IRS offers new COVID-19 flexibility for employee healthcare benefits – Lexington Law

A family plays with their dog.

Disclosure regarding Lexington Law’s editorial content.

As COVID-19 swept the globe and the country, it put stress on all types of supply chains and industries. It has also put stress on the financial and health situations of many Americans.

If you’re looking back to whenever your last healthcare benefits enrollment period was and grimacing at the choices you made, you’re in luck—you might have the chance to change them. In addition to extending the tax deadline for 2020, the IRS has issued a rule modification in light of the pandemic that might allow you to change your elections mid-year instead of waiting for the next open enrollment period.

Find out more about these changes and what they might mean
for you here.

Key Points

  • You may be able to switch to a different healthcare
    plan if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to drop employer-sponsored
    coverage if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to change contributions to a
    flexible spending account (FSA) if your employer allows it.
  • Employers may voluntarily extend the grace
    period for using 2019 FSA funds.

A Potential Mid-Year Open-Enrollment Period

The IRS rule change allows mid-year enrollment in a
different plan that your employer offers. This means employees may be able to
make new elections to better use their income and protect themselves against healthcare
expenses.

However, employers are being given the choice of whether
they want to offer these options. The answers to the questions below all depend
on whether your employer elects to allow changes.

Can I drop my healthcare insurance altogether?

Yes, you can elect to end healthcare insurance coverage through your employer. The caveat is that you must replace that coverage with a qualifying plan through the health insurance marketplace, a spouse’s benefits or another option.

Can I switch healthcare plans?

If the employer allows it, yes, you can switch healthcare
plans outside of the normal open enrollment. This is true even for people who
have not had a qualifying event such as a job loss or a change in marital
status.

Can I get health insurance if I didn’t have it before?

Yes, if your employer allows an open enrollment period mid-year, you can elect benefits even if you previously declined them. This allows more people to get insurance that they may now want or need in light of the pandemic.

If I change plans, will I lose what I’ve paid toward my out-of-pocket deductible?

It’s probable that changing plans will reset all
benefits-related counters. That includes deductibles and out-of-pocket
expenses. If you’re considering making a change, weigh how much you’ve already
contributed toward your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. In some cases, it
might be more financially beneficial to stick with the plan you have if you’re
close to or have already met your maximum.

Changes to FSAs

The IRS also provides a rule change that addresses flexible spending accounts. Again, these changes are dependent upon the employer choosing to participate.

If the employer does choose to participate, employees can make mid-year changes to their FSA elections. For example, you might have elected not to fund an FSA or to fund it very minimally. But in light of the health crisis, you may now want to put more money into your account to cover medical expenses. You may be able to do so.

Alternatively, perhaps your spouse lost his or her job due to COVID-19, and you’d previously elected to fund your FSA with a large amount. You might now need that money to pay for non-FSA-approved expenses. You may be able to elect to reduce your contributions.

Changes to Dependent Care Assistance Programs

The same rule change applies to section 125 cafeteria
plans used to help cover the cost of childcare programs. If your employer
allows it, you can elect to increase or decrease the contributions you’re
making to these programs.

For example, you might have previously elected to contribute enough money to pay for your children’s daycare expenses. This allows you to pay those costs with pretax dollars.

However, during the pandemic, your daycare might have closed, leaving your kids at home with you. Those contributed dollars are going nowhere and you risk losing them. If your employer allows it, you can change your contribution to stop adding money into your cafeteria plan. You can then use those funds to cover expenses related to your children being home.

Healthcare Coverage for COVID-19

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act instituted some exemptions to help ensure high-deductible plans and other insurance plans covered more services related to COVID-19. For example, the plan includes a specific exemption for telehealth services to help allow insurance providers to cover necessary telehealth treatments and appointments.

The IRS rule change allows those exemptions to be applied
retroactively up to January 1, 2020. That means if you sought telehealth or
other COVID-19-related care in the past months, you may be able to have those
claims adjudicated by your insurance plan at this time.

Reach Out to Your Employer’s Benefits Office

Understanding benefits and how they can impact your entire financial life can be difficult. Start by reaching out to your employer’s HR or benefits office to understand whether they’re going to offer the option for mid-year elections and whether they can provide information about how the options work.


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

IRS offers new COVID-19 flexibility for employee healthcare benefits

A family plays with their dog.

Disclosure regarding Lexington Law’s editorial content.

As COVID-19 swept the globe and the country, it put stress on all types of supply chains and industries. It has also put stress on the financial and health situations of many Americans.

If you’re looking back to whenever your last healthcare benefits enrollment period was and grimacing at the choices you made, you’re in luck—you might have the chance to change them. In addition to extending the tax deadline for 2020, the IRS has issued a rule modification in light of the pandemic that might allow you to change your elections mid-year instead of waiting for the next open enrollment period.

Find out more about these changes and what they might mean
for you here.

Key Points

  • You may be able to switch to a different healthcare
    plan if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to drop employer-sponsored
    coverage if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to change contributions to a
    flexible spending account (FSA) if your employer allows it.
  • Employers may voluntarily extend the grace
    period for using 2019 FSA funds.

A Potential Mid-Year Open-Enrollment Period

The IRS rule change allows mid-year enrollment in a
different plan that your employer offers. This means employees may be able to
make new elections to better use their income and protect themselves against healthcare
expenses.

However, employers are being given the choice of whether
they want to offer these options. The answers to the questions below all depend
on whether your employer elects to allow changes.

Can I drop my healthcare insurance altogether?

Yes, you can elect to end healthcare insurance coverage through your employer. The caveat is that you must replace that coverage with a qualifying plan through the health insurance marketplace, a spouse’s benefits or another option.

Can I switch healthcare plans?

If the employer allows it, yes, you can switch healthcare
plans outside of the normal open enrollment. This is true even for people who
have not had a qualifying event such as a job loss or a change in marital
status.

Can I get health insurance if I didn’t have it before?

Yes, if your employer allows an open enrollment period mid-year, you can elect benefits even if you previously declined them. This allows more people to get insurance that they may now want or need in light of the pandemic.

If I change plans, will I lose what I’ve paid toward my out-of-pocket deductible?

It’s probable that changing plans will reset all
benefits-related counters. That includes deductibles and out-of-pocket
expenses. If you’re considering making a change, weigh how much you’ve already
contributed toward your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. In some cases, it
might be more financially beneficial to stick with the plan you have if you’re
close to or have already met your maximum.

Changes to FSAs

The IRS also provides a rule change that addresses flexible spending accounts. Again, these changes are dependent upon the employer choosing to participate.

If the employer does choose to participate, employees can make mid-year changes to their FSA elections. For example, you might have elected not to fund an FSA or to fund it very minimally. But in light of the health crisis, you may now want to put more money into your account to cover medical expenses. You may be able to do so.

Alternatively, perhaps your spouse lost his or her job due to COVID-19, and you’d previously elected to fund your FSA with a large amount. You might now need that money to pay for non-FSA-approved expenses. You may be able to elect to reduce your contributions.

Changes to Dependent Care Assistance Programs

The same rule change applies to section 125 cafeteria
plans used to help cover the cost of childcare programs. If your employer
allows it, you can elect to increase or decrease the contributions you’re
making to these programs.

For example, you might have previously elected to contribute enough money to pay for your children’s daycare expenses. This allows you to pay those costs with pretax dollars.

However, during the pandemic, your daycare might have closed, leaving your kids at home with you. Those contributed dollars are going nowhere and you risk losing them. If your employer allows it, you can change your contribution to stop adding money into your cafeteria plan. You can then use those funds to cover expenses related to your children being home.

Healthcare Coverage for COVID-19

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act instituted some exemptions to help ensure high-deductible plans and other insurance plans covered more services related to COVID-19. For example, the plan includes a specific exemption for telehealth services to help allow insurance providers to cover necessary telehealth treatments and appointments.

The IRS rule change allows those exemptions to be applied
retroactively up to January 1, 2020. That means if you sought telehealth or
other COVID-19-related care in the past months, you may be able to have those
claims adjudicated by your insurance plan at this time.

Reach Out to Your Employer’s Benefits Office

Understanding benefits and how they can impact your entire financial life can be difficult. Start by reaching out to your employer’s HR or benefits office to understand whether they’re going to offer the option for mid-year elections and whether they can provide information about how the options work.


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

6 Garage Sale Setup Tips to Best Display Your Items & Make More Money

Picture this: You’re cruising down the street one day, and you spot two garage sales on the same block. The first has racks of clothes, bins of books and records, and a few high-value items prominently displayed near the curb. The second features jumbled, messy piles and boxes scattered across the yard.

Which one would you stop at?

Presentation is crucial to a successful yard sale. You can and should advertise your sale, but you also want to encourage passers-by to stop and look at your wares. If your sale doesn’t make a good first impression, most will just keep going.

No matter how much good stuff your sale has, it won’t bring in shoppers who can’t see it easily. People passing on foot only have your sale in their sights for a couple of minutes at most, and drivers on the street see it for as little as a couple of seconds.

To draw them in, you must show off your sale items so effectively their first glimpse convinces them to take a closer look.

Garage Sale Tips for Presentation

A garage sale has two purposes. It’s a way to declutter your home and bring in some extra cash. And the best way to achieve both goals is to attract as many customers as possible.

When you’re trying to draw in shoppers, pricing isn’t the most crucial factor. Yes, yard sale shoppers love bargains, but if your garage sale items don’t look appealing, no one will even stop to look at the price tags.

So before you even get out the price stickers, you need to spend some time thinking about how to set up your yard sale display to catch the eye.

1. Clean Your Items

Suppose you’re shopping yard sales looking for outdoor furniture. You come across a set that looks sturdy, but the chair arms and backs are coated in grime and their cushions are mildewy. Would you buy them or keep looking for a set in better condition?

That illustrates how important cleaning is. Something that’s otherwise in perfectly good shape becomes a complete turn-off for buyers if it’s covered in dirt. Even if you haven’t used something in years, it can come out of storage sporting a thick coat of dust that makes buyers pass it over.

So before you even think about how to display pieces, give each of them a quick touch-up with a dusting cloth. If anything is especially dirty, take the time to scrub it down with soap and water.

Some garage sale items need more specific cleaning treatment. Run clothes through the washer and dryer to remove dirt and odors, and give shoes a quick polish to remove scuff marks. If you have purses or other bags to sell, clean out dirt and debris from their interiors (and while you’re at it, make sure there’s nothing of value left inside).

2. Show Off the Good Stuff

Shoppers get their first glimpse of your garage sale from either the street or the sidewalk. If all they can see in that first look is a bunch of cheap junk, many will keep moving instead of stopping to browse.

There may be some real gems hidden toward the back of your yard or garage, but many prospective buyers will never see them.

If you want to hold a successful garage sale that attracts as many buyers as possible, put your most appealing merchandise front and center. In my experience, the best yard sale items for attracting buyers include:

  • Antiques of any kind — furniture, houseware, jewelry
  • Appliances
  • Board games
  • Clothing and accessories in good condition, such as shoes and purses
  • Electronics like TVs and stereos
  • Furniture
  • Musical instruments
  • Sporting equipment, including bicycles and camping gear
  • Tools, including garden tools like lawn mowers

In general, large items have more curb appeal than small ones. For one thing, they’re easier to see from the street. Also, little things like cheap toys and kitchen utensils aren’t that expensive to buy new, so they don’t offer the potential for a major bargain.

Another helpful strategy is to display merchandise likely to appeal to men, such as golf clubs or power tools, as close to the road as possible. In my experience, women are more likely to stop at a garage sale than men, so you don’t need to go to as much effort to reel them in.

By displaying things that typically appeal to them most prominently, you’ll attract men as well as women to your sale.

3. Group Like Items Together

Once you’ve drawn customers to your sale, you want to keep them there as long as possible. It might seem like the way to do that is to place everything randomly so shoppers looking for specific finds have to hunt through every table at the sale to discover them. But that strategy is likely to backfire.

As a shopper, I always find it frustrating when a yard sale has no clear layout. If I’m looking for something in particular, such as clothing or books, I want to see all the clothing or books available in one place. If they’re scattered across all the tables at the sale, I’m likely to get frustrated and walk away.

To make shopping easy for your buyers, group similar items together. Make one table for clothing, one for books, one for housewares, and one for toys, for example. That way, people can go directly to the table that interests them and start browsing.

If you have a lot of one type of product, sort it into narrower categories, such as children’s books and adult books.

To make it easier for yourself, sort your merchandise into boxes by category before your sale. On the day of the sale, you can simply bring each box to its own table and start laying everything out.

4. Keep Everything Visible

The easiest way for you to sort goods into categories is to leave them in their boxes. But that isn’t easy for your buyers. No one wants to bend over a box pulling out one baby onesie after another until they find the size and color they’re after.

Haphazard piles of stuff aren’t appealing either. I’ve walked away from more than one rummage sale because all the clothes were in massive, unsorted piles on the tables. Digging through them all to find the few outfits in my size would have taken hours with no guarantee I’d find anything I liked.

To make your sale appealing, lay your wares out in ways that make them easy to see at a glance. There are multiple ways to display different types of merchandise, depending on how much of it you have and what condition it’s in.

Clothing

The best way to display clothing is on hangers on a portable clothes rack. That keeps garments off the ground and makes them easy to sort through. If you don’t have a clothing rack, look for a makeshift alternative, such as an old ladder or a sturdy clothesline strung between two trees.

If there’s no way to hang clothes, the next best option is to arrange them in neatly folded piles on a table. That’s also a suitable way to display clothes for babies and small children.

But note your neatly folded and stacked garments will invariably get unfolded and strewn about as the day goes on, so you have to tidy up your piles from time to time.

Whichever method you choose, try sorting clothes by size, type, and gender. That makes it still easier for buyers to find what they want. A nice added perk is to display garments like coats with their extra buttons if you still have them.

Accessories

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding one shoe in your size and then having to hunt around for the other before you can try them on. You can significantly increase your shoe sales by taking the time to line pairs up together, either on a table or on a sheet or blanket on the ground.

You can display purses and bags on tables, on the ground, or neatly lined up in boxes. Or if you have a large tree handy, you can make an eye-catching display by hanging handbags from its limbs.

Jewelry is a high-value commodity, so it’s worth making an extra effort to display it well.

Wrap a piece of cardboard in fabric, then stick in pins or small nails to hang necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. You can pin brooches directly to the fabric. If you have coordinating pieces, such as necklace-and-earring sets, display them together.

Books & Recordings

Books are easiest to see if they’re arranged side by side with their spines facing out so people can view the titles at a glance.

The easiest way to accomplish that is to line them up on a bookcase or shelf. But don’t use a bookcase you’re also planning to sell because if someone buys it, you’ll have to remove all the books in a hurry and find a new location for them.

You can also display books by lining them up in a box with their spines facing up. Or if you have a smaller selection of books, you can fan them out on a table faceup so shoppers can see their covers.

Whatever you do, don’t stack books in boxes or pile them on tables so shoppers have to lift each one out of the way to see what’s below it. For all but the most dedicated book buyers, that’s simply too much work to be worth it.

These same display ideas work well for audio or video recordings, including CDs, DVDs, video game cartridges, records, and cassettes. (Yes, there are still people who have held onto their old boomboxes and are willing to buy tapes if they’re cheap enough.) Make the titles visible, and don’t force your buyers to dig.

Furniture & Home Goods

When displaying furniture at a yard sale, consider what type of buyer it would appeal to.

Place sturdy pieces suitable for families near the street, where they’ll draw buyers in. Older, worn-out pieces might appeal to students furnishing a dorm room or DIY fans looking for pieces to make over. Display these pieces farther back but with prominent labels indicating their low prices.

Antique furniture creates a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, it’s an appealing item that can attract shoppers. However, if you place a lightweight piece too close to the street, an ambitious thief could snatch it when you turn your back. Large and heavy furnishings can go in the front, but it’s best to place smaller ones close to the checkout where you can keep an eye on them.

For smaller home decor, consider maximizing its visual appeal by creating little vignettes.

For instance, you can toss a bedspread over a couch to show off its pattern and add a couple of matching throw pillows. To sell a set of dishes, lay out one whole place setting on a table, complete with a napkin and flatware, and keep the rest stowed in a box.

Finally, if you’re selling old electronics, make sure you have all their parts — remotes, cords, and the manual if you have it — bundled along with the primary equipment. You can wrap them up and stash them in a clear plastic bag taped to the side.

Customers will appreciate being able to see at a glance that the equipment has all the necessary parts. And if they want to test the device to make sure it works, all the pieces they need are available. Consider running an extension cord to the house for testing purposes or at least having one handy for shoppers to use.

5. Make Space for Everything

Ideally, most of the goods at your yard sale should be on tables, so shoppers don’t have to bend down to look at them. If you don’t have enough tables to display your wares, borrow from neighbors or friends.

Also, look for ways to create more “table” space from scratch. For instance, you can lay plywood over a pair of sawhorses, milk crates, or even cardboard boxes. You can also use any naturally elevated surfaces in your yard, such as porch steps or retaining walls.

If you’ve tried all these tricks and still don’t have enough table space for everything, prioritize. Reserve your table space for high-value merchandise you really want buyers to see and delicate pieces that could break if left on the ground. Everything else can go on blankets or tarps.

Set out comfortable chairs for yourself and any helpers so you don’t have to spend the whole day on your feet. Set them near a small table or another surface you can use for making change and bagging purchases.

6. Promote Your Sale

No matter how good your yard sale looks, it won’t attract customers if no one comes close enough to see it. That’s why even the best yard sale needs adequate signage.

Before putting up signs, check to see if your town has any regulations about them.

For instance, it might regulate how many signs you can put up, how large they can be, what materials you can use, and where you can display them. It may also have rules about how long before the sale you can put signs up and how long you have after the sale to take them down.

While you’re at it, check all the other local regulations.

Some towns require you to get a garage sale permit, and others limit you to a certain number of sales per year. Putting up signs puts you on the local authorities’ radar, so make sure you’re not running afoul of any rules. Otherwise, the fines could eat into if not exceed your profits.

Once you have any necessary permits and are clear about the signage rules, it’s time to set about making them.

Good yard sale signs are large, clear, and easy to read. Include the address as well as an arrow to point passing motorists in the right direction. If your town allows it, hang signs at all the busiest intersections near your house. From there, leave a trail of signs all the way to your house, pointing shoppers the right way at every turn.

Ensure your yard sale signs include the date and times of your sale as well. I always find it frustrating to see a sign that says, “garage sale,” with an address and no date because I never know if the sale is coming up, currently going on, or already over.

Listing the date and taking down signs once the sale is over ensures shoppers don’t show up on the wrong day.

You can advertise your sale online as well. Sites like Garage Sale Finder exist specifically for this purpose. Many local Craigslist groups have a section for garage sale advertising as well. Other places to put the word out include social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor.


Final Word

A well-organized garage sale takes more work to set up than a haphazard one.

But putting in this extra effort maximizes the chances your sale will succeed once it gets going. Shoppers are more likely to stop for an attractive sale, and those who stop are more likely to stick around long enough to find something they want to buy.

By taking the time to display your goods well and price them right, you can host a great yard sale instead of just an OK one. And that helps you turn more of your clutter into cash.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The evolution of the good faith estimate

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.

A good faith estimate (GFE) is a comparison of mortgage offers provided by lenders or brokers to a consumer. It was recently replaced by the loan estimate—a similar concept with a few small differences. 

What Is a Good Faith Estimate Designed to Do?

The GFE’s purpose was to present mortgage shoppers with all the details they need to know about their mortgage options to help them make well-informed decisions. This transparency ensures consumers are aware of all the costs associated with the mortgage—including fees, APR and other expenses.

Borrowers would receive a GFE three business days after submitting their mortgage application, and after thorough review, would then select which mortgage option they would like to move forward with. 

Are Good Faith Estimates Still Used?

The term “good faith estimate” is not used by lenders anymore, but the concept remains prevalent. In 2015, the GFE was replaced by the loan estimate. Anyone who purchased a home after October 3, 2015, received a loan estimate rather than a GFE. 

In October of 2015, the good faith estimate was replaced by the loan estimate.

If you applied for a reverse mortgage, HELOC, a mortgage through an assistance program or a manufactured loan not secured by real estate, you will not receive a loan estimate. Instead, you will receive a Truth-in-Lending disclosure. 

The purposes of a GFE, a loan estimate and a Truth-in-Lending disclosure are largely the same: providing transparency to borrowers. The main difference—and benefit—of a loan estimate is that there’s more regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Since the GFE was not standardized through regulations, they were sometimes difficult to decipher, especially for first-time homebuyers. Conversely, each loan estimate must contain the exact same information in a standardized way, which we’ll cover below. 

What Appears on a Loan Estimate?

According to the CFPB, a complete, compliant loan estimate should include the length of the loan term, the purpose of the loan, the product (fixed versus adjustable interest rate, for example), the loan type (conventional, FHA, VA or other), the loan ID number and indication of an interest rate lock. Additionally, the loan estimate will include the following:

  • Loan terms: A summary of the total loan amount, interest rate, monthly principal and interest and penalties, and whether these amounts can increase after closing.
  • Projected payments: A summary of monthly principal, interest, mortgage insurance, taxes and insurance. Broken down by years 1–7 and 8–30 for a 30-year mortgage.
  • Costs at closing: Estimated closing costs and the total estimated cash needed to close, which includes the down payment and any credits.
  • Loan costs: Origination charges—which is broken down by 0.25% of the loan amount, application fees and underwriting fees—and other fees.
  • Other costs: Taxes, government fees, prepaid homeowners insurance, interest and prepaid property, escrow payment at closing and title policy.
  • Comparisons: Metrics you can use to compare your loan to others. Includes the total principal, interest, mortgage insurance and loan costs you will have paid after five years.
  • Other considerations: Information about appraisal, assumption, homeowner’s insurance, late payment fees, refinancing and servicing.
  • Confirmation of receipt: A line at the end of the statement that confirms you have received the form. This does not legally bind you to accept the loan.

Your loan estimate will also include your personal information, including your full name, income, address and Social Security number. Make sure to double-check all of this information for errors, as they could cause potential problems later in the process.

To better understand your loan estimate, explore the CFPB’s interactive guide.

Closing Disclosure

For first-time homebuyers in particular, it’s important to understand the timeline of events so that you can be prepared for your home buying process and have all the information and necessary documents at hand.

Closing Disclosure Timeline

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate form no more than three business days after receiving your application. Finally, at least three business days prior to loan consummation—when you are contractually obligated to the loan—you will receive a closing disclosure.

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate no more than three days after receiving your application and a closing disclosure at least three days prior to loan consummation.

What Is the Purpose of a Closing Disclosure?

The purpose of a closing disclosure is to assign “tolerance levels” to fees listed in the loan estimate form. This means that fees cannot increase over their tolerance level unless a specific triggering event occurs. There are three different tolerance levels:

  • Zero percent tolerance: Fees in this category cannot increase from what is listed on the loan estimate. These fees are typically those paid to a creditor, broker or affiliate, such as origination fees.
  • 10 percent cumulative tolerance: Fees in this category are added together, and the sum of these fees are not to increase by more than 10 percent of the amount listed in the loan estimate. Fees include recording fees and third-party service fees.
  • No tolerance or unlimited tolerance: Fees in this category have no limits at all, and can increase by any amount, as long as they are disclosed “in good faith,” using the best information available. These are usually fees lenders have little to no control over.

Remember not to confuse “zero percent tolerance” with “no tolerance,” as they are quite different. Zero percent tolerance fees cannot increase, while no tolerance fees can increase by any amount as long as it is considered “in good faith.”

Does a Loan Estimate Affect My Credit?

The act of applying for a mortgage may temporarily cause your credit score to dip, as it requires a hard inquiry by lenders. However, you may shop around for different mortgages from different lenders to get multiple preapprovals and loan estimates. As long as you do this all within a 45-day window, these separate credit checks will be recorded on your credit report as one single hard inquiry.

This is because lenders realize that you are only going to buy one home, so they categorize all of the actions you take under one umbrella of applying for a mortgage. Note that you may want to consider the 45-day rule loosely. Prioritize finding the best mortgage deal possible. Even if this means processing a hard inquiry outside of the 45-day window for a better deal, you’ll likely end up saving more money in the long run.

To learn more about what affects your credit and how to work toward improving your credit profile, contact our team at Lexington Law.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

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

How to Make a Retirement Budget So You Don’t Outlive Your Savings

You’ve spent decades in the workforce earning a living, your schedule dictated by the demands of the job. All the while, you’ve been steadily adding to your savings so that one day you could get to this point. Retirement.

Now, there’s no alarm to wake you up in the mornings and no boss to answer to. You can finally get around to crossing items off your bucket list — or simply have the opportunity to catch a midweek matinee movie.

The world is your oyster.

Life may feel more relaxed and carefree, but that doesn’t mean you no longer have financial responsibilities. In fact, now’s the time you might need to be even more diligent about budgeting your money.

Living on What You Have Saved

When you say goodbye to your 9-to-5, you also say goodbye to your regular paycheck. You’ll rely on Social Security benefits, the money in your retirement accounts and any additional income, like a pension, to cover your expenses.

Sticking to a budget is vital so your retirement savings last. That money you’ve squirreled away in your working years has to stretch for decades. Remember, life on a fixed income means there are no bonuses, overtime or promotions to increase your cash flow.

How Much Should You Have Saved?

If you’re already retired or nearing retirement age, hopefully you’ve done the math to determine whether you’ll have enough money to keep you afloat.

One popular rule of thumb is to have 25 times your average annual expenses saved up. But how much money you need in retirement depends on many factors, like your age, where you live and the type of retirement you want to enjoy.

If you want to retire at 60, rent a highrise in New York City and travel every couple of months, you’ll need considerably more money than a retiree who leaves the workforce at 70, lives in a paid-off home in rural North Dakota and just stays home and knits.

There are also a lot of unknowns in retirement — like what medical conditions you could develop and exactly how many years you’ll need your money to stretch.

That’s why it’s important to have robust retirement savings and be cognizant of your spending in your golden years.

How to Make the Most of Your Nest Egg

To make your savings last, you’ve got to be prudent about how much you withdraw each year.

“The gold standard has always been 4%, but new research has revealed a different number,” said Chuck Czajka, a certified estate planner and owner of Macro Money Concepts in Stuart, Florida.

He said withdrawing 3% a year instead gives you a 90% success rate to last through a 25-year retirement.

Keep in mind, once you’ve determined how much you can withdraw per year, you’ll want to divide that amount by 12 to come up with how much to withdraw each month. Czajka recommends withdrawing money from your retirement accounts on a monthly basis rather than taking out all you’d need for a whole year.

Meeting with a financial adviser can help you come up with a personalized plan to fit your individual situation.

“As people approach retirement, they should work with a retirement professional to determine their expected retirement income,” said Lisa Bamburg, a registered investment adviser and owner of Insurance Advantage in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

Two grandmothers dress in funky classes and brightly colored shirts.
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Factoring in Income Beyond Your Savings

In addition to the money you’ve saved in your 401(k), individual retirement account (IRA) or other investment accounts, a portion of your retirement income will come from Social Security benefits.

You can start collecting Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but you’ll receive less money per month than if you waited until full retirement age — 66 or 67, depending on when you were born.

If you delay claiming Social Security benefits past your full retirement age, you’ll receive even more each month. However, there’s no additional increase once you’ve reached age 70.

Pro Tip

This calculator from the Social Security Administration gives you a rough idea of your retirement benefits. This retirement estimator is more accurate but requires plugging in your personal info.

In addition to Social Security, you might have other sources of retirement income, like money from a pension plan or an annuity.

A report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found that many retirees don’t have a great diversity in their retirement income, though more income sources provide for a more secure retirement.

The report found less than 7% of older Americans have retirement income that’s made up of a combination of Social Security, a pension plan and a retirement contribution plan like a 401(k). About 40% rely on Social Security alone.

“Social Security benefits typically are not the equivalent of what it takes for most people to maintain their standard of living,” Bamburg said.

The Social Security Administration states its retirement benefits only replace about 40% of earnings for people with average wages — more for low-income workers and less for those in higher income brackets.

How to Create a Retirement Budget

Once you determine what your retirement income will be, it’s time to make your retirement budget.

If you’ve already been budgeting, you’re off to a great start, though your new budget will likely differ from that of your working days.

Take Stock of Your Essential Expenses

First you’ve got to get an overall look at your current spending. If you don’t already have a budget or track your spending, pull out the past several months of bank or credit card statements. Dig up old receipts if you tend to pay in cash.

Reviewing the past three months will help you find what you spend on average, but an even deeper dive — looking at the last six to 12 months — will give you a more accurate picture and will reveal things like your annual car insurance bill and holiday spending.

Group your spending into categories to get a good picture of where your money’s going. You’ll have fixed expenses, like your mortgage, where the cost stays the same each month. Other expenses, like groceries or utilities, will vary. For those, you should calculate your average monthly spend.

Account for Changes

After leaving the workforce, you’ll probably notice some differences in your spending. You’ll no longer have to pay for downtown parking near the office, dry cleaning your suits or pricey lunches with coworkers. Your monthly retirement contributions will be a thing of the past.

However, not everything will be budget cuts. You’ll have to account for new retirement expenses, like health care premiums your employer previously covered. If you’re 65, you can get health insurance through Medicare, but it’s likely you’ll have increased out-of-pocket medical costs as you age.

And of course, now that you have an influx in free time, you can pursue the things you’ve always wanted to do — which means more new expenses.

A group of retired women have fun.
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Make Room for Fun in Your Retirement Budget

A big part of retirement planning is determining what type of lifestyle you want to have when you’re no longer at work 40 hours a week.

Do you want to travel? Spend more time with your grandkids? Explore a new hobby? After you’ve covered your essential expenses, how you spend what’s left in your budget is totally up to you.

Don’t forget to include run-of-the-mill discretionary expenses, like cable, magazine subscriptions and dining out. It won’t all be cruise ships and Broadway plays.

If you’re married, be sure to share your vision for retirement with your partner, so you’re both on the same page about how you’ll spend your time and money.

Adjusting Expectations to Reality

As you create your monthly budget, you may discover you don’t have nearly as much money as you thought you’d have in retirement. That doesn’t mean you have to live out the rest of your life kicking yourself for not saving more. You have a few options to get by.

Take another look at your living expenses. Are there any ways you can cut costs? Slash your food spending with these tips to save money on groceries. Consider downsizing to a smaller home.

When it comes to your discretionary spending, look for ways to enjoy a more frugal retirement. Take advantage of senior discounts. Check out free activities at your local community center. Find ways to save money on traveling.

Although retirement means leaving your working days behind, you may find it necessary to pick up a side gig or part-time job to supplement your income. Seek out opportunities that match your interests so it doesn’t feel like work.

Don’t forget to enjoy this new stage of life. You worked hard — you deserve it.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Getting Good Rate on a Car Loan

Buying a new car? Planning to get a car loan for it? Then keep the following tips in mind to get a good interest rate – and avoid the crucial mistakes that cost you even more money over the long run.

Tip #1: Don’t Get Financing at the Dealership

The vast majority of car buyers get their car loans at the same dealership where they buy the car. Their reasoning: It’s convenient, and/or the dealers give great interest rates. Do you have the same sentiment?

Here’s the problem: As attractive as the dealer’s advertised interest rates are, they’re likely reserved only for buyers with excellent credit scores. What’s more, there’s a pretty good chance you can find an even better deal elsewhere, such as with community banks and credit unions.

Our advice: Do your homework, and get your loan lined up and ready before you visit the dealer. If the dealer offers you an even better deal, you can still have the loan canceled.

Tip #2: Check Your Credit Score

Do you know your credit score? If not – and if you let the dealer come up with your car loan for you – you’re in BIG trouble! The dealer might convince you that your credit rating is worse than it actually is, and jack up your interest rates accordingly.

Get your credit score by requesting your credit ratings from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You can also check your credit score by applying for preapproved car financing. Car loans from banks and credit unions can give you a pretty good idea of the vehicles and interest rate your credit score qualifies you for.

Click here to learn how you can improve your credit score. 

Tip #3: Watch Out For Scams.

Another risk you run when you let your dealer set up your financing for you is getting scammed. A common scam is carried out when, a few days after you sign the dotted line and bring your new car home, the dealer calls you and tells you the car loan “didn’t work out,” and that you’ll need to re-negotiate a new loan with a higher interest rate – or give the car back, losing your deposit in the process.

Protect yourself by getting your car loan elsewhere, or by not buying the car until you’re 100% sure the dealer’s financing is finalized.

Tip #4: Don’t Focus on the Monthly Fee

Lastly, one of the biggest mistakes car buyers make is going for the loan with the lowest monthly fees. Low monthly fees normally mean higher interest rates and longer payment periods. If you’re not careful, you might end up paying over twice the car’s value throughout the life of the loan.

Remember that there are at least two things that go into the monthly fee: The price of the car and the car loan’s premium. (If you’re trading in your old car, that’s an additional factor.) A single monthly fee won’t tell you how much of each is going into it – and there’s no way of knowing whether you’re paying too much for your loan or getting too little from your trade-in.

So if the car salesman asks you how much you can afford to pay each month – you don’t need to answer. Don’t get trapped! Focus instead on the total amount you’ll be paying for the car loan over its lifetime. It’s the best way to save money and get a decent car at the same time.

Source: creditabsolute.com

Couponing Do’s & Don’ts — How to Save Money Shopping With Coupons

You’ve probably already used coupons at some point in your life. According to a 2020 survey by Statista, almost 90% of respondents reported having used coupons for shopping. Considering that coupons provide a fast, free way to reduce spending on groceries and essentials, it’s clear why coupons are so popular.

But to make your couponing efforts more successful, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks successful couponers use. The last thing you want to do is waste time collecting coupons only to realize none of them is valid when you’re checking out.

If you’re relatively new to couponing, start slowly by bringing a few paper coupons to your next shopping trip. Over time, you can incorporate more of these couponing do’s and don’ts to save more.

Couponing Do’s

Couponing doesn’t have to feel like a marathon or take up hours of your week. By following one or more of these couponing do’s, you can start to trim your monthly spending — and ultimately save more money.

1. Do Know Where to Find Coupons

The most basic step in starting to coupon is to collect them. Ideally, you can gradually build a stash of coupons for the stores and brands you frequently shop so you can always find some savings at the register.

To begin your coupon hunt, plan your weekly meals around sale products if possible. That helps you find discounts without even having to coupon. To find in-store sales, look for digital flyers on grocery store websites.

Another resource is Flipp, a free app that provides weekly flyers, deals, and online coupons for over 2,000 stores. Flipp has weekly flyers for stores like Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart. You can clip deals you find to the in-app shopping list to help you keep track.

Once your virtual or paper shopping list has all the food you need for the week, finish the list with any household essentials you need to restock, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. You’re now ready to track down coupons for everything on your shopping list.

There are several free websites you can use to print paper coupons. These websites include coupon databases and brand websites like:

Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot, and Valpak also have mobile apps that let you find and redeem digital coupons at the register. If you don’t want to spend time and money printing coupons, apps are your best resource. You can also try other mobile coupon apps like Grocery Pal and The Coupons App, which have digital coupons for grocery stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, Safeway, and Publix.

Between paper and digital coupons, you should find savings on some of the products on your weekly shopping list. If you can’t track down a specific coupon, searching online for the product name plus “coupon” is another tactic to try.

Finally, if you subscribe to a Sunday paper or get coupons and ad flyers in the mail, take a few minutes to scan for coupons you need. If you spot an incredible coupon for a product you buy regularly, you can scoop up a few extra newspapers on discount at a dollar store the following day or look online for the same coupon.

Also, don’t forget to check out those coupons they print out at the register after checkout (sometimes called Catalina coupons). Those are typically based on your specific purchases, so there may be something in there you can use. Others may be percent-off discounts on your total sale price if you spend over a certain amount.

You don’t have to go overboard and find duplicates of every coupon for your shopping list. Find as many as you can, and remember to check expiration dates so you shop in time to save.

2. Do Combine Coupons With Cash-Back Rewards Apps

Coupons usually provide a percent discount or certain dollar-off amount to let you save. But if you want to save even more on your weekly grocery haul, you can use cash-back rewards apps to earn rebates for buying certain products.

Just like searching for coupons, you can research rebate opportunities before heading to the store to earn cash back for products you were going to buy anyway. Popular rewards apps you can use include:

  • Ibotta. Earn cash back for buying specific products from Ibotta partners and uploading your receipt to the app for proof of purchase. Ibotta works with over 1,000 brands, and there are always offers on groceries and everyday essentials. You can redeem cash back through PayPal, Venmo, or free gift cards when you reach $20. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
  • Fetch Rewards. If you like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards is another must-download app. With Fetch Rewards, you earn points for buying products from dozens of popular brands. An advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you can redeem many free gift cards once you reach $3, which is possible in a single shopping trip. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
  • Checkout 51. Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta. Download Checkout 51, select offers to shop for, and upload your receipt to earn rewards. Checkout 51 works at stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart. You get a check when you earn $20 in cash back. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.

There’s still nothing wrong with using paper coupons or mobile coupon apps if that’s all you have time for. But to save even more, it’s worth trying cash-back rewards apps alongside your couponing efforts.

3. Do Sign Up for Store Savings Cards

Sign up for rewards cards at the stores where you shop. Store rewards cards typically provide shoppers with additional savings in the form of reward points or discounts. Plus, some loyalty programs also send additional coupons in the mail.

Reward cards also help you earn more with Ibotta since you can connect cards from retailers like Meijer, Kroger, and Wegmans to your account. Once you connect a card, Ibotta automatically detects whether your purchase qualifies for cash back and pays you.

4. Do Stay Organized to Maximize Savings

Organize coupons to keep them easily accessible when you shop. The last thing you want is to miss a coupon when checking out or — even worse— forget your coupons at home.

Your organizational system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. For casual couponers, a coupon wallet on Amazon costs around $10 and comes with dividers to group coupons into different sections, like meat or produce.

If you prefer managing everything from your smartphone, you can also use the free SnipSnap app to transform paper coupons into digital ones. Once you snap a picture of a paper coupon, Snip Snap uploads it to its database so you can use it while on the go. The app also tracks expiration dates and sends reminders about expiring coupons.

5. Do Know Your Store’s Coupon Policy

Does your grocer double coupons, price-match, accept competitor coupons, or give rain checks if sale goods are out of stock? If you don’t know, research coupon policies online. Grocery stores and general retailers like Walmart and Target outline coupon rules on their websites. To find a policy, use a browser to search for the name of your store of choice plus “coupon policy” (for example, “Kroger coupon policy”) or look for a frequently asked questions section on the website. These policies help you save even more money, and they aren’t always prominently advertised. Things to stay informed about include:

  • Price Matching. Stores don’t like losing a potential sale because a competitor has a slightly lower price tag, so many are willing to price match. Price matching is when a store adjusts its price to match a sale at another local store.
  • Competitor Coupons. Your store may accept competitors’ coupons, but you should clarify who their competitors are. For example, Publix accepts coupons for competitors’ private-label products, whereas Meijer doesn’t take competitor coupons at all. But some stores are more specific than Publix. Lowes Foods accepts competitor coupons only from select competitors, like Aldi, Food Lion, Target, and Walmart.
  • Rain Checks. When you want to buy an out-of-stock product, some stores issue rain checks, which guarantee the current price when it’s back in stock. But many stores have specific rules for rain checks. For example, Publix only issues one rain check per household per day (in addition to other, sometimes product-specific restrictions).

6. Do Know Local Stores’ Best Deals & Sale Patterns

You can get the most out of any coupon when you shop at the stores with the best deals for that product type, such as canned goods or toiletries.

That requires paying attention as you shop around. Over time, you learn each local store’s pricing quirks and sale patterns. For example, perhaps your local Walmart’s bakery section regularly puts bread and bagels on sale during certain days of the week. Or maybe your town’s Kroger has better prices and more frequent discounts on frozen meals than your local Publix.

As you learn this type of information, you can be more selective about where you shop for individual products. You don’t have to waste time and gas shopping at multiple stores for a single grocery trip, but for specific products, it can make sense to coupon at stores that are more likely to have deals or just better prices on that product category.

7. Do Start Slowly

When you first start couponing, it feels intimidating if you’re redeeming dozens of coupons and have a lot of numbers to crunch.

For your first few shopping trips, focus on the highest-value coupons, the ones you know are worth using. That might look like bringing three 50%-off coupons or your highest-dollar-value-off coupons.

You can even try using coupons on sale products, but don’t get too creative until you’re comfortable calculating whether things are good deals and handing over coupons at the register.

8. Do Try Stacking Coupons

Combining a coupon with a store sale is a simple way to stack savings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just stacking coupons with sale prices. Stores like Dollar General, Meijer, and Target let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupons to save even more.

For example, if Target has Planters peanuts on sale for $2, you can use a $1 Target coupon for Planters products and a $1 Planters manufacturer’s coupon to score a free can of peanuts. You can find store coupons online or in your favorite store’s weekly flyers.

If you can’t get something for free, try stacking coupons with store sales and apps like Ibotta to maximize savings.

For example, there’s a 50%-off clearance sale on a $3.99 Red Baron pepperoni pizza, bringing the price down to $2. If you have a $1 manufacturer coupon, the price is just $1. But since Ibotta has a $0.75 rebate on Red Baron pepperoni pizza, you just scored an entire pizza for only $0.25.

To top it all off, shop with a cash-back credit card to earn even more. The goal of couponing is to find deals whenever possible and get creative to stretch the value of every dollar you spend.

9. Do Use the Overage

When your coupons exceed the sale price of a product, it produces an overage. While that doesn’t invalidate the coupons, most often, that means you get the product for $0.

However, certain retailers apply overages toward other products in your shopping cart. For example, say you get an overage of $0.50 on a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix by using a manufacturer coupon and sale price. Overage-allowing retailers apply the $0.50 overage to another product in your cart.

Walmart and Kroger are two major retailers that apply overages to your cart. And Walmart is one of the few retailers that pays cash back for overages (except on purchases made using government benefits, so save coupons for purchases you make when you’re not using your SNAP and WIC benefits). Kroger issues overages on a merchandise return card (essentially, a Kroger gift card). If you’re in doubt, look up your store’s coupon policy online to learn about overage rules.

10. Do Present Coupons in the Right Order

You can maximize your savings by handing the cashier your coupons in a specific order. For example, if you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, use that coupon first. Otherwise, your other coupons might negate the $5 coupon by discounting the total amount of the sale to less than $20.

Some stores automatically apply your coupons correctly, so the order doesn’t always matter. But to be safe, give the cashier the price-minimum coupon before you use any other coupons.

11. Do Get in & Get Out

Know what you plan to buy before you go to the store, and stick to your shopping list.

If you stay in the store too long, you become susceptible to their marketing ploys, and you may end up spending more money. Get in, get the deals, and then get out.

If you shop during less busy grocery shopping hours, like during the week or at night, your trips will also be faster than battling weekend shopping crowds.

12. Do Stock Up

If you spot an incredible couponing opportunity on nonperishable goods or products you use frequently, it’s generally a smart move to stock up. It ensures you benefit from the deal as much as possible and lets you use more coupons before they expire. It’s an excellent way to set up long-term emergency food and supply storage.

Stacking coupons and store sales lets you score the lowest price possible when stocking up. For example, if Green Giant canned corn is on sale for $0.99 per can and you have several BOGO coupons or manufacturer coupons for $0.50 off per can, you can stock up on as many cans as possible to build your food storage for less than half the regular price.

Some stores limit the number of sale products you can purchase at once. If a store puts a limit on something and you need more of it, visit other store locations to create your stockpile.

Stocking up also lets you be pickier about when you use coupons. For example, if you run out of toilet paper, shop your emergency pantry first. You can replace your emergency supplies when you’re able to stack a sale and a coupon rather than buying full-price TP without a coupon.

That’s especially important for edible pantry goods. Canned and dried foods last a long time, but even they eventually go bad. This method ensures your emergency supplies are always safe to eat. If you have to throw them away, you won’t save any money (and may be in trouble if you need them during a bona fide emergency).

But before you come home with 30 cans of creamed corn, make sure you have a place to store it. You can convert a small area of your home, like a guest room closet or second bathroom linen closet, into your emergency pantry.

13. Do Donate the Excess

When couponing, you sometimes encounter scenarios where you can get so much of a free or cheap product that you can’t even use it all before it expires. It’s still a better deal than purchasing without a coupon, but the thought of letting all that product go bad doesn’t sit well with most people.

Instead of turning down an incredible deal, look into ways to donate excess couponing successes to people in need. Charities like homeless shelters, food banks, and women’s shelters make excellent candidates for donations. You can also reach out to local churches and community outreach programs to see if they need certain supplies.

You may even be able to take a charitable contribution tax deduction.


Couponing Don’ts

If you ever watched shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” successful couponing looks like hours of dumpster diving for coupon flyers, endless clipping, and (in some cases) being way too frugal.

But couponing doesn’t have to become your full-time job. You don’t need to make things overly complex either. As long as you follow couponing best practices and avoid some common couponing mistakes, your savings can benefit without transforming your living room into a coupon-clipping factory.

1. Don’t Shop Without a Meal Plan

Shopping with a meal plan is an often overlooked couponing tip, but it’s crucial to saving money. If you don’t have a plan to use the products you’re buying each week, you’re more likely to waste food.

Additionally, shopping without a menu makes you more likely to buy convenience food: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and other fast meals. While these are delicious, they’re not conducive to eating healthy on a budget.

When building your shopping list, plan dishes that line up with products you have coupons for. For example, you find a $1-off coupon for two bags of Sargento cheese, a $0.25 coupon for Classico pasta sauce, and a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Mueller’s pasta. You can plan to make lasagna for dinner one night that week and macaroni and cheese as a side for another meal.

Or perhaps you find a coupon for an ingredient that’s central to many dishes, like chicken or ground beef, that also happens to be on sale. You can plan to make several recipes that use that ingredient, then stack the sale and coupon for even more savings.

If that sounds intimidating, affordable meal-planning services like $5 Meal Plan provide a month’s worth of dinner recipes and various breakfast and lunch ideas for only $5 per month.

2. Don’t Use a Coupon on a Full-Price Product

If you use a $1-off coupon on a full-price two-pack of SlimFast protein drinks for $5.68, you still pay $2.34 per beverage. But if you wait until SlimFast is on sale, you can save even more money. For example, if SlimFast goes on sale for 20% off, you can buy two drinks for $4.54, use your coupon, and pay $3.54, or $1.77 each, saving nearly 40% on your purchase.

That’s why operating with an emergency pantry is such a good idea. If you need to restock on an ingredient or product that day, you have to use coupons even if you miss a sale (or worse, pay full price without a coupon). But if you can afford to wait, you can save money in the long run by shopping during sale periods and with coupons more often.

3. Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s on Sale

Don’t let sale prices trick you into buying something you don’t typically use just because it looks like a deal. If you use coupons without thinking, you inevitably buy things that are a waste of money or products that expire before you have a chance to use them.

Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet and defeats the whole purpose of couponing. That said, if you find a fantastic deal on something you can donate, there’s nothing wrong with couponing for charity.

4. Don’t Be Brand-Loyal

Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brand should you buy? The answer: whichever one you can get the cheapest using your coupons.

Many people start couponing because of a major life event, like job loss, pregnancy, or too much debt. Those aren’t the times to be brand-loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on deals because you prefer specific brands.

And sometimes, the cheapest bet is to go with the store brand, even if it means passing up on a coupon or sale for another brand.

For example, at Walmart, the Great Value line is extensive, covering a range of affordable grocery products and everyday essentials. If your coupons can’t beat Great Value, it’s probably best to save them for another time.

Plus, many retailers give coupons for their own brands through register coupons and coupon mailers, so you can still find ways to save on already affordable store brands.

5. Don’t Use Every Coupon

Some coupons don’t represent real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal doesn’t result in much savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to a better deal than the store brand. Wait for a better coupon and another sale.

Sometimes, you also have good coupons nearing their expiration dates but no sales on the goods you need. Let them expire. You don’t have to use the coupons, especially if you have to buy a brand name at full price to do so.

Couponing is about saving money, not getting good deals on brand-name products.

If you really need something, buy one or two of them now and wait for a sale to buy in bulk.

6. Don’t Waste Time

It’s easy to fall into the couponing trap of spending so much time searching for deals and preparing to shop that you’re turning couponing into a part-time job (there are better side gigs to make extra money).

Start by asking yourself how much time you want to dedicate to couponing. The answer could be 15 minutes on Sunday to look through coupon apps or a couple of hours every week to do more thorough research.

With a time commitment in mind, you should also work efficiently. Some tips to save time when couponing include:

  • Only clipping paper coupons you know you’re going to use
  • Turning clipping into a family activity (don’t forget safety scissors for the younger ones)
  • Linking store loyalty cards with apps like Ibotta to avoid preselecting rebates before shopping

You can also order groceries online and use coupons to save both time and money. Online grocery shopping gives you plenty of time to scout deals and coupons and do the math without feeling pressured. It also saves you from clever marketing tactics that induce impulse buys. They try to do the same things online, but you have more time to talk yourself out of it. And you can typically use the same or similar coupons online you do in stores.

For example, at Kroger, you can load digital coupons onto your Kroger Plus card and have them automatically apply to your online grocery order. And if you pick up the order, you can also use paper coupons (Kroger only accepts their own digital coupons for delivery). Just make sure you hit any free pickup minimums to ensure you’re really saving.

As long as couponing is enjoyable and effective, you’re on the right track. Plus, as you gain experience, you’ll find certain coupon apps or websites work best for your shopping habits and become even more efficient at growing your coupon supply.

7. Don’t Print Coupons You Don’t Use

Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save money. But you still use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper.

Many people print every online coupon available and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them. Save any you’re interested in but don’t need as a PDF or browser bookmark.


Final Word

In many ways, learning to coupon is a series of stages. At first, you use a few tips that are convenient to save, like buying products you have coupons for. As you become more comfortable, you start to mix in tricks like coupon stacking and simply using more coupons per shopping trip. If you start loving the process, you eventually graduate to extreme couponing, where it’s possible to score entire grocery hauls for almost pennies on the dollar if you get it right.

Whatever stage you’re in, the goal of couponing is to save more of your money. How much time you spend on it is up to you.

Source: moneycrashers.com