Can You Start a New Credit Report?

Sometimes, the best way to fix a problem is to start over. It’s probably the most common troubleshooting technique out there, especially when you’re dealing with technology — the power button is a wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, there is no restart option when it comes to your credit history. Declaring bankruptcy is the closest thing there is to a credit do-over, but just because you’ve wiped out all or most of your debt doesn’t mean you have a clean slate. Bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for 10 years, and the accounts included in the bankruptcy will be deleted after 7 years — while you’re waiting for that to happen, you have to deal with the negative impact those items on your credit report have on your overall credit standing.

The whole point of the credit reporting system is to help lenders make decisions about potential borrowers based on their credit history. If people could get new credit reports, that would negate the value of the system.

Of course, that doesn’t keep people from trying.

Credit repair scams attempt to create new reports using altered identities,” wrote Rod Griffin, director of public education for the credit bureau Experian, in an email to Credit.com. “Doing so is fraud and can result in legal action against the credit repair firm and the consumer.”

What If I Change My Name?

Name changes happen all the time, most often when people get married. That doesn’t generate a new report, rather, the new information is added to the existing report, Griffin said.

“Because we match to all identification information, changing one or even several elements would not create a new credit report.,” Griffin said. “The new information would simply be matched to the existing credit history.
That’s why we list all of the identity reported as belonging to the individual on their report.”

That’s not to say your credit report is a perfect record of your identity’s history — your credit report can have errors and missing information (here’s how to correct them), but theoretically it’s all collected there as a record of any changes.

What If I Get a New Social Security Number?

The Social Security Administration rarely issues new numbers. According to its website, you can apply for a new Social Security number only in specific circumstances, including incessant identity theft, duplicate numbers or harassment situations. A complete list of reasons you could get a new number are listed on the SSA website.

Keep in mind this just means you can apply for a new number — whether or not you’ll get one is a different matter. It’s not something the SSA does frequently, but even if you do get a new number, it’s merely added to your credit report, not the start of a new one.

“When we assign a different Social Security number, we do not destroy the original number,” the SSA website reads. “We cross-refer the new number with the original number to make sure the person receives credit for all earnings under both numbers.”

The credit reporting agencies do pretty much the same thing.

“Even if a consumer were to get a new social security number, we would combine both their old and new credit history,” wrote David Blumberg, director of public relations at TransUnion, in an email to Credit.com.

To move on from negative information on your credit report, you have to be patient. The sooner you develop good credit habits, like making payments on time and keeping your debt balances low, the sooner your credit will recover, but it always takes time. The more negative information there is, the longer it takes, so if you want to make progress, start by seeing where you stand now (you can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com) and identifying your areas for improvement.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


How Big Will Your Social Security Check Be?

Social Security is probably one of those terms you have heard many times and know that you should understand, but might not. This is a government program established as a financial safety net for older Americans (as well as for other purposes). Based on contributions that you make while employed, this special fund pays you in the form of benefits once you retire. When you are planning for retirement, it’s a good idea to calculate how much you will receive in annual Social Security so you can plan accordingly (perhaps using a workplace retirement plan or other investments to generate the income you think you’ll need). To help you maximize your Social Security benefits, consider the factors that determine them.

How Long You Work

Your benefits are calculated based on how long you work — specifically using the numbers from 35 years of your career. If you have not been employed for that many years, zeros will be calculated into your benefits for each year you are short of the mark.

Lifetime Earnings

Your Social Security benefit is based on the average of your salary over the course of your highest-earning 35 years. The more you earn, the more boost you will receive later — even if it comes from more than one job in a year.

Average Wage Index & COLA

Since salaries can change significantly over time, government formulas account for how much the average American was making during working years as well as inflation year after year. The amount of benefits has gone up over the years to account for this change in the form of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

When You Start Getting Benefits

While you can begin receiving some Social Security benefits at the age of 62, you will receive larger payments if you can wait. Full retirement age is considered between 65 and 67, depending on when you were born. At full retirement age you can begin to receive your full Social Security benefits. Each year you wait after full retirement, your payout increases by a certain percentage. At age 70, payout will be the highest possible and you will not see any increases after this age.

Marital Status & Spouse’s (or Ex-Spouse’s) Earnings

A married or formerly married couple may have some additional options. Spouses or ex-spouses may be eligible to receive payments based on the higher earner’s benefit. You can work with various scenarios to come up with a claiming strategy to receive maximum payouts.

Now that you have a better understanding of the Social Security system, you can help yourself secure a safe, financially sound retirement.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


3 Times a Good Credit Score Isn’t Enough to Get You a Loan

When it comes to getting loans, having good credit is crucial. A good credit score shows potential lenders that you’re a reliable consumer who pays bills on time and keeps your debt balances at a reasonably low level, so they have good reason to believe you’ll do the same if they extend you credit.

While a great credit score will carry you far in a loan or credit card application, you can’t rely on good credit alone. There are a few situations in which you still might not get a loan or credit card you apply for, even though you have good or excellent credit.

1. If You Don’t Have Enough Income

You don’t necessarily need to have a job to get a loan or credit card, but you generally have to show some sort of ability to repay, whether that’s claiming household income, getting a co-signer or something else. Even if you have income, the lender may determine it isn’t enough to grant you approval for the loan you’re requesting.

The more you’re requesting to borrow, the more your income matters. With credit cards, that information is factored into how high your credit limit will be. If you’re applying for a mortgage, you have to meticulously document your income and get transcripts from the IRS backing that up as part of the loan-application process. Even if you have a good credit history, the main thing that may hold you back from getting a loan is your income.

2. If You Have Too Much Debt

Having too much debt can negatively affect your chances at getting a loan, particularly if you’re applying for a mortgage. When calculating your ability to repay, mortgage lenders look at your debt obligations, including child support, alimony and tax debt, and they subtract that from your income. In some cases, you may have great credit and a high income level, but you have too many debt obligations to take on another loan.

3. If You Already Have a Lot of Unused Credit

Having a lot of unused available credit is good for your credit utilization rate, which has a large impact on your credit score, but in some cases, that’s not something lenders like to see. If a lender sees you have a large amount of available credit when he or she reviews your credit report, it may be cause for rejecting your request for a loan.

Before applying for any new credit, you need to have a good understanding of your finances and what makes up your credit standing. You can do that by regularly reviewing your free annual credit reports, but you can also do more frequent credit checkups. You can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com every 30 days, which will help you figure out what a lender might consider when reviewing your loan application.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


5 Ways to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When You Travel

Hitting the road soon? Your credit card can be one of the most valuable things you bring, but there are some risks as well.

If your credit card is lost, you could be left without a method of payment for critical services like a hotel room or a rental car. And if it’s stolen, you may also have to deal with time-consuming efforts to report fraudulent transactions, as you combat identity theft. Finally, there is always the risk that your credit card issuer will mistakenly assume that your card is being used fraudulently when you try to make charges from an exotic vacation destination.

Thankfully, there are some simple steps that you can take help keep your credit cards safe as you travel.

1. Contact your credit card issuer in advance. 

If you are planning a trip outside of the United States, it never hurts to contact your bank or credit union to let them know where you will be going. Include all of the countries that you will be visiting, even if it is just for a day trip or a change of planes. This way, your card issuer should not place any security holds on your account when you need it tmost.

2. Check your activity online. 

When you are away from home, you will want to check in with your card issuer. Doing so allows you to catch any fraudulent transactions early, and avoid missing payments. But be careful: Logging into your bank accounts from a publicly accessible computer can be extremely risky. The computer may have spyware installed, or someone could be looking over your shoulder and recording keystrokes. So the best practice is to use your own smartphone or laptop, and make sure you are using a trusted Internet connection, not connecting to a random WiFi signal. Nevertheless, no matter where you travel, the Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability for fraudulent transactions to $50, and nearly all credit card issuers have zero-liability policies that waive even that.

3. Protect contactless transmissions. 

Some credit cards are equipped to be compatible with Radio Frequency Identification(RFID) systems, which allow your credit card information to be transmitted wirelessly. These are credit cards that are part of the Visa PayWave, MasterCard PayPass, American Express ExpressPay and Discover Zip programs. Unfortunately, it is possible for thieves to access your credit cards just by being near your wallet. Although these types of cards are now becoming less common as cards with smart chips (which don’t have this vulnerability) are being deployed, those who still have an RFID-equipped card might consider using a wallet specifically designed to shield your cards from being attacked.

4. Split up your cards. 

Most travelers will carry more than one credit card, just in case one is lost, stolen or otherwise becomes unusable. Others just prefer to utilize the rewards and benefits of multiple cards. Either way, it’s a good idea not to place all of your eggs in one basket. Consider leaving at least one card in your hotel (possibly in a sealed envelope inside the safe), and and one in your wallet so you will not be left without a method of payment should either your wallet, or your belongings in your hotel, become compromised. And remember that you should never pack credit cards in your checked baggage or in any other place that will be outside of your control.

5. Set your cash advance limit to zero. 

Using your credit card may be the worst possible way to withdraw cash, as most cards charge cash advance fees, a high interest rate, and have no grace period. To avoid ever incurring these expenses, either accidentally or fraudulently, you can contact your card issuer and have them set your cash advance limit to zero, effectively eliminating this option unless you call to have it reversed. Instead, consider using a debit card to access cash, which will can have much lower fees and will never have interest charges.

If you’re considering applying for a new credit card to take with you on your travels, here are a few credit cards with some of the best travel rewards and perks. Rewards credit cards are difficult to get approved for if you have a bad credit score, so check your credit scores before you apply (you can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com) to see where you stand.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Jason Steele was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


3 Smart Money Moves for LGBT Couples

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, same-sex couples, and modern families are receiving more acceptance and support than anytime previously, and that’s presenting more opportunities than ever to plan a financial future together, says Holly Hanson, CFP, founder of Harmony Financial Strategies.

The bad news? They may be missing out on important benefits and not even know it. Hanson offers three smart money moves for LGBT couples.

1. Get Married

If you are in a committed relationship and legally able to marry, doing so may open the door to a plethora of new options for you and your partner. “Due to the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act alone, there are 1,138 federal laws that afford new protection to the LGBT community,” writes Hanson in her new book, The LGBT and Modern Family Money Manual: Financial Strategies for You & Your Loved Ones.

Hanson enumerates just a few of those:

  • Taxes: You can file joint federal income tax returns, which can simplify the filing process, and take the marital deduction, which can result in tax savings.
  • Health Plan Enrollment Rights: Upon marrying a same-sex spouse, an employee may have special enrollment rights entitling him or her to enroll the new spouse in the employer’s health plan.
  • COBRA: The ability to elect continuation coverage for health, dental or vision plans for a same sex spouse in connection with a qualifying event such as death or divorce.
  • Retirement: Certain spousal retirement benefits may be available, including Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA), spousal rollover options and certain hardship distributions.
  • FMLA: The ability to take Family and Medical Leave Act leave (and job restoration rights) to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Embrace Changes

The rules are changing swiftly, so these couples will want to make sure they are taking advantage of newer benefits, such as Medicare, which is now accepting enrollments for same-sex couples, says Hanson. For example, the Medicare changes specifically include:

  • Enrollments for free Part A for uninsured spouses age 65 or older based on the work history of a current or former spouse;
  • Reductions in Part A premiums based on the work history of a current or former spouse;
  • Requests for special enrollment periods based on group health plan coverage from current employment of a same-sex spouse;
  • Reductions in late enrollment penalties based on group health plan coverage from current employment of a same-sex spouse.

3. Can’t Marry? Plan Anyway

There are steps unmarried same-sex couples in a long-term relationship can take to help protect their financial futures. These include creating a domestic partnership agreement which, similar to a prenup, makes provisions for shared or separate property, assets, debt, income, as well as for what would happen to children from the current or previous relationships. You may also want to hold property, such as bank and investment accounts or a home as joint tenants with right of survivorship and/or designate your partner as a beneficiary on those accounts.

Just keep in mind that if your partner has credit problems and you open joint accounts, creditors or collectors may be able to reach those funds (including your portion) in the event of a lawsuit. It’s a good idea for the two of you to review your credit reports and credit scores together before deciding what to merge—and what to keep separate.(You can each check your free annual credit reports and get a free credit report summary from Credit.com to see where you stand. In most cases you won’t be held responsible for your spouse’s individual debts unless you are married and live in a community property state. In those cases, creditors may look to the “community property” to satisfy debts incurred by either spouse after the marriage.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


5 Mortgage Myths That Won’t Die

Buying a home can be a big commitment — emotionally and financially. When picking a property, many of us hope that we will enjoy living there and comfortably afford it for years to come. For this reason, it’s a good idea to spend just as much time and energy finding the right mortgage as you do searching for the perfect house.

Crunching the numbers to find how much mortgage you can afford may seem like the boring part of home buying, but it is a very important step that can save you stress and money down the line. Before you even get started, it’s a good idea to understand the process you are about to begin — including commonly held misconceptions and misunderstanding about mortgages.

1. You Need a Big Down Payment

Many people will tell you that at least 20% of a property’s value is required to qualify for a mortgage. While this is a general benchmark to prove you are financially ready for investing in property and higher down payments do generally mean lower monthly payments, there are options for those of us who don’t have that much cash upfront.

Some government-sponsored loans require down payments as low as 3.5%, and you can work with lenders to figure out a program that works without a large down payment. It’s just important to balance the lower down payment with how it will affect your monthly mortgage payments and the other terms of your loan.

2. Owning Is Better Than Renting

Some sources may tell you it’s more expensive, others may tell you that it is a guaranteed investment. Even with interest and taxes included, buying a home can be cheaper than renting depending on where you live. Buying a property and investing so much in a single purchase is always a risk because no one knows what the future will bring. Homeownership can also provide safety, security and pride, which cannot be quantified. It’s a good idea to to determine whether renting or buying is right for you financially and in accordance with your lifestyle.

3. All Lenders & Mortgages Are the Same

It may seem like all banks offer mortgages around the same rates and you don’t need to do your research. In fact, there are many factors to determining the right mortgage for you and your situation. Certain lenders and mortgage programs can be better suited for you than others. It’s important to compare mortgages, reach out for recommendations and consider working with a lender to help you understand the fees.

4. Principal & Interest Are All That Matter

Those “many factors” I referred to? They seriously matter, so it’s a good idea to look beyond the principal and interest amount on your monthly payment statement. There are also taxes and insurance payments that can add a whole lot to your monthly costs, so do not forget to add these expenses as well. Also, it’s important to compare more than just the monthly rent payment to the monthly mortgage payment. There are upfront costs to homebuying that can impact how much you pay overall.

Before you apply for a home loan, it’s important to know where your credit score stands. The difference of just a few credit score points can mean better interest rates and a major savings over the life of your loan. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, updated every month.

5. You Should Pay Your Mortgage Off Early

While making early and lump payments can make sense in some financial situations, this is not always the right move — even if you have the money. Since interest rates are low, you can invest the money you would have put toward your home loan for retirement or other investments with better returns over time. You also do not want to put all your funds in one place as soon as they become available in case something unexpected comes up. Plus, some mortgages have a prepayment penalty. It’s important to read the fine print before handing over a large sum of money.

Now that you know what isn’t always true, you can look over your finances, find some houses in your price range and work with a lender or financial adviser to discover what is true for your specific situation and goals.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


The 8 Most Misunderstood Refinancing Terms

If you are having trouble keeping to your budget or at least making your monthly mortgage payments, you may have thought about (or been told to think about) refinancing. Homeowners often refinance their mortgage to secure a lower interest rate, shrink their monthly payments or change the length of the loan. But before you start crunching numbers and contacting lenders, it’s important to understand how refinancing works. Check out the below glossary of frequently misunderstood refinancing terms to help you get started.

1. Mortgage Balance

Probably the first figure you should look at while in the decision process, the mortgage balance is the full amount owed at any specific time during the life of a mortgage. It is the sum of the remaining principal you have and any accrued interest.

2. Cash Out

To capitalize on the equity you’ve built in your home, you can take some for yourself as cash payment when you close on your refinance. You will increase your mortgage balance and likely even your monthly payment depending on the specifics of your mortgage but it can give you liquidity if you need it in an emergency.

3. LTV Limit

Loan-to-value or LTV limits are limitations lenders usually impose on your ability to refinance. This ratio compares the amount you still owe on your mortgage to the current estimated value of your home. These limits are generally set by government or government-sponsored agencies that buy mortgages.

4. Mortgage Insurance

Mortgage insurance can help provide peace of mind to your lender because you pay the premiums and they are the beneficiary. This coverage protects lenders against borrower defaults and if you are refinancing with a high LTV limit and you have a long way to go in the life of the loan, your lender may require it. Once you get back on track, you can work with your lender to drop the insurance premiums.

5. Origination Charge

This fee is the amount your lender charges for the administrative costs associated with a mortgage or refinance application and processing.

6. Points

Points are a form of prepaid interest premiums. One point is generally equivalent to 1% of the total loan amount. When you refinance, you can use this upfront payment to the lender and reduce the interest rate on the loan and therefore your monthly payment.

7. HARP

The Home Affordability Refinance Program (HARP) is a program sponsored by the Making Home Affordable Act that allows homeowners with Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-owned mortgages to refinance at favorable rates despite having little equity.

8. Mortgage Taxes

You may remember these from your first mortgage. These are taxes levied by state and or local governments on every new mortgage created. Since refinancing is basically the same as taking out a new mortgage, you will probably have to pay a mortgage tax again, just as when you acquired your original loan.

Now that you have a better understanding of the vocabulary, it’s a good idea to take the time to really learn about the process of refinancing — how it works, what changes it can cause and ultimately, if it is the right move for you. Keep in mind that a good credit score is important for any homeowner looking to refinance — it will help determine your interest rate and can save you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


10 Graduation Gifts That Keep On Giving

This time of year envelopes containing graduation invitations and announcements start showing up in mailboxes — but ideas for what constitutes a good gift may not be so plentiful.

While every graduate — high school or college — would almost certainly welcome a gift of cash, the giver might prefer some assurance that the gift is being used to help the new grad get off on the right foot in the next phase of his or her life. And whether you’re spending a little or a lot, you can give a gift with the potential to make a difference.

1. Gift Cards

Particularly for high school students, a check could disappear quickly — and it might not fund what you intended, says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. A better gift for the same price is a gift card to the campus bookstore or to a nearby used textbook store, to the grocery store or to the drugstore. (Be aware that some chains are regional, so if your new grad is going on to college, you’ll want to be sure the cards can be used near the college.) If you don’t like the idea of cards, you can give consumable products — a laundry basket filled with towels, detergent and bathroom cleaning essentials or a caddy with shampoo, body wash, lotion and other items that would otherwise have to be purchased by the recipient.

(Bonus idea: Buy the cards from a discounter. GiftCardGranny, for example, offers other people’s unwanted cards at a discount. You could get an odd amount, but that also gives you an opportunity to explain how to stretch dollars — something new grads would do well to learn. And learning to get more value for their money is a lesson that can save them money for a lifetime.)

2. Subscriptions

Another possibility is subscriptions to publications relating to money or personal finance. They may get only a cursory glance, but they begin to bring financial issues into consciousness. There are personal finance books geared toward the young and inexperienced, and those may be very useful (look for those with short chapters and simple explanations.) Three that Woroch recommends:

  • Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner
  • The Broke and Beautiful Life by Stefanie O’Connell (perfect for anyone pursuing an artistic career like acting or dancing as the author chronicles her adventures of pursuing the dream on a budget while teaching meaningful personal finance tips)
  • Complete Guide to Personal Finance: For Teenagers (for high school grads heading off to college)

3. A Credit Card

If you are a parent, adding your new grad as an authorized user on a credit card (or establishing a new one for that purpose) can be valuable. One piece of advice, Woroch says, is to keep the credit limit low. That way, if the new grad stumbles on the path to becoming a creditworthy adult, the parent can limit the damage with a low limit. Learning to use a card responsibly now can save a young person from much costlier mistakes later. There are credit cards specifically for users who want to build credit. A secured card can also be a great place to start. Here are some of the best secured credit cards in America.

4. A Roth IRA

If the high school grad has income, he or she can have a Roth IRA. Help your grad set up the account. The contributions cannot exceed earned income for the year, but it is a good way to show the grad you believe that starting to save early is crucial — time is an asset. (And this gift can also work for college grads — you could make it a substantial sum if the student is income-qualified and several people want to give a joint gift.)

Gifts for College Grads

If the graduate is walking off the stage with a college degree, the money gifts can be geared toward helping to prepare for professional life or to help to avoid unnecessary spending. Examples include:

1. A Budgeting Course

Most new grads need it, but don’t count on them to buy it for themselves. “One of the biggest hurdles any college grad will face upon entering the ‘real world’ is managing living expenses with social activities and savings,” Woroch says. “Learning how to create a budget that fits your needs and goals is crucial and something that people don’t do until well into their 30s if even then. There are lots of budgeting courses you can register your college grad for.”

2. Small Appliances, Cookware & Cookbooks

It’s time to learn to prepare at least some meals at home. A fast-food habit can be bad for both a budget and health. But it can be a real temptation if you think cooking is too hard, too time-consuming, and you aren’t even sure what you should be buying at the grocery store. There are cookbooks for absolute beginners as well as simple menu ideas for one or two.

3. A Tool Kit

The new grad can look online to learn how to make any number of simple household repairs — but tools are typically required. A very basic tool kit can come in handy — and save a phone call to a repair service.

4. A Smartphone

If the new grad is going to to be exiting the family cellphone plan or has no smartphone, a prepaid smartphone is a great gift. You could, for example, buy six months of service, says Woroch. That phone will function as a navigator to get the grad to job interviews, and it keeps grads connected via LinkedIn, which can be critical to landing a job. Woroch said it might also eliminate the need to pay for Internet service.

5. Help Presenting a Professional Image

Whether the grad needs some wardrobe basics, some time with a “branding” expert or a professional photo for LinkedIn, you can give a gift designed to give grads a boost into reaching their professional goals.

6. An Online Brokerage Account

“Start your college grad off with a few stocks that he or she can manage at eTrade, Sharebuilder or one of the many other online brokerages,” suggests Woroch, adding that coupon codes online can reduce the cost of setting up a new account. You or the new grad can also go online to find discounts on trades and find free online courses  on how to manage those accounts.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


How Important Is Your Down Payment on a Home?

When buying a home, most people take on a mortgage. There are many things to consider when taking on a mortgage loan, including interest rate, closing costs and the down payment. Once you calculate how much house you can realistically afford, you can start looking at properties and considering how you will afford the house.

There are several ways to fund what will likely be the biggest purchase of your life. Before you start signing with lenders and sellers, it’s a good idea to consider how much down payment you should be making and how that will affect you both immediately and in the long run.

The Basics

In case you are really new to this, a down payment is the chunk of cash you pay upfront when buying a home. This money shows the lender that you are capable of saving and are so serious about this investment that you are willing to put that savings toward making the home yours.

The Magic Number

You may hear that the typical down payment amount is around 20% of the total property value. While some people (like veterans) can qualify for homebuying assistance, most people will have to put 20% down to secure their mortgage without paying private mortgage insurance or taking out a second loan. When you are thinking about what type of house you want and what exactly you can afford, it’s important to keep in mind you will likely want to have 20% of the property’s value in savings dedicated for just this purpose before purchasing a home.

Paying More

If you have more than 20% of the home price socked away in savings, there are some reasons for using it as a down payment. The more you put down, the better position you are in for negotiating a lower interest rate with your lender. You will also have to borrow less if you put more down, meaning you will pay less in interest payments over the life of your mortgage.

Before you jump into this option though, it’s a good idea to be sure you can comfortably afford this house without putting your regular costs at risk, consider what other debts you may have and whether you think the savings could do more for you if used elsewhere. For example, it’s important to maintain an emergency fund so that you have cash set aside if (and when) the unexpected happens.

Paying Less

While the financial crisis left many homeowners defaulting on their little-to-no-money-down mortgages, the tide has turned again, and now the minimum amount needed for a mortgage is only 3.5% (there are some zero-down mortgage programs, but certain restrictions apply). In order to pay less than the normal 20%, you have several options.

You can secure a second loan to make up the difference between what you can afford and the 20% mark. You can also take out private mortgage insurance (PMI) to give your lender peace of mind. In case you get into trouble making payments down the line, this policy would pay the lender. You can check if you qualify for a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). You can also look for state and region-specific down payment assistant opportunities through your local government. If you are buying a house with less than the typical down payment needed, it’s important to know that you are taking on more risk.

Before you apply for a home loan, it’s important to know where your credit score stands. The difference of just a few credit score points can mean better interest rates and a major savings over the life of your loan. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, updated every month.

Your down payment amount makes a big difference both now and down the road, but it’s a good idea to leave yourself enough money to afford your next few monthly payments as well as closing costs and other immediate expenses the house may incur. Remember, this is just the beginning.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Using Coupons at CVS

I have noticed many people are under the impression that to coupon with substantial savings has to be difficult and takes hours of work. I admit when I started couponing, I was overwhelmed with the available information. Much of it seemed to be as helpful to me as NASA rocket launch instructions. I decided to take it down a notch and focus on one store at a time. CVS seems to be a place many people see as over-priced being that it’s considered a drug store. I have found CVS to be easy to coupon at and save loads of money. Unlike places like Walmart or my local grocery store, I seem to never have an end to the deals I can find. Many of my friends have wondered how I do it and have thought I was one of those crazy coupon ladies. Well, if I am, that is fine with me!

CVS, unlike many other stores, offers money back on many of your purchases to spend in store with CVS Bucks. They also accept manufacturer coupons, many of which can easily be found at places like Coupons.com. Normally you can print two of the same coupon per computer. If you have a household with multiple computers, this will benefit you. I also found that CVS offers many in-store coupons that are available via email or the in-store kiosk.

What you need to start saving:

  • CVS loyalty card
  • a coupon source (i.e. Coupons.com or your Sunday paper)

Here’s how:

  • Check your email! (Be sure to download the CVS app or go to CVS.com to create a user and link your card to the account to receive emailed offers.)
  • ALWAYS scan your card at the kiosk to print any in-store coupons you might have waiting for you. (I rarely see people do this, and it will often cost you at checkout.)
  • Check sites like IHeartCVS.com. These sites will match coupons to the current sales flyer for you. They will even tell you where to find the coupons needed.
  • Use manufacturer coupons with your in-store coupons and CVS Bucks!

Here’s an example of my last savings at CVS. CVS had a sale on Huggies® Pull-Ups®. At my location, they are normally $13.48 each, but they were on sale for $8.99 a pack with the bonus of receiving $5 in CVS Bucks if I purchased at least $20 of qualifying baby items. So I stacked my coupons!

  • 3 packs of Huggies® Pull-Ups® at $8.99 each = $26.97
  • 3 manufacturer coupons (from Coupons.com) all for $2 off 1 pack of Huggies® Pull-Ups® = $6
  • An in-store coupon for $3 off a purchase of baby items $20 or more
  • $5 CVS Bucks I had from a previous purchase

My total before tax came to $12.97! Plus, I got back an additional $5 CVS Bucks to spend later. It was as if I was spending $7.97 for three packs of Pull-Ups®. Without the combination, my purchase would have been over $40. All three packs cost me less than the cost of one at regular price. Remember to check your match ups online to have them do the work for you! Start saving and quit misplacing your money. Put it to better use and quit over-paying!

Visit TheDollarStretcher.com for 3 ways to guarantee a smart buy and additional coupon strategies that work.

This article by Dawn Summerson first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.