Dear Penny: I’m So Frugal I Make My Own Toothpaste, So Why Am I Always Broke?

Dear Penny,
So you need to ask yourself some tough questions. Would you rather work your dream job or a job that offers financial security? How important is it that your job actually uses your master’s degree?
College was a struggle for me. As a student with a learning disability, I struggled and school took longer. When I graduated with my master’s of arts in 2008, the economy collapsed, and we went into survival mode. 
We are struggling to stay on a budget with three kids. With increasing prices for basics, we find ourselves back in that space of struggle, overdraft and panic. We’ve tried using budgeting apps and find them confusing or hard to keep up with. 
You have two part-time jobs. But two part-time jobs often don’t add up to one full-time job in terms of compensation. You may not qualify for benefits like health insurance or a company 401(k) match when you’re not a full-time employee. Career advancement can also be hard when you’re a part-timer. That’s not to mention the brain drain that often comes with working two jobs.
Taking a hard look at your current jobs is going to be difficult. You finally found your dream job after a decade of struggles. You made significant sacrifices to earn your master’s degree, and you’re still paying for your education.
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Keep in mind that most people aren’t working their dream jobs. That doesn’t mean they don’t pursue their passions. It’s entirely possible to work a full-time job because it offers good pay and benefits, and then do what you love on the side. There are countless 9-to-5ers whose true passion is blogging, podcasting, volunteer work or playing in a band.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com


If you earned your master’s in a discipline like arts or social work, you may need to accept that a better-paying job may not take advantage of your degree. That’s not to say you’ll never use the skills you acquired from your education. But you may need to shift gears and look for jobs that don’t require your specific degree.
For example, you might have separate envelopes for groceries, clothing, gas and pet expenses. You put the amount of cash you’ve budgeted for each category in the envelope. If you run out of cash for that envelope, you’re done spending in that category for the month. Only in a true emergency do you turn to your debit or credit card.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
People don’t go broke from buying grocery store eggs and name-brand toothpaste. What you have isn’t a spending problem. You clearly have an income problem — meaning you aren’t bringing in enough income to pay for basic expenses and save for the future.
We have done everything we can to survive: We got our grocery budget down by eating a lot of rice and lentils, by getting eggs from a friend and milk from a local farmer. We use free apps and the library for streaming apps. We make our own toothpaste. We are thrift store champs for clothing. 
-J.
There’s so much you’ve done right here. You’ve found creative ways to be frugal, while still providing for your family. You own a home. You’re making progress on your student loan. Now it’s time to take stock of how to maximize your income, even if that means your passion won’t be your full-time job.
There’s only so much you can cut from your variable expenses, i.e., the ones like groceries, clothing and entertainment that you have some control over on a daily basis. Your fixed expenses, like housing, transportation and student loans, tend to eat up a much bigger chunk of your budget, and they’re a lot harder to cut.
This approach can help you avoid overdrafting. Sometimes it helps people identify areas where they didn’t realize they were overspending. But I suspect that in your case, this method will highlight the difficult reality so many Americans are facing right now, which is that income is the problem.
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You don’t say what subject you earned your master’s degree in. But it sounds like it’s not in a particularly lucrative field.

Dear J.,

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After 10 years of struggle, I FINALLY found my dream job, which is part time. Now I have a second job that uses my master’s degree, but it’s only 10 hours a week. With family help, we were able to buy a house. With two jobs, I am finally able to start paying on student loans and not defer them. 

The Best Places to Live in Pennsylvania in 2022

  • Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State for its role in U.S. history
  • The state’s roots are deep in manufacturing, including industries such as coal and steel
  • Living in Pennsylvania gives you access to all the riches of the state, no matter what city you call home

Pennsylvania holds a notable place in the history of this country. Not only did it help shape our formation into the United States, but its roots are deep in the coal, steel and railroad industries. Living in the Keystone State puts you among historic locations that paved the way for the development of so much of this country.

It’s a lofty reputation to hold up, but staying grounded in industry and opportunity has enabled the state to maintain itself as an attractive spot for those looking for employment. With affordable housing across the state, plenty of colleges and universities and a slew of historic landmarks, why wouldn’t you want to call this northern state home?

For all these reasons, the best places to live in Pennsylvania stretch from one side of the state to other. Some cities are easily recognizable, while others you may hear about for the very first time. Regardless, you’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to finding the perfect home in Pennsylvania.

Allentown, PA

Allentown, PA

  • Population: 125,845
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,885
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,027
  • Median home price: $187.750
  • Median household income: $41,167
  • Walk score: 59/100

A rich Dutch history gives Allentown a unique look and feel. Situated on the Lehigh River, this busy city is full of beautiful parks and gardens. It offers up a diverse collection of inhabitants with plenty to do to accommodate any lifestyle. There are plenty of job opportunities and thriving districts for the arts, theater and culture.

A day out and about in Allentown isn’t complete without a walk through the Allentown Art Museum, The Liberty Bell Museum, America On Wheels Museum and more. If the season is right, grab tickets to see the infamous Lehigh Valley IronPigs AAA baseball team go a few innings as well.

Bethel Park, PA

Bethel Park, PA

  • Population: 33,577
  • 1-BR median rent: $975
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,099
  • Median home price: $240,000
  • Median household income: $79,894
  • Walk score: 46/100

A Pittsburgh suburb, Bethel Park combines affordable housing with excellent schools and an abundance of green space. The city’s population is a combination of retirees and young professionals, but it’s also a great place for families. In addition to the parks, you’ll find plenty of bars, coffee shops and retail outlets.

With less than 30 minutes between Pittsburgh and Bethel Park, the town draws in those still commuting in for work, but who are looking for a quieter place to end each day. On weekends, locals will stay put and enjoy everything from the Montour Trail to the Hundred Acres Manor.

Camp Hill, PA

Camp Hill, PA

Source: ApartmentGuide.com/Society Hill
  • Population: 8,130
  • 1-BR median rent: $890
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,422
  • Median home price: $225,900
  • Median household income: $87,008
  • Walk score: 34/100

One of the best places to live in Pennsylvania is a small city along the banks of the Susquehanna River. Camp Hill gives you a nice amount of waterfront to explore. The town is also home to the northernmost engagement of the Gettysburg campaign during the Civil War. To honor this piece of history, you can follow the West Shore. There you’ll find historic buildings and battle sites.

For outdoor lovers, Camp Hill is a perfect home base to access hiking, biking, skiing and water activities. There are also plenty of local parks for a simple stroll.

Collegeville, PA

Collegeville, PA

  • Population: 5,043
  • 1-BR median rent: $2,060
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,655
  • Median home price: $380,000
  • Median household income: $112,500
  • Walk score: 44/100

As a suburb of Philadelphia, Collegeville got its straightforward name from Ursinus College. Academic life still plays an important role here, although the city is also a popular destination for a variety of businesses.

While there’s plenty of shopping and plenty for college students, the area’s top feature is the Perkiomen Trail. This 20-mile path follows the river, connecting many parks and historical sites. You can walk, bike and even ride horseback along the path.

Harrisburg, PA

Harrisburg, PA

  • Population: 50,099
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,137
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,407
  • Median home price: $199,025
  • Median household income: $39,685
  • Walk score: 55/100

As the state capital, Harrisburg is one of the best places to live in Pennsylvania as much for its location within the state as for its history. Living here puts you near the Susquehanna River, Appalachian Trail and the cities of Hershey and Gettysburg. You can easily sample a little nature and history with so much close by.

Within Harrisburg itself, you have access to the city’s own island. Here you’ll find a beach, riverboat, arcade and more. It’s a great stop during the day. When the sun goes down, keep yourself occupied with the upscale bars and restaurants downtown.

Hershey, PA

Hershey, PA

  • Population: 13,858
  • 1-BR median rent: $915
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,075
  • Median home price: $339,900
  • Median household income: $69,688
  • Walk score: 57/100

Yes, it’s named after that chocolate bar. Hershey is often referred to as one of the sweetest places on earth because, to this day, Hershey’s still calls the city home. This not only means a variety of job opportunities working with chocolate but plenty to lure in tourists. The city also boasts Hersheypark, which has rides and a zoo, Hersey Gardens and Hersheypark Stadium.

Although the city grew up around a single company, today, it contains all the attractive elements of a smaller town one could want. Step away from the more touristy areas to find scenic hiking trails, museums, restaurants and shops.

Lancaster, PA

Lancaster, PA

  • Population: 58,039
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,269
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,453
  • Median home price: $225,625
  • Median household income: $45,514
  • Walk score: 56/100

Situated alongside Amish Country, Lancaster is home to the Pennsylvania Dutch. While you can tour Amish attractions and even immerse yourself into the lifestyle for a special experience, locals have plenty of other activities to occupy their time.

As one of the best places to live near Philadelphia, the downtown area is full of shops, theaters, restaurants and art galleries. Underground caverns provide a little adventure for those seeking something different. You can also take a ride on the country’s oldest operating railroad or see a different side of the city’s history with a ghost tour.

Perkasie, PA

Perkasie, PA

  • Population: 9,120
  • 1-BR median rent: $995
  • 2-BR median rent: $995
  • Median home price: $425,000
  • Median household income: $77,420
  • Walk score: 38/100

Another commuter town, Perkasie is one of the best places to live in Pennsylvania because it’s a great small town that’s only about an hour away from downtown Philadelphia. Once known for its factory that made baseballs for the major leagues, Perkasie today has managed to grow while holding onto its rural appeal.

A fantastic park system and revitalized downtown area provide the perfect combination of hometown activities for residents. There’s no shortage of restaurants, shops, music venues and more.

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA

  • Population: 1,603,797
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,872
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,102
  • Median home price: $260,000
  • Median household income: $45,927
  • Walk score: 84/100

The most populated and well-known city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia definitely has one of the rooms where it happened. Not only is it the original home of the Liberty Bell but it also housed our Founding Fathers as they signed the Declaration of Independence into being.

Popular in its own right, Philadelphia offers additional appeal for its proximity to New York City. Hop a train into the city for work or a weekend of fun. You can also stay close to home and snack on an authentic Philly cheesesteak as you enjoy the art and history of downtown. There’s no shortage of 300-year-old buildings, cultural attractions, quaint parks, bars, restaurants and shops.

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, PA

  • Population: 302,971
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,435
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,890
  • Median home price: $217,000
  • Median household income: $48,711
  • Walk score: 69/100

Bookending the state, Pittsburgh is the most populated city on the opposite end from Philly. Known as the City of Bridges, Pittsburgh has long shared a connection with steel, however, the industry is only part of what makes this area so special. As a highly walkable city, you can easily explore on foot but wear comfortable shoes. With over 712 sets of city-maintained steps, you’re going to get a great workout.

If walking isn’t your thing, don’t worry, Pittsburgh has you covered. For sports fans, this affordable town is home to professional baseball, football and hockey teams. For those looking toward higher education, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are the notable tip of Pittsburgh’s collegiate iceberg.

Reading, PA

Reading, PA

  • Population: 95,112
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,475
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,540
  • Median home price: $160,000
  • Median household income: $32,176
  • Walk score: 69/100

Named after the Reading Railroad, which all you Monopoly players should know well, the town of Reading sits in the southeastern part of the state. Today, it’s uniquely known for the variety of pretzel companies that call the area home. Reading is also a combination of culture and history. It’s easy to divide your day between looking at an Egyptian mummy in the Reading Public Museum and hiking through the Nolde Forest. You can also check out Daniel Boone’s birthplace for some real American history.

With plenty of affordable, suburban housing, residents get drawn into Reading for the charms of the city itself, as well as its proximity to Philadelphia. These two cities on the list of best places to live in Pennsylvania are only about 60 miles apart.

Scranton, PA

Scranton, PA

  • Population: 76,328
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,184
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,095
  • Median home price: $149,000
  • Median household income: $40,608
  • Walk score: 58/100

Laid out more like a traditional small town, Scranton has tight-knit neighborhoods clustered around a thriving downtown. You’ll find trendy restaurants, boutiques and art galleries nestled among the historic Lackawanna County Courthouse building.

Taking into account its high population of young professionals and families, Scranton caters to its residents with plenty of special activities, including cultural festivals and monthly art walks. Scranton also pays homage to its nickname, the Electric City, with The Electric City Trolley Station and Museum. The first streetcars, successfully powered by electricity, ran here in the 1880s.

Willow Grove, PA

Willow Grove, PA

Source: ApartmentGuide.com/Willow Pointe
  • Population: 13,730
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,907
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,230
  • Median home price: $300,000
  • Median household income: $79,162
  • Walk score: 57/100

A small town with big fun, Willow Grove offers residents a quiet, laidback community that doesn’t lack the amenities you’d want close by. There are plenty of shopping and dining options that you’d expect to find in bigger cities.

As a Philadelphia suburb, Willow Grove has the nearby city going for it as far as activity goes, but it’s not without its own set of museums and historic sites to occupy residents. Visit the 42-acre grounds and home at Graeme Park or check out the indoor playground at Urban Air Adventure Park for something really different.

Find an apartment for rent in Pennsylvania

The best places to live in Pennsylvania spread to all four corners of the state. Each city has its own charm, beauty and history to explore, not to mention job opportunities and affordable housing.

Once you decide what area is right for you, begin the hunt. Look for apartments for rent in Pennsylvania to see all your options. Then, start narrowing things down by location, amenities and more. You’ll find the perfect place to call home in no time.

The rent information included in this summary is based on a median calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on Apartment Guide and Rent.com as of December 2021.
Median home prices are from Redfin as of December 2021.
Population and median household income are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The information in this article is for illustrative purposes only. This data herein does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.

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5 Mortgage REITs for Yield-Hungry Investors

In the search for rich dividend yields, mortgage REITs (mREITs) are in a class all their own. 

These are companies are structured as real estate investment trusts (REITs), but they own interest-bearing assets like mortgages and mortgage-backed securities rather than physical real estate.

One of the biggest reasons to own mortgage REITs is their exceptional yields, currently averaging around 8% to 9%, according to Nareit – the leading global producer on REIT investment research – more than four times the yield available on the S&P 500. These outsized yields are enticing, but investors should approach these stocks with caution and hold them only as one part of a larger, more diversified portfolio. 

One reason for this is their sensitivity to changes in interest rates. When interest rates rise, mortgage REIT earnings generally decline. The Federal Reserve is signaling plans for multiple rate hikes in 2022 that could create headwinds for these stocks.   

And increasing interest rates hurt mREITs because these businesses borrow money to fund their operations. Their borrowing costs rise with interest rates, but the interest payments they collect from mortgages remain the same, causing profit margins to compress. Some of this risk can be managed with hedging tools, but mortgage REITs can’t eliminate interest-rate risk altogether.  

Another caveat is that mortgage REITs frequently cut dividends when times are tough. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 30 of this sector’s 40 companies either cut or suspended dividends. On the flip side, dividends were quickly restored in 2021, with 20 mREITs raising dividends.

We searched the mortgage REIT universe for stocks whose dividends appear safe this year.

Read on as we explore five of the best mREITs for 2022. A few of these REITs are reducing interest-rate risk via acquisitions or an unusual lending focus, while others have strong balance sheets or outstanding track records for raising dividends. And all of them offer exceptional yields for investors.

Data is as of Jan. 12. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent payout and dividing by the share price. Stocks are listed in order of lowest to highest dividend yield.

1 of 5

Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital

green investing conceptgreen investing concept
  • Market value: $4.1 billion
  • Dividend yield: 2.9%

Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital (HASI, $48.56) is a bit of an oddball for a mortgage REIT in that it specializes in clean energy and infrastructure rather than pure real estate. Specifically, the real estate investment trust invests in wind, solar, storage, energy efficiency and environmental remediation projects – making it not only one of the best mREITs, but also one of the best green energy stocks to own.

Its loan portfolio encompasses 260 projects and is valued at $3.2 billion. In addition to its own loans, Hannon Armstrong manages roughly $8 billion of other assets, mainly for public sector clients.   

This mREIT boasts a $3 billion pipeline and is ideally positioned to capture some portion of the spending from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress in late 2021.  

Over the last three years, Hannon Armstrong has generated 7% annual earnings per share (EPS) gains and 1% yearly dividend growth. Over the next three years, HASI is targeting accelerated gains of 7% to 10% yearly earnings per share growth and 3% to 5% in dividend hikes. Future earnings growth should be enhanced by the firm’s prudent 1.6 times debt-to-equity ratio.

Hannon Armstrong produced exceptional September-quarter results, showing 45% year-over-year loan portfolio growth and a 14% increase in distributable earnings per share. 

Analysts expect earnings of $1.83 per share this year and $1.91 per share next year – more than enough to cover the REIT’s $1.40 per share annual dividend.

HASI is well-liked by Wall Street analysts, with five of the six that are tracking the stock calling it a Buy or Strong Buy. 

2 of 5

Starwood Property Trust

little red house surrounded by little white houseslittle red house surrounded by little white houses
  • Market value: $7.7 billion
  • Dividend yield: 7.6%

Starwood Property Trust (STWD, $25.44) has a $21 billion loan portfolio, making it the largest mortgage REIT in the U.S. The company is affiliated with Starwood Capital Group, one of the world’s biggest private investment firms. 

STWD is considered a mortgage real estate investment trust, but it operates more like a hybrid by owning physical properties as well as mortgages and real estate securities. Its portfolio comprises 61% commercial loans, but the REIT also has sizable footholds in residential loans (11%), properties (12%) and infrastructure lending (9%), a relatively new focus for the company.

The mREIT benefits from access to the databases of Starwood Capital Group, which makes over $100 billion in real estate transactions annually and has a portfolio consisting of 96% floating-rate debt. This high percentage of floating-rate debt and unusually short loan durations – averaging just 3.3 years – minimizes Starwood’s risk from rising interest rates. 

STWD is also one of the nation’s largest servicers of commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) loans; sizable, reliable loan servicing fees help mitigate risk if loan credit quality deteriorates.

Starwood Property Trust closed $3.8 billion of new loans during the September quarter and generated distributable earnings of 52 cents per share – up sequentially from June and slightly above analysts’ consensus estimate. After the September quarter closed, the mREIT booked a huge $1.1 billion gain on the sale of a 20% stake in an affordable housing real estate portfolio.   

The company has made 12 consecutive years of quarterly dividend payments, and unlike many other mortgage REITs, held its ground in 2020 by maintaining an unchanged dividend.

Of the seven Wall Street pros following STWD, one says it’s a Strong Buy, five call it a Buy and just one says Hold. Adding fuel to the bullish fire, CNBC analyst Jon Najarian recently tapped Starwood as one of his top stocks to watch, given its impressive 7.6% dividend yield.

3 of 5

Arbor Realty Trust

mortgage-backed securities conceptmortgage-backed securities concept
  • Market value: $2.8 billion
  • Dividend yield: 7.7%

Arbor Realty Trust (ABR, $18.70) stands out as one of the best mREITS given its six straight quarters of dividend hikes and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 18% for dividend growth over the past five years. 

What’s more, Arbor Realty Trust has delivered 10 straight years of dividend growth while maintaining the industry’s lowest dividend payout rate.

This mortgage REIT is able to steadily grow dividends thanks to the diversity of its operating platform, which generates income from agency and non-agency loans, physical real estate (including rentals) and servicing fees.

Agency loan originations and the servicing portfolio have grown at a 16% CAGR over five years. And during the first nine months of 2021, Arbor Realty Trust set a new record with balance sheet loan originations, coming in at $7.2 billion – 2.5 times its previous record. Loan volume rose 45% over its previous record to total $13.2 billion over the nine-month period.

While September EPS declined year-over-year due to a reduced contribution from equity affiliates, earnings for the first nine months of the year were up 164% from the year prior to $1.56 per share.

Arbor Realty Trust earns Buy ratings from two of the three Wall Street analysts following the stock, and Zacks Research recently named ABR one of its top income picks for 2022. 

Valued at only 10 times forward earnings – which is 15.4% below industry peers – ABR shares appear bargain-priced at the moment.   

4 of 5

MFA Financial

person looking for business loan on laptopperson looking for business loan on laptop
  • Market value: $2.1 billion
  • Dividend yield: 8.2%

MFA Financial (MFA, $4.68) just closed an impactful acquisition that reduces its exposure to interest-rate changes and accelerates loan growth. This REIT was already hedging its bets by investing in both agency and non-agency mortgage securities. 

Agency securities are guaranteed by the U.S. government and tend to be safer, lower-yielding and more sensitive to interest rates than non-agency securities. By combining these in one portfolio, MFA Financial generates nice returns while reducing the impact of changes in interest rates and prepayments on the portfolio. 

Through the July acquisition of Lima One, MFA Financial becomes a major player in business purpose lending (BPL), an attractive niche comprised of fix-and-flip, construction, multi-family and single-family rental loans. 

An aging U.S. housing stock is creating demand for real estate renovations and causing BPL to soar. BPL loans are good quality and high-yielding, but difficult to source in the marketplace. With the purchase of Lima One, MFA Financial gains a $1.1 billion BPL loan-servicing portfolio and an established national franchise for originating these types of loans. 

Lima One’s impact was apparent in MFA Financial’s September-quarter results. The REIT originated $2.0 billion of loans, the highest quarterly total on record, and grew its portfolio by $1.5 billion after runoff. 

Net interest income increased 15% on a sequential basis, and gains recorded on the Lima One purchase contributed 10 cents to the mREIT’s earnings of 28 cents per share. MFA Financial also took advantage of the strong housing market to sell 151 properties, booking a $7.3 million gain on the sale. MFA’s book value – the difference between the total value of a company’s assets and its outstanding liabilities – rose 4% sequentially to $4.82 per share, a modest 3% premium to its current share price.

Raymond James analyst Stephen Laws upgraded MFA to Outperform from Market Perform – the equivalents of Buy and Hold, respectively – in December. He thinks the Lima One acquisition will accelerate loan growth and reduce the mortgage REIT’s borrowing costs.

MFA Financial has a 22-year track record of paying dividends. While payments were reduced in 2020, the REIT recently signaled improving prospects with a 10% dividend hike in late 2021.

5 of 5

Broadmark Realty Capital

real estate contract with keys and penreal estate contract with keys and pen
  • Market value: $1.3 billion
  • Dividend yield: 8.6%

Broadmark Realty Capital (BRMK, $9.77) is unusual for its zero-debt balance sheet, robust loan origination volume and sizable monthly dividends. This mortgage REIT provides short to mid-term loans for commercial construction and real estate development that are less interest-rate sensitive. As such, BRMK is a solid play on America’s housing boom.  

Lending activities focus on states with favorable demographics and lending laws. Plus, 60% of its business comes from repeat customers, ensuring low loan acquisition costs.

Broadmark Realty Capital achieved record loan origination volume of $337 million during the September quarter, roughly twice prior-year levels and up 68% sequentially. The overall portfolio grew to $1.5 billion. Broadmark Realty Capital also originated its first loans in Nevada and Minnesota, with expansion into additional states planned during the December quarter. 

Despite rising revenues and distributable EPS, Broadmark Realty’s results came in slightly below analyst estimates and its share price declined in reaction. However, this price slip may present an opportunity to pick up one of the best mREITs at a discount. At present, BRMK shares trade at just 12.7 times forward earnings and 1.1 times book value – the latter of which is a 15% discount to industry peers.

The mortgage REIT cut its dividend in 2020, but continued to make monthly payments to shareholders. And in 2021, it raised its dividend 17% in early 2021. While dividend payout currently exceeds 100% of fiscal 2021 earnings, analysts are forecasting a 17% rise in fiscal 2022, which would comfortably cover the current 84 cents per share annual dividend.     

Source: kiplinger.com

10 Ways to Turn Off Potential Buyers

As a result of our obsession with photos and visuals today, buyers make judgments of homes immediately. Many will do their first showing online, so if your photos turn them off, they may never step foot inside.

Sellers need to go to great lengths to get buyers in the door. If you can get them through, it’s the small (and often obvious) things that will keep them interested. Though it’s a home first and foremost, it’s also an investment. Make changes or alterations that could turn off a buyer, and you risk hurting your bottom line.

If you’re planning to put your house on the market, be aware of these 10 ways you might be turning off potential buyers.

1. Turn your garage into a family room.

A family room might be attractive – to a family. But if you’ve sacrificed the garage, the trade-off might be a turn-off, especially to people who don’t have kids or who live in dense urban areas, where parking is at a premium. Even in the suburbs, most people want a covered, secure place to park their cars.

Don’t forget that a garage often doubles as a storage location, housing everything from the lawn mower to excess paper towels and cleansers. If you go glam with your garage, you’re likely to force a buyer to look elsewhere.

2. Convert a bedroom into a something other than a bedroom.

Aside from location and price, one of the first things a buyer searches for is number of bedrooms. Why? Because it’s a fundamental requirement.

You might think that having a wine cellar with built-in refrigerators in your home will make it attractive to potential buyers because it was attractive to you. But that’s not for everyone.

And while it’s true many people work from home today, at least part of the time, that doesn’t mean they want a dedicated home office -especially one with built-in desks or bookcases they can’t easily remove.

If you must convert a bedroom into something else, make sure you can readily change it back into a bedroom when you go to sell. If you have lots of bedrooms, buyers might be more forgiving. But a buyer who needs three might see your custom home office as a turn-off.

3. Lay down carpet over hardwood floors.

People like hardwood floors. They look cleaner, add a design element, don’t show dirt as much, and consumers with allergies prefer them over carpets.

If you have gleaming hardwood floors, show them off. Let the buyer decide if she wants to cover them. It’s easier for her to purchase new carpeting of her choosing than to get past yours.

4. Install over-the-top light fixtures.

A beautiful chandelier can enliven a dining room. But it can also turn off buyers who prefer simpler, less ornate fixtures.

Did you fall in love with a dark light fixture on a trip to Casablanca? That’s great. And you should use it for your enjoyment. But when it comes time to sell, replace it with something more neutral.

Remember, you want to appeal to the masses when your home is for sale. You want to stand out from a crowded field of sellers – but in the right way.

5. Turn your kid’s room into a miniature theme park.

Little kids have big imaginations. They tend to love Disney characters, spaceships, and superheroes, and their parents are often all-too-willing to turn their rooms into fantasy caves.

But the more you transform a child’s bedroom into something resembling a Disneyland ride, the more you’ll turn off most potential buyers. Your buyer might have teenage children, and see the removal of wallpaper, paint or little-kid-inspired light fixtures as too much work.

If you can, neutralize the kids’ rooms before you go on the market.

6. Add an above-ground pool.

Does it get hot in the summer where you live? Wish you had a backyard pool, but can’t afford to have a “real” pool installed? Then you might be tempted to buy and set up an above-ground pool.

For most buyers, though, these pools are an eyesore. Also, an above-ground pool can leave a big dead spot of grass in your backyard – another eyesore.

If you must have it, consider dismantling it before going on the market. Of course, be sure you’re ready to sell, or you may be stuck without a place to cool off next summer.

7. Leave dirty dishes in the sink.

A kitchen full of dirty dishes is not only unattractive, but it sends a strong message to the buyer: You don’t care about your home.

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If your home is for sale, buyers will be coming through, and you want to impress them. Would you keep dirty dishes in the sink for your in-laws or overnight guests? Probably not. Then why wouldn’t you clean up for your potential customers?

Putting your home up for sale, and keeping it on the market, is work. If you aren’t cut out for it, considering holding off until you are ready to clean up for the buyers.

8. Make buyers take off their shoes.

This turn-off cuts both ways. As an agent, I always hated being forced to take my shoes off in someone else’s home - until I sold my own. Not only was it inconvenient, but also I wasn’t happy about my socks picking up a random homeowner’s dirt, pet hair and dust.

Once I became a first-time home seller, and one with sparkling new hardwood floors and carpet, I couldn’t imagine allowing dirt and grime from the outside world to dirty up my floors.

So what’s the compromise? Shoe covers from a medical supply store. Buyers and agents don’t need to take off their shoes, simply cover them. It’s a win-win for everyone.

9. Smoke cigarettes in every room of your house – for years.

Over time, the smell of smoke permeates your home. It gets into the carpet, drapes, wood paneling - just about everywhere. And that’s a big turn-off to most buyers today.

Getting rid of the smoke smell can be a big job. If you’re a smoker, seriously consider how you want to present your home to the market. For a long-term smoke-filled home, it means painting, removing carpets, and doing lots of deep cleaning. If you don’t do it, don’t expect to get top dollar for your home.

10. Keep Fido’s bed and toys front and center.

Family pets bring a lot of joy to the home. But they don’t always bring the same joy to a prospective buyer. Dog’s toys, filled with saliva, dirt and dust, can be a sore both for the eyes and the nose.

If you have a pet, put a plan in place to move the food and water bowls as well as the toys and dog’s bed to a better location, like in the garage.

It’s your home – for now

Part of the joy of owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it, to it, and in it. You should enjoy it. But if you want to sell it quickly and for top dollar down the road, try to picture how others might react to any renovations, additions or modifications you make.

The more specific you get – such as turning your kid’s room into a miniature castle – the harder it will be to sell your home later, and the less return on investment you’ll get. When considering changes to your home, always consider resale.

Related:

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

Source: zillow.com

How Risky is Investing in Rental Properties?

I am trying to buy as many rental properties as possible because of the great returns they provide. I am also trying to help other investors discover the fantastic world of investing in long-term rentals through my blog. However, I run into a lot of feedback from people who are worried about how risky it is to invest in rental properties. I hear: “my friend went broke investing in real estate” or “my parents had a rental and it was a money pit up until the day they were forced to sell it.” There are many horror stories involving real estate, but I have no doubt whatsoever long-term rentals are a great investment if you do your homework and buy properties right. Most of those horror stories come from people who did not do their homework, turned a personal residence into a rental out of necessity, or were hoping for appreciation. What are the real risks of rental properties and how can you mitigate these risks?

What are the main risks of investing in rental properties?

There are real risks with investing in rental properties. Many people felt the wrath of these risks in the last housing crash. Housing values plummeted and in some areas rents plummeted as well. Interestingly enough, not every area saw lower rental rates. Some areas saw rents increase because there were so many more renters (people who lost their houses) and the demand pushed rents up.

The investors who were hurt the most in the housing crash were those who were breaking even on their properties or losing money each month and hoping prices would increase to make money. When the bottom dropped out, they now had a property that was losing money each month and was worth less than they had bought it for. Many investors allowed these homes to go into foreclosure because they didn’t think they were worth keeping.

Other risks come from rentals when people buy a property and do not have enough cash to maintain the property or hold it when it is vacant. Most banks will require a certain amount of reserves when you get a loan on an investment property. But as soon as the property is purchased there is nothing stopping the owners from spending that reserve money. When you own a rental there will be times when the tenants move out, there can be evictions, and rarely a tenant can destroy a property. We see these situations occur quite often because people love to see drama but for the most part our tenants take care of our rentals and are awesome.

Why invest in rentals with these risks?

Rental properties have made me a ton of money over the last decade. Prices have increased significantly, which is great, but the properties also make money every month, and I always get a great deal on everything I buy which means I build equity on day one. There are many ways to mitigate the risks of rentals and the money I have made from my properties more than makes the risks worth it!

A lot of people will assume that when you are investing in large value assets like real estate and there can be huge returns, that the risk must be through the roof. There are types of real estate that can be very risky. We flip houses as well, and that is a much riskier venture than owning rental properties in my opinion. Development can also be much riskier but again come with huge rewards as well.

I also was an REO broker during the housing crash and I talked to many investors who lost homes. I was able to see why they lost their homes, what they could have done differently, and what happened after they lost their homes. For the most part, they bought houses that did not cash flow or make money every month and when things went bad they lost the motivation to keep paying into them. Losing the houses was also not the end of the world for these investors. Many of them had put little money down thanks to the crazy lending that was happening prior to that last crash. They were also able to keep those houses for quite a while after they stopped making payments. Many investors kept collecting rent during this time period which may or may not have been legal, but it did happen.

Many of those investors got right back in the real estate game after recovering and invested the right way with cash flow!

How can you mitigate the risk from rentals?

Buy below market value

One key to a low-risk rental strategy or any successful real estate strategy is to buy property below market value. Buying a property below market enables you to create instant equity, increase your net worth, and protects against a downturn in the market. One of the investors who was hurt badly during the crash was buying brand new houses and turning them into rentals. The houses were in great shape, but he paid full retail value for them.

When I buy rentals I want to pay at least 20% less than they are worth after considering any repairs are needed. For example:

  • A home needs $20,000 in repairs and will be worth $200,000 after those repairs. I want to pay $140,000 or less for that property ($200,000 x .80 – $20k). If I am flipping houses, I need to get an even better deal!

I also usually put about 20% down when I buy rentals which means after the property is repaired I have a loan around $110,000 and a property worth $200,000. Even if prices lost 30%, which is about how much they dropped across the county I am fine.

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Cash flow

I consider cash flow the most important factor in my long-term rental strategy. I want every property to make money each month after paying all expenses. Finding these properties that are also a great deal is not easy, but if you want to change your life with massive returns, it is not easy! When I invest I look for a return of 15% cash on cash. That means I make 15% on the money I have invested into the property. These are very high returns and not everyone needs to make this much but it is what I shoot for.

When you have cash flow coming in every month, it does not matter if values decrease because you do not need to sell the property. While it is true that rents can decrease and lower your cash flow, that is very rare and was even very rare in the last housing crash. There were some areas like Florida and Arizona that were massively overbuilt that saw lower rents, but the nation as a whole barely saw any drop.

My cash flow calculator can help you figure the real income on rentals.

Type of property

The older the property, the better the chance of a major repair needing to be done. I have enough cash flow coming in to account for major repairs, but homes over 100 years old can have issues come up that could wipe out all equity. It is rare, but a foundation or structural problem can make a property uninhabitable and cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair. By purchasing newer properties, I lessen the chances of running into repairs that could wipe out my profit for a year or even two.

Multifamily and commercial real estate can also carry more risk. Those types of properties are more complicated and have fewer buyers. I also buy multifamily and commercial properties but I am very careful what I buy and understand there will most likely be way more costs and exposure if the market changes.

If you buy properties that need a ton of work that can add to the risk as well. On my flips and rentals, the worst deals I have done were properties that needed massive remodels. It takes so much time, so many resources, and there is so much that can go wrong. It can also be risky trying to do all of that work yourself!

Cash reserves

One of the most important things to have when investing in real estate is cash! If you buy rentals or flips that can be expensive at times. It is very important to set aside cash to take care of the problems that might come up. When I figure my cash flow I set aside money for vacancies and repairs. You need to have cash set aside in case something goes wrong and this is one of the biggest mistakes landlords make is not having cash around.

Ironically, getting a loan allows investors to have more cash in many cases. Paying down the mortgage early or trying to pay it off with all your extra cash can leave you in a bad situation. If you do pay a property off and need to access that money in an emergency it can be hard to get to without selling.

Good management

Another way to have problems with your rentals is to manage them poorly. Many people have no idea how to manage a rental but decide they can do it on their own. They choose a bad tenant after not screening them, then never check on the property, and are surprised when it gets trashed. If you are going to manage rentals on your own you have to take the time to learn how to manage them. You have to screen tenants, and keep tabs on the properties!

If you don’t want to manage them yourself, you can hire a property manager as well. It takes time to find a good property manager and this is where it takes from work from the landlord as well. Again, no one said owning rentals was easy, but there are many ways to make them a great investment if you are willing to put in the work.

Liability and damage

Another risk that comes with rental properties is natural disasters or liability from accidents. People can get hurt and can sue tenants or tornados can wipe your property off the earth. Both instances are rare, but they happen. To mitigate the liability side you can put your properties in an LLC or make sure you have the property insurance coverage like a landlord and umbrella policy. With these policies, if you have a tenant destroy property or need to be evicted, they can help cover those costs as well! Putting a property in an LLC can help with getting sued but is not foolproof.

It is important to make sure your insurance agent knows you are using the property as a rental so you have the right coverage. It might be cheaper to leave homeowners insurance on the property if you used to live there but that can cause problems down the road.

Risks that are tough to mitigate

There are some cases where a landlord does everything right but still has a massive loss. These are rare but can happen and just about any investment or simply living life comes with risks.

  • Meth or drug house: If someone is cooking meth or using meth in your house it can cause damage that insurance will not cover. You may have to make major repairs depending on how bad it is. These risks can be alleviated by good tenant screening and checking on the properties often. It is not always the case, but many drug houses we see have cameras all over. That can be a sign to check the house out more if you see cameras on your rental.
  • Floods: Not all floods are covered by insurance. You often need an additional rider or flood coverage. If you are in a flood zone the lender will require the additional coverage but if you pay cash or use private money you may not be required to have it. There is also the risk of a flood outside a flood zone. If the property has a risk of flooding it is important to talk to your insurance agent about additional coverage.

Why does everyone say rentals are risky?

I won’t tell you it is impossible to lose money investing in long-term rentals. It can easily happen if you don’t have a plan, have reserves, or are impatient. It is not easy to buy properties below market value with great cash flow. If it were easy investing in long-term rentals, everyone would be investing in real estate.

The reason so many people think rentals are risky is that they hear anecdotal stories. Stories are good for entertainment and drama but they don’t give the entire picture. “my cousins, aunts, friend, lost all their money when their rental was trashed!” They failed to tell us the person self-managed a property they used to live in from 4 states away and never once talked to the tenant in 3 years. Then they were surprised it was trashed. There are all kinds of stories but usually, you can find one of the main reasons above for why people lose money on rentals. Overall, real estate is one of the best ways to build wealth!

Don’t be scared to invest in rental properties

There are many people who have gotten rich and retired early by investing in long-term rentals. There is a lot of opportunity and many advantages to investing in real estate. Just because you can have some great rewards does not mean there is a massive risk. Some risk? Yes of course and the less you pay attention to your investment the riskier it will get!

Categories Rental Properties

Source: investfourmore.com

Factoring Inflation into Your Retirement Plan

Right now, inflation is top of mind for everyone, perhaps especially retirees.

Inflation is important. But it is only one of the risks that retirees have to plan for and manage. And like the other risks you have to manage, you can build an income plan so that rising costs (both actual and feared) do not ruin your retirement.

Inflation and Your Budget

Remember that in retirement your budget is different than when you were working, so you will be impacted in different ways. And, of course, when you were working your salary and bonuses might have gone up with inflation, which helped offset long-term cost increases.

Much of your pre-retirement budget was spent on housing — an average of 30% to 40%. Retirees with smaller or paid-off mortgages will have lower housing costs even as their children are busy taking out loans to buy houses, and even home equity loans to pay for home improvements.

On the other hand, while health care looms as a big cost for everyone, for retirees these expenses can increase faster than income. John Wasik recently wrote an article for The New York Times that cited a recent study showing increases in Medicare Part B premiums alone will eat up a large part of the recent 5.9% cost of living increase in Social Security benefits. As Wasik wrote, “It’s difficult to keep up with the real cost of health care in retirement unless you plan ahead.”

Inflation and Your Sources of Income

To protect yourself in retirement means (A) creating an income plan that anticipates inflation over many years and (B) allowing yourself to adjust for inflation spikes that may affect your short-term budget.

First, when creating your income plan, it’s important to look at your sources of income to see how they respond directly or indirectly to inflation.

  1. Some income sources weather inflation quite well. Social Security benefits, once elected, increase with the CPI. And some retirees are fortunate enough to have a pension that provides some inflation protection.
  2. Dividends from stocks in high-dividend portfolios have grown over time at rates that compare favorably with long-term inflation.
  3. Interest payments from fixed-income securities, when invested long-term, have a fixed rate of return. But there are also TIPS bonds issued by the government that come with inflation protection.
  4. Annuity payments from lifetime income annuities are generally fixed, which makes them vulnerable to inflation. Although there are annuities available that allow for increasing payments to combat inflation.
  5. Withdrawals from a rollover IRA account are variable and must meet RMD requirements, which do not track inflation.   The key in a plan for retirement income, however, is that withdrawals can make up any inflation deficit. In Go2Income planning, the IRA is invested in a balanced portfolio of growth stocks and fixed income securities. While the returns will fluctuate, the long-term objective is to have a return that exceeds inflation.
  6. Drawdowns from the equity in your house, which can be generated through various types of equity extraction vehicles, can be set by you either as level or increasing amounts. Use of these resources should be limited as a percentage of equity in the residence.

The challenge is that with these multiple sources of income, how do you create a plan that protects you against the inflation risk — as well as other retirement risks?

Key Risks That a Retirement Income Plan Should Address

A good plan for income in retirement considers the many risks we face as we age. Those include:

  1. Longevity risk. To help reduce the risk of outliving your savings, Social Security, pension income and annuity payments provide guaranteed income for life and become the foundation of your plan. As one example, you should be smart about your decision on when and how to claim your Social Security benefit in order to maximize it.
  2. Market risk. While occasional “corrections” in financial markets grab headlines and are cause for concern, you can manage your income plan by reducing your income’s dependence on these returns.  By having a large percentage of your income safe and less dependent on current market returns, and by replanning periodically, you are pushing a significant part of the market risk (and reward) to your legacy. In other words, the kids may receive a legacy that reflects in part a down market, which can recover during their lifetimes.
  3. Inflation risk. While a portion of every retiree’s income should be for their lifetime and less dependent on market returns, you need to build in an explicit margin for inflation risk on your total income. The easiest way to do that is to accept lower income at the start.  For example, under a Go2Income plan, our typical investor (a female, age 70 with $2 million of savings, of which 50% is in a rollover IRA) can plan on starting income of $114,000 per year under a 1% inflation assumption. It would be reduced to $103,000 under a 2% assumption.

So, what factors should you consider in making that critical assumption about how much inflation you need to account for in your plan?

Picking a Long-Term Assumed Inflation Rate  

Financial writers often talk about the magic of compound interest; in real numbers, it translates to $1,000 growing at 3% a year for 30 years to reach $2,428. Sounds good when you’re saving or investing. But what about when you’re spending? The purchase that today costs $1,000 could cost $2,428 in 30 years if inflation were 3% a year.

When you design your plan, what rate of inflation do you assume? Here are some possible options (Hint: One option is better than the others):

  • Assume the current inflation of 5.9% is going to continue forever.
  • Assume your investments will grow faster than inflation, whatever the level.
  • Assume a reasonable long-term rate for inflation, just like you do for your other assumptions.

We like the third choice, particularly when you consider the chart below. Despite the dramatically high rate of today’s inflation that affects every result in the chart, the long-term inflation rate over the past 30 years was 2.4%. For the past 10 years, it was even lower at 2.1%.

A Long-Term View Smooths Inflation Spikes

A table shows what a $1,000 item would cost today if purchased in years ranging from 2020 to 1991, showing inflation rates of 6.9% currently, down to 2.4% for 30 years.A table shows what a $1,000 item would cost today if purchased in years ranging from 2020 to 1991, showing inflation rates of 6.9% currently, down to 2.4% for 30 years.

Managing Inflation in Real Time

Whether you build your plan around 2.0%, 2.5% or even 3.0%, it is helpful to realize that any short-term inflation rate will not match your plan assumption. My view is that you can adjust to this short-term inflation in multiple ways.

  • Where possible, defer purchases that are affected by temporary price hikes.
  • Where you can’t defer purchases, use your liquid savings accounts to purchase the items, and avoid drawing down from your retirement savings.
  • If you believe price hikes will continue, revise your inflation assumption and create a new plan. Of course, monitor your plan on a regular basis.

Inflation as Part of the Planning Process

Go2Income planning attempts to simplify the planning for inflation and all retirement risks:

  1. Set a long-term assumption as to the inflation level that you’re comfortable with.
  2. Create a plan that lasts a lifetime by integrating annuity payments.
  3. Generate dividend and interest yields from your personal savings, and avoid capital withdrawals.
  4. Use rollover IRA withdrawals from a balanced portfolio to meet your inflation-protected income goal.
  5. Manage your plan in real time and make adjustments to your plan when necessary.

Inflation is a worry for everyone, whether you are retired or about to retire. Put together a plan at Go2Income  and then adjust it based on your expectations and investments. We will help you create the best approach to inflation and all retirement risks you may face.

President, Golden Retirement Advisors Inc.

Jerry Golden is the founder and CEO of Golden Retirement Advisors Inc. He specializes in helping consumers create retirement plans that provide income that cannot be outlived. Find out more at Go2income.com, where consumers can explore all types of income annuity options, anonymously and at no cost.

Source: kiplinger.com

Understanding Economic Indicators

An economic indicator is a statistic or piece of data that offers insight into an economy. Analysts use economic indicators to gauge where an economic system is in the present moment, and where it might head next.

Governments use economic indicators as guideposts when assessing monetary or fiscal policies, and corporations use them to make business decisions. Individual investors can also look to these indicators as they shape their portfolios.

There are different types of economic indicators and understanding how they work can make it easier to interpret them.

What Is an Economic Indicator?

An economic indicator is typically a macroeconomic data point, statistic, or metric used to analyze the health of an individual economy or the global economy at large. Government agencies, universities, and independent organizations can collect and organize economic indicator data. In the United States, the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are some of the entities that aggregate economic indicator data.

Some of the most recognizable economic indicators examples include:

•   Gross domestic product (GDP)

•   Personal income and real earnings

•   International trade in goods and services

•   U.S. import and expert prices

•   Consumer prices (as measured by the Consumer Price Index or CPI)

•   New residential home sales

•   New home construction

•   Rental vacancy rates

•   Home ownership rates

•   Business inventories

•   Unemployment rates

•   Consumer confidence

Private organizations also regularly collect and share economic data investors and economists may use as indicators. Examples of these indicators include the Fear and Greed Index, existing home sales, and the index of leading economic indicators.

Together, these indicators can provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the economy and shine light on potential opportunities for investors.

How Economic Indicators Work

Economic indicators work by measuring a specific component of the economy over a set time period. An indicator may tell you what patterns are emerging in the economy — or confirm the presence of patterns already believed to be established. In that sense, these indicators can serve as a thermometer of sorts for gauging the temperature of the economic environment or where an economy is in a given economic cycle.

Economic indicators can not predict future economic or market movements with 100% accuracy. But they can be useful when attempting to identify signals about which way the economy (and the markets) might head next.

For example, an investor may study an economic indicator like consumer prices when gauging whether inflation is increasing or decreasing. If the signs point to a steady rise in prices, the investor might then adjust their portfolio to account for higher inflation. As prices rise, purchasing power declines but investors who are conscious of this economic indicator could take action to minimize negative side effects.

Recommended: How to Invest and Profit During Inflation

Types of Economic Indicators

Economic indicators are not all alike in terms of what they measure and how they do it. Different types of economic indicators can provide valuable information about the state of an economy. Broadly speaking, they can be grouped into one of three categories: Leading, lagging, or coincident.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are the closest thing you might get to a crystal ball when studying the markets. These indicators pinpoint changes in economic factors that may precede specific trends.

Examples of leading indicators include:

•   Consumer confidence and sentiment

•   Jobless claims

•   Movements in the yield curve

•   Stock market volatility

A leading indicator doesn’t guarantee that a particular trend will take shape, but it does suggest that conditions are ripe for it to do so.

Lagging Indicators

Lagging indicators are the opposite of leading indicators. These economic indicators are backward-looking and highlight economic movements after the fact.

Examples of lagging indicators include:

•   Gross national product (GNP)

•   Unemployment rates

•   Consumer prices

•   Corporate profits

Analysts look at lagging indicators to determine whether an economic pattern has been established, though not whether that pattern is likely to continue.

Coincident Indicators

Coincident indicators measure economic activity for a particular area or region. Examples of coincident indicators include:

•   Retail sales

•   Employment rates

•   Real earnings

•   Gross domestic product

These indicators reflect economic changes at the same time that they occur. So they can be useful for studying real-time trends or patterns.

Popular Economic Indicators

There are numerous economic indicators the economists, analysts, institutional and retail investors use to better understand the market and the direction in which the economy may move. The Census Bureau, for example, aggregates data for more than a dozen indicators. But investors tend to study some indicators more closely than others. Here are some of the most popular economic indicators and what they can tell you as an investor.

Gross Domestic Product

Gross domestic product represents the inflation-adjusted value of goods and services produced in the United States. This economic indicator offers a comprehensive view of the country’s economic activity and output. Specifically, gross domestic product can tell you:

•   How fast an economy is growing

•   Which industries are growing (or declining)

•   How the economic activity of individual states compares

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates GDP for the country, individual states and for U.S. territories. The government uses GDP numbers to establish spending and tax policy, as well as monetary policy, at the federal levels. States also use gross domestic product numbers in financial decision-making.

Consumer Price Index

The Consumer Price Index or CPI measures the change in price of goods and services consumed by urban households. The types of goods and services the CPI tracks include:

•   Food and beverages

•   Housing

•   Apparel

•   Transportation

•   Medical care

•   Recreation

•   Education

•   Communications

CPI data comes from 75 urban areas throughout the country and approximately 23,000 retailers and service providers. This economic indicator is the most widely used tool for measuring inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the consumer price index, it’s a way to measure a government’s effectiveness in managing economic policy.

Producer Price Index

The Producer Price Index or PPI measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers of goods and services. In simpler terms, this metric measures wholesale prices for the sectors of the economy that produce goods, including:

•   Mining

•   Manufacturing

•   Agriculture

•   Fishing

•   Forestry

•   Construction

•   Natural gas and electricity

The Producer Price Index can help analysts estimate inflation, as higher prices will show up on the wholesale level first before they get passed on to consumers at the retail level.

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is an economic indicator that tells you the number of people currently unemployed and looking for work. The BLS provides monthly updates on the unemployment rate and nonfarm payroll jobs. Together, the unemployment rate and the number of jobs added or lost each month can indicate the state of the economy.

Higher unemployment, for example, generally means that the economy isn’t creating enough jobs to meet the demand by job seekers. When the number of nonfarm payroll jobs added for the month exceeds expectations, on the other hand, that can send a positive signal that the economy is growing.

Consumer Confidence

The Consumer Confidence Index can provide insight into future economic developments, based on how households are spending and saving money today. This indicator measures how households perceive the economy as a whole and how they view their own personal financial situations, based on the answers they provide to specific questions.

When the indicator is above 100, this suggests consumers have a confident economic outlook, which may make them more inclined to spend and less inclined to save. When the indicator is below 100, the mood is more pessimistic and consumers may begin to curb spending in favor of saving.

The Consumer Confidence Index is separate from the Consumer Sentiment Index, which is also used to gauge how Americans feel about the economy. This index also uses a survey format and can tell you how optimistic or pessimistic households are and what they perceive to be the biggest economic challenges at the moment.

Retail Sales

Retail sales are one of the most popular economic indicators for judging consumer activity. This indicator measures retail trade from month to month. When retail sales are higher, consumers are spending more money. If more spending improves company profits, that could translate to greater investor confidence in those companies, which may drive higher stock prices.

On the other hand, when retail sales lag behind expectations the opposite can happen. When a holiday shopping season proves underwhelming, for example, that can shrink company profits and potentially cause stock prices to drop.

Housing Starts

Census Bureau compiles data on housing starts. This economic indicator can tell you at a glance how many new home construction projects in a given month. This data is collected for single-family homes and multi-family units.

Housing starts can be useful as an economic indicator because they give you a sense of whether the economy is growing or shrinking. In an economic boom, it’s not uncommon to see high figures for new construction. If the boom goes bust, however, new home start activity may dry up.

It’s important to remember that housing starts strongly correlate to mortgage interest rates. If mortgage rates rise in reaction to a change in monetary policy, housing starts may falter, which makes this economic indicator more volatile than others.

Interest Rates

Federal interest rates are an important economic indicator because of the way they’re used to shape monetary policy. The Federal Reserve makes adjustments to the federal funds rate — which is the rate at which commercial banks borrow from one another overnight–based on what’s happening with the economy overall. These adjustments then trickle down to the interest rates banks charge for loans or pay to savers.

For example, when inflation is rising or the economy is growing too quickly, the Fed may choose to raise interest rates. This can have a cooling effect, since borrowing automatically becomes more expensive. Savers can benefit, however, from earning higher rates on deposits.

On the other hand, the Fed may lower rates when the economy is sluggish to encourage borrowing and spending. Low rates make loans less expensive, potentially encouraging consumers to borrow for big-ticket items like homes, vehicles, or home improvements. Consumer spending and borrowing can help to stimulate the economy.

Stock Market

The stock market and the economy are not the same. But some analysts view stock price and trading volume as a leading indicator of economic activity. For example, investors look forward to earnings reports as an indicator of a company’s financial strength and health. They use this information about both individual companies and the markets as a whole to make strategic investment decisions.

If a single company’s earnings report is above or below expectations, that alone doesn’t necessarily suggest where the economy might be headed. But if numerous companies produce earnings reports that are similar, in terms of meeting or beating expectations, that could indicate an economic trend.

If multiple companies come in below earnings expectations, for example, that could hint at not only lower market returns but also a coming recession. On the other hand, if the majority of companies are beating earnings expectations by a mile, that could signal a thriving economy.

The Takeaway

Economic indicators can provide a significant amount of insight into the economy and the trends that shape the markets. Having a basic understanding of the different types of economic indicators could give you an edge if you’re better able to anticipate market movements when you start investing.

You can use these indicators to help shape your investing strategy. One way to get started building a portfolio is by opening an online brokerage account on the SoFi Invest trading platform, which you can use to trade stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), cryptocurrency and even IPOs.

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SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
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Source: sofi.com