Home improvement loans

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.

Improving your home might be a goal for many reasons. It can increase the value of the property for more profit when you’re selling or renting it out. Improvements can also make life more enjoyable for you and your family. But they can be expensive—the average cost of a small kitchen renovation is between about $13,000 and $37,500 according to HomeAdvisor, for example.

Homeowners who want to update their homes often turn to financing as a way to pay for improvements. Find out about home improvement loans and whether they might be an option for you below.

How Do Home Improvement Loans Work?

The specific terms of home improvement loans depend on which type you apply for, but the general concept is that a lender agrees to give you a certain amount of money and you agree to pay it back with interest. In some cases, the lender might require that you use the money for a specific purpose that you stated beforehand. In other cases, the funds are provided as a personal loan for you to use as you see fit.

You can get money for home improvement from a variety of lenders, including banks, personal loan companies, mortgage companies and government agencies. You could also tap your credit lines or credit cards.

How much you can borrow and the rates you’ll pay on the debt depend on a variety of factors. Those include your credit history and whether or not you’re putting up collateral such as home equity.

Types of Loans You Can Use for Home Improvements

Personal Loans

Personal loans are unsecured signature loans. That means you don’t typically put up collateral, and with some exceptions, you can generally do what you want with the loan funds. You make monthly payments as agreed upon, usually for a period of a few years.

Pros: You may be able to get a personal loan that doesn’t require collateral such as home equity. That means you don’t put your homeownership on the line with the loan.

Cons: The lack of collateral makes the loan riskier for the lender, which usually means a higher interest rate and overall loan cost for you.

Credit score requirements: You may be able to find personal loan lenders willing to work with someone with little credit history or only fair credit. However, to get decent rates on a large loan, you may need a good or excellent credit score.

Government Loans

You might be eligible for government loans and assistance programs to modify or repair your home. For example, HUD offers information about home equity conversion mortgages for seniors as well as the Title I Property Improvement Loan Program. Some homeowners may be able to borrow up to $35,000 via the 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program, and the VA offers some home refinance options for eligible veterans.

Pros: The credit requirements for government programs and government-backed loans tend to be a bit laxer than when you’re dealing with banks.

Cons: These programs might have very specific eligibility requirements and terms that you have to follow closely. For example, you may be required to use the funds for specific purposes.

Credit score requirements: This varies according to program, but you may be able to access some options with less-than-stellar credit.

Home Equity Loans

A home equity loan (“HEL”) draws on the amount of equity in your home. For example, if your home is worth $100,000 and you only owe $70,000, you may be able to get a loan for close to $30,000 based on the equity.

Pros: Home equity loans are secured by the value in your home, which makes them a less risky investment for lenders than personal loans and credit cards. That helps you get a lower interest rate, making HELs typically less expensive than other home improvement loans.

Cons: The loan is tied to your home ownership. If you default on the loan, the lender can force the sale of your home to recoup its losses.

Credit score requirements: You don’t need a stellar score to refinance your mortgage, so you might not need a great score to take out a home equity loan.

Home Equity Lines of Credit (“HELOC”)

A home equity line of credit is a revolving line of credit based on the equity in your home. The terms work a bit more like a credit card than the terms of a home equity loan do. That means you draw on the credit line as needed to cover repairs and pay it back over time. You can draw again on the funds as you pay them back.

Pros: HELOCs can be a flexible source of income, making it easy to manage costs for renovations without running up excess debt. And because they’re secured by the value in your home, they may come with more favorable terms than credit card debt.

Cons: Again, the debt is tied to your home. If you default on the line of credit, the lender can force the sale of your home to get its money back.

Credit score requirements: Credit score requirements for HELOCs are similar to those for home equity loans.

Other Ways to Pay for Home Improvements

Credit Cards

If you have a credit card with a high enough balance, you can put goods and services on it. The downside is that you might pay high interest on that debt. Alternatively, if you have a strong credit score, you might be able to get approved for a new card with a zero percent introductory APR offer. That might let you pay off your home improvement expenses over a year or two without added interest expense.

Cash-Out Refinancing

If your home has equity, you can also consider a cash-out refinance. If you owe $70,000 and your home is worth $100,000, you may be able to refinance and borrow $95,000. (The other $5,000 If your credit is better than when you bought the home or conditions are more favorable, you might even get better rates.

The $70,000 you owe is paid to the bank holding the original mortgage. You cash out the roughly $25,000 left and can use it as you see fit, including repairing your home.

Tips for Getting a Home Improvement Loan

If you’ve decided to pursue a home improvement loan, use these tips to increase your odds of getting the deal that you want.

Have Specific Terms in Mind

Plan ahead rather than reaching for the loan and then deciding what you’ll do. Define your home improvement plan and budget, and consider whether you can get funding for that much money.

Get a Cosigner If Necessary

Consider whether you might need a cosigner. Depending on what type of loan you want to apply for, a cosigner might help if you don’t have great credit or if your income doesn’t meet the requirements of the lender. Keep in mind that the cosigner will also be taking on all the obligations of the debt.

Know Your Credit Score

Finally, check your credit score and credit reports before you apply. Understanding where you stand helps you choose the financial products you’re more likely to qualify for and avoid unpleasant surprises during the application process. Getting a good look at your credit reports also helps you understand whether there are inaccurate negative items bringing your score down. If that’s the case, consider working with Lexington Law to repair your credit and potentially open more home improvement loan doors in the future.


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

Getting a Low Mortgage Rate

Are you planning to buy a new house, and want to save money along the way? Then here are some ways to get a good interest on your home mortgage, as well as minimize the amount of money you’ll shell out throughout the payment period.

Tip #1: Keep Your Job or Get Promoted

If you’ve been gainfully employed for the past two years, you’re in good shape. If you got promoted during that span, that’s even better. Your application may be disapproved if your employment record is spotty, or if you demonstrate declining earnings.

It’s even tougher when you’re self-employed. You’ll be asked to present your income tax returns over the past two years, and may even be required to accomplish IRS Form 4506, which will let them verify whether your ITR’s are the same ones in the IRS’s records.

Tip #2: Save Up Enough to Cover the 20% Down Payment

When you qualify for a mortgage, you have the option to pay a down payment as low as 5%, but this tends to hike the interest rate and increase the amount of money you’ll shell out in the long run. To get the best interest rate for your situation, opt to pay a 20% down payment.

The reasoning behind this is that a loan with a 5% down payment is considered high-risk, and they’ll cover that risk by raising the interest rate accordingly. On the other hand, paying a higher down payment is an indication of stable earnings and money in the bank, so they can afford to give you a lower interest rate.

Another tip: They’ll also expect you to have enough cash reserves to cover your mortgage payments for the next 60 days. These cash reserves can be in the form of savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit, or money market funds. It does NOT normally include retirement funds – unless you’re willing to pay additional taxes and penalties.

Tip #3: Keep Your Credit Score Up

In most cases, a credit score of 620 is the minimum required to take out a home loan – and it will likely get you a higher interest rate. On the other hand, you’ll get the best interest rates when your credit score is at 760 and up. How well do you score?

Study your credit score right now, correct any errors, and work on bringing it up over the next several months. With professional credit repair help, you could raise your credit score by over 100 points in a matter of months.

Tip #4: Check If You Qualify For Special Programs

There are special programs out there that qualify you for lower interest rates on your home mortgage, or allow you a smaller down payment with no additional interest. If you or your spouse is a war veteran, you can qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan, which offers protection when you fall behind on your payments.

Other programs benefit first-time home buyers, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration and the US. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And if you plan to buy a house in a rural area, the U.S. Department of Agriculture mortgage program will help you.

Do Your Homework Ahead of Time

Ideally, you should study your home mortgage options two years in advance. This gives you enough time to get your finances in order to get the best deal possible.

Source: creditabsolute.com

How to avoid or remove PMI

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.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) has been around for more than 60 years, helping make mortgages more affordable for buyers who can’t afford a 20 percent down payment. Loans with PMI certificates have often accounted for a decent percentage of mortgages issued each year. In fact, in 2019, that number was just below 40 percent.

But PMI does add an expense to your home loan, and you likely want to sidestep it if possible. Find out below if you can avoid PMI, or learn how to remove PMI if you’re already paying it.

What is PMI?

PMI is insurance, but don’t get it confused with homeowner’s insurance—that’s a different product you might need to pay for. PMI is insurance for the lender. It’s meant to be a fail-safe to help a lender recover losses if you default on the loan.

Lenders require that you purchase PMI in cases where you aren’t putting at least 20 percent down on your home. Most commonly, you pay PMI as part of your monthly mortgage payment. In rarer cases, you might pay all of the PMI as a lump sum when you close on the home or pay a partial lump sum and pay the rest in your monthly mortgage payments.

Regardless of how you pay, PMI can be an expensive addition to your mortgage. It’s important to note, however, that PMI works differently with FHA loans and certain other government-backed loans. For example, FHA loans have MIP, which is a mortgage insurance premium, instead of PMI.

What factors affect the cost of my PMI?

According to Freddie Mac, PMI can cost on average between $30 and $70 extra per month for every $100,000 you borrow. So, if you’re borrowing $200,000 for 30 years and you pay PMI for half of that term, you could pay between $60 and $140 per month for 15 years—or 180 months. That’s between $10,800 and $25,200 added to your mortgage.

The exact amount you pay for PMI depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Size of down payment (the more you pay up front, the less risk there is to the lender because the home has some equity—or profitability—built in)
  • Credit score (the higher your score, the less risky of a borrower you appear to lenders)
  • Loan appreciation potential
  • Borrower occupancy
  • Loan type

How can I avoid PMI?

In today’s mortgage market, it can be difficult to steer clear of PMI altogether. But here are some things you can do, depending on your situation, to avoid this expense.

Make a 20 percent down payment

If you can make a 20 percent down payment, you typically avoid PMI. That’s because PMI kicks in when you owe more than 78 to 80 percent of the value of the home. Assuming the home you’re purchasing is priced at or below its appraisal value, paying 20 percent up front automatically gets you enough equity to not need to pay for PMI.

Get a VA loan

VA loans don’t require a down payment at all, and no matter what, they don’t come with PMI. These loans are reserved for qualifying veterans and their eligible beneficiaries.

Get a piggyback loan

A piggyback loan is a second mortgage or home equity line of credit that you take out at the same time you take out your first mortgage. You use the piggyback loan to fund all or part of your down payment so you can meet the 20 percent requirement. If you consider this option, make sure to do the math to determine which saves you the most money: paying PMI or paying the interest on the second mortgage.

Request lender-paid mortgage insurance

In some cases, the lender might be willing to take on the burden of the PMI cost. They would do so through lender-paid mortgage insurance, or LPMI. Typically, the lender charges a higher rate of interest in exchange for this favor. Again, it’s important to do the math to find out which one is in your best interest.

How can I remove PMI once I have it?

As a homeowner, you have some options for removing PMI once you have it. You can take some of the actions summarized below, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes that you must also meet four criteria to protect your right. Those are:

  • Asking for the PMI cancellation in writing
  • Being up to date on payments and having a generally solid payment history
  • Certifying, if required, that there are no other liens on your mortgage
  • Providing evidence, if required, that the property value has not fallen below the original value of the home when you purchased it

If you can fulfill these criteria, here are some ways you can cancel your PMI.

Get enough equity in your home

The PMI Cancellation Act, or Homeowners Protection Act, mandates PMI cancellation when your principal mortgage balance reaches 78 percent of the value of the property (or you can also think of it as you reaching 22 percent equity). At that point, lenders must remove PMI. If you want, you can ask for PMI cancellation as soon as you reach 20 percent equity, but lenders aren’t required to remove PMI at that point.

Lenders are also required to tell you when you will reach the point of PMI cancellation if you continue to pay on your loan as agreed. You can calculate where you are in the process at any time by taking your current loan balance and dividing it by the amount the property originally appraised for. For example, if you owe $170,000 and the property appraised for $200,000, you are at 85 percent.

Get halfway through your mortgage term

Values can rise and fall, but you’re not stuck with PMI forever. Lenders must remove PMI when you’re halfway through your mortgage regardless of values. So, if you have a 30-year loan, your PMI should be canceled at the 15-year mark.

Refinance your mortgage

Another way to remove PMI is to remove your mortgage altogether. If you can arrange it so you meet the 78 percent value requirement on a new mortgage, you avoid PMI.

Get a reappraisal

Perhaps your home has gone up in value substantially and you owe much less than 80 percent of the current value. If you can demonstrate this, the lender may remove PMI because there’s less risk involved with the loan.

Remodel your home

If your home hasn’t gone up in value on its own, you might be able to add value with a remodel. Certain types of remodels, such as kitchen upgrades, could add enough value to impact the loan-to-value ratio so you don’t need PMI anymore.

Getting rid of PMI can be a great way to save money on your mortgage, but always remember to follow good personal financial management. Look at all your options and run the numbers to ensure you’re not spending more than you would save. If you’re already considering a home remodel, tossing PMI to the curb is a great perk. But you might not want to put in $30,000 worth of remodel costs just to save $10,000 in PMI, for example.

Finally, while you’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on your mortgage expenses, make sure you don’t lose track of other financial matters. Keep an eye on your credit report, and if you find something that looks wrong, consider working with Lexington Law on credit repair.


Reviewed by Vince R. Mayr, Supervising Attorney of Bankruptcies at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Vince has considerable expertise in the field of bankruptcy law. He has represented clients in more than 3,000 bankruptcy matters under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Vince earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Government from the University of Maryland. His Masters of Public Administration degree was earned from Golden Gate University School of Public Administration. His Juris Doctor was earned at Golden Gate University School of Law, San Francisco, California. Vince is licensed to practice law in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. 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

Understanding Seller Concessions

Buying a new home requires managing a lot of moving parts, from mortgage preapproval to closing. Even after an offer is accepted, buyers and sellers are still at the negotiating table. If closing costs or surprise expenses become too much for the buyer, a seller concession could help seal the deal.

Although seller concessions can work to a buyer’s advantage, they are neither a guaranteed outcome nor a one-size-fits-all solution for every real estate transaction.

To determine if seller concessions are the right move from a buyer’s perspective, here are some key things to know, including what costs they can cover and when to consider asking for them.

Recommended: How Much Are Closing Costs on a New Home?

What Are Seller Concessions?

Seller concessions represent a seller’s contribution toward the buyer’s closing costs, which include certain prepaid expenses and discount points. A seller concession is not the equivalent of a price reduction; nor is it received as cash or a loan discount.

Closing costs usually range from 2% to 5% of a home’s purchase price. When combined with a down payment, the upfront expense of buying a home can be burdensome, especially for first-time homebuyers.

Buyers can ask for concessions on the initial purchase offer or later if the home inspection reveals problems that require repairs.

Although this can be a helpful tool to negotiate a house price, there are rules for eligible costs and limits to how much buyers can ask for.

Recommended: Home Buyer’s Guide

What Costs Can Seller Concessions Cover?

A buyer’s closing costs can vary case by case. Generally, buyers incur fees related to the mortgage loan and other expenses to complete the real estate transaction.

There are also types of prepaid expenses and home repairs that can be requested as a seller concession.

Some common examples of eligible costs include the following:

•   Property taxes: If the sellers have paid their taxes for the year, the buyer may be required to reimburse the sellers for their prorated share.

•   Appraisal fees: Determining the estimated home value may be required by a lender to obtain a mortgage. Appraisal costs can vary by geography and home size but generally run between $300 and $500.

•   Loan origination fees: Money paid to a lender to process a mortgage, origination fees, can be bundled into seller concessions.

•   Homeowners insurance costs: Prepaid components of closing costs like homeowners insurance premiums can be included in seller concessions.

•   Title insurance costs: A title insurance company will search if there are any liens or claims against the property. This verification, which averages $1,000 but varies widely, protects both the homeowner and lender.

•   Funding fees: One-time funding fees for federally guaranteed mortgages, such as FHA and VA loans, can be paid through seller contributions. Rates vary based on down payment and loan type.

•   Attorney fees: Many states require a lawyer to handle real estate closings. Associated fees can run $500 to $1,500, based on location.

•   Recording fees: Some local governments may charge a fee to document the purchase of a home.

•   HOA fees: If a home is in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, there will likely be monthly dues to pay for maintenance and services. A portion of these fees may be covered by the seller.

•   Discount points: Buyers may pay an upfront fee, known as discount points, to lower the interest rate they pay over the life of the mortgage loan. (The cost of one point is 1% of the loan amount.)

•   Home repairs: If any issues emerge during a home inspection, the repair costs can be requested as a seller concession.

Closing costs can also be influenced by the mortgage lender. When shopping for a mortgage, evaluating expected fees and closing costs is a useful way to compare lenders. Factoring in these costs early on can give buyers a more accurate idea of what they can afford and better inform their negotiations with a seller.

Recommended: Home Improvement Calculator

Rules and Limits for Seller Concessions

Determining how much to ask for in seller concessions isn’t just about negotiating power. For starters, the seller’s contributions can’t exceed the buyer’s closing costs.

Other factors can affect the allowable amount of seller concessions, including the type of mortgage loan and whether the home will serve as a primary residence, vacation home, or investment property.

Here’s a breakdown of how concessions work for common types of loans.

Conventional Loans

Guidance on seller concessions for conventional loans is set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These federally sponsored enterprises buy and guarantee mortgages issued through lenders in the secondary mortgage market.

With conventional loans, the limit on seller concessions is calculated as a percentage of the home sale price based on the down payment and occupancy type.

If it’s an investment property, buyers can only request up to 2% of the sale price in seller concessions.

For a primary or secondary residence, seller concessions can add up to the following percentages of the home sale price:

•   Up to 3% when the down payment is less than 10%
•   Up to 6% when the down payment is 10-25%
•   Up to 9% when the down payment is greater than 25%

FHA Loans

FHA loans, which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, are a popular financing choice because down payments may be as low as 3.5%, depending on a borrower’s credit score.

For this type of mortgage, seller concessions are limited to 6% of the home sale price.

VA Loans

Active service members, veterans, and surviving spouses may qualify for a mortgage loan guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. For buyers with this type of mortgage, seller concessions are capped at 4% of the home sale price.

VA loans also dictate what types of costs may qualify as a seller concession. Some eligible examples: paying property taxes and VA loan fees or gifting home furnishings, such as a television.

Seller Concession Advantages

There are a few key ways seller concessions can benefit a homebuyer. For starters, they can reduce the amount paid out of pocket for closing costs. This can make the upfront costs of a home purchase more affordable and avoid depleting savings.

Reducing closing costs could help a buyer make a higher offer on a home, too. If it’s a seller’s market, this could be an option to be a more competitive buyer.

Buyers planning significant home remodeling may want to request seller concessions to keep more cash on hand for their projects.

Seller Concession Disadvantages

Seller concessions can also come with some drawbacks. If sellers are looking for a quick deal, they may view concessions as time-consuming and decline an offer.

When sellers agree to contribute to a buyer’s closing costs, the purchase price can go up accordingly. The deal could go awry if the home is appraised at a value less than the agreed-upon sale price. Unless the seller agrees to lower the asking price to align with the appraised value, the buyer may have to increase their down payment to qualify for their original financing.

Another potential downside is that buyers could ultimately pay more over the loan’s term if they receive seller concessions than they would otherwise. If a buyer offers, say, $350,000 and requests $3,000 in concessions, the seller may counteroffer with a purchase price of $353,000, with $3,000 in concessions.

The Takeaway

Seller concessions can make a home purchase more affordable for buyers by reducing closing costs and expenses, but whether it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market will affect a buyer’s potential to negotiate. A real estate agent can offer guidance on asking for seller concessions.

The vast majority of homebuyers finance their purchase. So for most buyers, finding the right mortgage is an important step in landing their dream home.

SoFi offers home loans with competitive rates and down payments as low as 5%. And prequalifying takes just a few minutes.

Buying a home? Find out how much you could qualify for with SoFi.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Home Loans
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SOHL21015

Source: sofi.com

12 Cheapest Small Towns in America

Small-town living has plenty of perks: light traffic, a strong sense of community and a slower pace of life. Perhaps best of all, there’s the cost of living, which typically is cheaper in small towns than in expensive big cities.

To get a better sense of what inexpensive small-town living really has to offer, we compiled a list of the 12 cheapest small towns in America, with small towns defined as places with populations of 10,000 to 50,000 people. We based our rankings on the Council for Community and Economic Research’s (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 269 urban areas. C2ER’s expansive study tracks prices for housing, utilities, healthcare, groceries, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services (such as going to a movie theater or hair salon).

It goes without saying that you should weigh the pros and cons before you pack up and relocate to one of the 12 cheapest small towns in America. While a low cost of living is attractive, it can be offset by issues such as scarce jobs, small paychecks or a lack of things to do in the area. Plan an extended visit to ensure the small town fits your lifestyle.

The most recent Council for Community and Economic Research’s (C2ER) Cost of Living Index, published February 2021, is based on price data collected during the first three quarters of 2020. City-level data on city populations, household incomes and home values come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Unemployment rates come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of April 7 for the period ended February 2021.

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Benton Harbor, Mich.

photo of lighthouse and pierphoto of lighthouse and pier
  • Cost of living: 12.6% below U.S. average
  • City population: 9,843
  • Median household income: $21,916 (U.S.: $65,712)
  • Median home value: $63,300 (U.S.: $240,500)
  • Unemployment rate: 6.0% (U.S.: 6.0%)

Benton Harbor sits by the shores of Lake Michigan about 50 miles west of Kalamazoo, which is one of the cheapest larger cities in the U.S. The small town’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s home to Whirlpool (WHR), the global manufacturer of washers, dryers, refrigerators and a range of other home appliances.

But despite being host to a Fortune 500 company, Benton Harbor is among America’s cheapest small towns, boasting a cost of living that’s more than 12% below the national average.

True, median income is roughly a third of the national level, but the unemployment rate is in line with the country as a whole. Poverty and crime are also high in Benton Harbor – factors that contribute to a median home value that’s an eye-popping 74% lower than the national median. Indeed, housing-related costs, including rents and mortgages, are 32% cheaper in Benton Harbor, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

Neighboring St. Joseph, about the same size as Benton Harbor, is a popular beach resort town with significantly higher household incomes and home values.

2 of 12

Hutchinson, Kan.

Strataca salt mine Strataca salt mine
  • Cost of living: 13.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 40,914
  • Median household income: $46,927
  • Median home value: $96,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Hutchinson, known as “Hutch” by the locals, is about an hour’s drive northwest from Wichita. Founded in the early 1870s as a railroad town, Hutch soon became known for its salt deposits, which were first discovered in 1887.

Today, Hutch is synonymous with the Kansas State Fair, which it hosts annually. The town is also home to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Basketball Tournament. Local cultural attractions include the Fox Theatre, which opened in 1931. The grand movie palace is considered to be among the finest examples of theater art deco architecture in the Midwest.

Where Hutch stands out among America’s cheapest small towns is that it boasts the lowest housing costs on this list. Indeed, they run 41.3% below the national average. Apartment rents are 43% lower than national average, while home prices come in at a 40% discount.

However, other major costs of living aren’t too far off from what the average American pays. Although prices for groceries are almost 7% lower than the national average, healthcare and miscellaneous goods & services are essentially the same as the U.S. average.

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Meridian, Miss.

photo of a courthousephoto of a courthouse
  • Cost of living: 14.1% below U.S. average
  • City population: 37,848
  • Median household income: $32,422
  • Median home value: $83,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.7%

Meridian was rebuilt from 1890 to 1930 after being almost totally destroyed in the Civil War. As a result, it has not one but nine registered historic districts. The Highland Park Dentzel Carousel, dating back to 1909, is one of the more whimsical ones.

Meridian’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of Jimmie Rodgers, known as the “Father of Country Music.” Music remains a centerpiece of Meridian’s cultural scene to this day.

Today, the federal government plays an important role in its economic life, as Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field are two of the largest employers.

Happily, the men and women in uniform, and Meridian’s civilian citizens, catch a break on expenses. The cost of living stands 14.1% below the U.S. average; what really pushes Meridian into America’s absolute cheapest small towns are its comparatively modest housing costs. Indeed, housing expenses are a third lower than what the average American pays.

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Burlington, Iowa

photo of a bridge in Iowaphoto of a bridge in Iowa
  • Cost of living: 14.3% below U.S. average
  • City population: 24,974
  • Median household income: $47,540
  • Median home value: $93,200 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.9%

Burlington sits on the Mississippi River, about 165 miles east of Des Moines. Manufacturing has long been a staple of the area economy, but a number of major employers have left over the years. Today, top employers include Great River Health System and American Ordnance, which makes ammunition for the U.S. military.

Utilities in Burlington are close to 12% more expensive than the national average and healthcare costs are essentially the same. Inexpensive housing is what makes Burlington a truly affordable small town. Housing-related costs are 35% cheaper compared to what the average American pays. Rents, on average, are almost 40% lower than the national average.

True, median incomes are 28% lower than the national figure, but then, median home values are cheaper by more than 60%.

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Ponca City, Okla.

photo of a courthouse in Ponca City, OKphoto of a courthouse in Ponca City, OK
  • Cost of living: 14.5% below U.S. average
  • City population: 24,134
  • Median household income: $44,043
  • Median home value: $96,600 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%

Ponca City traces its lineage back to the days of the Land Run of 1893, when pioneers decided to build a town in north-central Oklahoma near the Arkansas River and a freshwater spring. Not long after its founding, enterprising oil men successfully drilled wells in the area, and Ponca City remains an oil town to this day. The area’s largest employers include energy companies such as Schlumberger (SLB), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Phillips 66 (PSX).

Household incomes are well below the national median, but housing is a heck of a deal. The median value of a Ponca City home is just $96,600. Nationally, it’s $240,500. Indeed, total housing costs are just two-thirds of what the average American pays, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index. Residents also catch a break on healthcare, which is 12.4% less expensive.

Although it’s among the cheapest small towns in America, Ponca City’s low costs of living do come at a cost of their own: The town sits pretty much in the middle of Tornado Alley.

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Martinsville, Va.

photo of Martinsville Speedwayphoto of Martinsville Speedway
  • Cost of living: 15.2% below U.S. average
  • City population: 12,852
  • Median household income: $34,371
  • Median home value: $87,700 
  • Unemployment rate: 9.8%

Martinsville needs no introduction to race fans. The tiny Virginia town, an hour’s drive south of Roanoke, lays claim to the Martinsville Speedway of NASCAR fame. Racing enthusiasts laud the short track for its tight turns and intimate seating.

Beyond the track, manufacturing has always been central to the area’s economy, and although a number of firms have moved on over the past decades, factory work remains important. Major employers include Eastman Chemical (EMN), a manufacturer of plastics, and Monogram Foods.

Martinsville has a rich history dating back to colonial times, and the town boasts multiple historic districts and historic sites including the John Waddey Carter House and the Dry Bridge School.

But Martinsville also is notable as one of America’s cheapest small towns. Housing expenses are 32% below the national average. Fittingly for a racing town, gasoline is about 6% cheaper per gallon.

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Salina, Kan.

photo of downtown Salina, KSphoto of downtown Salina, KS
  • Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 46,998
  • Median household income: $50,490
  • Median home value: $129,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%

The small town of Salina sits at the intersection of Interstates 70 and 135, about 90 miles north of Wichita and 180 miles west of Kansas City.

Manufacturing and healthcare are among the town’s most important industries. Major employers include Schwan’s Company, the maker of Tony’s frozen pizza; Great Plains Manufacturing, which serves the agricultural industry; and the Salina Regional Health Center. Salina is also home to several institutions of higher education, including the University of Kansas School of Medicine Salina Campus and Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.

This economic mix is producing both low unemployment and low living costs. Housing expenses run two-thirds of the national average, according to C2ER. Groceries are cheaper too, running about 8% lower than the national average.

Utility bills, however, take a bit of a bite. In Salina, they’re almost 2% higher than the U.S. average.

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Statesboro, Ga.

courthouse Statesboro, GAcourthouse Statesboro, GA
  • Cost of living: 16.8% below U.S. average
  • City population: 31,495
  • Median household income: $29,203
  • Median home value: $113,600 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%

As home to the flagship campus of Georgia Southern University, Statesboro offers many of the benefits of college-town living but at exceedingly affordable prices. Thanks to its status as an academic hub, cultural attractions tied to the local university include a performing arts center, symphony, museum, planetarium and botanic gardens.

Another perk? The charming city of Savannah is just an hour’s drive to the southeast.

Although the university is the area’s largest employer, manufacturing jobs also play an important part in the local economy. At the same time, it should be noted that Statesboro has a high poverty rate, or 41.8% vs. 13.3% for the state of Georgia as a whole.

Statesboro’s place among America’s cheapest small towns is largely due to housing costs, which are about 32% lower compared with the national average, while healthcare runs roughly 14% below average. For example, a visit to a doctor costs about 24% less in Statesboro. Dental care is about a fifth less expensive, according to the C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

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Tupelo, Miss.

photo of house where Elvis Presley was bornphoto of house where Elvis Presley was born
  • Cost of living: 19% below U.S. average
  • City population: 38,271
  • Median household income: $50,694
  • Median home value: $145,400 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%

Tupelo’s biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Indeed, the town, 100 miles southeast of Memphis’s Graceland, is looking forward to hosting its 23rd annual Elvis Festival in June. (Last year’s gathering was a virtual-only affair.)

Not a fan of The King? The cultural scene also includes the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Tupelo Automobile Museum. But Tupelo’s second-biggest claim to fame is arguably its super-low living costs. Electric and gas bills are about 12% lower than the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index. Housing is 34% cheaper and groceries go for 16% less.

For residents not making a living as Elvis impersonators, major employers include North Mississippi Health Services, Cooper Tire & Rubber (CTB) and BancorpSouth (BXS), which is headquartered in Tupelo.

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Richmond, Ind.

Amish man in horse and buggyAmish man in horse and buggy
  • Cost of living: 19.1% below U.S. average
  • City population: 35,539
  • Median household income: $39,724
  • Median home value: $88,400 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Few cities of any size can claim Richmond’s place in the early history of recorded jazz. Some of the first jazz records were made in this small town, featuring greats such as Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. There’s a Walk of Fame celebrating jazz and other artists who recorded with Richmond’s Gennett Records.

While jazz will always be part of its history, today’s Richmond, which is an hour’s drive west from Dayton, Ohio, is known more for its colleges and seminaries. They include Indiana University East, the Earlham School of Religion (part of Quaker-influenced Earlham College) and the Bethany Theological Seminary.

Inexpensive housing is a key to Richmond’s place among our nation’s cheapest small towns. Residents spend 34% less on housing than the average American does. Apartment rents are about half the national average. Average home prices are 26% less. Healthcare is also a bargain. For example, a visit to the eye doctor costs about 50% less than the national average. An appointment with a physician is cheaper by a third.

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Muskogee, Okla.

museum in Muskogee, OKmuseum in Muskogee, OK
  • Cost of living: 19.2% below U.S. average
  • City population: 37,624
  • Median household income: $38,194
  • Median home value: $92,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.3%

Muskogee packs a lot of history, culture and colleges into a small package.

Located about 50 miles south of Tulsa, the town traces its roots back to 1817. It’s home to four institutions of higher learning, as well as the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Jim Thorpe – All-American, the 1951 film starring Burt Lancaster, was shot on the campus of what was then known as the Bacone Indian University in Muskogee. The town also boasts six museums and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

And let’s not forget what is arguably the town’s most famous appearance in popular culture – Merle Haggard’s hit song “Okie from Muskogee,” which became an emblem of Vietnam-era America. 

Today, the area’s employers include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a VA medical center and paper company Georgia-Pacific.

But what really puts Muskogee on the map is its ultra-low cost of living. The biggest break comes from housing-related expenses, which are more than 35% lower than the national average, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index. Transportation, groceries and healthcare are notably cheaper, too.

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Pittsburg, Kan.

Russ Hall at Pittsburg State UniversityRuss Hall at Pittsburg State University
  • Cost of living: 19.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 20,171
  • Median household income: $34,956
  • Median home value: $88,500 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%

The cheapest small town in America is Pittsburg, Kan., based on the 269 urban areas analyzed by C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

Pittsburg is about a two-hour drive due south from Kansas City on Route 69. When you get there, you’ll find a small town with a cost of living more than 19% below the national average.

Once upon a time, the town was known for its abundance of coal and the Southern and Eastern European immigrants who worked the mines. Today, the area relies more heavily on higher education, thanks to the presence of Pittsburg State University. Famous alumni of Pittsburg’s local university include actor Gary Busey and Brian Moorman, retired two-time Pro Bowl punter for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Although median incomes are almost $31,000 below the national average, median home prices are a whopping $152,000 cheaper. That helps make housing costs 37.2% less expensive than what the average American pays. A myriad of other items are cheap, as well. For example, a haircut will set you back an average of $14.82 vs. $18.88 nationally. Shampoo costs 89 cents, whereas the average American pays $1.05.

Source: kiplinger.com

What Is A Conventional Home Loan?

Nothing compares to scrolling through listings until you find the home with the perfect garden, garage, and floors. Then comes the less fun part: figuring out how to finance your home purchase.

For the vast majority of people, acquiring a new home means taking out a mortgage, a loan for the part of the house cost that isn’t covered by the down payment.

U.S. homeownership hovers near 66%, and millennials continue to be the biggest share of buyers. What kind of loan do most go for? The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. But conventional loan requirements vary, and some may find that a government-sponsored loan is a better fit.

Let’s take a closer look at conventional loan requirements and the difference between FHA and conventional loans.

Conventional Mortgages Explained

Conventional mortgages are insured by private lenders, not a government agency, and are the most common type of home loan.

Then there are government-guaranteed home loans. FHA loans are more commonly used than VA loans (for service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses) and USDA loans (rural housing). Government loans are often easier to qualify for.

Taking out a conventional home loan means that you are making an agreement with a lender to pay back what you borrowed, with interest.

And unlike with an FHA loan, the government does not offer any assurances to the lender that you will pay back that loan. That’s why lenders look at things like your credit score and down payment when deciding whether to offer you a conventional mortgage and at what rate.

See how SoFi can help make your
dream home a reality.

Two Main Types of Conventional Loans

Fixed Rate

A conventional loan with a fixed interest rate is one in which the rate won’t change over the life of the loan. If you have a “fully amortized conventional loan,” your monthly principal and interest payment will stay the same each month.

Although fixed-rate loans can provide predictability when it comes to payments, they may initially have higher interest rates than adjustable-rate mortgages.

Fixed-rate conventional loans can be a great option for homebuyers during periods of low rates because they can lock in a rate and it won’t rise, even decades from now.

Adjustable Rate

Adjustable-rate mortgages have the same interest rate for a set period of time, and then the rate will adjust for the rest of the loan term.

The major upside to choosing an ARM is that the initial rate is usually set below prevailing interest rates and remains constant for six months to 10 years.

A 7/6 ARM of 30 years will have a fixed rate for the first seven years, and then the rate will adjust once every six months over the remaining 23 years. A 5/1 ARM will have a fixed rate for five years, followed by a variable rate that adjusts every year.

An ARM may be a good option if you’re not planning on staying in the home long term. The downside, of course, is that if you are, your interest rate could end up higher than you want it to be.

Most adjustable-rate conventional mortgages have limits on how much the interest rate can increase over time. These caps protect a borrower from facing an unexpectedly steep rate hike.

Conventional Home Loan Requirements

Conventional mortgage requirements vary by lender, but almost all private lenders will require you to have a cash down payment, a good credit score, and sufficient income to make the monthly payments.

Many lenders that offer conventional loans require that you have enough cash to make a decent down payment. Even if you can manage it, is 20% down always best? It might be more beneficial to put down less than 20% on your dream house.

You’ll also need to demonstrate a good credit history. For example, you’ll want to show that you make loan payments on time every month.

Each conventional loan lender sets its own requirements when it comes to credit scores, but generally, the higher your credit score, the easier it will be to secure a conventional mortgage at a competitive interest rate.

Most lenders will require you to show that you have a sufficient monthly income to meet the mortgage payments. They will also require information about your employment and bank accounts.

How Do FHA and Conventional Loans Differ?

One of the main differences between FHA loans and conventional loans is that the latter are not insured by a federal agency.

FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, so lenders take on less risk. If a borrower defaults, the FHA will help the lender recoup some of the lost costs.

FHA loans are easier to qualify for, and are geared toward lower- and middle-income homebuyers. They require at least 3.5% down.

Additionally, the loans are limited to a certain amount of money, depending on the geographic location of the house you’re buying. The lender administering the FHA loan can impose its own requirements as well.

An FHA loan can be a good option for a buyer with a lower credit score, but it also will require a more rigorous home appraisal and possibly a longer approval process than a conventional loan.

Conventional loans require private mortgage insurance if the down payment is less than 20%, but PMI will automatically terminate when the loan balance reaches 78% of the original value of the mortgaged property, unless the borrower asked to stop paying PMI once the balance reached 80% of the original property value.

FHA loans require mortgage insurance, no matter the down payment amount, and it cannot be canceled unless you refinance into a conventional loan.

The Takeaway

A conventional home loan and FHA loan differ in key ways, such as credit score requirements. If you’re ready to make your dream house a reality, you’ll want to size up your eligibility and your mortgage options.

SoFi offers fixed-rate home loans with as little as 5% down and terms of 10, 15, 20, and 30 years.

It takes just two minutes to get prequalified online.



SoFi Home Loans
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Source: sofi.com

7 Places in America That Will Pay You to Move There

From cash grants to free lots of land, these incentives are luring city dwellers to rural America.

If you’re willing to move and if you meet the qualifications, many rural American towns are offering incentives aimed at attracting new residents and reviving their communities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rural America housed more than half the country’s entire population. While the number of Americans living in rural areas has been roughly stable over the past century — as urban and suburban America have boomed — its share of the total population has declined, falling from 54 percent in 1910 to just 19 percent in 2010.

This is due, in part, to migration to urban cores, especially by younger generations and the middle class.

This decline in population — and the accompanying social and economic challenges — is forcing rural America to come up with incentives to attract new residents back to rural communities.

Tribune, Kansas, offers such a program. “If you move here, we will pay down your student debt,” explains Christy Hopkins, community development director for Kansas’ least populated county, Greeley (in which Tribune sits).

This program, called the Rural Opportunity Zone (ROZ) program, offers perks to grads from big cities for moving to underpopulated towns in one of 77 participating Kansas counties. One of the incentives? They’ll help you pay off your student loans — up to $15,000 over the course of five years.

And it seems to be working — for both the town and its new residents.

“We’re the least populated county — we’re 105th in population for counties in Kansas, and now we’re eighth in college degrees per capita. There’s a correlation to draw,” says Hopkins.

Here are five towns and three states that offer a robust set of loans, programs and/or assistance for those seeking to become homeowners:

Curtis, Nebraska

Population: 891
Median home value: $79,000

Dream of building your own home from the ground up? Curtis, Nebraska, has a sweet deal for you. If you construct a single-family home within a specified time period,  you’ll receive the lot of land it sits on for free.

Marne, Iowa

Population: 115
Median home value: $75,300

Just 45 minutes east of Omaha, Marne will give you a lot of land for free — all you have to do is build the house (conventional construction or modular) and meet program requirements. Houses must be a minimum of 1,200 square feet, and the average lot size is approximately 80 feet by 120 feet.  

Harmony, Minnesota

Population: 999
Median home value: $93,900

Dreaming of a a newly built home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Good news: Your dream comes with a cash rebate.

The Harmony Economic Development Authority offers a cash rebate program to incentivize new home construction. Based on the final estimated market value of the new home, rebates range from $5,000 to $12,000, and there are no restrictions on the applicant’s age, income level or current residency.

Baltimore, Maryland

Population: 616,958
Median home value: $116,300

Definitively not a rural town, Baltimore offers homeowners incentives that are too appealing to leave off this list.

Baltimore has two programs offering robust incentives for buying a home in the city. Buying Into Baltimore offers a $5,000 forgivable loan (forgiven by 20 percent each year so that by the end of five years, you no longer have a balance) if you meet certain qualifications.

The city’s second solution is a brilliant one. The Vacants to Value Booster program offers $10,000 toward down payment and closing costs when you buy one of the program’s distressed or formerly distressed properties.

New Haven, Connecticut

Population: 131,014
Median home value: $168,400

Also not a rural area, but offering an incredibly generous package of homeowner incentives, New Haven offers a suite of programs totaling up to $80,000 for new homeowners, including a $10,000 forgivable five-year loan to first-time home buyers, $30,000 renovation assistance and/or up to $40,000 for college tuition.   

Alaska

Population: 739,795
Median home value: $310,200

Alaska offers incentives for veterans and live-in caretakers of physically or mentally disabled residents. They even have a manufactured home program and a rural owner-occupied loan program. See the full list of programs here.

Colorado

Population: 5.6 million
Median home value: $368,100

Colorado offers traditional programs that assist with down payments and low interest rates, but it also has a disability program that helps first-time buyers who have a permanent disability finance their home.

The state also has a down payment assistance grant that provides recipients with up to 4 percent of their first mortgage, which doesn’t require repayment.


Related:

Originally published October 2017. Information updated October 2018.

Source: zillow.com

Social Security Recipients to Get Third Stimulus Check This Week

Millions of seniors who didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return could receive a third stimulus check this week. After receiving data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) on March 25, the IRS was able to start processing third stimulus payments for approximately 30 million seniors. These people will generally get their stimulus payment in the same way they get their regular Social Security benefits. Since most of these payments will be paid electronically through direct deposits or to existing Direct Express debit cards, the funds should be available on April 7 for many seniors.

Third stimulus payments are generally based on information found on your 2019 or 2020 tax return. That’s why many people who receive Social Security benefits who filed a 2019 or 2020 return, or who used the IRS’s Non-Filers tool last year, already received a third stimulus check. However, since some Social Security recipients don’t file tax returns, the IRS didn’t have the necessary information in its computer systems to process third-round stimulus payments for them. That’s why the tax agency needed data from the SSA to send out checks to seniors who haven’t file a recent tax return.

In addition to seniors receiving Social Security retirement benefits, payments will also be arriving on April 7 for some people receiving Social Security disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits who didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return or didn’t use the Non-Filers tool. The IRS is still reviewing data received from the Department of Veterans Affairs for people who receive VA benefits, so payments to them will come later (probably in mid-April).

Most Social Security, SSDI, SSI, and RRB beneficiaries who are eligible for a third stimulus check don’t need to take any action to receive a payment (not everyone is eligible). However, as with previous stimulus payments, some beneficiaries may need to file a 2020 tax return – even if they don’t usually file – to provide the IRS the information it needs to send an additional $1,400 for any dependents. The deadline for filing a 2020 tax return has been pushed back from April 15 to May 17, 2021.

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Amount of Your Third Stimulus Check

Every eligible American will receive a $1,400 third stimulus check “base amount.” The base amount jumps to $2,800 for married couples filing a joint tax return. You also get an extra $1,400 for each dependent in your family (regardless of the dependent’s age).

Not everyone will receive the full amount, though. As with the first two stimulus payments, third-round stimulus checks will be reduced – potentially to zero – for people reporting an adjusted gross income (AGI) above a certain amount on their latest tax return. If you filed your most recent tax return as a single filer, your third stimulus check will be phased-out if your AGI is $75,000 or more. That threshold jumps to $112,500 for head-of-household filers, and to $150,000 for married couples filing a joint return. Third-round stimulus checks will be completely phased out for single filers with an AGI above $80,000, head-of-household filers with an AGI over $120,000, and joint filers with an AGI exceeding $160,000.

You can use our handy Third Stimulus Check Calculator to get a customized estimated payment amount. All you have to do is answer three easy questions.

How to Track the Status of Your Third Stimulus Check

The IRS’s “Get My Payment” tool lets you track your third stimulus check payment. The online portal lets you:

  • Check the status of your stimulus payment;
  • Confirm your payment type (paper check or direct deposit); and
  • Get a projected direct deposit or paper check delivery date (or find out if a payment hasn’t been scheduled).

Payments for Social Security recipients and other federal beneficiaries with an official payment date of April 7 may show up in the portal before that date as “pending” or “provisional” payments.

For more information about the tool, see Where’s My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS’s “Get My Payment” Tool to Get an Answer.

Source: kiplinger.com