(BPT) - If you haven't made solid financial plans, now would be a good time to consider a life insurance policy to protect you and your family in your time of need - or protect your loved ones in your absence.
Given the importance of life insurance, it's surprising that 37.5 million American households lack such a policy, according to the 2016 Facts About Life study by the industry group LIMRA. That may be because many people misunderstand how such policies work and how much they cost. For example, recent Insurance Barometer studies by LIMRA and Life Happens found 63 percent of Americans cite expense as the reason they don't carry term insurance, yet 80 percent overestimate the cost - millennials by 213 percent and Gen Xers by 119 percent.
While some Americans hope to rely on other sources to protect their families, they may not realize all the benefits life insurance offers. Every family has different needs, and some life insurance products are flexible enough to offer customizable options to provide a measure of financial security to your spouse and children - the people that matter most.
Consider these other common myths about life insurance:
Myth: Life insurance is only available through financial advisors. In fact, quality policies for your entire family are often available through your employer or your spouse's employer. For example, Boston MutualLife Insurance Company offers a range of workplace solutions paid for by employers, employees or both, including permanent life, term life, critical illness, accident and disability insurance. Talk to your company's HR department about the process involved in securing comprehensive coverage for your family.
Myth: Workplace policies can't offer enough options for your needs. You'll find that well-established life insurance companies understand the market well enough to offer a range of flexible products, including policies that are payroll deductible, stable in cost regardless of your age, portable when you're changing jobs and available with add-on riders or other insurance types through the same carrier.
Myth: Young, healthy people don't need life insurance. The truth is, your health can change at any time and it's best to expect the unexpected. Uninsured people can easily leave behind personal, medical or mortgage debts and/or funeral expenses that end up burdening family members or executors when they die.
Myth: Your life insurance policy only covers you, not your family. Not true. Some products protect you, your spouse, your dependent children and even your grandchildren, often at one affordable cost. That's why marriage and becoming a parent can be excellent reasons for buying new policies.
Investing in life insurance is a crucial step to take to protect yourself and your family from unexpected losses. But it doesn't have to be confusing or complicated. Find more detailed information about life insurance options for you and your family at www.BostonMutual.com.
Here are four steps to take today to spruce up your money management process and get yourself on the path to financial health.
(BPT) - Are you feeling good about your finances? Or do phrases like “account balance,” “credit score” and “retirement savings” give you a twinge of anxiety?
Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Only 24 percent of millennials have basic financial literacy, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. When it comes to getting their financial house in order, most millennials would prefer not to set foot in that proverbial house in the first place. Getting yourself out of debt and building enough savings to cover your expenses in an emergency is a marathon, not a sprint. Small, incremental changes in your financial habits today can make a big difference in your financial health months or even years from now.
Take these steps today to spruce up your money management process and get yourself on the path to financial health.
* Check your credit score. Before you start the work of realigning your finances, you should check your credit score and review your credit report. It helps to know where you stand financially, and the good news is, even if your credit score is not as high as you’d like it to be, you can take steps to improve it. Establishing a history of on-time payments and maintaining a healthy credit utilization ratio are two things that could improve your credit score quickly. One way to access your credit score without any cost is to find out if your bank or lender offers your VantageScore through their website.
* Knock down your debt. Track down all your accounts — checking, savings, investment, credit cards and other loans — and do the math to find out your net worth. That’s your benchmark to help you track your progress. In the beginning, the truth can hurt, however, knowing how much you have in savings and knowing how much you owe gives you a valuable blueprint for where you need to direct your energy. From there, put together a household budget, and figure out where you can trim expenses, so you can pay ahead on your debts, one account at a time.
* Automate your savings. You’re much more likely to accumulate savings when you make the decision once and let the rest happen automatically. Log onto your bank account and set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings, starting with a small amount, preferably timed with your regular pay day. If you can manage to set aside $85 a month, in a year’s time, you’ll have set aside a full $1,000. That’s a decent emergency fund for things like car repairs and doctor bills.
* Open a retirement account. Here’s another way to automate savings. If you haven’t done so already, start contributing to a retirement plan. Even better, if your employer makes a plan and a match available to employees, sign up as soon as you can. If you can’t afford to contribute the full amount to get the full match, start with a small percentage, and slowly add on.
Taking the first steps to gain control of your finances isn’t easy. Setting up good financial habits today can leave you in a better place tomorrow. Test your credit score knowledge at CreditScoreQuiz.org, and be sure to visit VantageScore Solutions to learn what things influence your score, and what you can do to improve it.
(BPT) - A recent study by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College suggests an alarming state of awareness about retirement readiness: Of surveyed households, 33 percent realize they are not well prepared, 19 percent are not well prepared but don't know it, and 24 percent are well prepared but don't know it.
For the Americans at risk of not being able to maintain an adequate retirement lifestyle, it's critical to take action. For the households that are well prepared and don't know it, they risk sacrificing a comfortable retirement. Understanding the behaviors associated with good retirement planning, in turn, can help you get a better sense of where you stand. Consider the following behaviors, which are more likely to be modeled by those who are well prepared for retirement.
A high-level approach to ensuring adequate retirement assets is to save a minimum of 10 percent of your gross income each year. You may need to save even more depending on your asset accumulation goals and how many years you have left to save before retirement.
If you would rather have a dollar goal, multiply your annual income goal by 25 to arrive at the amount you should try to save. For example, if after considering Social Security and any pension payment, you want $30,000 more of annual income in retirement, you will need to save $750,000. Lower goals mean you need to withdraw at a faster rate and increase the risk you will deplete your assets too soon.
Not all budgets need to detail specific spending items. Rather, you can consider yourself working within a budget if you know that each year you are saving and not creating new debt (and paying off legacy debt for your education or home). If you want to squeeze out more savings, a line-by-line review of spending may well be fruitful.
Many of us are saddled with personal debt from college and graduate school. This debt has become so burdensome that the customary progression to home ownership has been delayed for many. The debt has also had a domino effect on the ability to save for retirement. Paying down personal debt should be job one. Other personal debt, such as for a car purchase, should be avoided, minimized or paid down as quickly as possible. Credit card debt, which carries high interest rates, should be avoided entirely. Remember, each dollar of debt limits your ability to save for the future.
It used to be commonly accepted that you pay off your mortgage before retirement, but more and more retirees are entering retirement with mortgage debt. The old rule remains the best approach, since any indebtedness in retirement will limit your ability to react and adjust to poor investment return on your assets.
With traditional pension plans less commonly offered by employers, Social Security has become an even more important source of guaranteed lifetime retirement income. By waiting to age 70, you can increase the benefit payment significantly, which is also the base for annual Social Security cost-of-living increases for the rest of your life. That increased Social Security benefit may also increase the benefit that a surviving spouse will receive after you die. Unless you have a health care issue that could reduce your life expectancy and no spouse who might need a spousal benefit based on your earnings record, claiming Social Security early is the greatest retirement planning mistake made.
Health care is the single greatest cost in retirement, and various studies estimate the cost to be $250,000 or more for a healthy 65-year-old couple. The cost of health care will be even greater to the extent one retires before age 65 and Medicare eligibility.
Moreover, health care costs can vary and may come sooner than expected. The best plan, then, is to work until at least age 65 and understand that health care is a unique challenge in retirement. To the extent possible, utilize Health Savings Accounts and bank any unused amounts annually to build up a tax-free health care fund for retirement.
No later than 10 years before your planned retirement, you should be translating your retirement assets into an annual or monthly retirement income stream. Start with your Social Security and any pension plan payments as your income base, and then consider how much income your other assets can safely generate. Depending on this analysis, you may want to consider purchasing an annuity to make more of your retirement income guaranteed and avoid the twin risks of poor investment return and living longer than expected.
Consider also that many of your retirement assets have an embedded tax liability. You will need to look through your retirement assets to determine after-tax income, since your food, rent and cable bills are paid with after-tax money. Only by seeing your after-tax income can you decide if you have enough to live on.
Annual financial wellness check-ups
During your early working years, you are likely to be focused on debt reduction and asset accumulation. As you get closer to retirement, you will need to focus on the strategies associated with Social Security, health care and income generation. At all times you should annually revisit your goals and make adjustments, as needed, to how much and where you are saving, how much you are spending, how aggressively you are investing, and when your target retirement date is.
Modeling such behaviors will make it more likely you will be well prepared for retirement. By doing so you will also make it more likely that you are properly assessing the state of your retirement readiness and not over- or underestimating your financial health.
(BPT) - By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.
For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you're likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.
So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.
As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.
Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.
If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!
A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.
Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.
Better credit, better rate
Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.
The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.
While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.
You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.
Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.
(BPT) - Low interest rates, a strong economy and the turn of the seasons are all causing the real estate market to heat up. More homes on the market bring more competition to buy the inventory that is out there. And one way to stand apart from other buyers who are vying for their dream home is to take steps to improve your credit score now.
"Preparing your finances is a must before the busy real estate season," says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. "Knowing your credit scores and making improvements is essential to getting the best loan at the best rates. This also makes you a more attractive home buyer, especially in a competitive market."
With limited time, you may think there's nothing you can do to improve your score. Burns says that's an incorrect assumption. While you can't make dramatic jumps in just a couple months, there are several steps you can take that may influence your score to increase enough to get you prequalified for the loan you want.
Keep in mind, lenders will pull your scores from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so it's wise to check your credit report from each of them. You can do so for free once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. For best results, monitor at least one credit score from each of the bureaus. You also can check your credit score for free through a large number of online services, such as CreditKarma.com, NerdWallet.com or Credit.com. Other sites offering free VantageScore credit scores can be found at VantageScore.com/free.
Once you have your reports in hand, you can take steps that may have a positive impact on your scores.
Step 1: Check for errors
A credit report gives a comprehensive list of your lines of credit and payment history. The first step is to review your credit report for errors and take steps to make corrections, including past and present names, loan amounts and credit cards in your name.
When checking your credit score, bear in mind that some differences in credit scores across bureaus is normal. But if one of the three credit scores is an extreme outlier, it could be worth double-checking your credit report from that bureau to make sure it doesn't reflect any questionable or erroneous activity.
Step 2: Don't miss a payment
Creditors are interested in seeing how you manage credit, and the consistency of behavior counts. You should always pay at least the minimum amount due on bills on time every month. An easy way to ensure you don't miss a payment is to sign up for automatic bill pay when available.
Step 3: Lower credit utilization levels
Credit utilization is the ratio of a credit card balance to the credit limit. If your balance is $5,000 and your credit limit is $10,000, then your credit utilization for that credit card is 50 percent. In general, a good credit utilization is less than 30 percent, so if you have a higher ratio, consider using your tax refund to pay down this debt.
Step 4: Don't close old credit cards
If you have a credit card that is no longer used but was previously paid off on time each month, don't close the account. Not only is this good for your credit utilization ratio, but it also is another indicator you're a responsible candidate for a loan.
Step 5: Don't apply for new credit
Avoid applying for any new credit, such as an auto loan or a new credit card account, between now and the time you will close on a home purchase. Lenders considering your loan application request your credit score from one or more credit bureaus. And these lender "inquiries" are recorded with one or more of the three national credit bureaus, which may lower your credit score by 10 to 20 points. The score decreases typically only last a few months, as long as you continue to make payments on time. But unless they're absolutely necessary, try to avoid additional inquiries until after you've secured your mortgage.
If you follow these five steps, you may see an increase in your score within a few months so you can get a loan and be an attractive buyer when it comes time to put in a bid for your dream home.
Keep in mind, the more you can put toward the down payment, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment will be, and the better your chances are of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment.
Plus, if you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.
(BPT) - More than any other demographic group, African-Americans perceive homeownership as an integral component of the American Dream, and a way to build security and wealth for their families, according to a recent survey.
The poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted on behalf of Wells Fargo, found that 90 percent of African-Americans said homeownership would be a dream come true, and more than half were considering buying a home within the next two years.
However, African-Americans currently have the lowest rate of homeownership among ethnic minorities - just 42 percent, or 20 points short of the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. African-Americans are expected to represent the third largest segment among new households (renters and owners) in the U.S. by 2024.
"Americans of every demographic aspire to homeownership, but this survey indicates African-Americans place high value on the emotional and financial benefits of owning a home," says Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and head of housing policy and homeownership growth strategies for Wells Fargo. "Unfortunately, myths about down payments and credit often deter people from inquiring about loan options."
Barriers, real and imagined
Like many Americans, African-Americans want to own homes, but are often challenged by factual and perceived barriers. Real barriers include tight credit markets, lack of affordable inventory in many areas and underemployment or unemployment.
Perceived barriers are directly related to a lack of experience with the homebuying process. For example, in the Wells Fargo survey, nearly half of African-Americans believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a home. However, many home loans permit down payments of less than 20 percent. Some are as low as 3 percent.
Mortgage approval is not contingent on full-time employment, either. Homebuyers need only be able to demonstrate their ability to repay their mortgage loan, regardless of whether their income comes from a full-time or part-time job. However, 54 percent of African-Americans believed homebuyers must have full-time jobs in order to qualify for a mortgage. In some loan programs, income from others who will live in the home, such as family members or renters, can also be considered.
The survey also highlighted the possibility that some credit education could help aspiring African-American homebuyers. Eighteen percent weren't sure what constitutes a good credit score, 35 percent didn't know what minimum score they would need to qualify for a mortgage, and 20 percent didn't know their own credit score range. While lenders do consider credit scores in making mortgage decisions, credit scores are only one factor, and minimum credit scores vary based on the type of mortgage and loan amount. Homebuyer education and credit counseling could provide key information about the elements of a good credit score or how to develop a good credit profile.
Improving African-American homeownership
"Just 5 percent of homeowners are African-American, according to the National Association of Realtors," Blackwell says. "African-Americans and other minority groups should have equal access to the wealth- and stability-building benefits of homeownership. In an effort to positively impact the homeownership rate among African-Americans, Wells Fargo has committed to providing education, counseling, a more diverse sales team, and mortgages to African-Americans."
Wells Fargo recently announced plans to lend a projected $60 billion to qualified African-American consumers with the goal of increasing the number of African-American homeowners by at least 250,000 by 2027. They'll also hire more African-American mortgage consultants in an effort to make their mortgage workforce more closely aligned with the populations they serve. Finally, Wells Fargo will provide $15 million to support educational initiatives and counseling for African-American homebuyers.
Meanwhile, if you want to purchase a home, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for a mortgage with several important steps, including:
* Monitor your credit - Your credit report and score can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage, how much you can borrow, and the interest rate and terms you'll be offered. Review your credit report and score at least once a year. You can get an annual free credit report from all three national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.
* Control other debt - Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider in mortgage applications. This ratio compares your total monthly debt to your monthly income. Keep your DTI below 36 percent by paying down credit cards, auto loans and student debt.
* Save - Even though you don't always need 20 percent down in order to qualify for a mortgage, having savings can still positively affect the mortgage process. Some financing programs allow qualified homebuyers to secure a mortgage with as little as 3 percent. Or, you may qualify for programs that benefit veterans if you've served in the military.
* Be able to prove income - Although you don't need a high income to qualify for a mortgage, you will need to be able to document your income with W2s, tax returns and other paperwork.
* Build up an emergency fund - Unexpected expenses are a reality of homeownership. An emergency fund can help you cover costs such as repairing a leaky roof or replacing a broken-down appliance. Lenders are also likely to view you as more financially responsible if you have six months' worth of expenses saved up.
To learn more about homebuying and to find a mortgage professional near you, visit www.wellsfargo.com.
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