5 Sites for Affordable Fashion

Finding affordable and stylish fashions can be easy when you know the right places to look.

There’s a revolution quietly taking place in the fashion industry. In case you haven’t been paying close attention, it’s now easier than ever to look like a well-heeled fashionista without spending like a Kardashian.

We can thank the internet, the booming sharing economy and a growing group of savvy entrepreneurs, for this development. These sites, which range from high-end fashion resellers to rental companies, have dramatically changed the way consumers shop and the way they think about fashion.

“I think both rental and resale sites are speaking to a trend in which people value the experience of wearing something over the experience of owning it,” said Tracy Dinunzio, CEO of Tradesy, one of the largest peer-to-peer marketplaces for women’s fashion. “We no longer have just one option when shopping — going to the mall to buy things. I think it’s liberating.”

The key theme among all the sites is the substantial savings they deliver, sometimes as high as 90% off original prices. Here are five sites that allow you to maintain your style game without dropping serious cash.

1. Tradesy

With about five million users, and investors as well known as Richard Branson, Tradesy is a booming site that any self-respecting fashion maven should know about.

Tradesy showcases new and preowned fashion sold by users — everything from Marc Jacobs shoes to Dior bags and David Yurman jewelry. Items from well-known brands are listed for up to 90 percent off and Tradesy offers an authenticity guarantee.

“One of the reasons I started Tradesy was I wanted better quality fashion but didn’t have the budget,” said Dinunzio, who would frequent consignment stores in pursuit of scoring deals. Tradesy is the one-stop solution for those who don’t have time to hunt through brick and mortar consignment stores. It’s Dinunzio’s attempt to bring all of those consignment shopping possibilities and the unused fashions sitting in women’s closets, to one place.

2. ThredUp.com

ThredUp.com offers another spin on the reused fashions theme. This massive online consignment and thrift store offers items for up to 90% off.

The site has also conveniently broken down offerings into categories such as “Top Designer Labels from $6,” “Summer Must-Haves Under $10” and “Dresses for under $15.” Just in case you’re skeptical of such affordable price-tags, the dresses in the under $15 category include makers such as Bebe, Calvin Klein, BCBG Max Azaria and more.

“ThredUp is my favorite way to get brand name clothes for less,” said personal finance expert and blogger Kayla Sloan. “I’ve gotten work clothes, dress clothes, active wear, and handbags on ThredUp — brands like Kate Spade, Coach, Michael Kors, Lululemon, Under Armour, Jessica Simpson, and some non-designer items.”

In addition, if you’d like to make extra cash (to do more shopping), ThreadUp will send you a “Clean Out Bag,” which you can fill up with your like-new women’s and kids’ clothing and send back to be sold on the site. Sellers earn cash or credit to shop on ThredUp. For even more extra cash, use a solid cash back credit card while shopping. There are a lot of great ones out there — be sure to check your credit score before applying to see if you qualify. You can check two credit scores for free with Credit.com.

3. Bag Borrow or Steal

If investing a chunk of money in a pricey handbag is something you’re loath to do, but you still have serious designer bag envy, then Bag Borrow or Steal may be the solution.

The site allows users to rent some of the most luxurious bags on the planet — Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Tory Burch and more. Bags can be borrowed in 30-day increments. If you love the bag, you can continue renting it.

At the time of publishing, rental prices range from as little as $45 per month for a large Michael Kors satchel to $600 for a Chanel Boy Bag.

4. Eleven James

Many people opt to admire expensive watches from afar due to not having the budget to dabble themselves. Thanks to Eleven James, a tight budget won’t hold you back from this accessory.

Luxury watch rental membership program Eleven James allows members to wear designer watches worth thousands of dollars, brands such as Bell & Ross, Cartier, Breitling, Rolex, Tudor, and more.

Those who sign up receive a new watch aligning with their style preferences every few months. Each watch can be worn for three months and then returned.

Membership costs vary based on the category of watches you’d like to have access to, but start between $149 to $169 per month. For that entry-level price, you’re able to sample two to four watches over the course of six to 12 months.

5. 260SampleSale

Ms. Fabulous.com creator Mariana Leung is a big fan of sample sales — events hosted by designers where you can purchase clothes for a significant discount. Long reserved for fashion insiders, these shopping extravaganzas are now being offered to the masses by such sites as 260samplesale.com and clothingline.com, said Leung.

For instance, 260SampleSale specializes in running sample sales for some of the biggest brands in fashion, including Diane Von Furstenberg, J Brand and Fivestory. The key is to sign up to be on the alert lists for these sites in order to score access to the sales.

In terms of the discount, “It’s at least 60 to 65% off.” said Leung. “I’m not even walking in if it isn’t that much. And on the last day of the sale, the prices drop even more.”

Image: Petar Chernaev

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Earn Frequent Flyer Miles for Refinancing Your Student Loans? You Bet

Get a lower rate plus miles and get flying.

It used to be that rewards points and frequent flyer miles were primarily associated with credit cards. But those days went the way of the dinosaur long ago, and one of the most recent examples of that fact comes in the form of the new partnership between JetBlue and SoFi, a direct lender best known for student loan refinancing.

Members of JetBlue’s TrueBlue program can now earn one TrueBlue point for every $2 of student loan debt refinanced with SoFi. The offer, which caps at 50,000 points and is only available to new SoFi customers, was described by JetBlue as a first of its kind in the airline industry.

While airlines have long been creatively partnering with mortgage lenders, online retailers and others, the student loan market has remained largely untapped.

But with record levels of student loan debt, (the average 2016 graduate has about $37,172 in debt) and millennials putting off travel in some cases because of that debt, this partnership addresses a growing market opportunity.

“Members of the global legacy programs like United and American have been able to earn points for mortgages and other loans for decades, but their rosters of partners do not specifically include an education loan specialist like SoFi,” said Kate Hogenson, who designed loyalty programs for United Airlines and now works as a strategic loyalty consultant at Kobie Marketing. “Airlines have flirted with college and young adult programs in years past, but they’ve been shuttered; United closed down their College Plus program in 2010.”

For its part, JetBlue has been dipping its toe in the financial product space more and more over the past year, beginning with offering points for personal loans through Best Egg. And when looking at the demographics of their customers, moving into the student loan arena made sense, said JetBlue’s Director of Loyalty, Scott Resnick.

“We see this as a great opportunity for customers who have student loans to refinance them while doing something that benefits them in another part of their life,” said Resnick. “Any time there’s an opportunity for customers to earn points doing something they would be doing otherwise in life, there’s natural tendency to look for partnerships there.”

The other part of your life that benefits of course, is your travel habit. Here’s what you need to know about the offer.

The Fine Print

The program doesn’t have a lot of hidden details. There are no blackout dates for using the miles earned through the refinancing offer, and no expiration date either.

In addition, there’s no application or origination fee for refinancing through SoFi, officials said.

“You can apply for free in fewer than 20 minutes,” said SoFi’s Catesby Perrin, vice-president of business development. “Our borrowers save an average of $22,000 over the life of their loan.”

SoFi offers various refinancing options, including both fixed and variable rate interest and loan terms of five, seven, 10, 15 and 20 years.

The Drawbacks

There seem to be few downsides to the JetBlue offer. But there are some basic considerations to keep in mind.

“JetBlue’s route system is limited to the U.S., the Caribbean, and select destinations in Latin America,” said Hogenson. “You have to be in a major JetBlue city for this to make sense.”

Hogenson suggested visiting JetBlue’s website and researching the number of points needed to travel to a city you’re interested in visiting, to help determine whether this offer makes sense for you. And while perusing the site, spend some time reviewing the route you may have to travel on JetBlue to get to where you want to go.

“To get from New York to Las Vegas, you might find yourself routed through Fort Lauderdale,” she said.

Should You Refinance Student Loan Debt in Pursuit of Frequent Flyer Miles?

Obviously, you should never make student loan refinancing decisions based solely on earning frequent flyer miles. A serious financial decision like this should still be approached with the same amount of research, caution and common sense you would use otherwise.

“You should make your refinancing decision based on saving the most money, meaning finding the lowest interest rate,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of the website Student Loans Guy. “Additional perks like miles are great, but shouldn’t be the driving factor in which lender you ultimately choose, unless all else is equal.”

Put another way, student borrowers should look beyond the sparkle of free flights and focus on the student loan consolidation product itself, said Hogenson.

Qualifying for Refinancing

One last important point to keep in mind, in order to qualify for any refinancing program, it’s critical that you have a good credit score, have a history of paying your bills on time and have a solid, steady income. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can get your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

Image: RobertoDavid

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How Your Smartphone Can Help Pay for Itself

Turns out, there is a way to earn a small return for simply possessing and using a smartphone.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your phone could help pay for itself? Or at least help ease the burden of monthly bills and other expenses? Turns out, there is a way to earn a small return for simply possessing and using a smartphone.

A handful of companies pay you to install their market-research apps on your phone or other electronic device and pay you for every month the app remains installed. Some even kick in bonus loyalty payments along the way.

Some of the leading names in this arena are Verto Analytics, The Nielsen Company and Survey Savvy, each of which have their own research programs and associated apps that reward consumers for participation.

The payments and rewards are by no means gigantic — averaging around $5 per month — but in some cases there are sign-up bonuses and increased bonuses for remaining a participant over an extended period of time. For example, Smart Panel, the Verto Analytics program adds up to about $110 in 12 months, or $230 in 24 months, when you factor in loyalty payments.

Here’s a closer look at each program and what digital experts say to consider before installing market-research apps of any type on your devices. (Only Verto Analytics responded to our requests for comment.)

Smart Panel by Verto Analytics

Launched in 2012, Smart Panel is a research project run by Verto Analytics focused on collecting information about how people use the internet through computers, smartphones and tablets. The goal is to understand how people interact with each other, as well as with websites, apps and devices. The program relies on participants agreeing to install the Smart App.

“Smart App runs in the background while anonymously and securely collecting statistical data about how devices are used,” said Verto Analytics’ senior vice president of marketing, Alison Murdock. “The data collected relates to the general usage of devices, device features, apps and services.”

Since its creation, more than 1 million people have participated in Smart Panel, said Murdock.

Participants are paid $5 for signing up and $5 for every month of involvement. After 90 days, they receive a $5 loyalty bonus. After six months, the loyalty bonus increases to $10, and after nine months it becomes $15. Every quarter after that, there’s another $15 loyalty bonus. Payments are made via PayPal, or you can opt for Amazon gift cards.

Survey Savvy Software by Savvy Connect

Savvy Connect, founded in 1999, pays people for downloading its Survey Savvy software. The software monitors your internet habits to identify trends, particularly those tied to online shopping, searches and entertainment. (Here are some tips for better internet safety.)

The company pays $5 per month, per device, for installing its software on web-connected devices. (This is a departure from Smart Panel’s payment structure, which does not pay per device). Payments are made by check.

In addition to having an extensive privacy policy that must be reviewed before signing on, Survey Savvy’s website says participants can opt to occasionally use private browsing mode on their devices, which blocks data from being collected when in use. However, extensive private browsing can impact your participation status.

Nielsen Mobile Panel by The Nielsen Company

If you watch television, you’ve likely heard of The Nielsen Company and its ratings system. In addition to measuring how many people watch a particular television show, Nielsen measures your activity on your phone, tablet or other mobile device with Nielsen Mobile Panel. Participation in the program involves downloading the Nielsen Mobile app and then using your mobile device as you normally would.

All the data collected and transmitted as part of the Nielsen Mobile Panel program is encrypted and anonymous, according to Nielsen’s website. The program pays up to $50 annually. Payment is made in the form of Nielsen Mobile Rewards points that can be spent at the Nielsen Mobile Rewards online store, which sells gift cards from Amazon.com, Target and Starbucks. Participants can also opt to save rewards for bigger purchases such as flatscreen televisions and digital cameras.

A Few Words of Caution

“Before you install these types of apps, a consumer should really understand what data it is collecting,” said Thomas Fischer, global security advocate for Digital Guardian, a Massachusetts-based data-loss prevention software company. “Read the description and make sure you understand what will be sent back to the company.”

Fischer, who had not specifically reviewed any of the apps in this story but offered general advice about the security of such programs, also noted the apps’ potential to invade your privacy. (You can check your free credit scores for signs of mischief on Credit.com.)

“One example might be capturing your contact data, which they could use to see who you contact on a regular basis and then begin building patterns of your contacts, or worse, taking those contacts and sending marketing messages that look like they’re coming from you,” said Fischer.

In response to such concerns, Murdock of Verto Analytics said the company only provides aggregated, projected, non-personal information to the market and fully protects consumers’ personal data. Further, she said, Verto secures all data with 256-bit encryption, and stores information in a siloed system that includes multiple physical parts. The result is that company employees cannot connect consumers to specific research data.

Image: Cecilie_Arcurs

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How to Get a Mortgage Without a Full-Time, Permanent Job

Here's how to keep your flexible work life from hurting your chances of getting a mortgage.

The growing number of gig economy workers in this country may have the freedom to work whenever they want, and sometimes from wherever they want, but when it comes to buying a home, all of that freedom has its price.

It turns out employees who have many part-time jobs, hop from one short-term contract or project to the next, or rely on freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs, don’t come packaged in the tidy financial box that mortgage lenders typically like.

“Historically the mortgage industry wants everything — residency, credit score and a two-year history of employment. And we’re also trying to predict the likelihood of that continuing for the next three years,” said Whitney Fite, senior vice president, strategic accounts for Atlanta-based Angel Oak Home Loans. “With the gig economy, we’re seeing less and less people fitting in that box.”

Gig economy workers don’t often have the requisite stack of W-2s to document wages. And predictions for future income can be murky. All of which can make obtaining a mortgage an uphill climb unless you, as the gig economy worker, do your homework and start preparing your finances and paperwork well in advance.

Here are six tips to help prepare you for the home loan application process.

1. Get Organized

The No. 1 piece of advice Fite has for gig economy workers who want to own a home is to spend time organizing all of your documentation, including proof of employment and income, the names and phone numbers of references, previous employers, landlords and more. You’ll also want to pull your credit scores so you know exactly where you stand. You can get your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

“Have all of your records, have all the dates of where you worked, who you worked for. It’s going to be onerous from a documentation standpoint, but you need to be prepared,” said Fite.

Gathering this information is more important for gig economy workers than typical borrowers, because you will have to work harder to convince a mortgage lender to approve a home loan.

2. Go the Extra Mile to Educate Your Mortgage Lender

You need to be able to explain to your mortgage lender what you do for a living.

Take the time to educate him or her about your job. Perhaps print out a news article or other information that will help a lender understand what you do.

“You need to prove that your past two years are normal. And that the likelihood of continuance is there,” said Fite. “Be prepared to supply a lot of documentation for that, such as articles about your industry. Things of that nature go a long way. The mortgage lender is not going to make a decision based on it, but it will help create a level of comfort.”

In addition, showing consistency in terms of the type of work you do will improve your chances of obtaining a mortgage, said John Moran, a mortgage professional who runs The Home Mortgage Pro.

A mortgage underwriter is looking for a stable history. Even if the gigs themselves start and stop frequently, gigs within the same industry or utilizing the same skill set will be considered more favorably.

3. Ease Up on the Deductions…

Self-employed individuals, as gig economy workers typically are, often use a Schedule C when filing taxes to report income and write off numerous expenses tied to working the way they do.

The downside of deducting a long list of expenses from your income is that it reduces your profits on paper. You may bring in $73,000 in a given year. But after deducting the cost of everything from internet and cell phone bills, to travel, business meals and professional memberships, your net income on paper may be far less.

“Use caution in how you’re deducting expenses as it’s the net income that’s used to qualify for a mortgage, not the gross pay,” said Kevin Hardin, a senior loan officer with HomeStreet Bank. “It’s tempting to use the full breadth of the IRS tax laws to reduce taxable income, but every dollar that is reduced from that taxable income reduces the income that can be used for qualifying for a mortgage.”

So, if you know you want to buy a home in the near future, consider forgoing some or all of the deductions for a year or two to increase the income you’re reporting.

4. …But First, Talk With a Mortgage Officer About Your Goals

Before completely doing away with claiming any or all expenses on your tax return, however, talk to a mortgage officer about your home buying goals. Here are some tips for finding a good mortgage lender.

“Go to a mortgage officer and say, ‘This is the amount of home I want to buy, how much income will I need to show?’” said Hardin. “Don’t just arbitrarily stop writing things off.”

In other words, get educated about the income you’ll need to show on paper first, before throwing write-offs out the window. Once you’ve identified how much mortgage you’d like, it will be easier to determine what the monthly mortgage payment would be and thus, how much income you’ll need to be able to document.

“The first step is to talk to a mortgage loan officer and then take that information to your tax preparer and say, ‘This is the number I need to hit in terms of income,’” Hardin said.

5. Get Your Debt Down

Let’s stress this one more time — because you are a gig economy worker, mortgage lenders will require more assurance that you’re qualified for a loan and that you’re a good risk.

To that end, work to get your debt down to zero, or as low as possible before applying for a mortgage, and keep your credit score in excellent standing, said Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser since 1995 and author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.

“Self-employed borrowers are going to be held to a higher standard because there is an added layer of risk with them,” said Fleming.

6. Try a ‘Bank Statement’ Mortgage

Newly emerging “bank statement” mortgage programs may be a good option for self-employed or gig economy workers to consider, said Fite, of Angel Oak Home Loans.

Such mortgages rely upon reviewing 12 to 24 months worth of deposits to one bank account  and a profit and loss statement for your business, in lieu of the traditional two years of tax returns, W-2s, and payroll checks.

“These are geared toward the gig economy. It’s a rapidly growing segment of mortgages across our industry,” said Fite.

A variety of mortgage lenders are beginning to offer this loan option.

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

The post How to Get a Mortgage Without a Full-Time, Permanent Job appeared first on Credit.com.

On a Budget? You Can Still Visit Mexico for Cheap This Summer

Use these seven tips to maximize your savings while vacationing south of the border.

Travel site Hipmunk released two reports about Mexico recently that offer a host of insights. Not only is Mexico the site’s most popular international country for flights and hotels, it turns out it’s popular year-round. Bookings to the country are up 15% this summer over last year.

The increase comes despite regular headlines about violence. Mexico remains a go-to destination. Around 7 million Americans visit each year, said Steve Clarke, Hipmunk’s senior director of product.

“Mexico is a really big country, and these things happening in some areas of country are not happening in tourist locations or where Americans usually go,” said Daniel Peña, founder of LocalAdventures in Guadalajara. “If you go to Cancun or Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta, you’re not going to have these problems.”

What’s more, reported Hipmunk, the average round trip airfare to Mexico this summer is down 8%, making now a budget-friendly time to visit. With that in mind, here are seven tips to maximize your savings while vacationing south of the border.

1. Venture Beyond the Hotel

“Everything in a hotel is going to be 20% to 30% more than if you step outside of hotel and seek the same thing,” said Peña. This rule of thumb applies to activities, souvenirs and more, he added.

2. Ask Locals for Recommendations

When hunting for the best margarita, it helps to speak with the locals about things to see and do.

“Spend five minutes or 10 minutes talking to locals, and they will tell how to get a better price on whatever you want to do and where to go,” said Peña. A hotel concierge often receives a commission for their recommendations, he added. Locals will likely provide an unbiased opinion.

3. Come in Late Summer or Early Fall

According to Hipmunk, the low season, late summer through early fall, presents the best chance to optimize savings. The average hotel price in August in Oaxaca, for example, drops to $67 per night. During the same month in Ensenada, average nightly room rates are $87, according to Hipmunk.

Come October, there are still deals to be had. In Alcapulco, the average nightly room rate drops to $79, the lowest all year. Similarly, in Tijuana, hotel room costs hit their lowest in October, with the average being $76.

Flights are cheaper during these times, the report said. For instance, the average cost of a flight to Puerto Vallarta hits its lowest in September, at $389.

However, you’ll need to keep an eye on the hurricane forecast, especially if you’re bound for a coastal community.

4. Check Airbnb & Vacation-Home Rentals

All-inclusive resorts have their perks, as do luxe hotels, but if your mission is to save pesos, don’t overlook vacation home rentals on Airbnb or other sites.

Even the smallest Mexican communities have Airbnb listings these days, said Randy Bonds, owner of TravelYucatan.com. “There’s a plethora of beautiful condos and homes available and property management in the (Yucatan) region is outstanding,” he said. “A lot of times you get better services than at a hotel. And the rentals are as cheap, if not cheaper than a hotel.”

5. Check Social Media for Deals

“Local businesses will contact local influencers and travel boards to spread the word about any deals they might be offering for the next week or so,” said Bonds. “So if you follow the local tourism boards on Instagram and Facebook, you will find local deals.”

6. Haggle for Bargains

It might not be customary to haggle over the purchase of a coffee cup in the U.S., but in Mexico, asking for a discount is standard.

“Every Mexican asks for discounts when they are buying something or receiving a service, so people shouldn’t feel bad doing this,” said Peña. Expect to get at least 10% off the sticker price, he said. That said, if you’re dining at a fine restaurant, leave your haggling skills at the door.

7. Pack a Travel Rewards Card 

Nothing sweetens a vacation like getting a kickback for your spending. With travel rewards cards, you’ll receive bonus points and other incentives for swiping as you normally would. That could translate to free checked bags on your airline of choice, hotel upgrades and plenty more. (See some travel rewards cards to consider here.)

Thinking of getting a new piece of a plastic? Be sure to check your credit before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: Dirima

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9 Budget-Friendly Father’s Day Trips to Take With Dad

Break free from the rut of boring gifts and indulge in some bonding time.

Giving dad a vacation for Father’s Day may sound extravagant and costly, but a variety of budget-friendly offerings would be a far more memorable gift than another tie, golf set or steak dinner.

“The most obvious — but most essential — piece of advice is, of course, to pick something that hews closely to his interests,” said Kelsey Blodget, executive editor for Oyster.com, a hotel review website. If dad’s a foodie, consider taking him for a day trip or overnight stay at a city known for great restaurants. “Even if you spend a lot on an amazing meal, it will still be cheaper than a long vacation,” she said.

Smart budgeting and tools like travel rewards cards, which offer kickbacks like free checked bags and hotel upgrades for everyday spending, can also help curb your expenses. However, many gift givers find it hard to think outside the box.

“In general, travel is not gifted often for any occasion, because it ends up being so high dollar, as compared to other options,” said Clem Bason, CEO of goseek.com, a hotel booking site, adding it’s usually done on special occasions like weddings. However, he sees people increasingly choosing experiences over material goods, which is probably what dad would prefer anyway.

To help you break free from the boring-gift rut, here are nine travel ideas to get some priceless bonding time with your dad.

1.The Bourbon Lover

If dad is a fan of top-notch bourbon, you may want to put the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on your radar. The trail showcases Kentucky’s world-famous distilleries, including Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve, taking participants through big cities, quaint country towns and and bourbon-themed hotels.

To fully experience the trail takes between two to three days, and spending a full weekend allows time for exploring some of the Bluegrass region’s other famous attractions, including the more than 400 horse farms and hundreds of locally owned restaurants serving Kentucky cuisine.

Accommodations are light on the wallet. For example, rooms at The Campbell House, in Lexington, start at around $140 per night.

2. The Speed Racer

Not only is Indianapolis the racing capital of the world, it’s considered an affordable destination. You and dad could spend Father’s Day weekend touring the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Among the exhibits is the first car to win the Indy 500. There are also track tours on days when the track’s not in use.

Keep the race car theme going at nearby Dallara IndyCar Factory, the U.S. headquarters for Italy’s Dallara Automobili. Exhibits showcase the technology, science and engineering involved in making an Indy car with interactive and hands-on displays. Visitors can sit in a car and experience a simulated drive. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children ages 5 through 12.

In terms of lodging, you won’t pay much. Rooms at Marriot’s Courtyard Indianapolis South, for example, start at $199 per night. (Carry a Marriot Rewards Premier credit card? Here are five more hotels to consider.)

3. The Space Enthusiast

Along Florida’s eastern shores, there’s a region known as the Space Coast. Attractions include the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex and its Shuttle Launch Experience, the American Space Museum & Space Walk of Fame and Exploration Tower.

The priciest of the stops is the Kennedy Space Center. Tickets are $50 for adults and $40 for children. The American Space Museum & Space Walk of Fame, which displays items donated by astronauts, space workers, NASA and company contractors, is $10 for adults and free for children 12 and under. Admission for children ages 13 through 18 is $5.

Exploration Tower, meanwhile, is a seven-story structure with an indoor observation area facing Kennedy Space Center and an exhibit on air and space. Admission is $6.50 for adults and $3.75 for children.

Lodging along the Space Coast is reasonable. Rooms at budget chains like Days Inn Cocoa Beach Port Canaveral start at $100.

4. The History Buff

Philadelphia is a city synonymous with history, home to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. What’s more, the Museum of the American Revolution just opened, making it a great time to visit.

Tickets for the new museum, which offers a look at the nation’s founding era, including Revolutionary War memorabilia, letters, diaries and works of art, are $19 for adults and $12 for children ages 6 through 18.

While in town, you could also take advantage of Art Museum Area Restaurant Week, which runs June 11 through June 16 and June 18 through June 23.

For reasonable lodgings, try name-brand hotels like Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City. Rooms can be found for $160 per night. (Be sure to check out these Hilton credit cards before you book.)

5. The Rock Star

Visiting Austin over Father’s Day offers live music and a memorable movie extravaganza. The Texas capital is home to the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, said Bason, of goseek.com. If checking out a movie at a drive-in isn’t cool enough, for all of Father’s Day weekend, the theater will screen the “Indiana Jones” series, ending with “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which centers on Indiana and his father, of course. Tickets for the drive-in start at $8 per person.

For live music, top choices include The White Horse, a honky tonk featuring new country talent; Sahara Lounge, known for its eclectic mix of everything from blues to Brazilian music; and Elephant Room, a rare jazz venue in the city. Many of the spaces have free nights, but some charge a small cover.

For lodging, rates at boutique hotels like Casulo Hotel start at about $129 per night.

6. The Beach Bum

Quality time at the beach with Dad is always fun. In Miami, you can take the experience up a notch or two. Not only is the city cheaper come summer, you can also treat dad to a ride on one of the trendiest forms of transportation — a hoverboard. Two-hour rentals from South Beach Hoverboard Rentals start at $49. The hoverboards can be delivered to any local Miami hotel, residence or public park.

You can also check out speedboat adventure tours for that “Miami Vice” vibe. Thriller Miami Speedboat Adventures offers tours starting at $38 for adults 12 and up and $24 for children under 11.

Affordable accommodations can be found at options like Lexington Hotel Miami Beach where rooms start at $100.

7. The Outdoorsman

Whitewater rafting in Maine is another chance to share bonding time without spending a fortune. The Kennebec River, famed for Benedict Arnold’s fateful trip to capture Quebec, offers an opportunity to paddle through a variety of serious whitewater rapids.

The Double Gorge Trip, with Magic Falls Rafting Company, in West Forks, Maine, is $129 per person on weekends and $99 weekdays.

If you’re too exhausted to drive home after the rafting workout, inexpensive lodging can be found at hotels like The Dead River Lodge, where king rooms are $79 per night.

8. The Sailor

If you’ve always wanted to go sailing with dad, a variety of windjammer cruises are available through the Maine Windjammer Association website. A few are offering special Father’s Day deals.

The Heritage, a 95-foot schooner, is promoting discounted rates on its June 15 through June 18 expedition, charging $492 for dads who are sailing with children on the three-day getaway. The Victory Chimes will sail from June 16 through June 19 and is offering dads a discounted ticket of $340 when accompanied by a child. The cruises leave from Rockland, Maine, and include meals. There will be time to help sail the boat or sit back and enjoy the scenery.

9. The Golf Pro

No self-respecting Father’s Day story can overlook golf, so here’s one last option to consider: You and Dad practicing your backswing by the picturesque Finger Lakes.

Located on top of a mountain and adjacent to Canandaigua Lake, in Canandaigua, New York, the Bristol Harbour Lodge & Golf Resort provides a great backdrop for some quality golfing time. The resort’s Golf & Stay Package includes two nights of accommodations, one round of golf, a complimentary golf cart and range balls for $265 per person. As an added incentive to visit, the Finger Lakes region is one of the country’s most up-and-coming wine destinations.

How to Save on Your Father’s Day Trip 

Before you hit the road with Dad, make sure you have a plan for your spending. Travel rewards cards are one way to save, as are hotel rewards cards, which offer perks such as free hotel nights and late check-in and check-out. Just remember to swipe wisely so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest or debt. The last thing you want to come home to is a huge credit card bill. Not sure where your credit stands? Find out before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: iShootPhotosLLC

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5 Summer Jobs You Can Take With You to the Beach

Want a job that won't slow you down this summer? Here are some ideas for jobs you can do practically anywhere.

It’s no secret that technology is dramatically changing our world. In particular, it has reshaped the modern workplace and the way people choose to work.

The proliferation of high-speed internet and the affordability of laptops have combined to fuel the growing trend of digital nomads — people who rarely, if ever, set foot in an office cubicle. Instead, they work from wherever they want, whenever they want, and, for some, as many or as few hours as they want.

Remote job opportunities and digital nomad positions are definitely something we’ve seen growing over the last five to 10 years,” said Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, a site that lists thousands of such opportunities. “But really in the last five years, it’s become even more of an option for more people because the technology is so much better now and high speed internet is more accessible. Those kinds of forces really have transformed the way we work and where we work from.”

Given the freedom and flexibility that comes with digital nomad employment, Reynolds and other industry experts say these positions also make great summer jobs. Who doesn’t want to earn some cash to boost their bottom line, while still being able to spend quality time at the beach, or travel the globe?

If you’re interested in snagging one of these jobs, be sure to mention on your resume along with your skills whether you have previous experience working independently and remotely, said Reynolds.

In terms of where to find such opportunities, in addition to FlexJobs, digital nomad openings are listed on employment sites such as Indeed.com, and Remote.co, as well as individual company websites and more. (Pro tip: Some employers check your credit during the hiring process, so it’s good to know whether you have poor, good or excellent credit. You can get your two free credit scores right here on Credit.com.)

Here are five digital nomad job categories that are particularly suited for summer job seekers.

1. Virtual Teacher or Tutor

While schools close for the summer, online classes are in full swing, making this booming industry ripe for the summer job seeker.

“Online education is one of the growing areas in remote work,” said Reynolds, noting that tutoring openings are especially abundant in the summer, when people seek to extend their education or perhaps develop skills in a particular area of interest.

New Life ESL, for instance, is hiring education graduates to teach English as a second language online to Chinese students. Teachers only need to commit to five hours per week and can earn between $17 and $28 per hour.

“It’s an opportunity to teach great students and earn some excellent cash on the side,” said Brendan Gibson, New Life ESL’s co-founder.

2. Writing/Proofreading/Editing

The beauty of writing and editing gigs is you can choose to take an extended position providing these services, or opt for a one-off type of project, such as editing a manuscript.

On top of that, the skills are very much in demand, said Reynolds.

Corporate blog writing in particular can provide an ideal summer gig for those studying communications or creative writing, said Janel Scott, digital marketing manager for DatabaseUSA.com.

“Corporations are looking to add search engine optimization to their sites, and one way to achieve this is by generating relevant content for their website via a blog,” said Scott, who writes many such blogs herself. “Now as awesome as some corporations are, they don’t always have great writers on staff or their marketing executives are just too busy to get the job done.”

If you have the skills to provide blogging services, there are plenty of remote opportunities, said Scott. And if you’re good at it, you can make about $100 a day while sunbathing in Maui.

3. Online Community Management/Social Media Management

Online community management and social media management roles also make for great short-term, remote employment. That’s because many times a company will have a seasonal social media campaign it needs assistance with, or smaller companies seek someone to help get their social media off the ground or with a special project.

Bottom line, the time commitment can often be ideal for those seeking just a few months of work.

The pay for these jobs ranges from about $15 to $25 per hour depending on how big the project is and how involved it is, said Reynolds.

4. Google AdWords Certified Consultant

You know those ads at the top of a Google search engine page? They’re called AdWords and there’s someone whose job it is to manage those ads by bidding on them, testing them and writing ad copy. That someone could be you.

Being a Google AdWords Certified Consultant requires a bit of preparation to become eligible, but once that’s squared away, it’s a truly flexible job opportunity, said Scott.

Qualifying to be an Adwords consultant involves getting certified, which requires taking a test. But if you have the time to put in a few weeks of study and pass the test, you’ll open the door to a remote job that can be done for just a few hours a day.

“The whole AdWords interface is online. And most of the time you can automate an account and check in on it about three times a week for a couple of hours,” said Scott. “It can be 100% remote if you become certified in AdWords and connect with a company that’s looking to outsource this type of advertising. Thousands of companies use AdWords, and there will always be a need for people who understand it and manage it.”

5. Virtual Assistant/Executive Assistant

A growing field, virtual assistant jobs involve doing such things as making travel arrangements for executives and small business owners, typing letters, and other administrative and logistical tasks. Think executive or administrative assistant, minus the office and the 9-to-5 hours.

“It’s very on-demand sort of work,” said Reynolds. “You can say ‘I’m available for 20 hours this week.’ ”

A variety of sites list these job openings including FlexJobs and upwork.com. The pay ranges from $13 to $21 per hour.

Image: Rawpixel Ltd

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Mortgages Are Bad for the Environment. Here’s What Can You Do About It.

Just how much paperwork is consumed annually by Americans buying homes may come as a bit of a surprise.

It’s no secret that the mortgage process is paper intensive. But exactly how much paperwork Americans buying homes consume annually may come as a surprise.

A report from the mortgage education website FreeandClear revealed that about 2.2 billion sheets of paper are used each year in this country for mortgages. That translates into 264,000 trees felled to print mortgage documentation. Beyond wood usage, “paper production involves considerable energy and water consumption, and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and waste,” noted the report.

The company’s report is based in part on data from a 2016 Federal Reserve Bulletin, which said an average of 7.8 million mortgages are processed each year in this country. When that figure is multiplied by the approximately 280 sheets of paper FreeandClear said are used in an individual mortgage, you arrive at 2.2 billion.

To further quantify the environmental impact of this paper usage, FreeandClear tapped Environmental Paper Network, a nonprofit focused on issues surrounding paper production and consumption.

EPN used its “paper calculator” to determine the number of trees required for a year’s worth of mortgage paperwork. Their estimate of 264,000 is based on a calculation involving the total reams of paper required for 2.2 billion sheets of paper and the specific tonnage of trees necessary to produce those reams.

So what can be done about the paper intensive mortgage process?

Florida-based Digital Risk LLC is developing products to allow more of the process to be conducted via digital technology. Over the next several years, there will likely be a shift to greater usage of paper-free technology like e-signatures and the ability to review documents online or on your phone, said Digital Risk vice president Leo Loomie.

“A lot of strides have been made within the last year to move away from the historically paper intensive process,” said Loomie. “The technology is already there. It really just comes down to adoption.”

Here are some actions you can take to help reduce the amount of paper used when buying a home.

Do Your Research 

Though it only represents a small fraction of the process, many mortgage lenders have already switched to online loan applications.

“These lenders are beginning to make the transition to a paperless system,” said Tim Milauskas, a loan originator at First Home Mortgage in Maryland. “In many cases, borrowers can now create a secure online portal and upload their documentation directly to the lender rather than print out documents and hand-deliver them.”

Capstone Direct Mortgage Financing, in Thousand Oaks, California, is one such example. Over the past several years, the company has made a concerted effort to use less paper.

“We offer the ability to take your application online, save a pre-approval online and upload all of your paperwork to our (electronic document) system,” said Capstone founder Mike Wise. “We are trying to minimize any paper we use in our office and what we get from the borrower.”

Also on the horizon, said Milauskas, are automated systems that allow lenders to go directly to third parties to obtain financial information required from the borrower. One example includes lenders being able to access an applicant’s bank statements directly from the bank, rather than the applicant providing copies. (Here’s what you need to get a home loan fully approved, including your credit score. You can see where your credit stands for free on Credit.com.)

Ask Questions When Shopping Around

As you’re hunting around for the best mortgage rate and for the lender that best fits your needs, you can also obtain information about how technologically advanced a lender may be.

“Say to them, ‘I want this to be a streamlined, paperless process, do you offer that?’ ” said Loomie. “Ask them, ‘If it’s not entirely paperless, is it mostly paperless?’ ”

Many lenders and brokers allow loan applications to be completed electronically, but the vast majority of the paperwork associated with a mortgage comes at the closing, where wet signatures are still the standard. (Here’s how to plan for closing costs.)

Don’t Ignore Surveys 

Surveys represent an opportunity to weigh in on the mortgage process and effect change.

“A lot of folks look at surveys and say it’s not worth my time,” said Loomie. “I can say unequivocally that’s not the case, particularly in the mortgage industry. The surveys are very influential. Both large and small financial institutions put a lot of weight on the customer experience, they read your responses and deeply analyze and track customer feedback.”

In other words, use the survey to tell the mortgage industry you’d like it to use less paper.

“You can say, ‘If I knew how much paper was going to be used, I would have gone to a different lender,’” said Loomie. “And that sort of thing can be done throughout the process. Ask questions all along the way. Say, ‘Hey, why did you make me fax this when I know there are institutions that allow me to directly integrate this information online?’ The customer feedback will drive the adoption. They known being green is very important to customers.”

Lobby for Change

Customer service surveys are not the only place to voice your opinion. Reach out to officials at all levels — brokers, banks, regulators, elected officials and more, said Kim Porter of Environmental Paper Network.

“One of the positives about FreeandClear making this known is a greater awareness among people who want to see less waste,” Porter said. “People can start talking to companies and elected officials, and they can use their dollars wisely, choosing to work with companies who are advocating for less wasteful practices.”

Image: Weekend Images Inc. 

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Here’s How to Prepare Your Credit for a Job Search

Don't let your credit hold you back from your dream job.

Conducting a job search after graduating from college can seem like a monumental task, one filled with challenges and uncertainties. But here’s one thing recent grads shouldn’t be uncertain about when embarking on the journey to secure a job — what’s on their credit report.

Just as hours and days are devoted to creating a professional resume and poring over every last word on a LinkedIn profile, your credit report also needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, improved. The importance of one’s credit history during a job search will of course vary by profession, but there are employers who will look at your credit report as part of their application process. And if you’re applying for a job that requires you to handle cash or balance books, a blemish could hurt your chances of securing the position.

Why Does an Employer Want to See my Credit? 

“Employers will look at credit history as a measure of responsibility,” said Deidre Davis, vice president of marketing and communications for the university-based MSU Federal Credit Union. “They’re looking to see if that potential employee has successfully managed their financial obligations, because that will tell them how someone might manage overall workload and deadlines.”

According to credit-industry experts, it’s most often within the banking and financial services industry that a credit report review is part of the application process, as well as for some government jobs that require security clearance, law enforcement officers and those seeking executive-level positions. It’s important to note, however, there are about a dozen states where local laws either prohibit or severely limit the use of consumer credit reports as part of an application, according to the site Employment Screening Resources.

Plus, employers are not allowed to check your credit report without your consent, which you must provide in writing. And they won’t have access to your actual credit score, explained Davis. They’ll be looking at the credit report, which is slightly different. It shows such things as whether you’ve missed payments and are delinquent on accounts, and whether you carry large balances.

Having a clean credit report isn’t just important to a job search, post-college. Prospective landlords, insurers, cell phone companies, utility providers and more will check your credit when deciding whether to do business with you and/or what to charge. Of course, you’ll also need good credit to get an affordable loan.

With that in mind, here’s some advice from credit experts on getting your credit profile ready for the interview process.

1. Know What’s on Your Credit Report

The first step is to pull your credit report and conduct a thorough review of everything on it. Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each consumer credit reporting agency. You can pull your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. (And, if you’re looking for your digits, you can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

“Know your starting point,” said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. “Many young adults already have credit profiles and don’t realize it. Start by finding out if you do.”

Once you’ve reviewed your report(s), correct any inaccuracies and dispute any erroneous items. (You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here.) Under the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate disputed items and remove them from the report if they cannot be verified, Gallegos explained.

2. Seek Guidance From a Finance Professional

If the credit report turns up negative factors, or you simply don’t have a firm understanding of the key aspects of a credit profile, consider obtaining the advice of a professional.

“Get some tips to improve things going forward,” said Davis of MSU Federal Credit Union. “Talk to someone who can tell you, ‘For the next six months these are the behaviors that will improve your credit score.’ Sometimes people need some basic advice and guidance. That’s where going into a local financial institution can help. You can say to them, ‘Here is my credit report, how can I make it better?’ ”

According to the site LendEDU, many college students know very little about building, maintaining or repairing consumer credit. In 2016, the site surveyed 668 current college students at both two-year and four-year public and private institutions, and found that 59.3% of students could not define a credit score. In addition, 45.5% were unable to identify any of the factors used to determine a credit score, and 42.4% were unable to identify at least one way to improve a credit score.

Building good credit is important, so don’t be afraid to seek assistance.

3. Improve Your Credit

One of the most critical things you can do to improve your credit report moving forward is pay bills on time, said Gallegos.

“On-time payments are the most important factor in developing good credit, accounting for 35% of one’s credit score,” he said.

In addition, maintaining a low balance, or using only about at least 30% and ideally 10% of your available credit, will improve your score. You should also aim to pay your bills in full each month, if possible. Likewise, paying student loans on time, which are considered installment loans, can help improve your credit score. (You can find more ways to improve your credit here.)

What If You Haven’t Established Credit?

Some college graduates may not have an extensive credit history to show a prospective employer. If this is the case, there are a few ways to help establish a solid record fairly quickly.

One approach is to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, ideally a card the parent has had for a long time and kept in good standing. By being added to such a card, the payment history on the account will become part of your credit report as well.

Be aware not all credit card companies report authorized users’ names to credit bureaus because there’s a fee involved in doing so, says Davis. That means being added to the card won’t accomplish your goal of establishing a solid credit history. Always find out first if the card reports authorized users to credit bureaus.

Another approach is to open a secured credit card in your name. Secured credit cards require a cash deposit as collateral, which then becomes the line of credit. The key when opening the card, or any card for that matter, is being responsible, said Davis.

“Only use the card for small dollar purchases that can be paid when the bill comes in so that you’re not getting into debt but are showing responsible use,” she said. “Buy a pizza with the card, and pay it off. Buy a pair of tennis shoes, and pay it off. Don’t go open 15 cards. Open one and use it responsibly.”

Trying to get a full-time gig now that college has ended? We’ve got your covered. Here’s a full 50 things recent graduates can do to score their first job

Image: vgajic

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How to Become a Homeowner, Even With Little Income

If you think you can't buy a home because of your income, you may want to think again and look at these options.

The American dream of owning a home can often feel unattainable for low-income families. If you’re among the nation’s low-wage earners, you’re probably struggling to simply make ends meet, so the idea of bringing home enough money annually to qualify for a mortgage, or saving for a down payment, can seem challenging at best. Finding a home you can actually afford makes the challenge that much greater.

As The New York Times recently reported, “affordable” housing is typically that which “costs roughly 30% or less of a family’s income. Because of rising housing costs and stagnant wages, slightly more than half of all poor renting families in the country spend more than 50% of their income on housing costs, and at least one in four spends more than 70%.”

The good news is there are mortgage vehicles that can help — ranging from government-insured loans to programs offered by banks specifically for low-income borrowers. Here’s several options specifically designed so that you too can have a crack at the American dream.

Keep in mind, though, that your credit will still need to be in good standing to qualify for these loans. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can check your two free credit scores on Credit.com. You can also use these tips to help improve your credit scores before you apply.

FHA Insured Loans

Kyle Winkfield describes Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans as the gold standard for those with low income or a high debt-to-income ratio.

And as someone who owned a mortgage company for years, Winkfield should know.

“I’m a fan of FHA,” said Winkfield, now managing partner of the Washington D.C.-based wealth management firm O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp. “For the right person, it’s what America is supposed to be. It is supposed to be that bridge to opportunity. And FHA is a manifestation of the American dream of being able to provide for your family and have a better life.”

FHA offers various options for low-income families and individuals. Two of the most notable are its Fixed-Rate FHA mortgage and the Adjustable-Rate FHA mortgage.

FHA’s fixed-rate mortgages are geared toward those who have not been able to save money for a down payment, such as recent college grads, newlyweds or those still completing education. It allows buyers to finance as much as 96.5% of the loan, helping minimize the amount of cash the buyer must have for a down payment and closing costs. In addition, it allows 100% of the closing costs to be paid with money received as a gift — whether from a relative, non-profit or government agency (check out our explainer on down-payment assistance).

The adjustable-rate FHA mortgage, meanwhile, is designed for low- and moderate-income families trying to make the leap from renting to owning. Its key highlights include keeping interest rates and mortgage payments to a minimum. The interest associated with this mortgage may change over the years (you can learn more here about adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs), but the most it can increase in a single year is 1% and it cannot ever increase more than 5% from the initial rate.

Freddie Mac Home Possible & Fannie Mae Home Ready

If FHA loans are the gold standard, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are the silver option, Winkfield said.

The Freddie Mac Home Possible mortgage allows for minimal down payments — as little as 3% to 5%. And similar to the FHA programs, the source of down payments can be a family gift, employer-assistance program or secondary financing. In terms of annual income requirements, mortgages such as these are generally aimed at those whose income is below the “Area Median Income” (AMI). But Home Possible was developed to assist those in high-cost or under-served areas and therefore allows borrowers to qualify even if they make more than the AMI.

Potentially, the most important thing to know about Fannie Mae Home Ready mortgages is that they allow low-income borrowers to have a co-signer who will not be living in the home. This is a big deal, particularly for single-income households. It means that if your parents, your brother, your sister or anyone else wants to help you get into a home, their income can be taken into consideration when qualifying you for the mortgage. The borrower also is not required to be a first-time home buyer.

“Almost one-quarter of people are sharing a mortgage with someone other than their spouse,” said Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for TD Bank, underscoring the importance of programs like Home Ready. “It could be a parent, a friend, or a domestic partner that they didn’t classify as a spouse. What it shows is that more often than not, people are getting help to buy a home.”

Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans

Developed for military members, a VA loan has several notable benefits, beginning with the fact that there’s no down payment required, eliminating what can be a major hurdle to home ownership.

In addition, VA loans do not require mortgage insurance, which saves still more money. Mortgage insurance is typically needed for those putting less than 20% down on the home, and is either added to your monthly mortgage payment or your closing costs, or both. And finally, credit requirements on the VA loans tend to be less strict..

Most members of the military, veterans, reservists and National Guard members are eligible to apply for a VA loan. Spouses of military members are also eligible under a variety of conditions.

USDA Loans

For buyers in rural areas, another path to home ownership is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through their Rural Development loan program. Probably one of the most under-the-radar mortgage options out there, it was developed to help moderate-, low- and very-low-income buyers.

The USDA offers a couple of different low-interest mortgages, neither of which require a down payment.

First, there’s the Guaranteed Loan, which is available through approved lenders. Applicants must meet income requirements, which vary by state and by region. In general, however, the borrower’s income for USDA loans can’t exceed 115% of the area’s median income. The mortgage also requires that you live in the home you’re buying as your primary residence and meet citizenship guidelines.

The USDA’s Direct Loan is designed for low- and very-low-income buyers who don’t qualify for the Guaranteed Loan. As its name implies, the Direct Loan is not accessed through an approved lender, but directly from the USDA. It provides help with monthly mortgage payments. The amount of that assistance is determined based on family income and is in the form of a subsidy that lowers what you pay out of pocket. The loans can be paid back over 33 to 38 years, and when factoring in the payment assistance provided, interest rates can be as low as 1%.

Like the first loan, there are conditions that must be met to qualify, including being unable to obtain a mortgage elsewhere, agreeing to occupy the property as your primary residence and meeting citizenship or eligible non-citizen requirements. In addition, you must be without decent, safe housing.

Mortgage Options Provided by Banks

Many banks offer their own programs for low-income borrowers, including well-known ones like Bank of America, TD Bank and HSBC.

HSBC’s Community Works program for instance offers as much as $7,000 in closing cost help, loans for up to 97% of the appraised property value or purchase price (whichever is lower) and flexible lending guidelines to help more people qualify.

Bank of America offers an Affordable Loan Solution mortgage that includes a fixed-rate loan designed specifically for low- and moderate-income borrowers. The down payments for this mortgage can be as low as 3%, but owners can’t own additional properties at the time of closing.

TD Bank’s RightStep program allows for putting as little as 3% down. Borrowers must have a credit score of at least 660 and the borrowing limit is $417,000.

“There’s a lot of options out there and the biggest misconception people have is that they have to put 20% down to buy a home,” Rodriguez said.

Still Other Options

There are also many lesser-known programs aimed at assisting low-income home buyers, often on the state and local level, said Brett Graff, editor of The Home Economist.

In Arizona, for instance, there’s the Home Plus Home Loan Program, in New Jersey there’s the Homeward Bound Homebuyer Mortgage Program, and these are just a few examples.

“There are some great programs out there and the best programs are usually through your state,” Graff said.

One final option worth checking out is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Good Neighbor Next Door program, Graf said. Designed to help revitalize certain communities, this mortgage discounts the price of a home 50% and requires only $100 as a down payment. It is available only to a handful of specific professions. Qualifying individuals include law enforcement officers, pre-K through 12th grade teachers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

The homes are all located in revitalization areas and sold through HUD. In addition, you must live in the home for 36 months as your sole residence.

Image: SelectStock

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