When You Donate Blood, You Save Lives and Earn Gift Cards

One pint of blood can save three lives. That alone is what drives people to roll up their sleeves and get that needle prick. But there’s another good reason to sign up to be a regular blood donor: Gift cards.

You get a lot more than a T-shirt and some peanut butter crackers these days when you donate blood. Blood collection organizations routinely give out $20 worth of gift cards to Amazon, restaurants and major retailers at blood drives. You can give blood every 56 days, or six times a year.

So, a couple can average $240 in perks and save 36 lives in one year. For a family of four with kids above 16 and old enough to donate, that’s about $500 in gift cards per year and 72 lives saved.

“One time we went to Kohl’s and there was a blood drive in the parking lot,” said Beverly Mattis of Wake Forest, N.C. “They gave us each a $20 Kohl’s gift card so my daughter and I went in and did some shopping afterward.”

A man wearing a face mask shows off his gift certificates after donating blood.
Exavier Jones shows off his $10 gift certificate after donating blood at a OneBlood Big Red Bus in St. Petersburg, Fla. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Exavier Jones gave blood recently at a OneBlood mobile collection bus outside casual dining restaurant Carrabba’s Italian Grill in St. Petersburg.

“I’m type O. That’s always needed, so I try to give as often as I can,” he said, explaining that any blood type can accept type O blood. He received a $10 Carrabba’s gift card and a $10 e-gift card to use at one of a variety of retailers.

How to Get the Perks of Being a Regular Blood Donor

If you register to be a blood donor with the blood collection organization in your area, you will receive texts or emails with dates of upcoming blood drives and the perks. There are many blood collection organizations around the country. Here are three of the biggest, and how to register:

There’s no requirement that you give a certain number of times a year, but there is encouragement.

OneBlood, which collects blood in the Southeast, partnered with Carrabba’s to give $10 gift cards each time someone donated between January and April. Those who gave twice received an additional $25 gift card along with the two $10 cards.

“I got $10. I’m going to go inside and have a lasagna dinner tonight,” said Bill Howard after donating at the Carrabba’s in St. Petersburg.

The gift cards are nice for sure, he said, but the main reason he gives regularly is because he was stabbed during the Vietnam War and needed a lot of blood to survive. He wants to save others like a stranger’s blood once saved him.

A man wearing a camouflage hat poses for a portrait outside of a blood donation bus.
Bill Howard donates blood regularly because his life was saved by a person who donated blood after he was stabbed in the Vietnam War. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“I would say most of the time at almost all of our drives our intention is to have a donor gift,” said Pat Michaels, OneBlood director of media relations. “It could be Carrabba’s, Publix, Red Lobster. We have built up some wonderful partners,” he said.

OneBlood also gives out tickets donated by the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, the Daytona 500 and Carowinds amusement park near Charlotte, N.C.

Along with gift cards and tickets, many blood collection groups also give out swag such as beach towels, fleece blankets, car sun shades and insulated water bottles.

Vitalant, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is the largest nonprofit blood service provider in the country serving 40 states. It hosts more than 30,000 blood drives a year and offers a variety of perks and incentives for blood donors.

Vitalant is partnering with the Arizona Diamondbacks to encourage high school students there to organize blood drives at school. The team will host more than 1,000 students from blood drive committees. Organizers from the two schools who achieve the most donations will share a party suite at a Diamondbacks game.

Vitalant is also encouraging women to organize a blood drive with friends the same as they might host a party at their homes selling jewelry or clothes. An organizer can invite eight friends to a private party at a collection center that’s catered with fun food where donors receive gift cards and other swag.

For donors with a sweet tooth, Vitalant recently promoted a pint-for-a-pint offer. Donors who gave a pint of blood received a voucher for a free pint of frozen custard at Culver’s.

The American Red Cross recently offered $5 Amazon gift cards to some donors, and their names were entered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2022 Indianapolis 500. Winners will receive pit credentials, airfare, hotel accommodations and a $500 gift card. Other Red Cross blood drives enter donors’ names in a drawing for a chance to win a $1,000 e-Gift card to one of several stores.

More Perks for Donating Platelets

Platelets are small cells that stop bleeding by forming clots. Donated platelets are used for cancer patients, transplants, burn patients and traumatic injuries.

When someone donates platelets, a machine extracts them from whole blood then returns the rest of the blood back to the donor. The process takes about three hours.

Because it takes longer than donating whole blood, more perks are offered for people who give platelets, which can be donated every seven days. OneBlood recently challenged platelet donors to a two-month program offering gift cards valued at $25 for their second donation, $50 for their third and $75 for their fourth.

It is also promoting a three month challenge, offering gift cards valued at $25 for the second donation, $50 for the third, $75 for the fourth, $100 for the fifth and $125 for the sixth. That’s a total of $375 in gift cards in three months.

People line up at a blood donation bus to donate blood.
According to Givingblood.org, only 37% of the U.S. population can donate blood. Less than 10 percent of those people donate blood at least once a year. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Constant Need Increased During the Pandemic

Even in typical times, blood collection organizations are constantly trying to recruit more donors. Only 37% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, and less than 10 percent of those people do so at least once a year, according to Givingblood.org.

Numerous impacts of COVID-19 made it even harder to reach and encourage donors, according to Michaels at OneBlood.

“There has been every reason for there to be a shortage of blood drives,” he said. Blood drives at colleges, high schools and office buildings were cancelled for months on end because they were closed.

“We had to recover by creating new partnerships,” Michaels said. OneBlood worked with county elections offices across the country as well as hundreds of homeowners associations to connect with groups of people who would sign up for blood drives, he said.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

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

10 Cities Near Philadelphia To Live in 2021

The brilliant city of Philadelphia is a wonderful place to work and play. But city living isn’t the life for everyone.

Fortunately, the region – known as the Delaware Valley — has a slew of options for incredible boroughs, towns and cities near Philadelphia in which to live. These spots offer a wide range of entertainment, dining, nightlife, recreation and comfortable apartments.

Of all the incredible places to live within easy commuting distance of Philadelphia, it’s hard to narrow down to a top 10. But we are sure you’ll find these 10 cities near Philadelphia — all within five to 25 miles of Center City and listed by distance from the city — perfect places to call home.

  • Haddon Township, NJ
  • Ardmore, PA
  • Conshohocken, PA
  • Hatboro, PA
  • King of Prussia, PA
  • Langhorne, PA
  • Phoenixville, PA
  • West Chester, PA
  • Wilmington, DE
  • Doylestown, PA

Haddon Township, NJ facing the City Center in Philadelphia.Haddon Township, NJ facing the City Center in Philadelphia.

  • Distance from downtown: 7.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,530 (down 3.38 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,713 (down 13.88 percent since last year)

In New Jersey, townships are full-fledged municipalities, and Haddon Township is one of the region’s best cities near Philadelphia. Just 10 or so minutes from the Ben Franklin Bridge to Center City Philadelphia, the township offers both the quiet of a suburb and a main street that rivals any in the state for drinking and dining options.

Bustling Haddon Avenue in the downtown Westmont section is a mile-long stretch featuring some bakeries, cheesesteak joints, pasta shops, pizza places, taquerias, bars and taverns. Farther out, chain dining and big box stores line White and Black Horse pikes.

Haddon also offers plenty of green space, from Cooper River Park in the north along the lake to Newton Lake Park and Saddler’s Woods on the south.

Public transportation into Philly is a snap with Westmont Station a direct link via PATCO with park-and-ride facilities.

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Ardmore, PA. Ardmore, PA.

Photo source: Apartment Guide / One Ardmore Place
  • Distance from downtown: 7.7 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,357 (down 61.90 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,552 (down 35.50 percent since last year)

Among swanky locales like Bryn Mawr, Villanova and Gladwyne, Ardmore is the iconic Philadelphia Main Line’s most accessible city to everyday folk.

Ardmore’s median income comes in at a tenth that of some of the region’s richest communities and is a much cheaper home value. But Ardmore is also less insular. The city is a destination for visitors and day-trippers from across the Delaware Valley.

Ardmore splits down the middle between Montgomery and Delaware Counties and Haverford and Lower Merion Townships. Its backbone is busy Lancaster Avenue that offers retail shopping, trendy restaurants and the 500-capacity Ardmore Music Hall, one of the area’s top concert clubs.

While other Main Line towns shun outsiders, the hum of Lancaster Avenue feels welcoming to all.

And on the north end of town is one of the region’s best spots for retail therapy or even just window shopping. Suburban Square is a six-square-block upscale outdoor shopping plaza. Dating back to the 1920s, the square is one of the nation’s oldest planned shopping centers.

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Conshockocken, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaConshockocken, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Conshohocken Borough / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 12.6 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,705 (down 7.82 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,265 (up 7.69 percent since last year)

Throughout its history, Conshohocken has always held an important geographic location. Sitting at one of the largest bends of the Schuylkill River, the land was originally a large milling region along rail and shipping lines.

As interstates went up, the region morphed into a factory industrial center. As manufacturing declined, it was those same highways that turned “Conshy” into one of the most desirable suburban-chic and cosmopolitan residential commuter communities in the city.

Conshohocken lies between the I-476 Blue Route and I-76 Schuylkill Expressway at the “Conshohocken Curve.” As industry left, easy access to the region’s two major highways transformed it into a hub for upper-middle-class commuters into the city, especially as apartment complexes and mid-priced high-rise rental towers rose.

And as the population increased, so did the enclave which features shopping and dining spots and many glittering hotels.

The shoreline also features a section of the running and biking Schuylkill River Trail path.

Nearby, Conshohocken’s Fayette Street main street is popular among its young professional population, with a median age of 32 with 63 percent single. The downtown strip offers a selection of quaint boutiques, eateries and cafes, as well as a variety of notable bars.

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Hatboro, PA.Hatboro, PA.

Photo source: Apartment Guide / Livingstone Apartments
  • Distance from downtown: 15.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: N/A
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,695 (up 9.18 percent since last year)

Eastern Montgomery County has just a few towns with true main streets, but one of the best of the bunch is Hatboro. The borough sits along the Bucks County border, a suburban town settled among some residential communities.

Hatboro is known for its plethora of parks and green spaces, including the popular Hatboro Memorial Park and Memorial Pool. But its growing notoriety as a suburban craft beer lovers’ destination is what’s gaining prominence.

In the heart of the Craft Beer Trail of Greater Philadelphia, Hatboro offers Crooked Eye Brewery and Artifact Brewing, both opened within the last several years.

The breweries sit along York Road, Hatboro’s main street. The corridor also offers many bars and gastropubs, vintage clothing stores, hoagie shops and produce grocers, cafés and popular bakeries and Daddypops diner, a favorite of Food Network’s Guy Fieri.

The borough is also convenient for commuters, with Hatboro station along the Warminster Line to Center City just off York Road.

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King of Prussia, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaKing of Prussia, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

  • Distance from downtown: 16.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $2,204 (up 5.44 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,544 (up 0.81 percent since last year)

To speak like a true Philadelphian, pronounce the name of the city of King of Prussia the proper way, “Kingaprusha.”

If you’re familiar with the western Montgomery County city, it’s most likely for one thing: its megamall. The King of Prussia mall is massive, at 2.8 million square feet and 450 stores. It’s the third-largest mall in the nation behind only the Mall of America and the new American Dream in New Jersey.

This central town nestles right along the Schuylkill River — between four major thoroughfares: the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-76 Schuylkill Expressway, and U.S. Routes 202 and 422. Sitting between renowned Valley Forge Historical Park and county seat Norristown, King of Prussia is both a popular commuter city and an important edge city in its own right.

One key location in KOP is the King of Prussia Town Center. Opened in 2016, the large planned lifestyle development has become a hub of residential activity in town. Acting as the city’s downtown, Town Center offers a bevy of apartments and townhouses at Village at Valley Forge with mixed-use and office space, upscale department stores and a Wegman’s grocery, retail shops and several new restaurants and bars.

Nearby are several office parks, Upper Merion High School and the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

The area is growing so quickly, local transportation authority SEPTA is developing a $2 billion regional rail line to directly connect King of Prussia with University City and Center City Philly.

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Langhorne, PA.Langhorne, PA.

  • Distance from downtown: 22.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,413 (down 1.55 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,691 (up 6.72 percent since last year)

One thing you can have living in the suburbs that you usually don’t in the middle of a city is an amusement park down the street. That’s one of the features of living in the borough of Langhorne and adjoining Middletown Township. Here you’ll find Sesame Place, the Sea World-owned young children’s Sesame Street theme park.

Langhorne borough proper and surrounding Middletown Township are collectively referred to as Langhorne.

The area is an important business and shopping center along Neshaminy Creek in charming Bucks County. Along with numerous national chains and big box stores, a myriad of service centers, retail shops and old-school restaurants line Pine Street and Maple Avenue.

In addition, the borough features a quaint historic district dating back to the 19th century. Sitting just off the I-295 beltway, Langhorne is a popular bedroom community for commuters to Trenton as well as Philadelphia.

The expansive Middletown Country Club splits the borough, with the multistory Oxford Valley Mall out in the Township. And surrounding Lake Luxembourg is the expansive 1,200-acre Core Creek Park. The region offers a variety of housing options, from affordable apartments to large suburban mansions.

Several locations still offer 1950s style tract housing leftover from the expansion of the nearby Levittown planned community.

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Phoenixville, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaPhoenixville, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Borough of Phoenixville / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 23.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,229 (down 14.82 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,426 (down 12.71 percent since last year)

In 1958, a large gelatinous alien creature was let loose and devoured dozens of residents of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. That of course only happened on screen, in the Steve McQueen horror classic “The Blob,” which filmed and took place in the Chester County suburb.

The movie features a famous scene where terrified residents flee the alien out the Colonial Theater’s doors. That real-life theater is the centerpiece of Phoenixville’s Bridge Street main street as well as the annual Blobfest which celebrates the landmark film.

But as important as the film is, younger residents will tell you it’s the craft beer scene that makes Phoenixville special. After languishing for years as a rundown mill town, a revitalization plan included a call for brewers to set up shop. Today the city of just 17,000 offers 10 craft breweries.

On Bridge Street alone are four breweries, along with a tap house, a distillery and three winery tasting rooms. That collection gives downtown Phoenixville the distinction of having the most breweries per square foot of any place in the nation.

For residents, Phoenixville is more than just beer and blobs. Its absolutely teeming downtown along Bridge Street has boomed with pizzerias and bistros, coffee and smoke shops and boutiques and galleries.

Phoenixville Area High School offers a high ranking and a 15:1 student-teacher ratio. And many parks and green spaces dot the region, including the large Black Rock Sanctuary wildlife refuge along the Schuylkill River bend that also features Basin Trail for hiking and biking. The Schuylkill River Trail also crosses the borough, along French Creek.

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West Chester, PA. West Chester, PA.

  • Distance from downtown: 25.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,631 (down 1.23 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,095 (up 7.54 percent since last year)

A little under 25 miles from Center City, West Chester is a more affordable alternative to the nearby Main Line. The seat of Chester County offers a selection of bars, restaurants and shops in its surprising downtown along Gay and Market streets.

Local businesses are accessible, catering to the borough’s young, affluent residents as well as budget-conscious clientele. Need proof? West Chester’s downtown sits on the top-three list of “Great American Main Streets.”

West Chester is a more affordable, younger enclave surrounded by old-money communities like Malvern, Kennett Square and Chadds Ford, with swaths of an urban-rural buffer.

The borough offers high-ranked schools and an average age of just 24.9 years old. A vibrant part of that young community is West Chester University, ranked a Top 10 Public Regional University by U.S. News.

Why is West Chester attractive to young professionals? Perhaps it’s the borough’s title as “Most Exciting Place” in all of eastern Pennsylvania. It’s a locale to meet new people, as the state’s second-most densely populated city, fifth-best for nightlife and fifth-best spot to lead an active lifestyle.

Or maybe it’s because it’s the world headquarters of the QVC shopping network.

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Wilmington, DE. Wilmington, DE.

  • Distance from downtown: 26.2 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,186 (down 14.08 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,477 (up 1.09 percent since last year)

Look behind Pennsylvania and New Jersey to find the best cities near Philadelphia — don’t forget about Delaware!

Wilmington is certainly having a moment. While the previous president spent his weekends at swanky Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster golf club, the current chief executive has been taking his off weekends back in his home state of Delaware. President Biden famously grew up in and around Wilmington and is known to have commuted back to his residence weekly dating back to his earliest days as the Diamond State’s senator.

Wilmington, despite being the largest city in a completely different state, is just a half-hour drive from Center City Philly. But it’s the finance industry that fuels the economy of the Corporate City.

The 1980s Financial Center Development Act liberalized financial regulations in Delaware, removing usury laws and interest rate caps. This caused financial and insurance corporations from around the world to set up shops in Wilmington.

An attractive city to big money employers is an attractive city to its white-collar workers. And one of the favorite locals is the Christina River waterfront. Popular waterfront spots include the Blue Rocks’ Frawley Stadium, the Delaware Children’s Museum, a convention center, a movie theater, parks, trails, hotels and a slew of cafes, restaurants and bars.

And for those concerned about Wilmington’s less-than-stellar crime safety record, there is good news. The city reports being “safer now than it’s ever been.” The city is noting its lowest crime rate in recent history.

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dolyestown, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiadolyestown, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Doylestown Township / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 27.2 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,408 (up 25.06 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,999 (up 9.93 percent since last year)

Gateway to the colonial-estate-and-covered-bridge tourism lands of Upper Bucks, Doylestown is the charming exurban seat of Bucks County.

The borough offers a slew of cultural and entertainment options not usually found in a town of under 9,000, about an hour commute from Center City by either train or car.

Doylestown has one of the densest gatherings of museums out of all of the cities near Philadelphia. James Michener Art Museum (named for the native son author), the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, the Mercer Museum and Oscar Hammerstein II Farm (the final residence of its namesake) can all be found here.

Just off the center of town is the historic art deco movie house County Theater which shows blockbusters and arthouse films alike.

Elsewhere in Doylestown’s downtown along State and Main streets are quaint thrift shops, big city-worthy restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and brewpubs.

For those seeking a more natural setting, just as appealing is the natural beauty of rural Bucks County just outside of town, packed with hiking trails, bike paths, water recreation and nature watching. Favorite spots include urban 108-acre Central Park and wooded 1,500-acre Peace Valley Park.

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Make one of these cities near Philadelphia your next home

No matter where you decide to call home, you can’t go wrong with any of the amazing cities near Philadelphia you might choose.

Whether in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester or Delaware Counties, across the river in South Jersey or down I-95 in Delaware, you’ll have tons to do all within a short commute into the city.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual 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.

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Source: apartmentguide.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

4 Things to Tell Your Boss If You Want to Work From Home

These days, more and more employees are working from home on a regular basis. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics says that about 2.8% of the total workforce work from home at least half time. Nearly all U.S. workers say they’d like to work from home at least part-time, and about half the workforce say they could  work remotely at least some of the time.

But what if you’re not one the lucky ones who stumbles into a job that already allows working from home, whether sometimes or on a regular basis? In this case, you might need to convince your boss that working from home is a good idea.

And, in fact, working from home is a good idea, much of the time. It can actually save you money, and it can reduce your overall stress level. And if you’re like many people, you might actually get more done in less time when you’re working from home.

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But those arguments, especially the ones that are mostly beneficial to your personal life, may not be enough to convince your boss to let you work from home. Here are four more convincing arguments to try:

1. Better Productivity

Working from home isn’t a good fit for all jobs, but for some types, studies show that working from home actually increases productivity.

2. Reduced Overhead Costs

Outfitting an employee with an office or even cubicle comes with overhead costs. Not to mention all that water you flush down the toilet on bathroom breaks! In fact, many large employers started moving employees to work from home positions specifically to reduce overhead costs. (Of course, you’ll be taking on some of those costs by working from home — increased electricity and water usage can eat into your savings on commuting. You can try some of these easy penny pinching tips to help offset those costs.

3. Fewer Sick Days

Having the ability to work from home often curbs the number of sick days you take. You might not drag yourself into the office when you’re feeling under the weather, but you may opt to work as normal from your comfortable couch. Your fellow employees will appreciate fewer germs, anyway.

4. At-Home Workers Are Happier (& Stay Longer)

If working from home is really important to you, and if you’re in a field where it’s common, you may be more likely to stay in your job for the long term if you are allowed some flexibility to work from home. You don’t necessarily need to tell your boss this, but you can show that employees who work from home are happier in their jobs.

Making Your Proposal & Pulling It Off

Now that you’ve got some arguments in your back pocket, how do you go about actually asking your boss to let you work from home? Here are a few steps to take:

1. Create a Formal Proposal

Don’t just approach working from home by the seat of your pants, especially if it’s not already a common practice in your workplace. Instead, create a formal proposal for what working from home would look like for you.

What tasks would you accomplish at home? How would you handle meetings and phone calls? Would you be available during certain hours online? How would you keep track of the tasks that you’re working on at home? What sort of accountability system could you build in?

Put all this into writing. When in doubt, talk to someone else with a job similar to yours who works from home. See what kind of arrangements they have with their employers, and go from there. If others in your organization work from home, talk to them about their written work plans, too.

2. Pre-empt Your Boss’s Concerns

When you’re creating your proposal, try to think about it from your boss’s perspective. What concerns will he or she likely  have? You know this person best as a supervisor, so you can likely anticipate how the conversation will go.

Again, talk to others in your organization who work from home sometimes or regularly, and use that as a jumping off point. You’ll want to work those points into your written proposal, preferably, or at least address them in your conversation with your boss.

3. Propose a Trial Run

Don’t just jump in and ask to switch your in-office job to a full-time, work-from-home position. Instead, propose a trial. You may want to propose a part-time work from home schedule of one to three days per week at first. And you should also suggest trying to work from home for a period of thirty to ninety days before you and your boss formally evaluate the situation.

Starting with a trial period can help make working from home more palatable. Plus, if you’ve never worked from home before, you may find that a blended schedule of in-office and at-home actually suits you better than working from home full-time.

4. Be Flexible

Go into the conversation with your boss with goals and a proposal, but be willing to take his or her feedback into account, too. Be flexible in what you’re asking for, and be prepared to give up ground if that’s what you need to get your foot in the door. Maybe your three days a week goes to two, or your 90-day trial goes to 30. It’s still a start!

5. What Else Can You Give Up?

Oftentimes, people who really want to work from home are willing to take a pay cut to do so, or at least forgo a big raise. This means that evaluation time can be a good time to ask for work-from-home privileges. If you get a great review and are offered a raise, consider counter-offering a smaller raise with the ability to work remotely part-time.

Maybe you’re not willing to give up a raise, but you have other privileges you could lay on the table in order to work from home. Or maybe you feel you’ll be so much more productive at home that you can tackle additional responsibilities. Either way, you could give a little to get a little in this conversation.

6. Prove You Can Do It

Finally, when you do get to work from home, don’t take advantage of the situation. Put 100% into your work each day, and set up your lifestyle so that you’re more productive than ever. Keep track of your goals, metrics, and to-do lists, so that if there’s ever a question of whether or not you can work from home well, you’ve got data to back up your answer.

[Editor’s note: It’s also a good idea to keep track of your financial goals. One way to do that is to check your credit scores. Credit.com’s credit report summary offers a free credit score, updated every 14 days, plus tools that help you establish a plan for how to improve your scores.]

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Paying taxes as a freelancer

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

Paying taxes as a freelancer can be a bit more involved—and expensive—than paying taxes as a W-2 employee. When you’re a freelancer, you’re the boss. That’s great if you want some flexibility, but it also means you’re self-employed, so you are responsible for both the employer and employee parts of employment taxes.

When you work for someone else, your paycheck amount is your pay minus all appropriate deductions. That includes deductions for federal and state income taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security contributions.

But what you might not realize is that your employer covers part of the Medicare and Social Security amounts. As a self-employed individual, you have to pay the total amount yourself. That’s 12.4 percent for Social Security and 2.9 percent for Medicare—a total of 15.3 percent of your taxable earnings, not including federal and other income taxes.

When Do I Have to Start Paying Taxes as a Freelancer?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, if you earn $400 or more in a year via self-employment or contract work, you must claim the income and pay taxes on it. The threshold is even lower if you earn the money for church work. If you earn more than $108.28 as a church employee and the church employer doesn’t withhold and pay employment taxes, you must do so.

What Tax Forms Should I Know About?

Freelancers report their income to the IRS using a Form 1040, but they may need to include a variety of Schedule attachments, including:

  • Schedule A, which lists itemized deductions
  • Schedule C, which reports profits or losses from their freelancer business
  • Schedule SE, which calculates self-employment tax

These are only some of the forms that might be relevant to a freelancer filing federal taxes. Freelancers must also file a tax form for the state in which they live as well as with any local governments that require income tax payments.

If you’re planning to do your taxes on your own as a freelancer, it might be helpful to invest in DIY tax software. Look for options that cater specifically to home and business or self-employment situations. These software programs typically walk you through a series of questions designed to determine which forms you need to file and help you complete those forms correctly.

Six Tips for Doing Your Taxes as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, chances are you spend a lot of your time attending to clients and getting production work done. You may not have a lot of time for business organization tasks such as accounting. But a proactive approach to paying taxes as a freelancer can help you prepare to do your taxes and pay what can be a surprisingly big bill each year.

Here are six tips for handling taxes as a freelancer.

1. Keep Track of Your Income

Track your income so you know how much you may need to pay in taxes every year. Keeping track of your numbers also helps you understand whether your business is profitable and how you’re doing with income compared to past years.

You can track your income in a number of ways. Apps and software programs such as QuickBooks and Wave let you manage your freelance invoices and track income and expenses. Some also help you generate financial reports that might be helpful come tax time.

Alternatively, you can track your income in an Excel spreadsheet or even a notebook, as long as you’re consistent with writing everything down.

2. Set Money Aside in Advance

It’s tempting to count every dollar that comes in as money you can use. But it’s wiser to set money aside for taxes in advance. Depending on how much you earn as a freelancer, you could owe thousands in federal and state taxes by the end of the year, and if you didn’t plan ahead, you might not have the money to cover the tax bill.

That can lead to tax debt that comes with pretty stiff penalties and interest—and the potential for a tax lien if you can’t pay the bill.

3. Determine Your Business Structure

Make sure you know what your business structure is. Many freelancers operate as sole proprietorships. But you might be able to get a tax break if you operate as an LLC or a corporation. Talk to legal and tax professionals as you set up your business to find out about the pros and cons of each type of organization.

4. Know About Relevant Deductions

As a freelancer, you may be able to take certain federal tax deductions to save yourself some money. Tax deductions reduce how much of your income is considered taxable, which, in turn, reduces how much you owe in taxes. Here are a few common deductions that might be relevant to you as a freelancer.

Home Office

You can take the home office deduction if you’ve set aside a certain area of your home for use by the business. The IRS does have a couple of stipulations.

First, you have to regularly use the space for your business, and it can’t be something you use regularly for other purposes. For example, you can’t claim your dining room as a home office just because you sometimes work from that location.

Second, the home has to be your principal place of business, which means it’s where you do most business activity. You can’t claim the deduction if you normally work outside the home but sometimes answer work emails while you’re in the living room.

Equipment and Supplies

You can also deduct the cost of equipment and supplies that you buy for your business. That includes software purchases and relevant subscriptions, such as if you pay monthly for Microsoft 365 or annually for a domain name.

Make sure you have backup documentation for any business expenses you deduct. That means keeping receipts that show what you purchased so you can prove that the expenses were for business. You also have to be careful to keep business and personal expenses separate—art supplies for your child’s school project, for example, wouldn’t typically be considered valid business expenses.

Travel and Meals

Meals and travel expenses that are related to your business may be tax deductible. If you stay in a hotel, book a flight or incur other travel expenses that are necessary for the running of your business, you can claim them as a deduction. The same is true for 50 percent of the value of meals and beverages that you pay for as a necessity when doing business.

The IRS does set an “ordinary and necessary” rule here. For example, if you’re traveling to meet with a client and you need to eat lunch, that is likely to be considered necessary. But if you opt for a very lavish meal for no other purpose than to do so, it might not be allowed under the “ordinary” part of the rule.

Business Insurance

If you carry liability or similar insurance for your business, you can deduct it as a cost of doing business. You may also be able to deduct the cost of other insurance policies if they are necessary for your trade.

5. Estimate Your Taxes Quarterly

The IRS offers provisions for estimating your employment taxes on a quarterly basis. Self-employed individuals, including freelancers, can make these estimated tax payments, too. Paying as you go means you won’t owe a large sum every April, and if you overestimate, you may get a tax refund.

Quarterly payments are due in April, June, September and January. They can be mailed or made online. Depending on how much you earn, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid a penalty at the end of the year.

6. Consult a Tax Professional

As you can see just from the basic information and tips above, paying taxes as a freelancer can get complicated quickly. Consider talking to a tax professional to understand what all your obligations are and how best to reduce your tax burden using legal deductions. You might be missing a major deduction every year that could save you a lot of money.

And remember that as a freelancer, you’re running your own small business. That means paying attention to all your finances, including your credit report. If you ever want to take out a business loan or seek other funding to grow your business, you might need to rely on your good credit score.

Check your credit score, and if you find inaccurate negative information making an impact on your score, contact Lexington Law to find out how to get help disputing it.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

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.

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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

5 Tips for Approaching the Open House

In this article:

For decades, sellers and their agents have been using open houses to help generate interest in their listings. Open houses give the general public the chance to view a home without scheduling a private showing. While open houses do get a lot of curious neighbors and casual browsers, they can be a good opportunity for serious buyers to decide if a home is worth pursuing further, or a way to get a better grasp on neighborhood home values. 

In fact, 59% of home buyers attended an open house during their shopping process last year and 43% of buyers said attending the open house was very or extremely important to determining if the home was right for them.* On average, home buyers attended 2.6 open houses before buying.

Whether you’re a sincere buyer or simply curious about the inside of a home, you should know how open houses work and understand how you can be a good open house attendee. 

Note: If open houses are restricted or unavailable due to public health concerns, work with your agent to arrange a private tour or video tour. All Zillow-owned homes include a self-tour option — just use our app to unlock the door and tour at your convenience.

What is an open house?

An open house is an event during which potential buyers can tour a home that’s on the market. It’s usually hosted by the seller’s listing agent, or by the seller themselves, in case of a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listing. Open houses usually take place on weekends, during a set range of hours typically midday.

Open house benefits for buyers

No scheduling required: Unlike a private showing, you don’t need to set up a specific appointment to see a home. Simply show up during the open house hours and view the home at your own pace. 

Scope out the competition: If you’re interested in a home, attending the open house can help you gauge interest from other buyers. This can be helpful when determining how quickly you need to submit an offer and how much you should offer. 

Understand current home values: Seeing what homes are selling for in your area and what you can buy at a particular price point can be helpful if you’re just starting your search. 

Redefine your nonnegotiable home features: Checking out homes in person can help you redefine your list of must-haves: Do you really need that extra bedroom? What does a backyard of this size really look like?

How do open houses work?

Not every seller or listing agent will hold one, but here’s the typical process for sellers setting up an open house:

  1. The seller and their agent determine a day and time for the open house.
  2. The agent lists the open house on the local MLS.
  3. The agent advertises the open house on social media, online and with print ads or flyers. 
  4. The agent prepares for the open house — purchasing refreshments, printing flyers, setting up signs and adding little touches to make the home feel welcoming to buyers. (Yes, as a shopper, you can eat the cookies.)
  5. The agent hosts the event, greeting buyers and answering questions about the property and community.
  6. Buyers remove their shoes, tour the home, take pictures and video (if allowed) and jot down important notes. 
  7. Any buyer who liked the house will contact their own agent. They’ll then set up a private showing to see the home again or they’ll submit an offer right away — the latter is common in fast-moving real estate markets.

Who hosts an open house?

The person hosting an open house could be any one of the following: 

  • Listing agent: As the person hired to sell the home, the listing agent should be an expert on the property. 
  • Listing agent’s team member or associate: A busy listing agent may also send another agent in their place — either someone on their team or another agent in their office. They should be experts in the local market, but may not be as familiar with the individual home. 
  • Homeowner: If a home is for sale by owner (FSBO), the homeowner will be hosting their own open house. They’re undoubtedly the expert on the home, but their local market expertise may be limited. 

How to prepare for an open house

There are times when you might just stumble upon an open house while you’re on a walk or running errands. But if you’re intentionally looking for open houses as part of your home-buying strategy, try these tips.

Seek out relevant open houses

If you plan to visit multiple open houses in one day, make sure you’re focusing on listings that fit your criteria for budget and location. It’s not worth wasting time looking at homes outside your budget or those that are too far from your work or school. 

Tip: With Zillow’s home search tool, buyers can filter by homes with upcoming open houses (this filter can be applied in addition to other search filters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location). When you use the open houses filter in conjunction with filters for your other criteria, you can easily find the right open houses for your search.

A map of home listings on Zillow.

You can also tour most Zillow-owned homes any time between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., any day of the week — just select the tour option on the listing. Although the listing agent will not be present, you can avoid a busy open house and rest assured the property is in move-in ready condition.

Do research on the market beforehand

With help from your agent or on your own, find out how each home you’re planning to visit stacks up against others nearby. Is the price in line with similar listings in the area? Are there any defects? Has it gone under contract recently and then returned to the market? Are there a lot of other interested buyers? Has it been sitting on the market for a long time? (“Days on market” is an indicator of a stale listing, but the standard number of days on market can vary based on where you live.)

Stay open-minded

If you’re searching on a tight budget in a hot neighborhood, there’s a good chance that the home that fits the bill will need some TLC. Fortunately, attending an open house can give you a better idea of the home’s condition and potential, while also giving you the opportunity to ask renovation-related questions — e.g., the location of load bearing walls and the details of local regulations. 

How to attend an open house

Now that you’ve done your research and are prepared to add some open houses to your home search, here’s what you should do once the day arrives. 

Ask questions

An open house is your best opportunity to ask the listing agent (or their associate) your questions — don’t be shy. Ask questions that you wouldn’t be able to answer just by reading a home’s listing description, such as:

  • What are the HOA restrictions?
  • Has the seller done a property tax appeal?
  • Have there been any recent renovations or repairs?

Tip: If you’re not currently working with an agent and you ultimately decide you aren’t interested in a particular home you tour, the open house could help you see if the listing agent might be the right person to represent you — many agents represent both buyers and sellers. 

Be honest

If anyone other than the listing agent or the homeowner is hosting the open house, they’re likely an agent hoping to find potential buyer clients. If you’re already working with an agent (or if you have no real interest in buying), be honest.

Check for damage and disrepair

Professional or edited photos can make a home look a lot better online than it is in person. At an open house, take the opportunity to closely evaluate a home’s condition and take note of any potential defects that would factor into your offer price. 

Assess the windows: Look for flaking paint, misaligned sashes and condensation due to air leaks. These could be signs of windows that need replacement. 

Check for water damage: Look for warped baseboards, ceiling stains and musty smells. 

Make note of cracks: Noticeable cracks in the ceiling or drywall could indicate foundation issues. 

Test functions: Open cabinets, doors and drawers. Run the faucets. Check the water pressure. An open house is a good opportunity to make sure every part of the home is in good working order. 

Gauge potential renovation needs: Home improvements can really add up. As you walk through a home, keep an eye out for urgent renovation needs like floors, fixtures or large repainting projects.

Open house tips for buyers

Whenever you attend an open house, put yourself in the seller’s shoes — you’re letting a bunch of strangers walk through your home while you’re not there. While every seller wants their open house to net a buyer, they also want to keep their home safe and their furnishings free of damage.

Do

  • Take off your shoes or wear booties if requested.
  • Greet the host and provide your name.
  • Sign in if necessary or requested (this is a safety issue for the seller and their agent).
  • Take notes on your phone about your likes, dislikes and follow-up questions.
  • Ask if you can capture a video (if the listing doesn’t already include a video).
  • Respect other buyers and guests. 
  • Wait for others to exit a room before you enter.
  • Provide feedback if requested.
  • Thank the person hosting the event.

Don’t

  • Refuse to comply with an agent or homeowner’s house rules.
  • Criticize the home or the owner’s style.
  • Listen in on other visitors’ conversations.
  • Touch the owner’s belongings.
  • Let kids run around without supervision.
  • Bring food or beverages in (except water).
  • Reveal information that would compromise your negotiating power, like your budget or level of interest in the home.
  • Bring pets.

*Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019 survey data

Source: zillow.com