Start-up business loan options

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.

It can cost a lot of money to start a business, and most individuals don’t have all the capital they need up front, so they turn to a lender for help. Start-up business loans are offered by financial institutions to help business owners with a new business’s costs. While they’re a great concept, start-up business loans can be quite challenging to acquire.

These loans are risky for lenders, so the approval process can be laborious. Luckily, there are many options to consider.

How Can You Fund Your Start-Up?

When it comes to finding a start-up, business owners have several options available to them.

SBA Microloans

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has a microloan program that offers loans up to $50,000 for small businesses and not-for-profit childcare centers. The average microloan is $13,000.

The SBA provides funds to specially designated nonprofit community-based organizations that act as intermediary lenders. These intermediaries administer the microloan program for eligible business owners. Here’s a list of providers.

Each of these intermediary lenders has its own set of unique requirements for borrowers. Typically, the intermediary lender will require some collateral from the business owner for the loan. These microloans can be used for working capital, inventory, supplies, furniture or fixtures. Microloans can’t be used to pay existing debts or purchase real estate.

Business owners who apply for SBA microloan financing may be required to fulfill training or planning requirements before being considered for the loan. The microloan downside is the “micro” part: Funding may not be sufficient for all borrowers.

The repayment terms on the microloan will vary depending on factors such as the loan amount, the planned use of the funds and the small business owner’s needs. Generally, the interest rates range between eight and 13 percent. Additionally, the maximum repayment term allowed for an SBA microloan is six years.

Other Microlenders

There are nonprofit organizations that are microlenders for small business loans. These microlenders are generally considered an easier route than an SBA microloan, especially for individuals with questionable credit history. A nonprofit microlender usually focuses on offering loans to minority or traditionally disadvantaged small business owners. Additionally, they help out small businesses in communities that are struggling economically.

These microlenders offer good term rates and allow business owners to establish better credit. This can help the business owner get other types of financing later on.

Individuals may consider a nonprofit microlender for a variety of reasons:

  1. Because profit is not their objective, the loan terms are fair and don’t take advantage of people in difficult situations.
  2. In addition to financing, many microlenders offer free consulting and training, helping small business owners make the right decisions to build their credit.

Business Credit Cards

You have a credit card for your personal expenses, so why not for your business expenses? Business credit cards can be an alternative financing solution to start-up business loans. To qualify for a business credit card, the lender will typically look at your personal credit score and combined income (business and personal).

One of the main benefits of a business credit card is that it allows you to, right away, separate your business and personal finances. You will start establishing business credit, which will help you in the future with additional business financing. Additionally, many business credit cards have great sign-up bonuses or rewards, such as cash back.

Some owners may incorrectly assume that it’s a poor decision to rely on a credit card for business expenses. However, having and using a business credit card is much more common than you may realize. In a 2019 survey from the Federal Reserve Banks, it was revealed that 59 percent of small business applicants use credit cards to fund their business.

If your score or income is low, you may have to consider a secured business credit card. Secured credit cards often come with higher interest rates and higher fees, so whenever possible, you’ll want to opt for an unsecured credit card.

Even if you receive an unsecured credit card, a low credit score will mean your interest rates on the card are higher than average. That’s why it’s essential you try to improve your credit before applying for a business credit card.

Personal Funding

You can also consider personal funding options to start up your business. Some examples are personal loans, dipping into your savings or home equity or personal credit cards. However, you should understand the risk of using this type of financing for your business. You will want to do some realistic calculations and ensure the business will be able to stand on its own without relying on further personal funding down the road.

If you use a personal credit card for business expenses, make sure you make payments right away and watch your credit utilization ratio. You should be aware that mistakes can significantly destroy your personal credit score, which will have serious consequences.

If you have a good amount in your personal savings, using this money is smart because you won’t have to pay interest on it. However, you’re ultimately taking a high risk. If your business doesn’t do well for a while, you won’t have savings to tide you over. The same applies to borrowing against your home equity. It will likely be a cheap option, but it comes with a significant risk.

If you do choose to use personal funding to start your business, make sure you take steps to start establishing business credit as quickly as possible. This will allow you to leverage business credit to gain more financing in the future and make the transition from personal financing to business avenues.

Lastly, you may consider branching out and asking friends or family for money. Make sure not to apply too much pressure, and give them the option of declining. 

Grants

Both private foundations and government agencies offer small business grants. These can be quite difficult to get, but it’s worth trying, as it would essentially be free capital.

Grants are often offered for specific groups, such as grants for US veterans or female entrepreneurs.

Venture Capital Investments

If you believe your business idea has the potential for massive growth, you may consider pitching it to venture capitalists. A venture capital investment gives you money in exchange for an ownership share or active role in the company. These investors can be individuals or part of a venture capitalist firm

The benefit of a venture capital investment is that it’s not a loan, so you’re not acquiring debt. Instead, the third party offers capital in return for equity. However, this does mean a higher risk, as you may end up paying them out significantly more if your business yields high returns. You’re also often giving up some control of your company to the investor.

Crowdfunding

Platforms like KickStarter have made crowdfunding an easily accessible and valid option for individuals wanting to start a business. You typically share your business plan and objectives with a public forum and hope people make donations or backings to fund the project.

These campaigns take lots of marketing effort but can get significant funding if they’re successful.

Which Option Is Best for You?

It can be difficult to know which of these options is the right approach for your business. However, we’ve broken down how you can better identify which solution works for you:

  1. First, determine how much funding you’ll need to start. This number will automatically rule out some of the options.
  2. Next, determine your credit score—both your personal score and business score (if applicable). Once again, this may rule out some funding options if your credit score is too low. For your personal consumer credit scoring, consider credit repair services to work on your credit score so you have more funding options available to you in the future.
  3. Understand that some of the business funding options will require collateral. Complete an analysis of your assets and identify if you have any collateral to offer up.
  4. When you apply for most types of financing, you’ll be required to share certain documents. You can have these documents prepared ahead of time. Some of the most common documents needed are a business plan, a business forecast, a business credit report, a personal credit report, tax returns, applicable licenses and registrations and legal contracts, to name a few.
  5. It’s essential that you only borrow an amount you can repay. Sometimes, you’ll be approved for much more than you think you need. Avoid taking it just because it’s offered to you.

More than anything, applying for start-up business loans starts with your credit. You should know your credit score, identify whether it’s low and consider credit repair services if needed. Ultimately, the higher your credit score, the better rates and financing options you’ll receive. Lexington Law can help with all your credit needs, so get started today.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

What a Bad Credit Score Is

What is considered a bad credit score can vary depending on the credit scoring model being used but, ultimately, it comes down to what each lender considers a “bad” credit score. Your credit score is used by lenders to assess the risk that you may pose to them, should they provide you credit, and each lender may consider a different score as a “bad” credit score. When considering the most commonly used credit scoring model, FICO, the scores range from 300 to 850, and is usually categorized in the following ranges:

  • Excellent Credit: 781 – 850
  • Good Credit: 661-780
  • Fair Credit: 601-660
  • Poor Credit: 501-600
  • Bad Credit: below 500

The information in your credit report from credit bureaus is used to determine your credit score.

While the above ranges can help you get a better idea of where your credit score falls in regards to typical risk assessment and quality of credit, as stated above, each lender may consider a different score as being a “bad” credit score. For example, an auto loan lender may consider a credit score between 300 and 500 as being a bad credit score while a mortgage lender will likely consider a credit score between 300 and 650 as being a bad credit score.

What Does A Bad Credit Score Mean For Me?

For many people the subject of credit scores can be a stressful, if not sensitive, topic to discuss, especially if your credit score falls within the range that is typically considered as a bad credit score. There are numerous reasons that someone would have a bad credit score – many of which may not have been in your control – but here you are now, with “bad” credit, and it’s important to know how it will affect you.

First of all, as you may have already experienced, a lower credit score can lead to you being denied by a lender for anything from buying a mattress with a payment plan to a new home mortgage. Being denied credit, a mortgage, or even a job because of poor or bad credit can be stressful and frustrating but even being approved by a lender while your credit score is low can cost you greatly. With a bad credit score, if a lender does approve you, they will give you a very high interest rate which can cost you thousands of dollars extra. For instance, with a $25,000 5-year car loan at an interest rate of 16% (which could be significantly higher with bad credit) would likely cost you over $6,000 more than if you had decent credit and were able to get the same loan with an interest rate of 8% (which could be significantly lower with a 700+ credit score) – a typical home mortgage could cost you an extra $100,000 in interest!

What Gives You A Bad Credit Score & What You Can Do To Improve Your Score

If you’ve discovered that your credit score falls into the “bad” credit range, it is helpful to know what may have caused your credit score to drop. You can get this information by reviewing your credit report which will include any negative items which negatively impacted your credit score, causing you to have a bad credit score. There are a number of things that may give you a bad credit score, a few of which include:

  • Defaulting on a loan or credit card
  • Paying a credit card/loan/mortgage payment late
  • Foreclosure
  • Bankruptcy
  • Changing your address too frequently
  • Running frequent credit checks
  • Keeping a high balance to credit limit ratio

The above are some of the most common issues that lead to a poor or bad credit score but there are many others as well. It is important to review your credit report with a credit consultant to help shine more light on what may have caused your credit score to drop and how you can improve or repair your credit.

Thankfully, having a bad credit score is not the end of the world. There is a light at the end of the tunnel as there are many ways to improve your credit score or repair your credit. Here are a few ways in which you can take control of your credit and work on getting your score back up:

  • Pay your bills on time. Delinquent payments and collections can have a major negative impact on a credit score.
  • Keep balances low on credit cards and other “revolving credit”. High outstanding debt can affect a credit score.
  • Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed. Don’t open accounts just to have a better credit mix. It probably won’t improve your credit score.
  • Pay off debt rather than moving it around. Also, don’t close unused cards as a short-term strategy to improve your credit score. Owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your credit score.

Another option to get out of that “bad” credit score range quickly, is to repair your credit score by disputing negative credit items which are showing up on your credit report. This can be done manually or through a credit repair company. In many cases there may be false information or even simple mistakes that can allow the negative times to be disputed and removed from your credit report. By removing these negative items from your credit report, your credit score will go up.

Source: creditabsolute.com

The Best Cities for Artists in America

No starving artists here: These cities are the best places for artists to live well and practice their craft.

Having access to art and culture is one of the best parts of living in a city. While it’s true that art is found and created anywhere — in cities, there are some definite benefits. Cities act as cultural hubs that draw both new and existing artistic talent. There is a feedback loop of inspiration that cities foster.

With people from many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life living in close quarters, there is vibrant multiculturalism. Urban density makes it easy to try and experience many different things from theater to food. Artists feed off that creative energy. And when you also live surrounded by other creative individuals, you are constantly being inspired to create new work

But it takes more than that to make a city a great place for artists. It’s widely known that both historically and in modern times, artists are often underpaid for their work. That “starving artist” trope didn’t come from nowhere — artists still need to pay for things like rent and food. They still need to make a living in this world the same as everyone else.

That’s why, on top of a thriving cultural scene, artists need to live in a place that supports their passion and livelihood. That ranges from affordable housing for work and creation, walkability to get around to gigs and much more.

So if you’re an artist with a dream, these are the best cities for artists to create and live.

Finding the best cities for artists

Art is for everyone because there are so many different ways to create. You have visual mediums like painting, drawing or photography. There are performance arts like dancing or theater. And there are musicians across an incredible breadth of genres and instructions, from voice to electronic DJ.

Having a thriving artistic community makes a city a better place to live. There are shows and performances to go to, which improves the quality of life for residents and encourages tourism. But to have such a community, artists need to make a viable living in that city. Quality of life and cost of living for essentials like food and housing, plus affordable rent remain important for those looking to dive into their artist endeavors.

To determine the best cities for artists, we looked for cities with a good walk score and t the average price for studio apartments. Many artists need or want separate spaces to create and work in, same as with offices for other industries, so having affordable studios for rent is key.

We also looked for how many museums there are per density and how many artistic organizations were in the city by density. That included theaters, artistic collectives, performing arts centers and more. All cities also had a population of over 50,000.

The following 10 places emerged as the best cities for artists to live and work in.

10. Baltimore, MD

baltimore md

In recent years, Baltimore has risen the charts as one of the best cities for creatives. This is especially true for the visual arts.

There are more than 60 diverse museums within the area, and it’s the home of renowned museums like the Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Their substantial collections feature historic art from around the world, as well as exciting contemporary work. The city also supports modern, experimental art in outdoor public spaces like the Glenstone museum and sculpture garden and Downtown Frederick Public Art Trail, making art accessible to all.

There are also ample opportunities in the performing arts. The city is home to seven different performing arts companies and numerous dance and music groups.

Living here, artists can enjoy an abundance of creative outlets and good, affordable quality of life. With an average city median income of $51,000, the average cost for a studio apartment is $1,346. This was down 8.3 percent from last year. That gives artists lots of choices for space, as well as affordable rates.

Baltimore also has good public transportation, and a high Walk Score of 72.

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9. St. Louis, MO

st louis mo

This city that was once the gateway to the West is now a gateway for artists to comfortably live and create in an up-and-coming art city. While it is not the most walkable city, there are many other benefits. The average rent for a studio apartment is $1,328 — with plenty of availability.

St. Louis has an especially good reputation for performing arts, with 14 performing art companies and ten dance companies. Performance venues like The Fabulous Fox, housed in a grand old movie theater, and the Center of Creative Arts give the community hubs to experience art. And the contemporary visual arts scene is also on the rise.

The public can appreciate art in outdoor spaces like Citygarden, and museums like the Grand Center and the St. Louis Art Museum boasts exceptional modern art collections. So there are plenty of places for artists to congregate and work together.

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8. Chicago, IL

chicago il

Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the United States’ best cities for art, alongside staples like Los Angeles and New York City. But of those two, Chicago is the only one to make it into the top 10 best cities for artists. This means it’s much more affordable than the other two, but still gives artists the creative stimulation they crave. It’s also the place where many greats get their start.

Chicago has many benefits — the downtown area is a dense urban grid, with a very high WalkScore of 84. For outlying areas, there’s excellent public transit. However, most art and culture institutions are downtown — from theaters to museums — so it’s a very centralized area. There are outdoor spaces like Millennium Park for fresh air, access to nature and art installations (hello, The Bean). Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago enjoy tremendous renown for their collections.

Plus, there are top-ranked performing arts opportunities, from theater to music to improv at Second City, one of the nation’s best comedy and improv schools. While average studio rent is $1,784, making it the second most expensive city for studios in the top 10, you’ll have access to world-renowned art institutions for learning and displaying your art.

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7. Berkeley, CA

berkeley ca

Although Berkeley is largely known as a center for engineering, science and tech due to UC Berkeley, art and culture are equally strong here. This city of over 121,000 has an incredibly diverse population. And the presence of the university invites fresh, young minds from around the world, feeding innovation and creativity.

Berkeley also feeds off of the cultural thrum of the surrounding Bay Area and nearby San Francisco.

But being in the tech-heavy Bay Area, life is expensive. A Berkeley studio costs an average of $2,250. This makes it the most expensive of the top ten cities. But on the upside, Berkeley is extremely walkable, making it easy to get to the many artistic opportunities that exist. Berkeley is especially known for its performing arts. It’s home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a Tony-winning regional playhouse and other top theater and performance companies.

For visual artists, collectives like the ACCI Gallery and museums like Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive exist. West Berkeley and the North Shattuck areas are especially popular artist neighborhoods.

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6. Philadelphia, PA

philadelphia pa

Aspiring and working artists priced out of New York have been turning to Philadelphia. This has made it one of the most exciting artistic hubs on the East Coast. Steeped in history, the city also buzzes with vibrant young minds and modern energy.

Rent and cost of living are significantly lower than in NYC. A studio costs, on average, $1,745. Two top art schools call Philly home: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

And there is art everywhere, from museums to public spaces. The Philadelphia Art Museum is the third-largest in the U.S., and the Rodin Museum has one of the largest collections of his work outside Paris. Performing arts-wise, there is a great live music scene, especially for classical music thanks to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Avenue of the Arts acts as a hub, with performance spaces for everything from dance to experimental work. Dancers will also find a welcoming community here, as there are multiple esteemed dance companies.

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5. Seattle, WA

seattle wa

Seattle’s reputation for incredible live music needs no introduction. Grunge originated here, thanks to influential bands like Nirvana. And music and performance are still part of the lifeblood of the city. But there’s more to Seattle’s art scene than that.

There are over 80 theater companies and great dance companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Galleries and small venues provide space for experimental, undercover art movements. But “mainstream” art also has a place here at museums and places like the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

In Seattle, studio apartments run an average of $1,481. And this is down almost 14.2 percent from last year, so there is plenty of space available and demand.

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4. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.

The U.S. capital is a hotbed for history and art, which go hand in hand here. There are abundant museums and inspiring architecture everywhere you turn. But it’s not just about the past. There is also a thriving contemporary art community.

Check out spots like the Culture House DC, a 19th-century church painted in bold colors and now houses an artist collective. And there are frequent art festivals and performances of music, dance and theater.

If you’re an artist looking for a city with a lot of options for studios, D.C. is the place for you. The average rent is $1,686, plus it’s also a very pedestrian-friendly city that’s easy to navigate on foot.

All in all, D.C. offers a great emerging art scene in a city that’s affordable and safe, with plenty of history to inspire you.

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3. Pittsburgh, PA

pittsburgh

In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked as one of the top cities in America for artistic vibrancy. It’s no small wonder. Similar to Philadelphia, artists love the affordable cost of living — $1,194 for a studio.

In Pittsburgh, they’re finding world-class museums, outdoor festivals, creative collectives and performing arts companies that are pushing boundaries and generating buzz. Some must-visit spots include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory.

Outside of town, you’ll also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.

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2. Minneapolis, MN

minneapolis mn

Coming in at No. 2 in the top 10 best cities for artists is one half of the Twin Cities itself: Minneapolis. Of course, this Midwest hub is well-known for its friendly residents, parks, lakes and outdoor access. But it also has fantastic opportunities for art.

Minneapolis has 55 different museums to visit, among them the eye-catching Weisman Art Museum. As a city that loves nature, lots of art is outdoors and open for everyone. Minneapolis is especially well-known for its vibrant murals, easily found all over the city. Oh, and of course, there’s a great music scene. What else would you expect from the home of Prince?

Add in low rent on studios, $1,236 on average, and you’ll discover why it’s no wonder so many artists find inspiration here.

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hartford ct

Topping the list of the best cities for artists is the Connecticut capital of Hartford. This scenic city celebrates both contemporary and historic art through its many institutions, from museums to collectives.

World-class touring performances come through at venues like the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. And local companies like TheaterWorks showcase contemporary work. The city is also committed to promoting diverse artists and voices. For example, the unique Artists Collective highlights the work of the African Diaspora. And the Real Art Ways organization supports experimental and new work in a variety of mediums.

Beyond the artistic community, Hartford is also very affordable for working artists. It boasts the cheapest prices for studio apartments — the average being $1,121.

Good quality and cost of living go a long way toward supporting an artist’s lifestyle. And if the urban scene isn’t sufficiently inspiring, Connecticut’s natural beauty is also sure to spark the imagination.

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The 50 best cities for artists

Now that you’ve seen the top 10, let’s branch out to discover even more cities that have created an atmosphere where artists can thrive and create. Please note, our methodology allows for ties.

Methodology

To find the best cities for artists, we used the following data points:

  • Performing arts businesses and establishments per density
  • Museums per density
  • Walk score
  • Average rent of a studio apartment

We looked at cities with at least 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates and ranked each city in each of these four categories. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the four categories to determine a final score for each city. Ties were allowed in our rankings. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best cities for artists.

We excluded cities from this study that had insufficient rental inventory or other data.

Business and establishment data comes from commercially sourced business listings. This may not account for recent business openings or closures.

Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.

The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

Cook Fish In Your Dishwasher: Alternative Uses for Common Appliances

Ever wondered what else you could do with your toaster oven or rice cooker when you weren’t using them to cook with? The common household appliances you can find in your apartment’s kitchen come with their intended use, but with a little imagination and some know-how, you can find clever and alternative uses for the most basic of appliances. Here’s our list of everyday appliances and unique ways you can use them.

Dishwasher

The steam and heat produced by your dishwasher is perfect for steaming up fresh fish or vegetables. Season the fish with a little olive oil and lemon juice, and wrap the raw fish liberally with foil (salmon particularly holds up well in the dishwasher). Place the fish on the top rack of the dishwasher, set it for a hot pots and pans cycle and let the dishwasher run through a cycle. In no time at all you’ll have a perfectly poached piece of fish. Just make sure not to add any dish soap to the washer!

Microwave

We all know that your microwave’s powerful heating capabilities are perfect for warming up your favorite foods, but that technology also makes the microwave great for disinfecting and deodorizing common household items. Instead of reaching for antibacterial soap, soak your kitchen sponge or dish rag in water mixed with white vinegar or lemon juice, then throw it into the microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds to disinfect and deodorize. You can also disinfect plastic cutting boards this way – wash the board well, rub it with the cut side of a lemon and microwave on high for one minute.

Rice Cooker

Give your guests the spa treatment by steaming towels to offer them before dinner. Wet and wring out several small washcloths, fold in thirds horizontally and roll and place inside the steamer. Steam for five minutes, or until hot. Remove with tongs and place on a tray or plate for each dinner guest.

Coffee Maker

If you’re short on time and low on clean dishes, but still need to eat lunch or dinner, you can use your coffee maker to prepare soup. Start off simple by using your coffee maker to cook your favorite canned soup, like tomato or chicken noodle. The coffee pot not only heats up the soup, but the convenient handle makes it easy to pour the soup into various cups and bowls. Or, take it one step further by preparing ramen noodle soup in the coffee maker. Open the packet of uncooked noodles and put them into the carafe. Fill the water tank with just enough water to cover the noodles, never filling more than halfway. Put the seasoning packet in the drip station and push the button to start the pot. Within minutes you’ll have a steaming, hot bowl of ramen noodle soup. Make sure to clean your pot thoroughly before making a pot of coffee.

Blender

Blenders can be used for more than just making smoothies or milkshakes. A decent quality blender can be used much like a food processor, crushing ice or chopping nuts to make peanut butter. You can also make salsa in the blender. Combine four ripe roma tomatoes, one jalapeno with the seeds removed, ½ chopped sweet onion, lime juice and olive oil in the blender on the pulse setting. If you prefer a chunkier salsa, just pulse a few times. Add chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and pulse a few more times. Remove salsa from the blender and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

Toaster Oven

A counter-top toaster oven is the perfect appliance for cooking in small spaces. And, it’s a great alternative for energy-conscious consumers, since you don’t need to heat up a big gas or electric oven to cook something small, like a baked potato or small pizza. But in addition to cooking, a toaster oven can also warm your plates before serving good. Many standard ovens only go down to 200°F, which may be too warm, but a toaster oven can be set at a lower temperature. Try warming a set of plates for five minutes at 170°F.

Coffee Grinder

Avid coffee drinkers know that the freshest, best-tasting cup of coffee is brewed from coffee beans that have been ground in small batches. But a coffee grinder can also grind spices like cloves, cardamom pods or peppercorns. You can make your own homemade bread crumbs by tearing up a piece of bread into small pieces and grinding according to how large or fine you want the crumbs. Create your own potpourri by grinding up dried flowers, orange or lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. Or, turn recycled white or colored paper into confetti with a few pulses of the coffee grinder.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/ZargonDesign

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Source: apartmentguide.com

30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate Hits Yet Another Record Low, Falls Below 3.2 Percent for the First Time

As of May 5, the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow for 30-year fixed mortgages was 2.72%.

Abstract illustration of houses and charts

As of May 5, the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow for 30-year fixed mortgages was 2.72%.

Mortgage rates fall to lowest levels in months.

“Mortgage rates fell slightly again this week, pushing rates to their lowest level since mid-to-late February,” said Zillow Economist Matthew Speakman. “With few surprising economic data or pandemic-related developments this week, mortgage rates and the bond yields that tend to influence them saw little reason to move significantly over the past seven days. Unlike stocks, bonds and mortgage rates brushed aside comments made by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in which she suggested (but did not recommend) that interest rates will likely have to rise somewhat in order to ensure that the economy doesn’t overheat. But this period of relative calm will be put to the test in the coming days. April employment figures and inflation data, two key gauges of the economy’s path forward, are due this week, and stronger-than-expected readings of either – or both – reports will likely revert mortgage rates back upward.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.09%, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.38%.

Check Zillow for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

The weekly mortgage rate chart above illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate for the past week. Here’s a comprehensive look at the current mortgage rates for all loan types:

Today’s Average Rates for Conventional Loans

Program Interest Rate APR 1 Wk Change
30-Year Fixed 2.77% 2.82% 0.11%
20-Year Fixed 2.63% 2.71% 0.06%
15-Year Fixed 2.09% 2.17% 0.03%
10-Year Fixed 2.03% 2.15% -0.08%
7/1 ARM 2.22% 2.92% 0.26%
5/1 ARM 2.19% 3.04% 0.21%
3/1 ARM 0% 0% 0%

A 30-Year Fixed loan of $300,000 at 2.77% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,227. A 20-Year Fixed loan of $300,000 at 2.63% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,609. A 15-Year Fixed loan of $300,000 at 2.09% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,942. A 10-Year Fixed loan of $300,000 at 2.03% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $2,764. A 7/1 ARM loan of $300,000 at 2.22% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,141. A 5/1 ARM loan of $300,000 at 2.19% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,137. A 3/1 ARM loan of $0 at 0% APR with a $0 down payment will have a monthly payment of $0. All monthly payments displayed assume a maximum Loan to Value (LTV) of 80% and 740 credit score, and do not include amount for taxes and insurance. The actual monthly payment may be greater.

Today’s Average Rates for Government Loans

Program Interest Rate APR 1 Wk Change
30-Year Fixed FHA 2.4% 3.07% 0.17%
30-Year Fixed VA 2.47% 2.73% 0.12%
15-Year Fixed FHA 2.23% 2.93% 0.09%
15-Year Fixed VA 2.42% 2.89% 0.17%
5/1 ARM FHA 2.59% 2.97% 0.02%
5/1 ARM VA 3.17% 2.83% -0.27%

A 30-Year Fixed FHA loan of $300,000 at 2.4% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,170. A 30-Year Fixed VA loan of $300,000 at 2.47% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,180. A 15-Year Fixed FHA loan of $300,000 at 2.23% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,962. A 15-Year Fixed VA loan of $300,000 at 2.42% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,988. A 5/1 ARM FHA loan of $300,000 at 2.59% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,200. A 5/1 ARM VA loan of $300,000 at 3.17% APR with a $75,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $1,291. All monthly payments displayed assume a maximum Loan to Value (LTV) of 80% and 740 credit score, and do not include amount for taxes and insurance. The actual monthly payment may be greater.

Today’s Average Rates for Jumbo Loans

Program Interest Rate APR 1 Wk Change
30-Year Fixed Jumbo 3.2% 3.25% 0.09%
20-Year Fixed Jumbo 3.28% 3.32% 0.25%
15-Year Fixed Jumbo 2.81% 2.89% 0.11%
10-Year Fixed Jumbo 2.5% 2.6% 0.1%
7/1 ARM Jumbo 2.68% 3.17% -0.35%
5/1 ARM Jumbo 2.75% 3.21% -0.25%
3/1 ARM Jumbo 2.14% 2.74% 0%

A 30-Year Fixed Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 3.2% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $2,595. A 20-Year Fixed Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 3.28% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $3,411. A 15-Year Fixed Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 2.81% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $4,089. A 10-Year Fixed Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 2.5% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $5,656. A 7/1 ARM Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 2.68% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $2,428. A 5/1 ARM Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 2.75% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $2,449. A 3/1 ARM Jumbo loan of $600,000 at 2.14% APR with a $150,000 down payment will have a monthly payment of $2,259. All monthly payments displayed assume a maximum Loan to Value (LTV) of 80% and 740 credit score, and do not include amount for taxes and insurance. The actual monthly payment may be greater.

Source: zillow.com

10 States With the Highest Sales Taxes

Before you embark on a shopping spree in any of the 10 worst states for sales taxes featured here, you’ll want to make extra room in your budget. Our biggest offender clocks in at 9.55% once both state and local sales taxes are factored in (continue reading our round-up to find out which state is the priciest culprit).

However, retirees and other relocators shouldn’t judge a state by its sales tax alone. While this expense may be costlier in some areas, residents in states with a high sales tax may be able to reap the benefits of other tax-related perks, such as not having to pay state income tax.

Got your attention? Take a look at our list to find out which states will nickel-and-dime you the most on everyday purchases.

Sales tax values are for 2020 and were compiled by the Tax Foundation. Income tax brackets are for the 2020 tax year. Property tax values are for 2019.

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10. New York

The state of New York.The state of New York.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.875%, and the average combined rate is 8.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. In the New York City metro area, there is an additional 0.375% sales tax to support transit. Clothing and footwear that cost less than $110 (per item or pair) are exempt from sales tax. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt, too. Motor vehicle sales are taxable, though.

Income Tax Range: Low: 4% (on up to $8,500 of taxable income for single filers and up to $17,150 for married couples filing jointly); High: 8.82% (on taxable income over $1,070,550 for single filers and over $2,155,350 for married couples filing jointly).

Starting in 2021, the top rate is 10.9% on taxable income over $25 million (regardless of filing status).

New York City and Yonkers imposed their own income tax. A commuter tax is also imposed on residents of New York City, as well as on residents of Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester Counties.

Property Taxes: In the Empire State, the median property tax rate is $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the New York State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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9. California

The state of California.The state of California.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2.5%, and the average combined rate is 8.68%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from these taxes, but clothing and motor vehicles are taxed. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 1% (on up to $17,864 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $8,932 for those filing individually); High: 13.3% (on more than $1,198,024 for married joint filers and $1 million for those filing individually).

Property Taxes: If you’re planning to buy a home in the Golden State, the median property tax rate is $729 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the California State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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8. Kansas

The state of Kansas.The state of Kansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4%, and the average combined rate is 8.69%, according to the Tax Foundation. These rates also apply to groceries, motor vehicles, clothing and prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.1% (on $2,501 to $15,000 of taxable income for single filers and $5,001 to $30,000 for joint filers); High: 5.7% (on more than $30,000 of taxable income for single filers and more than $60,000 for joint filers).

Property Taxes: Kansans who own their homes pay a median property tax rate of $1,369 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Kansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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7. Illinois

The state of Illinois.The state of Illinois.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.75%, and the average combined rate is 8.82%, according to the Tax Foundation. Food and prescription drugs are taxed at only 1% by the state. Clothing and motor vehicles are fully taxed.

Income Tax Range: There is a flat rate of 4.95% of federal adjusted gross income after modifications.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in Illinois, the median property tax rate is $2,165 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the second highest in our round-up.

For details on other state taxes, see the Illinois State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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6. Oklahoma

The state of Oklahoma.The state of Oklahoma.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Not tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 8.95%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt and motor vehicles are taxed at a rate of 1.25% (a 3.25% excise tax also applies). Grocery items and clothing are taxable at 4.5%, plus local taxes. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 0.5% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for single filers and up to $2,000 for married joint filers); High: 5% (on taxable income over $7,200 for single filers and over $12,200 for married joint filers).

Property Taxes: For Oklahomans who own a home, the median property tax rate is $869 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Oklahoma State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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5. Alabama

Photo of AlabamaPhoto of Alabama

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7.5% to that, and the average combined rate is 9.22%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Groceries and clothing are fully taxable, while motor vehicles are taxed at a reduced rate of 2% (additional local taxes may apply).

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $500 for all others); High: 5% (on more than $6,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $3,000 for all others). 

Some Alabama municipalities also impose occupational taxes on salaries and wages.

Property Taxes: In Alabama, the median property tax rate is $395 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the lowest on our list.

For details on other state taxes, see the Alabama State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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4. Washington

The state of Washington.The state of Washington.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Municipalities can add up to 4% to that, with the average combined rate at 9.23%, according to the Tax Foundation. Grocery items and prescription drugs are exempt. Clothing is taxable, as are motor vehicles. However, there’s an additional 0.3% tax on sales of motor vehicles.

Income Tax Range: Washington has no state income tax.

Property Taxes: Home buyers in the Evergreen State can expect to pay a median property tax rate of $929 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Washington State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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3. Arkansas

The state of Arkansas.The state of Arkansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Mixed tax picture

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 5.125%, and the average combined rate is 9.51%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Grocery items are taxed at 0.125% (additional local taxes may apply). Motor vehicles are taxed if the purchase price is $4,000 or more (7% tax rate in Texarkana). However, starting in 2022, the rate on sales of used motor vehicles priced between $4,000 and $10,000 will only be 3.5%. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on taxable income from $4,500 to $8,899 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 0.75% (on first $4,499 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 2% (on on first $4,000 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income over $79,300); High: 3.4% (on taxable income from $13,400 to $22,199 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 5.9% (on taxable income from $37,200 to $79,300 for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 6.6% (on taxable income over $79,300 for taxpayers with net income over $79,300). Beginning in 2021, the top rate for taxpayers with net income over $79,300 will be 5.9% (on taxable income over $8,000).

A “bracket adjustment” of between $40 and $440 is subtracted from the amount of tax due for taxpayers with net income from $79,301 to $84,600.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in the Natural State, the median property tax rate is $612 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Arkansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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2. Louisiana

The state of Louisiana.The state of Louisiana.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.45% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 9.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from the state’s sales tax, but localities may tax these. Clothing and motor vehicles are taxable.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on $12,500 or less of taxable income for individuals, $25,000 for joint filers); High: 6% (on more than $50,000 of taxable income, $100,000 for joint filers). 

Property Taxes: The median property tax rate in Louisiana is $534 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Louisiana State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

 

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1. Tennessee

The states of TennesseeThe states of Tennessee

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7% state levy. There’s also an additional state tax of 2.75% on sales of single items that applies to the portion of the sales price from $1,600 to $3,200. Localities can add up to 2.75%, with an average combined rate of 9.55%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries are taxed at 4% by the state, in addition to any additional local taxes. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate. Motor vehicles are taxed at the basic 7% rate, plus the additional 2.75% on purchases between $1,600 and $3,200. There’s no tax on prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: There’s no state income tax in Tennessee. However, dividends and some interest are subject to the Hall Tax at a 1% rate in 2020. The first $1,250 in taxable income for individuals ($2,500 for joint filers) is exempt. 2020 is the last year for this tax, which is being phased out. Also, the tax is waived if you’re over the age of 100.

Property Taxes: In Tennessee, the median property tax rate is $636 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Tennessee State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

Source: kiplinger.com

5 Ways to Perfect Your Credit Score

If you’re trying to perfect your credit score, it’s important to first understand what makes up your credit report and credit score. Your credit score is determined by an advanced algorithm which was developed by FICO and pulls the data from your credit report to determine your score. When calculating your credit score, the following information is going to affect your credit score in the corresponding percentages:

  • 35 percent: History of on-time or late payments of credit.
  • 30 percent: Available credit on your open credit cards
  • 15 percent: The age of your lines of credit (old = good)
  • 10 percent: How often you apply for new credit.
  • 10 percent: Variable factors, such as the types of open credit lines you have

Many of this may be common sense or information that you’ve already learned over time, resulting in a good credit score but possibly not a perfect score. If you have a bad credit score, it could take a lot of time and work to perfect your score and you may first want to consider repairing your credit. If your credit score is already above 700 but you’re trying to shoot for that perfect score of 850 to ensure the best deals and interest rates, here are 5 ways to perfect your credit score:

1. Maintaining Debt-To-Limit Ratio

To perfect your credit score, it’s recommended that you keep your debt-to-credit ratio below 30% and, if possible, as low as 10%. The debt-to-limit ratio is the difference between how much you owe on a credit card versus how much your credit limit is. For example, if one of your credit cards has a credit limit of $5,000, then you should always keep the balance below $1,500 but preferably around $500. As you can see above, 30% of your credit score is determined by the available credit on your open credit cards, so keeping the debt-to-limit ratio will increase your available credit and also show that you’re responsible with your credit.

2. Keep Your Credit Cards Active

Make sure that you use your cards at least once a year to keep them shown as “active” credit and make sure that you never cancel your credit cards. 15% of your credit score is determined by the age of your lines of credit, so you should always keep your credit cards active to lengthen the age of your line of credit. Many people tend to cancel cards that they no longer use – many times because the rates aren’t very good or because they have another card with better benefits – but even if you don’t use the cards very often (just once a year is fine), you should keep them active. Typically, someone with a credit score over 800 has credit lines with at least 10 years of positive activity.

3. Always Pay Bills On Time

Probably the most well-known factor of a credit score and the factor that has the biggest impact on your credit score (35% of your score) is your history of paying your credit payments on-time. If you have a history of always making your credit card, mortgage, and car payments on time, you will greatly improve your credit score. This can also have an adverse effect as well, should you ever make a late payment. Unfortunately, it only takes one late payment to severely reduce your credit score so it’s crucial that you make sure to always make credit payments on time.

4. Dispute Errors On Your Credit Report

If you don’t already, make sure that you request a copy of your credit report once every year and review it for errors. It is actually quite common for credit reports to contain errors which can be disputed and potentially allow you to have negative items removed from your credit report. If, for instance, your credit report shows a late payment on a credit card but contained errors in the record, you can dispute the negative item and request to have it removed from your report. Having a negative item, like a late payment, removed from your report can improve your credit score significantly. While disputing errors on your credit report can be tedious and take a lot of time, it is usually worth it. Another option would be to contact a credit repair agency to help you dispute any negative items on your credit report.

5. Reduce The Number of Credit Inquiries

While this may only affect 10% of your credit score, keeping the number of credit inquiries down can still help to build that perfect credit score but is often ignored. You should never have more than one credit inquiry per year but many people do not realize how often this is done and often times have their credit checked more than once per year. If you’re applying for a car loan, checking your credit score online, or applying for a new credit card, these type of actions will almost always result in a credit inquiry and should be avoided if you’ve already had a credit inquiry earlier in the year. Make sure you do your research on what will result in a credit inquiry so that you don’t accidentally have more than one a year without realizing it.

Source: creditabsolute.com

What Is a Bond Mutual Fund – Risks & Different Types of This Investment

Investing is an important part of saving for the future, but many people are wary of putting their money into the stock market. Stocks can be volatile, with prices that change every day. If you can’t handle the volatility and risk of stocks or want to diversify your portfolio into a less risky investment, bonds are a good way to do so.

As with many types of investments, you can invest in bonds through a mutual fund, which gives you easy diversification and professional portfolio management — for a fee.

Are bond mutual funds a good addition to your portfolio? Here are the basics of these investment vehicles.

What Is a Bond?

A bond is a type of debt security. When organizations such as national and local governments, government agencies, or companies want to borrow money, one of the ways they can get the loan they need is by issuing a bond.

Investors purchase bonds from the organizations issuing them. Typically, bonds come with an interest rate and a maturity. For example, a company might sell bonds with an interest rate of 5% and a maturity of 20 years.

The investor would pay the company $1,000 for a $1,000 bond. Each year, that investor receives an interest payment of $50 (5% of $1,000). After 20 years, the investor receives a final interest payment plus the $1,000 they paid to buy the bond.


What Is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a way for investors to invest in a diverse portfolio while only having to purchase a single security.

Mutual funds pool money from many investors and use that money to buy bonds, stocks, and other securities. Each investor in the fund effectively owns a portion of the fund’s portfolio, so an investor can buy shares in one mutual fund to get exposure to hundreds of stocks or bonds.

This makes it easy for investors to diversify their portfolios.

Mutual fund managers make sure the fund’s portfolio follows their stated strategy and work towards the fund’s stated goal. Mutual funds charge a fee, called an expense ratio, for their services, which is important for investors to keep in mind when comparing funds.

Pro tip: Most mutual funds can be purchased through the individual fund family or through an online broker like Robinhood or Public.


Types of Bond Mutual Funds

There are many types of bond mutual funds that people can invest in.

1. Government

Government bond funds invest most of their money into bonds issued by different governments. Most American government bond funds invest primarily in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. government debt is seen as some of the safest debt available. There is very little chance that the United States will default on its payments. That security can be appealing for investors, but also translates to lower interest rates than other bonds.

2. Corporate

Corporate bond funds invest most of their assets into bonds issued by companies.

Just like individuals, businesses receive credit ratings that affect how much interest they have to pay to lenders — in this case, investors looking to buy their bonds. Most corporate bond funds buy “investment-grade” bonds, which include the highest-rated bonds from the most creditworthy companies.

The lower a bond’s credit rating, the higher the interest rate it will pay. However, lower credit ratings also translate to a higher risk of default, so corporate bond funds will hold a mixture of bonds from a variety of companies to help diversify their risks.

3. Municipal

Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as government agencies.

Like businesses, different municipalities can have different credit ratings, which impacts the interest they must pay to sell their bonds. Municipal bond funds own a mixture of different bonds to help reduce the risk of any one issuer defaulting on its payments.

One unique perk of municipal bonds is that some or all of the interest that investors earn can be tax-free. The tax treatment of the returns depends on the precise holdings of the fund and where the investor lives.

Some mutual fund companies design special municipal bond funds for different states, giving investors from those states an option that provides completely tax-free yields.

The tax advantages municipal bond funds offer can make their effective yields higher than other bond funds that don’t offer tax-free yields. For example, someone in the 24% tax bracket would need to earn just under 4% on a taxable bond fund to get the equivalent return of a tax-free municipal bond fund offering 3%.

4. High-Yield

High-yield bond funds invest in bonds that offer higher interest rates than other bonds, like municipal bonds and government bonds.

Typically, this means buying bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings than investment-grade bonds. These bonds are sometimes called junk bonds. Their name comes from the fact that they are significantly riskier than other types of bonds, so there’s a higher chance that the issuer defaults and stops making interest payments.

Bond mutual funds diversify by buying bonds from hundreds of different issuers, which can help reduce this risk, but there’s still a good chance that some of the bonds in the fund’s portfolio will go into default, which can drag down the fund’s performance.

5. International

Foreign governments and companies need to borrow money just like American companies and governments. There’s nothing stopping Americans from investing in foreign bonds, so there are some mutual funds that focus on buying international bonds.

Each country and company has a credit rating that impacts the interest rate it has to pay. Many stable governments are seen as highly safe, much like the United States, but smaller or less economically developed nations sometimes have lower credit ratings, leading them to pay higher interest rates.

Another factor to keep in mind with international bonds is the currency they’re denominated in.

With American bonds, you buy the bond in dollars and get interest payments in dollars. If you buy a British bond, you might have to convert your dollars to pounds to buy the bond and receive your interest payments in pounds. This adds some currency risk to the equation, which can make investing in international bond funds more complex.

6. Mixed

Some bond mutual funds don’t specialize in any single type of bond. Instead, they hold a variety of bonds, foreign and domestic, government and corporate. This lets the fund managers focus on buying high-quality bonds with solid yields instead of restricting themselves to a specific class of bonds.


Why Invest in Bond Mutual Funds?

There are a few reasons for investors to consider investing in bond mutual funds.

Reduce Portfolio Risk and Volatility

One advantage of investing in bonds is that they tend to be much less risky and volatile than stocks.

Investing in stocks or mutual funds that hold stocks is an effective way to grow your investment portfolio. The S&P 500, for example, has averaged returns of almost 10% per year over the past century. However, in some years, the index has moved almost 40% upward or downward.

Over the long term, it’s easier to handle the volatility of stocks, but some people don’t have long-term investing goals. For example, people in retirement are more concerned with producing income and maintaining their spending power.

Putting some of your portfolio into bonds can reduce the impact of volatile stocks on your portfolio. This can be good for more risk-averse investors or those who have shorter time horizons for their investments.

There are some mutual funds, called target-date mutual funds, that hold a mix of stocks and bonds and increase their bond holdings over time, reducing risk as the target date nears.

Income

Bonds make regular interest payments to their holders and the majority of bond funds use some of the money they receive to make payments to their investors. This makes bond mutual funds popular among investors who want to make their investment portfolio a source of passive income.

You can look at different bond mutual funds and their annual yields to get an idea of how much income they’ll provide each year. For example, if a mutual fund offers a yield of 2.5%, investors can expect to receive $250 each year for every $10,000 they invest in the fund.

Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals. Read our Vanguard Personal Advisor Services review.


Risks of Bond Funds

Before investing in bonds or bond mutual funds, you should consider the risks of investing in bonds.

Interest Rate Risk

One of the primary risks of fixed-income investing — whether you’re investing in bonds or bond funds — is interest rate risk.

Investors can buy and sell most bonds on the open market in addition to buying newly issued bonds directly from the issuing company or government. The market value of a bond will change with market interest rates.

In general, if market rates rise, the value of existing bonds falls. Conversely, if market rates fall, the value of existing bonds rises.

To understand why this happens, consider this example. Say you purchased a BBB-rated corporate bond with an interest rate of 2% for $1,000. Since you bought the bond, market rates have increased, so now BBB-rated companies now have to pay 3% to convince investors to buy their bonds.

If someone can buy a new $1,000 bond paying 3% interest, why would they pay you the same amount for your $1,000 bond paying 2% interest? If you want to sell your bond, you’ll have to sell it at a discount because investors can get a better deal on newly issued bonds.

Of course, the opposite is true if interest rates fall. In the above example, if market rates fell to 1%, you could command a premium for your bond paying 2% because investors can’t find new bonds of the same quality that pay that much anymore.

Interest rate risk applies to bond funds just as it applies to individual bonds. As rates rise, the share price of the fund tends to fall and vice versa.

Generally, the longer the bond’s maturity, the greater the effect a change in market interest rates will have on the bond’s value. Short-term bonds have much less interest rate risk than long-term bonds. Bond funds usually list the average time to maturity of bonds in their portfolio, which can help you assess a fund’s interest rate risk.

Credit Risk

Bonds are debt securities, meaning they’re reliant on the bond issuer being able to pay its debts.

Just like people, companies and governments can go bankrupt or default on their loan payments. If this happens, the people who own those bonds won’t get the money they lent back.

Bond mutual funds hold thousands of bonds, but if one of the issuers defaults, some of the fund’s bonds become worthless, reducing the value of the investors’ shares in the fund.

Bonds issued by organizations with higher credit ratings are generally less risky than those with poor credit ratings. For example, most people would consider U.S. government bonds to have a very low credit risk. A junk bond fund would have much more credit risk.

Foreign Exchange Risk

If you’re buying shares in a bond fund that invests in foreign bonds, you should consider foreign exchange risk.

Currencies constantly fluctuate in value. Over the past five years, $1 could buy anywhere between 0.80 and 0.96 euros.

To maximize returns, investors want to buy foreign bonds when the dollar is strong and receive interest payments and return of principal when the dollar is weak.

However, it’s incredibly hard to predict how currencies’ values will change over time, so investors in foreign bonds should consider how changing currency values will affect their returns.

Some bond funds use different strategies to hedge against this risk, using tools like currency futures or buying dollar-denominated bonds from foreign entities.

Fees

Mutual funds charge fees, which they commonly express as an expense ratio.

A fund’s expense ratio is the percentage of your invested assets that you pay each year. For example, someone who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio will pay $100 in fees each year.

Expense ratio fees are included when calculating the fund’s share price each day, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand to pay the fee. The fees are taken directly out of the fund’s share price, almost imperceptibly. Still, it’s important to understand the impact fees have on your overall returns.

If you invest $10,000 in a fund that produces an annual return of 5% and has a 0.25% expense ratio, after 20 years you’ll have $25,297.68. If that same fund had an expense ratio of 0.50%, you’d finish the 20 years with $24,117.14 instead.

In this example, a difference of 0.25% in fees would cost you more than $1,000.

If you find two bond funds with similar holdings and strategies, the one with the lower fees tends to be the better choice.


Final Word

Bond mutual funds are a popular way for investors to get exposure to bonds in their portfolios. Just as there are many different types of stocks, there are many types of bonds, each with advantages and disadvantages.

If you don’t want to pick and choose bonds to invest in, bond funds offer instant diversification and professional management. If you want an even more hands-off investing experience, working with a financial advisor or robo-advisor that handles your entire portfolio may be worth considering.

Source: moneycrashers.com