It’s Now Easier for Millions of Student Loan Borrowers to Get a Mortgage

Student loan borrowers who are making reduced income-driven repayments on their loans will have an easier time getting mortgages under a new policy announced recently by Fannie Mae.

Nearly one-quarter of federal student loan borrowers benefit from reduced monthly student loan payments based on their income, Fannie Mae says. However, there’s been some confusion about how banks should treat the lower monthly payments when they calculate a would-be mortgage borrower’s debt-to-income ratio (DTI): Should banks consider the reduced payment, the payment borrowers would have to pay without the income-based “discount,” or something in between?

It’s a tricky question, because student loan borrowers have to renew their qualification for the lower payments each year, meaning a borrower’s monthly DTI could change dramatically a year or two after qualifying for a mortgage. The banks’ confusion over which payment amount to use can mean the difference between a borrower qualifying for a home loan and staying stuck in a rental apartment.

There’s even more confusion when a mortgage applicant qualifies for a $0 income-driven student loan payment, or when there’s no payment amount listed on the applicant’s credit report. Previously, in that situation, Fannie Mae required banks to use 1% of the balance or a full payment term.

As of last week, Fannie has declared that mortgage lenders can instead use $0 as a student loan payment when determining DTI, as long as the borrower can back that up with documentation.

That announcement followed another Fannie update issued in April telling lenders that they could use the lower income-based monthly payment, rather than a larger payment based on the full balance of the loan, when calculating borrowers’ monthly debt obligations.

“We are simplifying the options available to calculate the monthly payment amount for student loans. The resulting policy will be easier for lenders to apply, and may result in a lower qualifying payment for borrowers with student loans,” Fannie said in its statement.

Taken together, the two announcements could immediately benefit the roughly 6 million borrowers currently using income-driven repayment plans known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR).
Freddie Mac didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about its policy in the same situation.

What This Means for Student Loan Borrowers Looking to Buy

Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers said the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

The broader change announced in April, which allowed lenders to use the income-driven payment amount in calculations, could make a huge difference to millions of borrowers, Evers said.

“Imagine you have $60,000 in student loan debt and are on IBR with a payment of $150 a month,” she said. Before April’s guidance, lenders may have used $600 (1% of the balance of the student loans) as the monthly loan amount when determining DTI, “basically overriding actual debt with a fake/inflated number.”

“Imagine you are 28 and making $40,000 per year. Well, even if you’re fiscally responsible, that added $450-a-month inflated payment would absolutely destroy your ability to buy a decent home … This opens up the door to a lot more lenders being able to use the actual IBR payment,” Evers said.

The Fannie Mae change regarding borrowers on income-driven plans with a $0 monthly payment could be a big deal for some mortgage applicants with large student loans. A borrower with an outstanding $50,000 loan but a $0-a-month payment would see the monthly expenses side of their debt-to-income ratio fall by $500.

It’s unclear how many would-be homebuyers could qualify for a mortgage with an income low enough to qualify for a $0-per-month income-driven student loan repayment plan. Fannie did not have an estimate, spokeswoman Alicia Jones said.

“If your income is low enough to merit a zero payment, then it is probably going to be hard to qualify for a mortgage with a number of lenders. But, with the share of IBR now at almost a full 25% of all federally insured debt, it’s suspected that there will be plenty of potential borrowers who do,” Jones said. “The motivation for the original policy and clarification came from lenders’ requests.”

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Student Debt Confessions: How I Got Kicked Off My Income-Driven Repayment Plan

Liz Stapleton wrote about her experience getting kicked off her income-driven repayment plan for MagnifyMoney. Overnight, her monthly student loan payment skyrocketed from $365 to nearly $2,000.

I graduated from college at the onset of the recession in 2008 and graduated from law school just in time for the recession to hit the legal market in 2011. By the time I finished with both my degrees I had $193,000 of federal student loan debt, which has since grown to over $250,000. Needless to say, I’ve never been financially able to make student loan repayments under the standard repayment plan.

Once my six-month student loan grace period ended in 2011, I immediately signed up for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan with each of my three loan servicers.

Every borrower enrolled in one of these plans has to renew their eligibility through their loan servicer every year. Since I have three servicers, that means at this point I have been through the renewal process 18 times. The first 17 recertifications went off without a hitch.

So I was stunned when I found out my 18th and most recent submission for recertification through one of my three loan servicers was denied. That was it — I was kicked out of the program. Suddenly, my monthly payments of $362 were going to balloon to nearly $2,000.

I got on the phone with the lender right away, determined to find out why I was booted from the program. In the end, I was able to successfully re-enroll.

Why my income-driven repayment renewal was denied

It turns out my status as a self-employed worker was to blame.

After I was laid off from my job as a solutions consultant at the end of 2016, I started a business as a freelance writer in 2017. One of the requirements to recertify your eligibility for income-driven repayment plans is to submit proof of income. When I was working full time, that was no problem. I just used records of my pay stubs to verify my income.

But now that I was self-employed, I didn’t have pay stubs. Early in 2017, when my deadline to recertify with one of my loan servicers was approaching, I called them and asked what documents I could use to verify my income.

I was told that all I needed was a self-certifying letter stating that I’d been laid off and was now self-employed as a freelance writer. I also needed to include my gross monthly income. I wrote the letter and stated what my approximate monthly income was thus far, and my submission for recertification on the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan was approved, no problem.

But remember that I have three different loan servicers. So I had to go through the same process with the other two as well. Unfortunately, when I tried to use the same strategy to renew my certification with my second servicer, I was denied.

I was shocked and stressed out, to say the least.

Resubmitting my application

I called this loan servicer and asked why I had been denied. At first, the representative I spoke with told me there wasn’t sufficient documentation of income. When I asked why my self-certifying letter wasn’t enough, the representative on the phone explained that it usually was enough. I pressed her to find out what exactly was wrong with my letter that had resulted in a denial. It turns out, they didn’t like that I used the word “approximate” when stating my gross monthly income. They needed a firm number. Additionally, they wanted a work address.

I rewrote the letter to take out the word “approximately” and explained that as a self-employed freelance writer I worked from home and had no additional company address. I submitted my forms again and crossed my fingers.

In the meantime, my loan servicer agreed to put my loans into deferment for one month. That would ensure that I wouldn’t get hit with my new larger payment the following month.

Here’s what the application looks like to re-certify your enrollment in an income-driven repayment plan. Download a copy at https://studentaid.ed.gov.

The long wait for news

After I resubmitted my IDR Plan recertification application, I was told I would hear back within 10 days. It was nearly a month before I heard back from them in June. It was good news – my documents were approved, and I would be enrolled in my new IDR Plan starting in August.

But the celebration was short-lived.

Since I had only been granted a one-month deferment, which covered me for June, and my new IBR Plan wouldn’t kick in until August, that meant I would have a gap in July. And I’d have to pay my new, larger monthly payment. I couldn’t afford the payment of nearly $2,000 and to miss it would mean defaulting on my loans. Defaulting on federal loans could mean losing access to the income-driven repayment plans as well as forbearance and deferment options, not to mention it would wreak havoc on my credit.

Once again I was caught off guard and stressed out. And, once again, I called my loan servicer to find out why the new plan wasn’t being applied sooner. Apparently, the billing cycle had already passed for July.

To solve the problem, I requested another month of deferment for July, which I was granted.

Asking for a forbearance or deferment is never fun, but it is always better than defaulting on your loans and losing access to those options and flexible repayment plans.

What to do if your recertification is denied

  1. Be proactive. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this ordeal is that it pays to be proactive. Don’t count on the loan servicer sending the paperwork you need to fill out; you can find a recertification document here. If you are struggling with payments, you have to take action. Ask your loan servicer questions to find out what might work best for you, a new payment plan or a temporary forbearance or deferment. If your loan servicer is being stingy with answers, persist, do not hang up the phone until you have the answers you need.
  2. Don’t be shy about requesting deferment or forbearance. Loan servicers won’t necessarily anticipate that you may need a deferment or forbearance if your repayment plan is denied. So be sure to ask.
  3. Resubmit your application. It isn’t unusual to have your recertification denied for a number of reasons. For example, if you are a salaried employee, paid biweekly, and only submit one pay stub, you could be denied for not demonstrating an entire month’s worth of income. But remember, you don’t have to accept that denial as final; you can usually resubmit if something was wrong with your original submission.

The Bottom Line: Not all loan servicers are created equally

As I learned the hard way, some loans servicers are pickier about the language you use on your renewal forms than others.

“For those that are self-employed, some [servicers] will have specific requirements in the phrasing of the documents used to certify income,” says Columbus, Ohio-based financial advisor Natalie Bacon. “What works for one loan servicer may not work for another.”

The biggest lesson I learned was not to assume that just because one loan servicer accepted my documentation, the other loan servicer would as well. It’s always important to communicate with each of your student loan servicers.

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How Living Like Lord Voldemort Can Save You Money

No need to be a wizard or famous villain to save some serious cash. Just be inspired by one.

Let’s start with a disclaimer — I’m not telling you to murder anyone or become a villainous snake wizard. I’m going to help you save some money while taking inspiration from the most infamous villain of our youth and (no shame) adulthood. If Lord Voldemort was real and, you know, not busy trying to destroy Harry Potter, he would’ve probably been great at managing money.

A lot of Lord Voldemort’s core characteristics and common practices deserve a second look and, if they’re applied properly to your financial habits, they could make you more successful than he ever was. Here’s how living like Lord Voldemort can save you money.

Be Resourceful

Between crafting plans and tricking others, Lord Voldemort is one of the most resourceful characters in the “Harry Potter” series. Being resourceful helped him move closer to his goals and it can help you do the same. This is especially seen when he creates potions using items around him like unicorn blood, human flesh and snake venom. One of the potions he created literally helped him regenerate a body. If that’s not resourcefulness I don’t know what is. Resourcefulness can seriously pay off, whether it be fixing your sink without paying for a plumber or testing new ways to save at grocery stores.

Have Dedication

Lord Voldemort didn’t build an army in a day and your savings account won’t be magically filled in a day either. Lord Voldemort had persistent, unfaltering dedication to his goal to find and destroy Harry Potter. He stayed dedicated to his mission for eight movies and seven books until he died. If you divert a fraction of that amount of dedication to saving money, you’re sure to find money success.

Be Ruthless With Yourself

Remember when Voldemort killed Harry Potter’s mom in front of him and then tried to murder infant Harry Potter? You’ve got to be pretty ruthless to do that. While Lord Voldemort was ruthless towards others, one money saving strategy is to be a little bit ruthless to yourself. Saving money can require a lot of self-control to wage the internal battle between spending temptations and your desire to save. Being harsh to your inner spender can pay off.

While you should never be too harsh on yourself, if you’re stuck in a spending rut be open to trying stricter money saving methods like going a week without spending or even making it your mission to stop ordering lunch every day. It’s possible to save without feeling deprived but it takes a bit of self-control. 

Wear a Uniform

The whole idea of not wearing the same outfit twice is very Hollywood, but not so much Hogwarts. Our pal Voldemort essentially wore the same black cloak every day. While wearing a black cloak on the daily isn’t necessary, creating a go-to outfit formula or even downsizing your wardrobe saves money and time. 

Share Your Mission

It’s safe to say the entire world knew Lord Voldemort wanted to find and kill Harry Potter. Like Voldemort, be vocal with your goals. Tell your friends and family about your mission to save. When those around you know about your money saving mission, they have the opportunity to be more accommodating and understanding. This is especially handy when you suggest a tighter budget for holiday gift giving or opt for more affordable restaurants when eating out with friends.

You might also want to create a blog or Twitter account where you can share your money-related fails and triumphs. Sharing can certainly increase accountability. When others know your goal they might hold you to it and you may feel more motivated to stick to it.

Focus on Actually Understanding

Voldemort’s ultimate demise resulted from his lack of understanding about a certain curse — I won’t spoil too much. Learn from his mistake and make a point to actually understand your finances. Make sure you know your credit score (you can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com). It can help you understand your financial situation and improve it. It’s also important to read up about your student loans and other debt instead of pretending they don’t exist and learn about all of the benefits and rewards your credit cards and employers offer that you might not be taking advantage of.

Keep a Diary

When he was still Tom Riddle, Voldemort had a diary used for manipulation. He really made the most of the diary by also using it as a Horcrux. While your diary won’t be quite as nefarious, it will help you paint a clear picture of how and where you’re spending your money. Create a spending diary where you keep track of purchases. Seeing all of your expenses can help you visualize which types of spending you want to cut back on and exactly where your money is going.

Know Your History

Voldemort had a slight obsession with his heritage. He spent a lot of time tracking down his own history while he was still at Hogwarts and through his history he learned a lot of important details about himself. Including the fact that he was half-blood, which served as a catalyst to his becoming Lord Voldemort in the first place. Knowing your own credit history is crucial when it comes to building credit. Your credit report can give you an insight into how long you’ve had your accounts and help identify any factors dragging your finances down.

Start Young

Voldemort created his first Horcruxes at the age of 17. As he built Horcruxes, you can build your credit. Even 17 isn’t too young to start thinking about your financial future. You can start building credit as a teen.

Find Motivation That Works For You

Voldemort’s actions were motivated by a true hatred and hunger to rid the world of muggles. While that probably isn’t your goal, one of the keys to saving money is to find your motivation. Perhaps you’re paying off student loans, saving for a summer trip or trying to start an emergency fund. When you pin down your money saving motivation, unlike Voldemort, you’ll be unstoppable.

Image: izusek

The post How Living Like Lord Voldemort Can Save You Money appeared first on Credit.com.

Trump Administration Axes Government-Backed Savings Program myRA

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced it’s ending the myRA program, a government savings program meant to encourage non-traditional workers to save for retirement, not even two years after the accounts became available nationwide in November 2015, under the Obama administration. In a press release, the department says it will start to “wind down” the program as part of Trump administration efforts to “promote a more effective government.”

“The myRA program was created to help low to middle income earners start saving for retirement. Unfortunately, there has been very little demand for the program, and the cost to taxpayers cannot be justified by the assets in the program,” said Jovita Carranza, U.S. Treasurer in today’s press release.

Carranza also noted demand for myRA had been extremely low. Currently, according to a treasury spokesperson, there are 20,000 myRA accounts with a median balance of $500 and an additional 10,000 accounts with no balance. That’s up from the 15,000 workers who were enrolled in myRA by the program’s first anniversary in November. Still, that’s not much, given the program was intended to help some 40 million working-age households that don’t own any retirement account assets.

In the press release, the department says myRA has cost American taxpayers about $70 million to maintain. The spokesperson told MagnifyMoney myRA would cost taxpayers an additional $10 million annually if continued.

What Is myRA?

The myRA account was free to open, charged no fees, and didn’t require a minimum deposit to open an account. These features were intended to appeal to workers who may not have access to traditional retirement savings accounts like a 401(k) or 403(b). Workers could contribute up to $5,500 annually, or $6,500 if they were 50 or older, up to $15,000 before having to roll the account into a private-sector Roth IRA.

myRA funds earn interest at the same rate as the Government Securities Investment Fund, which earned 2.04% in 2015 and 1.82% in 2016. That’s a larger return, on average, than savers would get keeping their funds in a typical big bank savings accounts today, which tend to carry fees and offer interest rates as low as 0.01% (though digital banks tend to offer a better rate of return). The single investment option also offered consumers a simpler alternative to choosing from a variety investment options within traditional retirement accounts.

How Does This Affect People With myRA Accounts?

The department has posted a list of FAQs and answers for account holders on myra.gov. For the moment, account holders can continue making deposits, and their balances will continue to accrue interest. The website says the Treasury Department will reach out to all account holders with information about transferring funds from or closing the account and will notify account holders of when it will stop accepting and processing deposits.

In the meantime, account holders should log in and make sure their contact information is accurate, so they can be reached.

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A Comprehensive Guide to the Solo 401(k) for Business Owners

If you run your own business, one of the difficulties in saving for retirement is that you don’t necessarily have easy access to a 401(k).

Enter the solo 401(k). This is a retirement savings option for self-employed business owners who have no employees and their spouses. Read on to find out how it works, who is eligible, and how you can open an account.

The Solo 401(k): Explained

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

Also known as a one-participant or individual 401(k), a solo 401(k) works just like a company-sponsored 401(k) would, except it’s for self-employed individuals who don’t have any other employees other than their spouses and themselves.

Just like a traditional 401(k), you can control how your money is invested. There are different plans, with most comprising stocks, bonds, and money market funds. These are considered “free” prototype plans offered by brokerages, and you’re typically limited to investments offered by that brokerage.

However, there are options for those looking to participate in alternative investments, such as precious metals or even real estate. There are companies that help you open what’s called a self-directed 401(k) and that sponsor “checkbook control” solo 401(k) plans, meaning that individuals can control the type of investments they want to make, whether it’s stocks, bonds, foreign currency, real estate, or commodities. You do so by writing a check for investment purchases, from a bank account dedicated specifically for that purpose.

Who Is Eligible for a Solo 401(k)

Only self-employed individuals and their spouses are eligible for a solo 401(k). This plan is ideal for consultants, independent contractors, or sole proprietors. If you hire part-time workers or contractors, then you’re still safe. However, if they work for you for more than 1,000 hours a year, you cannot participate in a solo 401(k).

Furthermore, you need to have the presence of self-employment activity to be eligible, which includes ownership and operation of an LLC, C, or S corporation, a sole proprietorship, or a limited partnership where the business intends to make a profit. There are no criteria as to how much profit a business needs to generate, as long as you run a legitimate business with the intention to generate a profit.

If you are currently employed elsewhere, you can still open a solo 401(k) account if you’re serious about maximizing your pre-tax savings. If you work for an employer that offers a 401(k) plan, you can still participate in their plan alongside a solo 401(k) plan, as long as you don’t exceed the contribution limits.

Where to Open a Solo 401(k)

You can open a solo 401(k) with most major brokerages. For those looking for a custom plan, there are companies that specialize in providing those plans. Some insurance companies also offer solo 401(k) plans but only if your goal is to invest solely in annuities.

Below are some of the most popular companies offering solo 401(k) plans:

Vanguard – The individual 401(k) offers all Vanguard mutual funds. However, you cannot purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or mutual funds from other companies and cannot take out a loan. There is no setup fee, but there is a $20 fee per account per year to maintain your solo 401(k).

SunAmerica – The SunAmerica Individual(k) offers mainly annuities as part of their plan. You can take out a loan (for a fee). It costs $35 to set up your account, and there is an annual maintenance fee of $75.

E-Trade – The E-Trade Individual 401(k) Plan allows Roth contributions and has a brokerage option with $9.99 trades for any ETF. They accept IRA rollovers and allow for loans. They also will pay you if you transfer your current solo 401(k) to them: $200 for $25,000-$99,000, $300 for $100,000-$249,000, and $600 for a $250,000+ plan.

How to Establish a Solo 401(k)

When opening a solo 401(k) plan, you want to choose the option best for your needs. Once you’ve selected your brokerage, you’ll need to have the necessary documents:

  • 401(k) plan adoption agreement
  • Designation of successor plan administrator, which requires a notary or a witness
  • Brokerage account application
  • Designation of beneficiary form
  • Power of attorney (optional)

If you plan on opening one for your spouse, you’ll need to do twice the paperwork (one form for each person).

Remember, you need to open a solo 401(k) account by December 31 of the tax year. You don’t need to actually fund it until the April 15 filing deadline. If you miss opening an account, you’ll have to wait until the next tax year to do so.

How Much You Can Contribute to a Solo 401(k)

Participants in a solo 401(k) plan can make contributions both as an employee and an employer.

For elective (employee) contributions, you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income, up to the annual contribution limit, which is $18,000 in 2017. Those age 50 or older can contribute an additional $6,000, depending on the type of plan, according to the IRS.

When making a contribution as an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your earned income as an employee. Your total contributions cannot exceed $54,000 in 2017 ($53,000 for 2016), not counting extra contributions for those 50 or older.

For example, Mary earned $40,000 from her freelance business in 2016. She put $18,000 in this plan as an employee. As an employer, she contributed 25% of earnings, which is $10,000. In total, she contributed $28,000, which is the maximum she can contribute.

Remember, contribution limits are for each person, not each plan. If you are working full time for another employer and participate in that company’s 401(k) plan, combined contributions to your traditional 401(k) and solo 401(k) cannot exceed the annual limit.

To figure out the maximum contributions you can make, check the IRS website on how to calculate a more accurate amount.

Read more: 9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs >

Learn More About Solo 401(k)s

The Pros of a Solo 401(k)

The solo 401(k) has higher contribution limits compared to other retirement savings plans. You can contribute up to $18,000 plus 25% of earned income, compared to a maximum of $54,000 or only 20% your earnings (whichever is less) with a SEP IRA. Your employer contributions are also tax deductible.

You also have the option to borrow up to 50% of your account’s value or $50,000, whichever amount is less.

The Cons of a Solo 401(k)

A solo 401(k) can get complicated to set up and maintain, particularly if you intend on opening a customized plan. Depending on the company you go with, fees can cost you at least a few hundred dollars to set up an account, not including fees to maintain the plan annually.

Even if you open a prototype plan, it can cost you. Yes, it’s free to set up, but they put many requirements on you as the owner. These requirements include filing tax return documents once a year if your plan has more than $250,000 in assets and keeping up to date with all records and transactions.

Alternatives to a Solo 401(k) Plan

There are two alternatives to a solo 401(k) plan — a SIMPLE IRA and a SEP IRA. The main difference between each is the maximum amount you can contribute to each year.

SIMPLE IRA – A Simple IRA plan is for those who as an employee (including those who are self-employed) have earned a minimum of $5,000 any two years before the current calendar year and expect to receive at least $5,000 for the current calendar year. You can contribute up to $12,500, plus an employer match of 3% of employee compensation. Those 50 or older can also contribute up to an extra $3,000. You can find more information about the simple IRA on the IRS website.

SEP IRA – A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan only allows employers to contribute to the plan, unlike a solo 401(k). Employers can contribute a maximum of $53,000 or 20% of their net self-employment earnings, whichever amount is less.

Even with all its benefits, there may be a few reasons why someone is better off not opening a solo 401(k). “If you’re concerned about doing additional paperwork, a SEP IRA might also be a better choice,” advises Robert Farrington, founder of the College Investor. “If you’re working a side hustle and have a regular 401(k) at your day job, the alternatives might be easier.”

Who Solo 401(k) Plans Are Best For

While any of the above options are helpful for self-employed individuals, the solo 401(k) is best for those who are looking to invest heavily in their savings. “The solo 401(k) is best suited for a self-employed individual who wants to maximize their retirement savings,” says Farrington.

“Furthermore, if you’re a husband/wife/spouse team, your spouse can also contribute to the solo 401(k) with the same percentage of ownership, so you can get even more in tax savings and retirement contributions.”

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