your credit card early: Does it help your score?

Couple looking at finances together.

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

Paying your credit card early can raise your credit score. After your statement closes, your credit card issuer reports your balance to the credit bureaus. Paying your bill ahead of time lowers your overall balance, so the bureaus will see you using less credit in total. Since utilization makes up around one-third of your credit score, paying your card early can have a positive overall effect. 

However, paying your credit card bill early may work differently if you carry a balance on your card each month. Instead of paying your next statement early, you’re actually making an extra payment on your previous balance. Therefore, you’ll likely still need to pay the minimum amount on your next statement, or your payment could be considered late.

In most cases, paying your credit card bill early is a good idea—and it can have a positive impact on your score. 

Read on to learn more about how paying your card early affects your score. 

How paying your credit card bill early can help your credit score

Paying your credit card bill early may increase your credit score, since the overall debt that gets reported to the credit bureaus is likely to be lower. 

To understand how paying a bill early could raise your score, you need to understand two things: the factors that make up your score and how your credit issuer reports to the credit bureaus. 

How paying early could raise your score

Your score is calculated based on several factors, and two of them are relevant to paying your bill early: credit utilization and payment history. 

  • Payment history makes up around 35 percent of your score, and simply put, paying your bill early means that you aren’t paying it late. Late payments can have a major negative effect on your score, so paying your bill on time or early will help boost your score.
  • Credit utilization accounts for around 30 percent of your score, and it represents how much of your available credit you’re actually using. As a general rule, you should aim to use one-third of your credit or less. For example, if you have a total credit limit of $9,000, you’d want to keep your balance below $3,000.

The credit bureaus—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—are responsible for keeping track of your credit history. They receive all of their information from lenders, like the financial institution that issued your credit card. 

After your monthly statement is issued with your balance, you have a grace period before the payment is due—typically around 21 days. During that time, your credit card provider will report your balance to the credit bureaus. If you pay your balance before your statement closes, the total listed balance will be lower, so the credit bureaus will see your overall utilization as lower, which could increase your score.

That said, your particular situation may change how early payments work, so you’ll want to make sure you understand your billing cycle and balance before making early payments.

Is it ever bad to pay your credit card early?

While it is never bad to pay your credit card bill early, the benefits you receive from doing so may vary depending on your circumstances.

For example, if you carry a balance on your credit card every month, you may need to adjust how you handle early payments. While it is a myth that carrying a balance on your card improves your score, there are reasons you may have lingering credit card debt nonetheless.

Early payments work differently if your credit card has a balance.

If you do carry a balance on your card each month, keep the following in mind:

  • Your early payment may not count as your minimum payment. If you have a balance from a previous month, you can’t make an “early” payment toward your next statement. Instead, you’re making an extra payment, so you’ll still need to make a minimum payment after your new statement is issued.
  • You may not save money on interest and fees by making an early payment. Depending on how your credit card issuer calculates finance charges on your previous balance, your early payment may not reduce your interest or fees by much or at all. For example, if you’re charged based on average daily balance, simply paying at the end of the month may not help much.

All that said, it’s still usually a good idea to pay down your credit card debt if you have the funds available to do so. You may not see an immediate score increase if you have a substantial balance, but over time, you’ll build the financial habits that can help you eliminate debt and begin making on-time—or early—payments consistently. 

When is the best time to pay your credit card? 

The best time to pay your credit card bill is before the payment is late. While you may benefit from paying your bill early, you’ll definitely see negative effects if you pay your bill late. 

Paying early keeps your payment history intact and may help lower your overall utilization, while paying your bill more than 30 days late will likely lead to a negative item on your credit report. And if you neglect to pay long enough, your account could get sent to collections. 

If you do start paying your credit card bill early, you’ll want to begin checking your credit report regularly to see how your balance is being reported to the credit bureaus. Over time, you should see your utilization drop and your credit score increase.

While sifting through your credit report, it’s important to keep an eye out for inaccurate information like fraudulent accounts, incorrect negative items or factual mistakes. Any of these inaccurate items could be lowering your credit score. Fortunately, it’s possible to dispute these items on your report and repair your credit score. 


Reviewed by Horacio Celaya, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Horacio Celaya was born in Tucson, Arizona but eventually moved with his family to Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Mr. Celaya went on to graduate with Honors from the Autonomous University of Baja California Law School. Mr. Celaya is a graduate of the University of Arizona where he graduated from James E. Rogers College of Law. During law school, Mr. Celaya received his certificate in International Trade Law, completing his thesis on United States foreign direct investment in Latin America. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Celaya has worked in an immigration firm where he helped foreign investors organize their assets in order to apply for investment-based visas. He also has extensive experience in debt settlement negotiations on behalf of clients looking to achieve debt relief. Mr. Celaya is licensed to practice law in New Mexico. He is located in the Phoenix office. 

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