What Do I Need to Know About the Advance Child Tax Credit Payments?

Q: I’ve heard that the IRS will start making advance payments toward the Child Tax Credit of 2021 this summer. What do I need to know about these payments?

A: The advance payments of the Child Tax Credits of 2021 will be distributed monthly to eligible families, beginning on July 15, 2021. Here’s what you need to know about these payments.

What are the changes to the Child Tax Credits for 2021? 

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for tax year 2021 will be significantly expanded.

Here are the most important changes to the CTC for 2021:

  • Families claiming the CTC will receive up to $3,000 per qualifying child between the ages of 6 and 17 at the end of 2021. The credit will include children who turn 17 in 2021.
  • Families claiming the CTC will receive $3,600 per qualifying child under age 6 at the end of 2021.
  • The credit for qualifying children is fully refundable. This means taxpayers can benefit from the credit even if they don’t have earned income or don’t owe any income taxes.
  • Advance payments of up to 50% of the total CTC per family will be distributed once a month, from July 15 through Dec. 15, 2021.

For comparison’s sake, for 2020, the amount of the CTC was up to $2,000 per qualifying child under age 17 at the end of the year. Also, the credit was only refundable by up to $1,400 per child.

Who is eligible for the Child Tax Credits? 

Taxpayers who have a primary residence in the U.S., and reside in it for at least half of the year, are eligible to receive the child tax credits.

The payments will begin to be phased out for married taxpayers filing a joint return and earning more than $150,000 a year, for heads of household earning more than $112,500 a year and for all other taxpayers earning more than $75,000 a year. Income eligibility will be based on 2020’s tax return (more on this later).

Do I need to take any action to receive the monthly payments? 

Taxpayers need not take any steps to receive the advanced Child Tax Credits. Of course, taxpayers need to file their 2020 taxes, which were due on May 15, 2021. Filing electronically may speed up the receipt of the CTC payments.

How much money will I receive each month through the advanced Child Tax Credits?

The advance payments being sent to qualifying families from July through December will be equal to up to 50% of each family’s total Child Tax Credit. The payments will be based upon the income information found in taxpayers’ 2020 tax returns. If these were not filed yet, the 2019 tax returns will be used to determine each family’s eligibility.

Families eligible for the full CTC will receive half of the total across a six-month time span. This means eligible families will receive a total of $1,800 for children under age 6, or $300 a month per child from July through December, and a total of $1,500 for children ages 6-17, or $250 a month per child from July through December.

How will I receive my monthly payments? 

The IRS has announced that payments will be issued in the same way as the three stimulus payments distributed to all eligible taxpayers since the start of the pandemic. If you received your stimulus payments via paper check, you’ll likely receive the CTC payments the same way, and if you received them via direct deposit, expect the same now.

The one caveat here is for those who have not signed up to receive their Economic Impact Payments via direct deposit but have filed their 2020 tax returns electronically. These taxpayers will receive their CTC payments the same way they filed their taxes; either electronically or via direct deposit.

Can I decline the opportunity to receive the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits?  

Eligible taxpayers who do not want advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit can choose not to receive them at this time. The IRS has not yet provided the public with instructions for how to officially decline the advance payments, but has promised to update its website when the instructions become available.

Is it a good idea to decline the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits? 

While it is generally better to receive money owed to you upfront, under certain circumstances it may be better to decline receiving the advanced Child Tax Credits.

If you have reason to believe you will not be eligible for the full CTC amount at the end of 2021, you may end up owing the IRS some or all of the money you received when you file your 2021 taxes. This can happen if your income level rises in 2021, or if you have primary custody of the child(ren) receiving the credit in 2020, but not in 2021. If either of these may apply to you, consider opting out of the advance CTC payments. You won’t miss out on these payments, as you’ll receive whatever is owed to you at the end of 2021.

The advance CTC payments will be a boon for families who are struggling with the financial fallout of the pandemic, but it may not be in every taxpayer’s best interest to accept these payments now. Use our guide to brush up on the details of these payments so you can make an informed decision.

Your Turn: How do you plan to use the advanced Child Tax Credits? Tell us about it in the comments.

What to Do with Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide

Title: What to Do with Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide

Author: Michelle Singletary

Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publishing date: May 18, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Anyone who is struggling to stay on top of their finances.
  • Anyone who’s ever wondered how to handle their money during a financial crisis, such as a pandemic, recession, bear market or energy crisis.

What’s inside this book?

  • Singletary’s expert advice for weathering financial storms.
  • Answers to questions about handling money during a financial crisis.
  • A practical guide for managing common money concerns.

3 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. The most important steps to take when facing a financial crisis.
  2. How to keep a financial crisis from becoming a catastrophe.
  3. How to manage debt, credit card issues and cash-flow problems.

5 questions this book will answer for you: 

  1. What bills must be paid first when in a financial crisis?
  2. When is it OK to dip into savings?
  3. How can I cut back on spending?
  4. How do I keep from panicking when the stock market is down?
  5. How do I tell a scam from a legitimate opportunity?

What people are saying about this book: 

  • “If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling financially, or if you’re faced with helping others who are struggling, you need to read this. Michelle Singletary has written an outstanding book, filled with no-nonsense, let’s-get-to-it advice that’s immensely practical, easy to read and emotionally reassuring. Stop lamenting your situation and let Michelle show you the way out of your crisis.”  – Ric Edelman
  • “Michelle Singletary, a voice of financial reason and calm throughout the pandemic, helps us move forward with what we need most—answers.  From when to raid your retirement accounts, go back to school, and so much more, her clear, precise guidance will put you on the right track to rebuild your future.”   – Jean Chatzky
  • “This is a compassionate encyclopedia of financial first aid when you stumble, and good financial health practices when you are back on your feet. Michelle Singletary has been the down to earth, practical advisor to the stars — and us ordinary folks — for decades.” – Vicki Robin
  • “Michelle Singletary’s latest book is full of clear, wise advice that anyone can follow—and everyone should—especially when they are thrown a curve in the game of life.” ­- Knight A. Kiplinger

 Your Turn: What did you think of “What to Do with Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide?” Share your opinion in the comments.

5 Steps to Take Before Making a Large Purchase

Have you been bitten by the gotta-have-it bug? It could be a Peloton bike that’s caught your eye, or maybe you want to spring for a new entertainment system, no matter the cost. Before you go ahead with the purchase, though, it’s a good idea to take a step back and follow the steps outlined here to be sure you’re making a decision you won’t ultimately regret.

Step 1: Wait it out

Often, a want can seem like a must-have, but that urgency fades when you wait it out. Take a break for a few days before finalizing a large purchase to see if you really want it that badly. For an extra-large purchase, you can wait a full week, or even a month. After some time has passed, you may find that you don’t want the must-have item after all.

Step 2: Consider your emotions

A bit of retail therapy every now and then is fine for most people, but draining your wallet every month to feed negative emotions is not. Before going ahead with your purchase, take a moment to identify the emotions driving the desire. Is this purchase being used as a means to fix a troubled relationship? Or to help gain acceptance among a group of friends, neighbors or workmates? Or maybe you’re going through a hard time and you’re using this purchase to help numb the pain or to fill a void in your life. Be honest with yourself and take note of what’s really driving you to make this purchase. Is it really in your best interest?

Step 3: Review your upcoming expenses 

What large expenses are you anticipating in the near future? Even if you have the cash in your account to cover this purchase, you may soon need that money for an upcoming expense. Will you need to make a costly car repair? Do you have a major household appliance that will need to be replaced within the next few months? By taking your future financial needs into account, you’ll avoid spending money today that you’ll need tomorrow.

Step 4: Find the cheapest source 

If you’ve decided you do want to go ahead with the purchase, there are still ways to save money. In today’s online world of commerce, comparison shopping is as easy as a few clicks. You can use apps like ShopSavvy and BuyVia to help you find the retailer selling the item at the best price.

Step 5: Choose your payment method carefully

Once you’ve chosen your retailer and the item you’d like to purchase, you’re ready to go ahead and make it yours! Before taking this final step, though, you’ll need to decide on a method of payment.

If you’ve saved up for this item and you have the funds on-hand for it now, you can pay up in cash or by using a debit card. This payment method is generally the easiest, and if it’s pre-planned, it will have little effect on your overall budget.

If you can’t pay for the item in full right now, consider using a credit card with a low interest rate. Most credit card payments have the added benefit of purchase protection, which can be beneficial when buying large items that don’t turn out to be as expected. Before swiping your credit card, though, be sure you can meet your monthly payments or you’ll risk damaging your credit score.

Another option to consider is paying for your purchase through a buy now, pay later program. Apps, like Afterpay, allow you to pay 25% of your purchase today, and the rest in fixed installments over the next few months. This approach, too, should only be chosen if you are certain you can meet the future payments.

Large purchases are a part of life, but they’re not always necessary or in the buyer’s best interest. Follow these steps before you finalize an expensive purchase.

Your Turn: What steps do you take before finalizing a large purchase? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thesimpledollar.com
thebalance.com
fool.com
moneywise.com

All You Need to Know About HELOCs

If you’re a homeowner in need of a bundle of cash, look no further than your own home. By tapping into your home’s equity, you’re eligible for a loan with a, generally, lower interest rate and easier eligibility requirements. One way to do this is by opening up a home equity line of credit, or a HELOC. Let’s take a closer look at HELOCs and why they can be an excellent option for cash-strapped homeowners. 

What is a HELOC?

A HELOC is a revolving credit line that allows homeowners to borrow money against the equity of their home, as needed. The HELOC is like a second mortgage on a home; if the borrower owns the entire home, the HELOC is a primary mortgage. Since it is backed by a valuable asset (the borrower’s home), the HELOC is secured debt and will generally have a lower interest rate than unsecured debt, like credit cards. You will need to pay closing costs for the line of credit, which are generally equal to 2-5% of the total value of the loan.

How much money can I borrow through a HELOC?

The amount of money you can take out through a HELOC will depend on your home’s total value, the percentage of that value the lender allows you to borrow against and how much you currently owe on your home. 

Many lenders will only offer homeowners a HELOC that allows the borrower to maintain a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of 80% or lower. 

A quick way to find a good estimate of the maximum amount you can borrow with a HELOC is to multiply your home’s value by the highest LTV the lender allows. For example, continuing with the above example, if your home is valued at $250,000 and your lender allows you to borrow up to 80% of your home’s value, multiply 250,000 by 0.80. This will give you $200,000. Subtract the amount you still owe on your mortgage (let’s assume $100,000) and you’ll have the maximum amount you can borrow using a HELOC: $100,000. 

Is every homeowner eligible for a HELOC?

Like every loan and line of credit, HELOCs have eligibility requirements. Exact criteria will vary, but most lenders will only approve the line of credit for homeowners who have a debt-to-income ratio of 40% or less, a credit score of 620 or higher and a home with an appraised value that is at minimum 15% more than what is owed on the home. 

How does a HELOC work?

A HELOC works similarly to a credit card. Once you’ve been approved, you can borrow as much or as little as needed, and whenever you’d like during a period of time known as the draw period. The draw period generally lasts five to 10 years. Once the draw period ends, the borrower has the choice to begin repaying the loan, or to refinance to a new loan. 

How do I repay my HELOC?

The repayment schedule for a HELOC can take one of three forms:  

Some lenders allow borrowers to make payments toward the interest of the loan during the draw period. When the draw period ends, the borrower will make monthly payments toward the principal of the loan in addition to the interest payments. 

For many borrowers, though, repayment only begins when the draw period ends. At this point, the HELOC generally enters its repayment phase, which can last up to 20 years. During the repayment phase, the homeowner will make monthly payments toward the lHELOC’s interest and principal. 

In lieu of an extended repayment phase, some lenders require homeowners to repay the entire balance in one lump sum when the draw period ends. This is also known as a balloon payment. 

How can I use the funds in my HELOC?

There are no restrictions on how you use the money in your HELOC. However, it’s generally not a good idea to use a HELOC to fund a vacation, pay off credit card debt or to help you make a large purchase. If you default on your repayments, you risk losing your home, so it’s best to use a HELOC to pay for something that has lasting value, such as a home improvement project. 

How is a home equity line of credit different from a home equity loan?

A home equity loan is a loan in which the borrower uses the equity of their home as collateral. Like a HELOC, the homeowner risks losing their home if they default on it. Here, too, the exact amount the homeowner can borrow will depend on their LTV ratio, credit score and debt-to-income ratio.

However, there are several important distinctions between the two. Primarily, in a home equity loan, the borrower receives all the funds in one lump sum. A HELOC, on the other hand, offers more freedom and flexibility as the borrower can take out funds, as needed, throughout the draw period. Repayment for home equity loans also works differently; the borrower will make steady monthly payments toward the loan’s interest and principal over the fixed term of the loan. 

A home equity loan can be the right choice for borrowers who know exactly how much they need to borrow and would prefer to receive the funds up front. Budgeting for repayments is also simpler and can be easier on the wallet since they are spread over the entire loan term. Some borrowers, however, would rather have the flexibility of a HELOC. They may also anticipate being in a better financial place when the repayment phase begins, so they don’t mind the uneven payments. 

Your Turn: Have you taken out a HELOC? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
creditkarma.com
marketwatch.com
thepennyhoarder.com
investopedia.com

When Should I Do It Myself and When Should I Leave it to the Pros?

Q: Which home improvement projects can I tackle myself, and which should I leave to the pros?

A: In today’s world, when you can look up how to do practically any project online, it’s tempting to want to do everything yourself, but it isn’t always the best choice. Attempting to do a project on your own can sometimes end up costing more time, money and mess than it’s worth. Here’s how to know when to do it yourself, and when to leave it to the pros.

Home improvement projects you can probably do on your own

While everyone’s level of skill and dexterity is different, these home improvement projects are simple enough for nearly everyone:

  • Cosmetic improvements. This includes painting, wallpapering, wood staining, installing adhesive carpet tiles and replacing the hardware on cabinets and drawers. Before you start, check out tutorials on YouTube for useful tips and tricks.
  • Minor plumbing jobs. Almost anyone can snake a clogged toilet, and most people can handle fixing a minor faucet leak, changing a shower head and even installing a toilet. Again,  when it comes to DIY projects, YouTube is a wonderful plumbing mentor.
  • Minor electrical work. Don’t try to rewire your home on your own (unless you’re a licensed electrician), but you can probably successfully install new light fixtures and change your light switch plates.
  • Install tiles. Think a new backsplash for your kitchen, new tiles for your bathroom floors and walls and new floors for your kitchen and foyer. You’ll need to research exactly how to lay tiles, using a notched trowel to spread your tile adhesive in horizontal strokes. If you’re not comfortable with the installation of your new tiles, you can still save a buck by removing your old tiles with a hammer and chisel before calling in the experts to lay your new ones.

Six questions to ask before tackling a project on your own

  1. Have I done a project like this before? If this isn’t your first time doing a project like this, you can probably handle it now. If it is your first time attempting this kind of project, you may still be able to do it, as long as you’re prepared for the extra work and focus it will involve.
  2. Do I have a reliable resource to turn to with any questions that may arise? It’s best to be prepared in case you run into trouble mid-project. Get that contractor friend on speed dial!
  3. Will this project involve any structural framing? It’s best not to tackle projects that involve cutting through walls, as you run the risk of cutting through engineered lumber and trusses, which can then lose their weight-carrying capacity. If your project fits into this category, have a pro do the job or ask them for guidance before you begin.
  4. Will this job involve any electrical, plumbing or HVAC work? Here, too, you run the risk of messing up structural elements of your home. If your project involves cutting through pipes and wires, it’s probably best to leave it to the pros.
  5. Do I have the resources to complete this job? Many homeowners are eager to start a project on their own and save on pro prices, but they neglect to consider how much time and money the job will take. It’s best to make an estimation of how much the supplies and tools for the job will run you, and how many hours of work you can expect it to consume. You may find the DIY route is not as desirable as you believed it to be.
  6. Will this job risk personal injury? Don’t risk your safety on a project that should really be left to the pros.

Paying for a home improvement project

Whether you decide to DIY, or you’re going to call in the experts, a home improvement project can cost a pretty bundle. Consider tapping into your home’s equity through a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit through Advantage One Credit Union to help you pay for the project. Increasing the value of your home is one of the best ways you can use your home’s equity.

Your Turn: Are you an avid DIYer? Share your best success stories with us in the comments.

Learn More:
lifehacker.com
plygem.com
homeisd.com
usatoday.com

How Do I Read the Fine Print on My Credit Card Paperwork?

Q: Paperwork from credit card companies always seems to be filled with tiny print that’s hard to read and even harder to understand. How do I read the fine print from my credit card issuer?

A: Fine print is designed to keep you from paying attention, but it often contains important information you can’t afford to miss. Here’s what you need to know about reading and understanding the fine print on credit card applications and billing statements.

What do all those terms mean, anyway?

First, let’s take a look at 12 basic credit card terms that are important to know but are often misunderstood:

  • Accrued interest – The amount of interest incurred on a credit card balance as of a specific date.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – The rate of interest that is paid on a carried credit card balance each year. The amount of interest charged each month will vary according to the current balance. This number can be determined by dividing the current APR by 12 to get the monthly APR rate, and then multiplying that number by the current balance.
  • Annual fee – The yearly fee a financial institution or credit card company charges the consumer for having the card.
  • Balance – The amount of money owed on the credit card bill.
  • Billing cycle – The amount of time between the last statement closing date and the next.
  • Calculation method – The formula used to calculate the balance. The most common is the daily balance method, where charges are calculated by multiplying the day’s balance by the daily rate, or by 1/365th of the APR.
  • Cash advance – Money withdrawn from a credit card account. Cash advances usually have strict limits, higher interest rates and fees.
  • Credit limit – Also known as a line of credit, this refers to the maximum amount of money that can be charged to your credit card.
  • Default rate – Also called the penalty rate, this refers to an especially high rate of interest that kicks in if the consumer is late in making monthly payments and/or has violated the terms and conditions of the card.
  • Grace period – The time between making a purchase and being charged interest on that purchase.
  • Late payment notice and fee – These will alert the consumer to a missed payment and its associated fee.
  • Minimum payment – The smallest amount of money the consumer can pay each month to keep the account current.

What’s the big deal about all the small print on my credit card application?

Don’t sign on the dotted line (or digital signature pad) just yet! Those microscopic letters on your credit card application actually contain important information. Here are some common claims you might find on an application and what the small print below these claims actually says:

Claim: Sign-up bonus: $950!

Fine print: Must spend $3,000 on the card within the first three months of ownership. Redeemable only at participating airlines.

Claim: Interest-free offer!

Fine print: Expires after 18 months, the same time a 22.5% interest rate kicks in.

Claim: 0% balance transfer!

Fine print: With a $300 balance transfer fee.

Claim: 5% cash back on grocery spending!

Fine print: Capped at $1,000 per quarter and only at participating grocery stores.

Claim: Cash advance of up to $1,500!

Fine print: With 20% interest and a $200 cash-advance fee.

Claim: Generous 25-day grace period!

Fine print: We reserve the right to shorten the grace period at any time.

How do I find the fine print on my credit card application or statement? 

Read the fine print before you sign up for a credit card offer. You can find this information on the credit card’s paper or digital application under a label marked “Pricing and Terms” or “Terms and Conditions.” You can also find this information when researching credit cards online; look for it under the “Apply Now” button where it may be labeled as described above, or as “Interest Rates and Fees” or “Offer Details.”

If you’ve already signed up for the card, you’ll find these conditions on the “Card member Agreement” that generally accompanies a new credit card. The text will be lengthy, but will likely be divided into sections, including a pricing schedule, relevant fees and payment details.

Your credit card statements will also have lots of fine print, though most of it will be on the back of the bill. This information will include all the information from your application, as well as some additional information, including reports to credit bureaus, how your interest rate on the balance is calculated, how you can avoid paying interest on your purchases and how to dispute fraudulent charges on your bill.

You can find the small print on your credit card applications and statements by looking for an asterisk (*) or dagger (†), which indicates small-type footnotes at the end of the page or document.

Do I need to read all the fine print? 

Fine print will appear all over your credit card paperwork, but it’s best to pay attention to the tiny letters near the points you most care about. For example, be sure to read up on the information given on all special promotions, introductory offers, bonuses, rewards and more. In general, you’ll find this rule to be true: “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.” In modern English, this means that the large print is designed to grab your attention and make you sign up for the card immediately, while the small print contains all the qualifiers, exclusions, justifications for future cancellations and more, about these claims.

Fine print written in financial jargon can be difficult to spot and to understand, but ignoring the small words on your credit card paperwork can have disastrous consequences. Let our guide help you learn how to read the fine print on your credit card applications and statements. Don’t let anything get past you!

Your Turn: Have you ever regretted missing the fine print on your credit card paperwork? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
fool.com
cardratings.com
nerdwallet.com
experian.com
cnbc.com

Preparing Financially for a New Baby

Congratulations! You’ve just gotten the positive pregnancy test results and you’re breathless with excitement — and nerves. Or maybe you’re a few months along, and the mild panic is growing right along with the baby bump. Regardless, a baby means big changes, and some of those changes bring many new expenses. How will you pay for it all?

Whether you’re only thinking about having a baby, or your due date is fast approaching, there’s no need to stress about finances. By taking the necessary measures today, you can learn to cover these new expenses without falling into debt.

Here are some steps you can take to prepare financially for a new baby:

Pay down debt

There’s more than just a nursery to set up before your baby’s arrival. It’s best to get your finances in order to make it easier to manage all new expenses and prepare for your child’s future. If this involves getting rid of a mountain of debt, you can choose between these two debt-kicking plans:

The snowball method involves maximizing your payments toward your smallest debt balance first. Once it’s paid off, move on to the next-smallest debt, “snowballing” the payment from your previous debt into this one until it’s paid off, and repeating until you’re completely debt-free.
The avalanche method involves maximizing payments toward the debt with the highest interest rate and then moving on to the one with the second-highest interest rate until all debts are paid off.

Adjust your monthly budget

Babies don’t come cheap. When your little one arrives, you’ll need to spring for baby gear and furniture, a new wardrobe, diapers and possibly child care as well. According to the USDA’s most recent report on the cost of raising a child, the average middle-income family will spend approximately $12,350-$13,900 on child-related expenses before their baby’s first birthday.

Most of these expenses will be ongoing, and it’s best to make room in your budget for these new items before the baby is born. Spend some time reviewing your monthly budget to look for ways to cut back on spending and give you that wiggle room to cover baby-related expenses.

Set up a baby account

All those baby expenses can be overwhelming, but if you break them down into bite-sized pieces, they’ll be easier to manage. You can do this by putting away some money for baby costs as soon as you plan on having a baby or find out you’re expecting. Consider setting up a new savings account at Advantage One Credit Union for all baby expenses to keep this money separate from other savings. You may also want to automate these savings by setting up a monthly transfer from your payroll or checking account to your “baby account.”

Estimate prenatal care and delivery costs

While exact amounts vary by state and by insurance provider, prenatal care and delivery can cost thousands of dollars. This includes out-of-pocket expenses, co-pays and insurance deductibles. Be sure to prepare for these expenses by saving up for them or by allocating a large windfall, such as a tax refund or generous work bonus, to be used for paying for prenatal care and delivery.

Start saving for college

Hard as it may be to believe, your little one will one day be all grown up and ready to go to college. With college tuition now averaging $41,411 at private colleges, $11,171 for state residents at public colleges and $26,809 for out-of-state students at state schools, according to data reported by U.S. News and World Report, this can mean paying a small fortune to give your child an education. In addition to spreading the costs over nearly two decades, starting to save for your child’s college education now will give those savings the best chance at growth.

Consider opening a 529 plan before your child is born where your college savings can grow tax-free.

Write a will

No one wants to think about their own death when preparing for a birth, but writing a will — and purchasing life insurance if you haven’t already done so — can be the best gift for your child in case the unthinkable happens.

Welcoming a new baby is a life-altering experience, and can mean big changes for your finances. Follow our tips to ensure you’re financially prepared for your new baby’s arrival.

Your Turn: What steps are you taking to prepare financially for a new baby? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nerdwallet.com
mint.intuit.com
thepennyhoarder.com

The Comprehensive Guide to Insurance Coverage

Insurance premiums can take a big bite out of a monthly budget, but not having enough coverage can be even more costly.  Let’s take a look at the five primary insurance types and the most important information to know about each one.

1. Health insurance

What is it? 

Health insurance is coverage that typically pays for medical, surgical and prescription drug expenses in exchange for a monthly premium. Many states mandate health insurance coverage and will collect fees, along with state taxes, from taxpayers who do not have sufficient coverage.

Types of health insurance plans

Health insurance plans are divided into two primary categories: public and private.

Public health insurance is provided at low or no cost through the federal and/or state government. The most common public insurance plans are:

  • Medicaid – Public insurance plan for low-income families and individuals. Eligibility requirements vary by state.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – A federal and state program designed to cover children below the age of 18 whose families have incomes above the qualifications for Medicaid, but are too low to afford private health insurance.
  • Medicare – A federal health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older.

Private health insurance may be provided through an employer or purchased privately from the insurance provider, or through a broker.

These are the most common private health insurance plans:

  • HMO: Health Maintenance Organization – The most restrictive plans that only work with a network of healthcare providers. The insured must choose a primary care physician (PCP) who is in the network to benefit from coverage. To see an out-of-network specialist, the insured will need a referral from their PCP. HMOs tend to have cheaper premiums than other health insurance plans.
  • PPO: Preferred Provider Organization – The most flexible health insurance plans, which allow the insured to choose an in-network doctor at a lower cost, or an out-of-network doctor at a higher cost. There is no referral necessary to see a specialist. Premiums are generally more expensive than other plans.
  • EPO: Exclusive Provider Organization – A blend of HMO and PPO plans, EPOs do not cover out-of-network physicians, but do not require referrals for specialists. Premiums on EPOs fall between HMOs and PPOs.
  • POS: Point of Service – Another blend of HMO and PPO plans, POS plans will require a PCP on an HMO-style network, while also allowing out-of-network options at a higher cost. A referral is required for specialists. Premiums are generally more expensive than HMO plans but less expensive PPOs.

2. Life insurance

What is it?

Life insurance is a contract between an insurance company and a policyholder that guarantees a sum of money to the policyholder’s designated beneficiaries when the policyholder dies, in exchange for monthly premiums paid during the insured’s lifetime.

Types of life insurance

These are the five most common kinds of life insurance plans:

  • Term insurance – The most basic form of life insurance, with a predetermined term, usually ranging from one to 10 years. Plans are renewable at the term’s end, but the premiums will increase with each renewal. Term policies generally have the cheapest premiums, but no cash value.
  • Whole life insurance – Offers policyholders a cash-value component coupled with increased protection. Premiums can be locked in throughout the term, and a portion of premiums goes toward the policy’s cash value. The insured can borrow up to 90% of the cash value, tax-free, but loans reduce the policy’s death benefit.
  • Universal life insurance – Offers increased flexibility for policyholders. Premiums can go up or down, or even be deferred within certain limits. Cash values can be accessed and withdrawn, though this directly decreases the death benefit. Face values can be modified as well.
  • Variable life insurance – Fixed premiums and investment options make this policy the choice for true risk-takers. The policyholder’s cash value will be invested in the insured’s choice of stock, bond or money market portfolio. Cash values and death benefits will fluctuate along with the investments’ performance. These policies usually have higher fees than universal life insurance, but all cash value accumulation grows tax-free.
  • Universal variable life insurance – A blend of universal and variable life insurance, these policies offer flexible premiums and the ability to modify face values, along with investment options.

3. Auto insurance

What is it? 

Auto insurance is a contract between a policyholder and insurance company, protecting the policyholder from financial loss in the event of an auto accident or theft. The coverage is provided in exchange for a monthly premium. Some form of auto insurance is required in all 50 states.

Types of auto insurance policies

These are the primary categories of auto insurance coverage:

  • Liability coverage – Includes coverage for bodily injuries, property damages or auto damages to another motorist if the policyholder is at fault.
  • Comprehensive coverage – Pays for damages and losses to the car that were not caused by another driver.
  • Personal injury protection – Covers medical bills for the policyholder and their passengers in the event of an accident.
  • Collision insurance – Covers damages to the policyholder’s car if it’s involved in an accident.
  • Uninsured/under-insured motorist protection – Pays for damages caused by another motorist who does not have sufficient (or any) coverage.
  • Gap insurance – Pays the difference between what the policyholder owes on a financed or leased vehicle and what it is valued at when there’s a total loss of the vehicle.

4. Long-term disability insurance

What is it?

Long-term disability insurance is an insurance policy that provides income replacement for workers if they are unable to work due to a debilitating illness or injury.

Types of long-term disability insurance

There are two primary types of long-term disability insurance policies:

  • Own-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at your regular occupation. Benefits are paid even if the policyholder can work at another job.
  • Any-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at any occupation. These plans are generally cheaper, but claiming benefits can be more difficult.

5. Homeowners/renter’s insurance

What is it?

Homeowners insurance is a policy designed to protect homeowners and their families from liability and financial loss in case of damage to their home and belongings in exchange for monthly premiums. Renters insurance is purchased by tenants and only covers damage or theft of their personal property.

Types of homeowners insurance policies

  • HO-2 – A policy that only protects against 16 specified perils.
  • HO-3 – A broad policy protecting against all perils other than those excluded in the policy.
  • HO-5 – A premium policy that usually protects newer homes and covers all perils, except the few excluded in the policy.
  • HO-6 – Insurance for co-ops/condominiums, which includes personal property coverage and liability coverage.

Each plan type will also include some extent of liability coverage. Most policies will only cover events if they are sudden and accidental. Some natural disasters, like earthquakes and floods, require a separate policy for coverage.

Types of renters insurance policies

Renters insurance policies will generally fall within either:

  • Replacement-cost plans – Will pay for the full cost of replacing your damaged or stolen belongings up to a predetermined cap. This plan offers more robust coverage, but premiums are generally higher.
  • Cash-value plans – Will only offer payouts to cover what the damaged item was worth at the time of the disaster.

Insurance is a big part of financial responsibility. Use our guide to help you make the right choices in all major types of insurance coverage.

Your turn: What are your best tips for buying insurance?

Learn More:
policygenius.com
smartasset.com
iii.org
allstate.com
nerdwallet.com
investopedia.com

Navigating the Current Auto Loan Market

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, get ready to experience sticker shock. Prices on new and used cars have soared since the beginning of 2020, and experts aren’t expecting them to fall anytime soon. Here’s what you need to know about the current auto loan market and how to navigate it successfully.

Why are auto prices so high? 

The coronavirus pandemic has touched every sector of the economy, and the auto industry is no exception. According to the U.S. Consumer Price Index, the price of used cars and trucks has jumped a full 9.4% in the last 12 months, while the price of new cars and trucks increased by 1.5%. The drive behind the increase is multifaceted and linked to several interconnected events.

When the pandemic hit American shores, demand for new and used cars increased significantly. This was largely due to the many people who were avoiding public transportation for safety reasons. The mass exodus from big cities and their high rates of infection also boosted the demand for new cars.

At the same time, supply of new and used cars dried up, thanks to these factors:

  • The pandemic put a freeze on the production of new vehicles for nearly a full business quarter. The factory shutdowns reduced output by 3.3 million vehicles and sales dried up, along with subsequent trade-ins.
  • The production freeze prompted chipmakers to focus on the electronics industry instead of creating chips for automakers. Now, the industry is still scrambling to keep up with the automakers’ demand.
  • Business and leisure travel was halted for months. This led to a steep decline in travelers renting cars, which in turn led to rental agencies holding onto more of the cars in their lots instead of selling them to used car dealerships.

The rise in demand and shortage of supply naturally triggered a steep increase in the prices of both new and used vehicles.

Rethink your auto purchase

If you’re in the market for a new car and the price tags are scaring you, you may want to rethink your decision. If your car is in decent condition, consider holding onto it a little longer until the market stabilizes. To go this route, consider the following tips to help make your car last longer:

  • Use a trickle charger to keep the battery in excellent condition.
  • Change your filters regularly.
  • Follow the service schedule. Most cars need to be serviced every 10,000 miles.
  • Keep all fluid levels high. This includes coolant, oil, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.
  • Drive carefully to avoid sudden braking and prolong the life of your brakes.
  • Replace spark plugs when they begin showing signs of wear or melting. Depending on the vehicle, spark plugs need to be replaced every 30,000-90,000 miles.
  • Check your tires regularly and rotate and inflate them as needed.
  • Pay attention to all warning lights that are illuminated on the dashboard.
  • Have your car rust-proofed to keep the exterior looking new.

Tips for buying a car in today’s market

If you’ve decided to go ahead with buying a car, it’s best to adjust your expectations before hitting the dealership.

First, a seller’s market means many dealerships will not be as eager to close a deal as they tend to be. They have more customers than they can service now, and that can translate into a willingness to move only slightly on a sticker price of a car, or a refusal to negotiate a price at all. Processing a car loan may now take longer, too.

Second, expect to pay a lot more than usual for your new set of wheels. If you’re looking to purchase a new car, prepare to pay approximately $40,000. Also, as mentioned, supply of new cars is down while demand is up, so you likely won’t have as many choices as you may have had in the past.

The used-car market has been hit even harder by the pandemic since prohibitive prices and a short supply has pushed more consumers to shop for used cars instead of new vehicles.  This increase in demand, coupled with the dwindling supply, has driven the prices of used cars up to an average of $23,000, according to Edmunds.com. If you’re thinking of buying a used car, prepare to encounter a highly competitive market where bidding wars are the norm and cars are super-expensive.

If you’re looking to take out an auto loan, consider one with your credit union. The most recent data shows that auto loans at credit unions are a full two points lower, on average, than auto loans taken out through banks. Car prices may be soaring, but credit unions continue to deliver lower rates and customer service you can really bank on.

The auto loan market has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Follow the tips outlined here to navigate today’s car market successfully.

Your Turn: Have you recently bought a new set of wheels? Share your best tips on navigating today’s auto market in the comments.

Learn More:
chicagotribune.com
marketwatch.com
barrons.com
cnbc.com
yourautoadvocate.com

How to Adult: Personal Finance for the Real World

Title: How to Adult: Personal Finance for the Real World

Author: Jake Cousineau

Paperback: 235 pages

Publisher: Independently published

Publishing date: March 23, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • High school graduates, college students and any other young adult who needs to prepare for the financial realities of adulthood.
  • Young adults who’ve made money mistakes due to a lack of financial education and want to learn how to better handle their money in the future.

What’s inside this book?

  • A clear, easy-to-understand explanation of financial topics, like compound interest, mutual funds, insurance deductibles, Roth IRAs and more.
  • Practical examples and real-life anecdotes to bring financial lessons home.
  • Hands-on tools to help readers jump-start their financial journeys.
  • A “Build Your Skills” section at the end of each chapter inviting readers to test their knowledge and retention of the chapter’s material.

5 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. The foundational concepts of personal finance and building wealth.
  2. How to avoid costly financial missteps.
  3. How to budget, save and invest your money wisely.
  4. How taxes and insurance work.
  5. How to prepare for life’s big expenses.

3 questions this book will answer for you:

  1. What are the financial basics I need to know to make it in the real world?
  2. How can I avoid making money mistakes as a young adult?
  3. Can I learn about finances without breaking my brain over complicated jargon and complex concepts?

What people are saying about this book:

  • “This! This is what I needed when I was in high school. It is also what I needed when I was in college, and when I bought my first car, and when I bought my first house, and when I opened my first credit card. Every high school student in America should have to pass a class that uses this book. The real-world examples are relatable and make the reader feel like they are armed with the knowledge they need. It doesn’t just make you book smart. It makes you street smart.” — Stukent Personal Finance
  • “In How to Adult, Jake Cousineau engages readers using a blend of storytelling, analogies, charts and research to deliver key financial lessons. Whether it’s comparing index funds to sports teams, or interest to pineapple on pizza, Jake has a gift in delivering financial advice in a way that will educate adults, young and old alike!” — NGPF Personal Finance
  • “The author does an excellent job of explaining complex concepts in clear terms using common language. I learned something new about taxes despite having filed them for the past 15 years. Clever and approachable. Highly recommend.” — Zach G

 Your Turn: What did you think of How to Adult? Share your opinion in the comments.

Learn More:
amazon.com
thefishow.com