How Do I Apply for FAFSA?

Q: Help! I need to fill out my FAFSA forms and I don’t know where to start! What do I need to know about filling out my FAFSA forms?

A: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) season is in full swing! Whether you’re a college student, a high school senior or you’re seeking financial aid for your college-age child, it’s time to get those forms filled out. The rules and deadlines can be confusing, but we’re here to help. Below, we’ve answered many of the questions you may have on applying for FAFSA.

When is my application due? 

There are three FAFSA deadlines you need to note: federal, college, and state. The federal FAFSA submission has one set date, while each college and state sets its deadlines that may or may not coincide with the federal deadline. 

To be considered for federal student aid for the 2021–22 award year, the FAFSA form must be completed between Oct. 1, 2020, and 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022. Any FAFSA corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 10, 2022.

The application for the 2022-23 award year will become available on Oct. 1, 2021, and must be completed by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 10, 2023.

As mentioned, many states and colleges have their own deadlines for submitting applications for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline here. Check with your college choice(s) about their deadlines.

The deadlines can get confusing, and while the federal government provides ample time to submit forms, many states and colleges provide aid based on a first-come, first-served basis. For this reason, it’s best to get your application in as soon as you can to increase your chances of receiving aid. 

 Who is eligible for FAFSA?

To qualify for FAFSA, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (unless you are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau).
  • Men must be registered with Selective Service.
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
  • Have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent.

There are more eligibility requirements for FAFSA. You can view the full list of criteria here

 How do I apply for FAFSA?

You can now apply for FAFSA using the free myStudentAid app, available on Apple and Google Play. If you use the app with an Apple device, be sure to disable the “smart punctuation” feature before filling out the form to avoid errors. You can also apply for FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov

You can still send in your application via snail mail, but this is not recommended for several reasons: Online applications are simpler to complete and generally have fewer errors because they are designed to detect common mistakes and/or typos. Your application is also likely to be processed sooner when it’s submitted online. Finally, when applying for FAFSA online, you will be given the option to have your IRS data automatically retrieved and then populate the relevant fields, significantly lowering your chances of errors in your tax reporting. 

What are some common mistakes people make on the FAFSA form? 

A mistake on your form can delay your application and limit your eligibility for aid. To avoid errors, be sure to read every question carefully and review your application before submitting it. 

Here are some of the most common errors on FAFSA forms: 

  • Leaving blank fields. If a question does not apply to you, enter a “0” or write “Not applicable.”  
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Instead, round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Triple-check these numbers to ensure accuracy. 
  • Using the wrong name. Be sure to use your full legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. 
  • Entering the wrong address. Use your permanent address to avoid confusion. 
  • Forgetting to list your college. Be sure to obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it along with any other schools where you’ve applied for admission.
  • Forgetting to sign and date. Don’t forget this crucial step! 

Can I apply for FAFSA as an independent? 

If your parents are not paying any part of your college tuition, you may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent. If you can apply as an independent, your parent’s income will not be considered when your eligibility is determined. 

You may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent if you meet any of the following criteria:  

  • You will be 24 years of age or older by Dec. 31 of the award year. 
  • You are an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or you were a ward of the court at age 13 or older. 
  • You are a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty.
  • You are working toward a master’s or doctorate degree.
  • You are legally married.  
  • You have legal dependents (excluding a spouse). 
  • You are an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship. 
  • You are homeless.

If you do not meet any of these requirements, consider contacting a financial aid administrator to discuss your options. 

The sooner you apply for FAFSA, the greater your chances of obtaining financial aid for college. Don’t delay; complete your FAFSA early! 

Your Turn: Have you applied for FAFSA? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

6 Steps to Crushing Debt

You and debt are so over. You’ve just about had it with those endless piles of credit card bills and those hideous numbers that never seem to get any lower. It’s time to kiss that debt goodbye!

Getting rid of high debt will take hard work, willpower and the determination to see it through until the end, but it is doable. Here, we’ve outlined six steps to help you start crushing debt today. 

Step 1: Choose your debt-crushing method

There are two approaches toward getting rid of debt: 

  • The snowball method, popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey, involves paying off your debt with the smallest balance first and then moving to the next-smallest, until all debts have been paid off. 
  • The avalanche method involves getting rid of the debt that has the highest interest rate first and then moving on to the debt with the second-highest rate until all debts have been paid off. 

Each method has its advantages, with the snowball method placing a heavier emphasis on achieving results at a faster pace, which then motivates the debt-crusher to keep going, and the avalanche method, focusing more on actual numbers and generally saving the borrower money in overall interest paid on their debts. There’s no right approach, and you can choose whichever method appeals to you more.

Step 2: Maximize your payments

Credit card companies are out to make money, and they do this by making it easy to pay just the minimum payment each month, thus really paying only the interest without making progress on the actual principal, thereby trapping millions of consumers in a cycle of endless debt. Beat them at their game by maximizing your monthly payments. Free up some cash each month by trimming your spending in one budget category or consider freelancing for hire and channel those freed-up or newly earned funds toward the first debt on the list you created in Step 1. Don’t forget to continue making minimum payments toward your other debts each month!

Step 3: Consider a debt consolidation loan

If you’re bogged down by several high-interest debts and you find it difficult to manage them all, you may want to consider consolidating your debts into one low-interest loan. A personal loan from Advantage One Credit Union can provide you with the funds you need to pay off your credit card bills and leave you with a single, low-interest payment to make each month. Or, you can transfer your credit card balances to a single card with a low-interest or no-interest introductory period. Be aware, though, that you will likely get hit with high interest rates when the introductory period ends. 

Step 4: Build an emergency fund

As you work toward pulling yourself out of debt, it’s important to take preventative measures to ensure it won’t happen again. One of the best ways you can do this is by building an emergency fund. Ideally, this should hold enough funds to cover your living expenses for three to six months. Start small, squirrelling away whatever you can in a special savings account each month, and adding the occasional windfall, like a work bonus or tax return, to beef up your fund. 

Step 5: Reframe your money mindset

Sometimes, like when there’s a medical emergency or another unexpected and expensive life event, a consumer can get caught under a mountain of debt through no fault of their own. More often, though, there is a wrongful money mindset at play  leading the consumer directly into the debt trap. 

As you work on paying off your debts, take some time to determine what got you into this mess in the first place. Are you consistently spending above your means? Is there a way you can boost your salary or significantly cut down on expenses? Lifestyle changes won’t be easy, but living debt-free makes it all worthwhile. 

Step 6: Put away the plastic

Credit cards are an important component of financial health and the gateway to large, low-interest loans. However, when you’re working to free yourself from debt, it’s best to keep your cards out of sight and out of mind. You can set up a fixed monthly bill to charge one or more of your cards to keep them active, but only do this if you know you will pay off the charge in full before it’s due. Learning to pay your way using only cash and debit cards will also force you to be a more mindful spender. 

Kicking a pile of debt can take months, or even years, but there’s no life like a debt-free life. Best of luck on your journey toward financial freedom!

Your Turn: Have you kicked a significant amount of debt? Tell us how you did it in the comments. 

Step-by-Step Guide for Buying a Motorcycle

If you’re ready to purchase your first motorcycle, you’re likely thrilled — and more than a little overwhelmed. There are so many factors to consider and dozens of choices you’ll need to make before you pull the clutch. It can all get confusing, fast!

No worries; Advantage One Credit Union is here to help. We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide for buying a motorcycle, complete with useful tips to help you make a purchase you’ll enjoy for years to come. 

Secure financing

A motorcycle can run you anywhere from $2,000 to $16,000, and it’s always best to have the financial details of a large purchase squared away before entering the market so you’ll avoid disappointment later. You can save up for your bike, charge it to a low-interest credit card or take out an unsecured loan from Advantage One Credit Union, where you’ll enjoy affordable interest rates and payback terms to fit your budget. 

Brush up on your motorcycle safety

Before you shop for a bike, it’s a good idea to complete a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course. The course is similar to driver’s training and will help ensure you can ride your bike with increased safety. Depending on your state, you may need to obtain a special motorcycle license as well. 

Procure insurance

In some states, motorcycle insurance is required by law, but even if your state does not mandate it, consider purchasing coverage anyway. Insurance will protect you from liability for property damage or personal injuries caused through your vehicle, help cover medical bills in case of an accident, and cover theft and damage to your bike as well. As is the case with auto insurance, you’ll have the freedom to choose how much coverage you’d like to purchase, with more robust coverage directly increasing the cost of your policy. 

Choose between a new and used bike

You’ve got the important stuff taken care of and you’re itching to try out bikes, but before you do, decide if you’re going to purchase a new or used motorcycle. Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each option. 

A used motorcycle can cost thousands less than a new bike and won’t depreciate nearly as much, but finding a used motorcycle in decent condition can be challenging. If you decide to go this route, stay away from bikes that show signs of excessive wear, have mileage exceeding 20,000 miles, and/or have difficulty starting up, running or stopping. It’s also a good idea to get a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to check on your potential new bike, have it professionally inspected, and take it for a spin before finalizing the deal. 

A new bike will be blessedly free of mechanical breakdowns in the near future and will look nice and shiny. Of course, you’ll pay for these privileges, so be sure to run the numbers before setting your heart on a particular motorcycle. It’s also important to note that, while you might save on repairs and maintenance, insurance on a new bike will likely be a lot more expensive than coverage for a used one.

Choose a motorcycle type

You’re ready to choose your type of ride. Here are the most popular choices:

  • Sport bikes- equipped with a leaning design that makes them ideal for riding at high speeds, these bikes also have higher foot-pegs and handlebars that are more out of reach than most other bikes. A sport bike can be a good choice for thrill-seekers, but an uncomfortable option for riders planning to take long trips on their bikes. Insurance can also be expensive. 
  • Standard bikes-an upright riding posture and lack of accessories make these a great all-purpose motorcycle. Perfect for beginners and the budget-conscious, but not the best choice for off-road and long-distance riders. 
  • Cruisers-the Harley Davidson standard, cruisers offer a relaxed riding position, comfortable suspension and a V-twin engine. They also tend to be heavy, making them difficult for new or small riders to handle, but an excellent choice for tall riders and those seeking a stylish ride. 
  • Touring bikes-built for long rides, these motorcycles are fully loaded with extra features, including fairings that block the wind, saddlebags to accommodate luggage and large fuel tanks for long trips. A touring bike can be ideal for riders who take lots of road trips, but they can be an expensive choice for city riders. 
  • Dual sport bikes-lightweight and built with high-travel suspension and aggressive tires, these bikes are a great choice for off-road riding. Their tall seat height makes them difficult for short riders to handle.

Once you’ve chosen your ride type, research models from popular brands, including Yamaha, Harley Davidson, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda and Triumph. Be sure to check out ratings and reviews from current owners. Once you’ve narrowed down your choice, you’re ready to visit dealerships and private sellers.

Important features to consider

A motorcycle’s seat, handlebars and foot-pegs are not adjustable, so it’s important to choose one that fits comfortably. Take a seat on any bike you are considering. See how it feels, and make sure you can easily reach the handlebars and pedals. If possible, go for a ride around town to get a real feel for it. 

You’ll also want to consider the weight of your bike since a heavier bike can be difficult to maneuver. 

Finally, if you’re a new rider, don’t go overboard on power. It’s best to start with a bike that has a 500cc engine and then trade- in for something more powerful later on, if necessary. 

Choose your bike and finalize your purchase

You’re ready to buy your bike! Be sure to choose carefully and do lots of research so you’ll enjoy your motorcycle for many happy miles. 

Your Turn: Have you recently purchased a motorcycle? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments. 

Get the Hell Out of Debt

Title: Get the Hell Out of Debt: The Proven 3-Phase Method That Will Radically Shift Your Relationship to Money

Author: Erin Skye Kelly

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Publishing date: July 20, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Anyone who is fed up with living in debt. 
  • People seeking to get rid of credit card debt without paying a fortune in interest.
  • Readers who want to improve their money management and find most personal finance books boring.

What’s inside this book?

  • An honest, incisive and often humorous guide for paying off debt.
  • An outline for the three phases of getting rid of debt.
  • The two most important tools of money management.
  • Kelly’s own journey toward a debt-free life.

3 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. How to pay off a large amount of consumer debt.
  2. How to create and maintain wealth. 
  3. How to change your money mindset so you’ll stay debt-free.

5 questions this book will answer for you: 

  1. Why do people tell me to consolidate and refinance my way out of debt when this advice only takes me deeper into debt?
  2. Is it possible to kick my debt for good?
  3. What practical steps do I need to take to get rid of my debt?
  4. Is financial stress an inevitable part of life?
  5. How can I find true financial freedom?

What people are saying about this book: 

  • “Erin has a brilliant way of explaining, step-by-step, how to radically shift your finances for the better.”  — Peter Mallouk
  • “Erin understands that wealth is about so much more than money. It is about creating, living, and leaving a legacy of love and happiness.”  — W. Brett Wilson
  • “With a welcomed irreverence and absolutely no judgment, Erin shows us all of the nuanced, messy, and dysfunctional ways we stumble and fall into debt. But then! Then she shows us how to get up and stand tall before we kick, claw, and fight our way out of it. It’s you against your debt. Read this book if you’re ready for your gloves to come off.”  — Jesse Mecham

Your Turn: What did you think of Get the Hell Out of Debt? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Lottery Scams – How to Spot Them!

Everyone dreams of winning the lottery, but scammers enjoy turning the dreams of others into nightmares. Lottery and sweepstakes scams are always popular, and often catch victims unaware by promising incredible wins and appearing to be from authentic sources. Let’s take a look at lottery scams, how they play out and how to avoid falling victim.

How the scams play out 

In a typical lottery scam, the victim is notified that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes they may not remember entering. They may be contacted by mail, phone call, text message, or social media alert. The allegedly won prizes can be a pile of cash that numbers in the high millions, a tropical vacation, or even expensive electronic devices. The scammer often piggybacks on recognized lottery names to appear authentic, such as “Mega Millions Mobile Lottery.” 

It all sounds wonderful, but here’s where things get tricky. To claim the prize, the victim is told they must pay a fee, which will allegedly cover the cost of processing the prize, taxes, courier charges, and insurance. Of course, the money can only be wired to a specific bank account or furnished via a prepaid debit card. If the victim falls for the scam and pays the fee, the scammer will continue collecting these fees and stalling the delivery of the prize. Or, they may actually send a check for a small percentage of the prize, but the check will bounce after being deposited. 

In other variations of the scam, the target is asked to call a phone number or click on a link to claim the prize. If they do so, they’ll then be asked to provide personal information, such as their Social Security number, checking account details, and date of birth. All of this, they’ll be told, will enable them to receive the prize. Unfortunately, this information will actually make the victim vulnerable to identity theft and more. 

Recently, scammers have started hacking into people’s social media accounts and then contacting their friends and family members through their platforms to tell them they’ve won money in a lottery or sweepstakes. The victim, believing the message has been sent by someone they trust, is more likely to fall prey to the scam. 

Red flags 

To avoid falling prey to a lottery scam, look out for these red flags: 

  • You’ve been notified that you won a lottery, sweepstakes or competition you know you’ve never entered.
  • The lottery you’ve allegedly won was drawn overseas.
  • The email, text message, or social media alert informing you of your win is riddled with grammar mistakes and typos. 
  • You are warned to keep your “win” confidential.
  • You’re asked to pay a fee to collect your winnings. 
  • You’re asked to share confidential information over the phone or online to claim your prize. 
  • You’re instructed to call a specific number or click on a link to verify your prize.

Protect yourself

Follow these basic safety measures to protect yourself from a lottery scam and/or similar ruses: 

  • Never share personal information over the phone or online with an unverified source.
  • Don’t click on links in emails from an unknown sender. 
  • Never wire money to an unknown contact. 
  • If a friend or family member appears to have sent a suspicious message, contact them directly to verify that it is actually from them. If they haven’t sent the message, let them know their social media account has been hacked. 

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted and/or victimized by a lottery scam, take immediate steps to protect yourself from further harm. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov to let them know about the scam. If you’ve already shared information and/or money, contact your local law enforcement agencies for assistance and visit the FTC’s page on identity theft to start the recovery process. Finally, let your friends know about the circulating scam. 

Playing the lottery can be a fun way to toy with chance, but falling victim to a lottery scam can be an expensive and frightening ordeal. Play it safe!

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

7 Reasons to Buy an RV or Campervan

If you’re thinking of road-tripping your summer getaway, think RVs. Recreational vehicles and their close cousin, campervans, are growing increasingly popular as more families hit the road for a true American adventure that’s easier on the wallet and heavy on the fun. When purchasing an RV, you can go all out with a fully loaded luxury vehicle, or go the less costly route by opting for a campervan, also called a Class B motorhome. 

If you’re still not convinced, here are seven reasons to buy an RV or a campervan: 

1. Save money

With a means of transportation and a place to stay all rolled into one, an RV helps you save significantly on your vacation costs. Plus, when you travel with an on-the-go kitchen, you can stock up on staples before heading out to cut down on the money you’ll spend feeding your family while on the road. In fact, despite the cost of fuel, a 2018 study conducted by the CBRE Hotels Advisory Group found that RV vacations were anywhere from 27-61% less expensive than conventional getaways. 

2. Privacy and comfort

Why fight for legroom on a crowded airplane when you can travel in a vehicle that gives you plenty of space to stretch your legs? Move around as much as you’d like (as long as you’re not in the driver’s seat), enjoy a private bathroom and catch a few winks in the sleeping area, all while traveling to your destination. No unpacking and repacking the vehicle when you stop at hotels along the way or sleeping with your face pressed to the window while stopped at rest areas. What more could you ask for while traveling? 

3. Increased flexibility

When you travel with your own means of transportation and a place to stay while on your vacation, there’s no need to be locked into specific dates for your getaway. Instead of working around the cheapest flights and hotel stays, you can come and go as you please and vacation on the schedule that works best for your family. 

 4. Explore more

Traveling by RV will give you the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of each place you’ll pass through. You’ll enjoy every bit of picturesque scenery on your travels and have the leisure of stopping to watch a glorious sunset or a passing herd of deer. 

5. Bring your pets along

No need to arrange pet-sitters or to keep your furry friend in a carrier under an airline seat as your plane wings its way across the skies. When you travel by RV, you can bring your pets along and keep them nearly as comfortable as they’d be while at home. Plus, you’ll save on the cost of pet care while you’re gone, or footing the cost of an extra airline seat.

6. Tax benefits

In many states, owning an RV can mean enjoying significant tax benefits:

  • The homeowner’s deduction – if you claim your RV as your primary residence, you may be able to take the homeowner tax deduction for your vehicle.
  • Sales tax deduction – in many states, the sales tax you paid on the RV is tax-deductible for the year the RV was purchased. 
  • Interest deduction – you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on your RV loan from your taxes.
  • Business tax deduction – you may be able to claim this deduction if you work from your RV. 

Be sure to check with your accountant or tax advisor to see which of these tax benefits applies to you.

7. RV campgrounds are everywhere

You’ll find public, private and government-owned campgrounds near major attractions all around the country. Fees can be as low as $30 a night, or as high as $150 for upscale resorts with amenities. Look up RV parks near your vacation destination here

If you’re ready to take the plunge and purchase an RV or a campervan, look no further than Advantage One Credit Union! Our RV loans have affordable interest rates, reasonable payback terms, and easy eligibility requirements for qualifying members. Call, click or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to take the first steps on the road trip of a lifetime!

Your Turn: Do you own an RV? Tell us about it in the comments!

Your Complete Guide to Secure Mobile Banking

In response to the rise of mobile banking scams, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published new guidance on unauthorized electronic funds transfers, or EFTs. With more people using electronic banking as a holdover from pandemic times, it’s important for consumers to be aware of its vulnerabilities and how to protect themselves from scams. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of mobile banking and how to stay safe. 

What are the risks of mobile banking? 

Banking through your mobile device is quick, convenient and efficient. There’s no longer a need to stop by the credit union on your way home from work to deposit checks, make a transfer or review your recent account history. Most banks and credit unions now allow you to do all that and more at any time, and from anywhere, using your phone and a mobile banking app. 

Unfortunately, though, like all transactions that take place over the internet, mobile banking has some inherent risks. First, hackers can break into a phone and an account to steal money and information. Also, phishing scams that target people over the phone can trick them into sharing login information with scammers who may then hack into the account. Finally, bogus emails and messages appearing to be from your credit union can lead you to unknowingly install malware on your device. 

Mobile banking scams can be difficult to spot and are frighteningly prevalent. In fact, according to a report by data science company Feedzai, the first quarter of 2021 saw a 159% increase in banking scams over the last quarter of 2020. This is likely due to the fact that the volume of banking transactions are returning to their pre-pandemic norm and many of them are happening online. 

How to bank safely online

Instances of online fraud may be mounting, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up the convenience of mobile banking. Follow these protocols for online safety and bank with high confidence: 

  • Use a VPN to hide your IP address. A VPN (virtual private network) will give you a private network, even when you’re using public Wi-Fi, thus preventing scammers from tracking and hacking your mobile device. It’s important to note that some VPNs can work so well that your own credit union won’t recognize you, so be sure to choose one that provides each user with a designated proxy IP. This enables select accounts to recognize the user while providing protection from hackers. 
  • Always choose multi-factor authentication. Most money apps will require this, but if your chosen app allows you to make this choice, be sure to say yes to multi-factor authentication. 
  • Never share your password or save it to your device. All of your passwords should be confidential, but the password you choose for an online banking app must be top secret. Don’t share your password with anyone. Follow suggested guidelines for choosing a strong password, including alternating between uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols; and choosing a unique password you don’t use elsewhere. Also, choose a security question that cannot be answered by searching through the personal information you post on your social media platforms. 
  • Brush up on your knowledge of scams. It’s important to keep yourself updated on the latest banking scams and to know how to recognize a scam if you’re targeted. Never answer a text or email that asks for your account details, even if it appears to be from your credit union. Finally, always be wary of unsolicited phone calls and banking alerts. 
  • Protect your phone. With the wealth of sensitive information it holds, a smartphone should be protected just like a desktop and laptop computer. Consider installing an antivirus app on your phone as well as a location-tracking app so you can find your phone if it gets lost. Be sure to lock your phone after using it, log out of the mobile banking app when you are done and always keep your phone in a safe place. 

Mobile banking scams are on the rise, but by simply following the tips shared above, you can use your phone to bank with confidence, knowing your money and your information are safe.

Your Turn: How do you bank safely online? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

Should I Buy a House Now?

Q: I’ve been saving up for a down payment with plans to buy a house and feel ready. But, with the real estate market hotter than ever right now, I’m wondering if I should go ahead with my purchase or push it off until the market settles down. Should I buy a house now?

A: The real estate market has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Coupled with several factors, like falling interest rates, moratoriums on foreclosures or evictions and an increase in demand, prices have driven upward across the country. 

According to a Zillow report published in April 2021, as many as 11% of Americans have moved since the pandemic’s outbreak, with more planning to move in the coming year. With remote work now possible in dozens of industries and the long months spent locked down in cramped apartments giving new meaning to “cabin fever,” Americans are seeking greener pastures. States that boast of a low or no property tax and an allegedly higher quality of life, like Texas and Florida, have been flooded by an influx of newcomers, as have suburbs all over the country and vacation hotspots. Homes are in such high demand, Zillow reports, that nearly half the homes up for sale in the U.S. during the month of May 2021 have sold in under a week. 

Naturally, this increase in demand has led to skyrocketing prices, and many homebuyers are delaying their purchase in hopes that the market will eventually cool off. However, under certain circumstances, it can still be an excellent time to buy a house.

Let’s take a look at some reasons to buy a house now. 

Interest rates are still historically low

While rates have risen since their all-time lows at the height of the pandemic, they continue to linger at record lows. On July 26, 2021, Bankrate placed the average APR* for a 30-year fixed mortgage at just 3.25%, and the average APR for a 15-year fixed mortgage at 2.62%. Many experts predict a sharp increase in rates over the next year and advise house hunters to take advantage of low rates while they last — even an increase of just 1% can translate into tens of thousands of dollars over a 30-year loan. 

There are more homes on the market than you may think

While it is a seller’s market and bidding wars are the norm right now, more homeowners are putting their houses up for sale. According to Realtor.com, home sales are up by 44% compared to a year ago. Also, now that the federal moratorium on foreclosures has ended, more homes are likely to enter the market in the next few weeks and months. Finally, new construction homes, which were put on hold for months during the pandemic, are beginning to fill the market again, offering more choices for homebuyers everywhere. 

It is generally the better financial choice to buy

While you’ll need to make sure you can actually afford to buy a house right now, owning a home is usually the better financial choice. Homeownership provides long-lasting equity, significant tax benefits and more stability than renting. Instead of throwing money at your landlord each month, every mortgage payment you make toward your home builds your own equity. 

Before you start house hunting, make sure you are financially prepared for homeownership. Mortgage eligibility requirements can be stricter than usual now, so it’s important to bring your credit score up to 720 or higher, work on paying down debt and to save up a sufficient amount of money before you start your search so you can comfortably cover the down payment and closing costs on your new home.

* APR = Annual Percentage Rate

Your Turn: Have you recently bought a house? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Making Your Home Safe for Older Residents

Whether an older relative is moving in with you, or you’re planning on aging in your own home, it may be time to check out how safe and accessible your home is.

Stairways and bathrooms can be risky places for able-bodied people, but throw mobility or cognitive issues into the mix and those areas of the home can create life-threatening mishaps.

Let’s take a look at how to make your place safer from the outside in:

Walkways and entryways

Illuminated and flat walkways will provide safety for an older relative who may use a walker or wheelchair. Take a look at yours, and repair cracked or uneven sidewalks, add anti-skid strips and consider motion-sensor lights for extra protection.

Install rails on both sides of stairways and use color-contrasting treads for added visibility. Create a no-rise entryway with a ramp. Eliminate thresholds in the entryway into the home, as well as throughout the home, since they are known to be trip-and-fall hazards.

Bathroom

Do not skimp when it comes to creating a safe bathroom. Make sure bathmats are non-slip, and install non-slip strips in the bath and shower. Get some extra protection with non-slip rug tape.

Installing grab bars in the shower or bath and near the toilet will help prevent falls. Seniorliving.com advises using vertical or U-shaped grab bars, as opposed to diagonal bars, which are conducive to slipping. The walls also need to be reinforced to support the weight of the person using the bars.

Extra lighting in the shower, as well as a height adjustable hand-held shower sprayer and shower seats or benches will also help.

An elevated toilet with ample space for maneuvering a walker or getting into a wheelchair are recommended for those with mobility issues. Ageinplace.org also suggests installing a lower sink with knee clearance.

Bedroom

Make sure there is enough space to maneuver a wheelchair or walker. Lighting should be ample and reachable from the bed. Rocker light switches near the headboard are recommended. Create closet space with a doorway that can accommodate mobility equipment and lower shelves for easy access.

Kitchen

To keep things safe in the kitchen, the name of the game is preventing bending or crouching, especially when hot food and appliances are involved.

Appliances should be well-lit with easily readable dials and buttons. Seniorliving.com recommends wall ovens and microwave drawers to avoid lifting heavy and hot items over the appliance door.

Make pantry items accessible with lower shelves, and place frequently used items front and center. Lazy susans and roll-out shelves are ideal.

Make sure the water pressure is well adjusted and the water heater is set at 120 degrees F to avoid burns.

With these safety measures in place, both you and your loved ones can have peace of mind.

Your turn: How have you made your home safer for older occupants?

Why You Need to Be Financially Fit

Individual Americans spend hundreds of dollars a year and at least as many hours on keeping themselves physically fit but too many people neglect their financial health. Just like physical health, being financially fit is crucial to your well-being, your future and your quality of life. 

Here’s why being financially fit is so important and how you can overcome common barriers to achieving financial wellness. 

Financial wellness: a ripple effect 

Being financially fit is about more than just having enough money in your account to cover your expenses and put away something for tomorrow. Managing money responsibly will affect many aspects of your life:

  • Marriage. According to a recent study by AARP, financial problems are the second leading cause for divorce in the country. Money brings resentment and arguments into a marriage. In a study reviewing over 740 instances of marital conflict between 100 couples, money was found to be the most common topic couples argued about.  
  • Mental health. Money stress can severely affect your mental health, causing depression, restlessness, anxiety and more.  
  • Physical health. Stressing over finances can also directly impact your physical health, leading to recurring symptoms like headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, insomnia, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Work life. Being bogged down by money worries can make it difficult to focus while at work, which can bring down productivity levels and hamper career growth. In addition, prospective employers tend to review the financial wellness of new hires as part of their background checks; high rates of debt and a poor credit score can cost an employee a new job. 
  • Parenting. Managing money irresponsibly can mean not having sufficient funds to pay for a child’s education, private lessons, medical needs and more. 

What are the leading causes of money stress? 

According to a survey by Credit Wise®, 73% of Americans rank money issues as the number one stressor in their lives. Here are the top causes for financial stress: 

  • High-interest debt
  • Insufficient savings
  • Medical bills
  • Living paycheck to paycheck
  • Lack of retirement planning

Stressing over money is never fun. Stressing over money, when any of the above applies to you, takes on its own form of angst by adding a level of long-term anxiety. It takes time, sometimes years, to undo the damage of any of these stressors but it can be done!

Barriers to financial wellness and how to overcome them

We’re convinced: being financially fit is super-important. But what happens now? Why are 80% of Americans in debt?  Why do only 39% of Americans have enough saved up to get them through a $1,000 emergency? 

Unfortunately, while many people may understand that financial fitness is crucial to their wellbeing, there are several barriers that make it difficult to follow through on their convictions. 

First, many lack the basic financial knowledge necessary to responsibly manage their money. Second, many people mistakenly believe that budgeting, saving and being more mindful of how they manage their money are too time-consuming and tedious. Finally, some people may have fallen so deeply into debt, they’ve begun believing they will never be capable of ever pulling themselves out. 

Here are some simple steps you can take today to help you achieve and maintain financial wellness:

  • Get educated. There is no shortage of financial literacy available to the interested consumer, from financial literacy blogs to personal finance books, podcasts, online classes and so much more. Learning how money works, the power of a long-term investment and how much you’re really paying each time you swipe that high-interest credit card can help you make better choices. 
  • Have the money talk with your partner. Whether you’ve only been sharing expenses for half a year or you’ve been married more than a decade, it’s important to be on the same financial page as your partner. Talk openly and honestly, being careful not to be judgmental in any way, and discuss your individual and shared long-term and short-term money goals. Then come up with a plan for how you intend to reach them together. 
  • Pay all bills on time. If you can’t take aggressive steps toward paying down debt just yet, be sure to make the minimum payment on each credit card bill each month. 
  • Create a budget. Giving every dollar a destination makes it easier to spend mindfully and cut down on extraneous expenses. 
  • Start saving. There’s no such thing as a sum of money that’s too small to put into savings. Every dollar counts, and once you get the ball rolling, you’ll be motivated to pack on the savings until they really grow. 

You give your abs a great workout each day now it’s time to get those money muscles into shape! Follow the tips outlined above to stay financially fit at all times

Your Turn: What are your best tips for maintaining financial wellness? Tell us about it in the comments.