Should I Sell My House Now?

Q: Is 2021 a good time to sell my home?

A: While it appears to be a seller’s market, and the perfect time to put your home up for sale, there are many variables to consider before going forward. Below, we’ve outlined important points to know about today’s market so you can make an informed decision about selling your home in 2021. 

Is it a seller’s market now?

According to Realtor.com, the current supply of homes on the market is at an all-time low, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. This can be attributed to the federal moratorium on foreclosures, as well as the months-long halt on new construction.

At the same time, demand for homes is up, as many millennials are entering their peak homebuying years, mortgage rates hit record lows and more people are working from home than ever before. In fact, in 2020, more homes were sold than in any year since 2006, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

Naturally, when demand exceeds supply, prices will go up. Let’s take a look at some of the current trends driving this market, as shared by Realtor.com and Redfin.com:

  • Home sales are up by 44% from a year ago. 
  • The median home price for all listings increased by 12.2% over last year for the week ending June 19, 2021.
  • The national median home price for all housing types in May 2021 was $380,000.
  • Homes are on the market for 33 fewer days than last year. 
  • In May 2021, the average home sold in just 16 days.
  • 54% of homes sold in May 2021, sold above their list price

Clearly, it is a seller’s market.

Will the market conditions last throughout 2021?

Most experts are doubtful that the current seller’s market will remain through the rest of the year. They cite several reasons for their prediction. 

First, while demand for homes is currently strong, the rising prices of homes across the country are driving many buyers out of the market, thereby slowly decreasing demand. At the same time, more sellers are putting their homes up for sale to take advantage of favorable market conditions, increasing supply. Also, with the federal moratorium on foreclosures and evictions ending on July 31, more homes are expected to enter the market. Finally, mortgage rates have already started to climb upward: according to Bankrate’s most recent survey of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. As of June 27, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 3.10%, up two basis points from the previous week. All of these factors combine for a likely market cooldown over the next few months, with demand for new homes decreasing as supply increases, until the two are a lot closer than they are now. 

If you do want to sell your home this year, it’s best to act as soon as possible to take advantage of favorable market conditions. 

Why might it be a bad idea to sell my home now?

Under certain conditions, it may not be in your best interest to sell your home now. 

First, a real estate market that favors sellers works both ways: You will be on the wrong side of the aisle when buying a new home. If you are upsizing, you will likely need to pay a lot more for your new home than you would when the market settles down. With moving costs, home repairs and improvements you may need to make when putting your home on the market, and the realtor’s commission, you can end up losing money from the sale, even with the higher price you may get for your old home. 

Also, with the demand for new homes currently outpacing supply, you’ll have slim pickings when searching for a new home. You may need to settle for a home that doesn’t meet your wants, or even your needs, simply due to the lack of a better choice. 

However, if you are downsizing or moving to an area that is not as in-demand as your current neighborhood, this can be a great time to get top dollar for your home and walk away with a nice profit. Before you put your home on the market, though, it’s a good idea to do some research to ensure you can find and easily afford a new place to live. 

It’s a seller’s market right now, but that doesn’t mean you should rush to put your house on the market. Research the current market conditions carefully and read the points outlined above so you can make an informed and responsible decision. 

Your Turn: Have you decided to sell your home in 2021? Tell us about your decision in the comments. 

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

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

What You Didn’t Know About Home Loans

A home loan, otherwise known as a mortgage, enables you to purchase a house without paying the full price out of pocket at the time of the purchase.

For most people, buying a home is the biggest financial transaction of their lifetime. For that reason, if you’re in the market for a new home, it’s best to learn all you can about home loans and how they work before you get too deep into the process.

Here are some things you may not know about home loans:

Rates fluctuate daily

Borrowers who are eager to secure a home loan with a low interest rate may get into the habit of checking mortgage rates as often as some people check the weather. Interest rates fluctuate every day, which means the rate you see today may be different than the one you see when you actually are approved for the loan.

The cheapest interest rate does not guarantee the cheapest loan

When choosing a lender, borrowers will often choose the one offering the lowest interest rate, but this can actually be to their detriment. There are other factors to consider, including closing costs and the lender’s policy on releasing equity for a line of credit or a loan. Also, in adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM), the loan featuring the lowest interest rate may not have the lowest rate a few years down the line and may actually cost more in the long run.

A fixed-interest rate mortgage can ultimately cost you more

When interest rates are low, many home-buyers choose a mortgage with an interest rate that is fixed throughout the life of the loan, believing it is the most cost-effective choice. This may or may not be correct. A fixed-rate mortgage might comes with higher exit fees, or fees paid to the lender when the loan is repaid. Also, if rates drop further throughout your loan’s term, you won’t be able to take advantage of the new rates unless you refinance. Finally, interest rates on fixed-term mortgages are generally higher than the initial rate on ARMs.

A lower credit score can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in interest

Most people know that a higher credit score is generally awarded with a lower interest rate, but not many people know to what extent this is true. A high credit score can translate into tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of a home loan. A credit score difference of 100 points can increase a monthly mortgage payment by $150 or more, depending on the size of the loan and the interest rate.

If you’re thinking of applying for a home loan soon and your credit isn’t in the “very good” category (higher than 740), it may be worthwhile to spend a few months working to boost your score before you apply for a mortgage.

The housing market impacts rates

While the federal funds rate will have the greatest impact on the rise and fall of interest rates, the state of the housing market will affect it, too.  Lenders need to turn a profit from their loans, which means the higher the volume of loans they process, the less they need to earn from each one to remain profitable. Consequently, when the housing market is booming and lenders are granting loans on a frequent basis, they will be more inclined to offer lower interest rates to borrowers.

You can have your mortgage payments automated

Your home loan payments will likely be your largest monthly bill, and missing a payment or paying it late can have serious consequences. Fortunately, you can avoid these scenarios by signing up to have your monthly mortgage payments automatically deducted from your checking account. Most lenders provide this service; check with yours to see if this is an option they offer.

Buying a home will likely be the biggest purchase you ever make. Be sure to find out all there is to know about mortgages and their interest rates before applying for a home loan.

Your Turn: Do you have another lesser-known fact about home loans to share? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
kloze.com
wyndhamcapital.com
binvested.com
bankrate.com

Beware of PPP Scams

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a welcome relief for small businesses struggling to stay afloat while also keeping their employees’ incomes flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The program provides eligible businesses with unsecured loans to help them cover payroll, rent and other ongoing business expenses, with the possibility of partial or complete loan forgiveness. The loans are furnished by the Small Business Association (SBA) with applications processed by private lenders or other organizations. There have been many changes and updates made to the PPP since it was first passed on April 24, 2020. Most recently, the SBA began accepting applications for Second Draw PPP Loans on Jan. 11, 2021 from participating lenders.

Unfortunately, the PPP has been plagued by fraud since its inception. In these scams, criminals posing as representatives of the SBA, another government entity or a legitimate lender trick business owners into applying for a loan through their organization, sharing information that can then be used to hack their accounts and more.

Here’s what you need to know about PPP scams and how to avoid them:

How PPP loans are processed

The more you know about how PPP loans work, the stronger protection you’ll have against possible scams.

If you want to apply for a PPP loan, simply download the loan application through the SBA. Fill it out and submit it to an SBA-approved lender. You may also need to provide all or some of the following documents:

  • Tax returns for 2019
  • Payroll reports showing how you achieved your requested total loan amount
  • Documents proving your company’s structure, formation and ownership
  • Verifiable payroll expense documents and breakdown of payroll benefits
  • Payroll summary report with corresponding financial statements
  • Certification that all employees live within the United States. If you have employees overseas, you’ll need to provide a separate list of these workers and their respective salaries.
  • Most recent mortgage or rent statement and utility bills
  • Documentation about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted your business

If you’re applying for a Second Draw PPP Loan, you will also need documentation that showcases how you have used, or plan to use, your original PPP funds.

After you’ve submitted your application, you can sit back and wait for approval. There’s no need to share any additional information on the phone or via email.

How can I protect my business from PPP fraud?

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help keep your business safe from PPP scams.

 Do:

  • Be wary of any individuals demanding immediate payment from you, or asking that you make immediate contact with them to be eligible for a PPP loan. These are likely scammers.
  • Only use a lender that is accredited by the SBA. You can find a full list of SBA-approved lenders here.
  • Look for the .gov at the end of each email or website allegedly from the SBA or another government entity, such as http://www.sba.gov.
  • Reach out to your local and state government if you need help applying for a PPP loan.
  • Report any suspected scams to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and your state’s attorney general office. If a suspicious caller or email contact alleges to represent the SBA, alert the SBA as well.

Don’t:

  • Share any personal information, like your Social Security number or checking account details, with an unverified caller or email contact.
  • Pay for a program that promises to process or expedite a PPP loan request if the organization behind the program is not truly accredited by the SBA. Click on links or download files from an unfamiliar email address. These links could infect your device with malware.

Times are tough all around as the world grapples with the “new normal” and small businesses have been especially hard-hit. PPP loans can help struggling organizations get back on their feet, but scammers don’t want to let that happen. Use the tips outlined above to protect yourself and your business from a PPP scam. Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a PPP scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
sba.gov
bloomberg.com
ucbi.com
chicagotribune.com

What Do I Need to Know About Today’s Real Estate Market?

Q: The news from the real estate market can be confusing. What do I need to know as a buyer, a seller, or just an American citizen, about today’s real estate market?

A: Trends and stats in real estate are constantly changing, especially during the unstable economy of COVID-19. Here’s all you need to know about the real estate market today.

Is it a buyer’s market right now? 

Actually, pickings are slim for home-buyers right now, giving sellers the upper hand and driving up prices for buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), inventory was down nearly 20% in October 2020 compared to October 2019.

Low supply also means homes are on the market for a shorter period of time than what would be likely in other years. According to the NAR, in October 2020, more than seven out of every 10 homes sold were on the market for less than a month. This means buyers don’t have the leisure of lingering over their decisions and may find themselves getting caught in heated bidding wars.

If you’re currently in the market for a new home, it’s best to be prepared to change some of the items on your list of must-haves into nice-to-haves. You may also want to expand your search to include other neighborhoods or home types than you originally planned. And of course, don’t forget to have your mortgage pre-approval in hand before beginning your search. This will give you a leg up on bidding wars and show sellers you’re serious about buying.

What does low inventory mean for sellers?

An uneven balance of supply and demand that favors sellers means homeowners who are looking to sell will have more offers than anticipated. They may be able to choose the best offer for their home — perhaps even at a price that is higher than expected as well.

If you’re selling your home right now and have plans to purchase another, remember that the things making it easier for you to sell your home in this market will also work against you when you purchase a new one. Prepare for prices that may be above market value and a pressured buying environment.

Is home equity up? 

According to the NAR, home prices have swelled to a national median of over $300,000, with October 2020 marking 100 consecutive months of year-over-year price gains. CoreLogic’s 2020 3rd Quarter Homeowner Equity Insights report shows that the average U.S. household with a mortgage now has $194,000 in home equity. These factors make it a great time to sell a home.

If you’re selling your home, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced agent to ensure you get the best possible offer for your home.

If you’re planning to buy a home in this market of increasing home prices, make sure to work out the numbers and to determine how much house you can afford before starting your search.

If possible, consider choosing a 15-year fixed-rate conventional mortgage, which will give you the lowest overall price on your home.

Are interest rates still low? 

Interest rates reached record lows in 2020 and economists are predicting low rates continuing through 2021.

For buyers, this helps make homes more affordable. However, it’s important not to let a low interest rate make you think you can afford a home containing a price tag that is really out of your affordability. As mentioned, be sure to run through the numbers and determine how much house you can really afford before you start looking at houses.

How is the home-buying process different right now? 

Many parts of the home-buying process are now being done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some sellers are only offering virtual tours to only very serious buyers. Other parts of the process, like the attorney review and the actual closing, may be done completely virtually using remote online notarization and electronic signature apps.

What do I need to know about the real estate market if I don’t plan to buy or sell a home this year?

According to Freddie Mac, equity will likely continue to rise in 2021. But it will be at a more controlled pace. You may want to monitor how much your home is worth this year since you may change your mind about selling before the year is up.

Similarly, if you’re a homeowner with no plans to move, this can be a great time to tap into your home’s equity with a home equity loan or line of credit from Advantage One Credit Union. Contact us at 734-676-7000 or shoot us a line at news@myaocu.com to find out more.

Your Turn: Have you bought or sold a home recently? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
daveramsey.com
rockethomes.com
keepingcurrentmatters.com

When and Why to Take on Business Debt

Taking on debt can be an inevitable step for many businesses. A loan or a line of credit can provide a struggling business with the cash it needs to expand or fund a new venture.

As with every financial move, thought, it’s best to consider all angles before going ahead with the decision. Here’s what you need to know about when and why it can make sense to take on business debt:

When is it a good idea to take on business debt?

Businesses can benefit from taking out loans or opening new lines of credit under these circumstances:

When seeking resources to help grow the business. It takes money to make money, and a small business loan can help business owners pay for an expansion when they don’t have the current resources to fund it on their own. The funds can be used to broaden the company’s line of products or services, pay for a move to a larger location, fund a marketing campaign or hire additional staff.

Before taking on debt for this purpose, it’s important for a business to first measure the anticipated return on investment (ROI) for the debt. The ROI for taking on new debt needs to exceed its post-tax interest costs for the debt to be profitable for the business. For example, if a business takes out a loan to pay for new equipment costing $10,000 that will enable it to sign a $20,000 contract, it needs to ensure that a loan won’t cost them more than $10,000 in interest and other fees. Otherwise, the business will not stand to gain from taking on new debt. The profit margin also needs to be generous enough for the venture to be worth the time and effort for the business. If the final gain is minimal, the business owner may be better off investing energy in another lower-cost endeavor.

When trying to build credit. Taking out a small loan or opening a new line of credit can be a great way to build a credit profile for a business and to strengthen its relationship with financial institutions. Small loans and lines of credit can help a business prove it is responsible and trustworthy for repaying debts. This will open the doors to larger loans that may be needed in the future.

When taking on debt for this reason, it’s important for a business to run the numbers and to be sure it can handle the monthly payments, even before the anticipated boost in revenue. If a company cannot meet its monthly payments, taking on new debt can wind up doing more harm than good to its credit.

Why is debt often a preferred source of funds?

Businesses in need of extra cash can choose from several options. Primarily, a business can decide to sell equity in its company or to take out a small business loan or open a new line of credit. Here’s why debt can be a preferred source of funds for businesses:

It has lower financing costs. Unlike equity, debt is limited. Once the loan is paid back, the business owner can forget it ever existed. On the flip side, selling equity in a company generally means forking over a part of the profit for as long as the business exists. (It’s important to note, though, that debt has fixed repayment costs as opposed to equity stakes, which are determined as a percentage of the company’s profit. This means a business owner will need to pay back debt regardless of the company’s success.)

It provides tax advantages. Business debt can decrease a company’s tax liability by lowering its equity base. As an added bonus, interest on business loans and lines of credit are usually tax-deductible.

It mitigates risk. Taking on debt to access funds, instead of selling equity, lowers the company’s risk in the event that the business does not succeed.

[If you’re ready to take out a business loan or to open a new line of credit for your business, we can help! Our business loans and the lines of credit feature favorable rates and easy terms. Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to secure the funds you need to grow your business.]

Your Turn: Tell us about your experience with getting a business loan or line of credit in the comments.

Learn More:
entrepreneur.com
montrealfinancial.ca
businessinsider.com

What’s the Best Way to Use a Home Equity Loan?

Q: With interest rates falling and home prices rising, it seems like a great time to tap into my home’s equity using a home equity loan. What’s the best way to use these funds?

A: A home equity loan, or a HEL, can be a fantastic way to source extra funds during a falling-rates environment. Tapping into your home’s equity, or the positive difference between what is owed on a home and its current value, will give you the funds you need for a large expense with no additional strings attached.

With interest rates on a Advantage One Credit Union Home Equity Loan at just [XX%]APR*, the repayment plan is always affordable. If approved, you’ll receive the funds in one lump sum within a few days. There are no restrictions on how to use these funds, but since you’re essentially risking the loss of your home with this loan, it’s important to choose wisely when deciding how to use the funds.

Here are four forward-thinking uses for a home equity loan:

1. Home improvements

One of the most popular uses for home equity is for home renovations and improvements. These can be as major as adding a 1,000-square-foot extension to your home, as minor as replacing old carpet with new hardwood flooring or anything in between.

Using your home’s equity for home improvement projects is a smart choice for multiple reasons. For one, the money you put into the renovations acts as an investment. If you choose improvements that increase your home’s value, you can make back the money you spent or even see a return when you sell your home. Also, if you use the funds from a home equity loan to increase your home’s value, you may be able to deduct the interest paid on the loan from your taxes (be sure to consult with your tax adviser if you plan to go this route).

If you plan to use your home equity funds for home improvements, be sure to choose wisely. It’s best to go for improvements that add lasting value to your home instead of blowing big bucks on superficial remodeling projects that may look dated just a few years down the line.

2. Debt consolidation

Another popular use for a home equity loan is to consolidate high-interest debt. Paying off multiple debts at high interest rates can be cumbersome and difficult to manage. Worse, the heavy interest rates mean more of the borrower’s money goes toward the lender and less goes toward paying down the principal of the debts. Using a home equity loan to consolidate debt to a single and no-interest or low-interest loan can slash a pile of debt by several thousands of dollars and help shorten repayment time by several years.

3. College education

When interest rates are falling, funding a college education through a home equity loan instead of a high-interest student loan can be a smart choice. Similarly, homeowners struggling to meet their student debt payments without defaulting on the loan might want to use their home’s equity to pay off the debt quickly and replace it with a more manageable low-interest loan. It’s important to note that paying off a federal student loan with home equity might not be the best choice, as these loans are sometimes eligible for partial or complete forgiveness.

4. Emergency fund

Most of us know that financial experts recommend having three to six months’ worth of living expenses stashed in an emergency fund to be used if the need arises. But reality keeps this magical-sounding fund a distant dream for too many people. If you’ve been struggling to get your own emergency fund off the ground, tapping into your home’s equity can be a great way to get that boost you need. You’ll have a large stash of cash to build your fund, and the manageable payment plan will help ensure you put money into savings each month. As a bonus, if you experience a financial emergency of any kind after taking out your home equity loan, you’ll already have the funds on hand to help pull you through.

Before you take out a home equity loan

A home equity loan can provide homeowners with the funds they need for a home improvement project, to get their debt under control, pay for their college education or to build an emergency fund. However, before making either of these moves, it’s important to run the numbers so you are sure you can easily meet the regular loan payments. Otherwise, you risk defaulting on the loan and losing your home.

If you’re ready to take out a home equity loan, look no further than Advantage One Credit Union. Our rates and terms are always competitive. Give us a call at 734-676-7000 or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to get started on your loan application today.

* APR = Annual Percentage Rate and is valid as of [date].

Your Turn: How did you use the funds from your home equity loan? Tell us about it in the comments.