How to Choose the Right Type Of Debt Consolidation

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If you’re feeling buried by what you owe, debt consolidation could provide you with both immediate relief and a quicker path to debt-free.

Debt consolidation is the process of taking out a new loan and using that money to pay off your existing debt. It can help in a number of ways:

  • A lower interest rate could save you money and allow you to pay your debt off sooner
  • A longer repayment period could reduce your monthly payment
  • A single loan and single payment could be easier to manage than multiple loans

But debt consolidation isn’t without its potential pitfalls. First and foremost: Consolidating your debt doesn’t address the behavior that got you into trouble in the first place. If you’re in debt because of overspending, consolidating may actually exacerbate your problems by opening up new lines of credit that you can use to spend even more.

And every debt consolidation option has its own set of pros and cons that can make it a good fit or a bad one, depending on your circumstances.

This post explains all of those pros and cons. It should help you decide if debt consolidation is the right move for you, and, if so, which option is best.

Six Consolidation Options to Choose From

1. Credit card balance transfers

A credit card balance transfer is often the cheapest debt consolidation option, especially if you have excellent credit.

With this kind of transfer, you open a new credit card and transfer the balance on your existing card(s) to it. There is occasionally a small fee for the transfer, but if you have excellent credit, you can often complete the transfer for free and take advantage of 0 percent interest offers for anywhere from 12-21 months. None of the other debt consolidation options can match that interest rate.

There are some downsides, though:

  • You need a credit score of 700 or above to qualify for the best interest rate promotional periods.
  • Many cards charge fees of 3 to 5 percent on the amount that you transfer, which can eat into your savings.
  • Unless you cancel your old cards, you’re opening up additional borrowing capacity that can lead to even more credit card debt. Let’s put that another way: Now that you’ve paid off your old cards, you might be tempted to start using them again. (Don’t!)
  • If you don’t pay the loan back completely during the promotional period, your interest rate can subsequently soar. Some balance transfer cards also charge deferred interest, which can further increase the cost if you don’t pay your debt off in time.
  • This just isn’t for people with high levels of debt. Credit limits are relatively low compared with those tied to other debt consolidation options.

Given all of that, a credit card balance transfer is best for someone with excellent credit, relatively small amounts of debt and strong budgeting habits that will prevent them from adding to their burden by getting even further into debt.

Comparecards.com, also owned by LendingTree, tracks the best 0 percent balance transfer offers.

2. Home equity/HELOCs

Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) allow you to tap into the equity you’ve built in your home for any number of reasons, including to pay off some or all of your other debt.

The biggest benefit of this approach is that interest rates are still near all-time lows, giving you the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of your debt. You may even be able to deduct your interest payments for tax purposes.

But again, there are perils. Here are some of the downsides to using a HELOC/home equity loan for debt consolidation:

  • Upfront processing fees. You need to watch out for upfront costs, which can eat into or even completely negate the impact of lowering your interest rate. You can run the numbers yourself here.
  • Long loan terms. You also need to be careful about extending your loan term. You might be able to reduce your monthly payment that way, but if you extend it too far, you could end up paying more interest overall. Home equity loans typically have terms of five to 15 years, while home equity lines of credit typically have 10-to-20-year repayment periods.
  • You could lose your home. Finally, you need to understand that these loans are secured by your home. Fail to make timely payments, and you put that home in jeopardy. This is why, though the interest rates are lower than with most other debt consolidation options, there’s also added risk.

Home equity loans and HELOCs are generally best for people who have built up significant equity in their home, can get a loan with minimal upfront costs, and either don’t have excellent credit or need to consolidate more debt than is possible with a simple balance transfer.

You can ask your current mortgage provider about taking out a home equity loan or line of credit. Also, compare offers at MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, here and here.

3. Personal loans

Personal loans are unsecured loans, typically with terms of two to seven years. Interest rates typically range from 5 to 36 percent, depending on your credit score and the amount you borrow.

The advantage of a personal loan over a credit card balance transfer is that it’s easier to qualify. While you typically need a credit score of 700 for a balance transfer, you can get a personal loan with a credit score as low as 580. You can also qualify for larger loan amounts than the typical balance transfer.

And the big advantage over a home equity loan or line of credit is that the loan is not secured by your house. This means you can’t lose your home if you have trouble paying back the debt. You can also apply for and obtain a personal loan very quickly, often at a lower cost than a home equity loan or line of credit.

The biggest disadvantage is that your interest rate will likely be higher than either of those options. And if your credit score is low, you may not find a better interest rate than what you already have.

Generally, a personal loan is best for someone with a credit score between 600 and 700 who either doesn’t have home equity or doesn’t want to borrow against his or her home.

You can shop around for a personal loan at LendingTree here. It’s important to compare offers to get the best deal possible.

4. Banks and credit unions

In addition to shopping for a personal loan online, you can contact your local banks or credit unions to see what types of loan options offer.

This is more time-consuming than applying online, and it can be harder to compare a variety of loan options. But it may lead to a better interest rate, especially if you already have a good relationship with a local bank.

One strategy you might try: Get quotes online using a service like LendingTree’s, then take those quotes to the bank or credit union and give it a chance to do better.

This strategy is best for anyone who already has a good and lengthy banking relationship, particularly with a credit union. But if you’re going the personal-loan route, it’s worth looking into in any case.

You can find credit unions in your area here.

5. Borrowing from family or friends

If you’re lucky enough to have family members or friends who have ample assets and are happy to help, this could be the easiest and cheapest debt consolidation option.

With no credit check, no upfront fees and relatively lenient interest rate policies, this might seem like the best of all worlds.

Even so, there are some things to watch out for.

First: A loan fundamentally changes your relationship with the person from whom you borrow. No matter what terms you’re on now or how much you love and trust this person, borrowing money introduces the potential for the relationship to sour in a hurry.

Consequently, if you do want to go this route, you need to do it the right way.

Eric Rosenberg, the chief executive of Money Mola, an app that lets friends and family track loans and calculate interest, suggests creating a contract that outlines each party’s responsibilities, how much money will be borrowed, the timeline for repayment, the payment frequency and the interest rate. He also suggests using a spreadsheet to keep track of the payments made and the balance due.

And Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and the founder of Credit Pilgrim, suggests adhering to the current guidelines for Applicable Federal Rate (AFR), which as of this writing require a minimum interest of 1.27 to 2.5 percent, depending on the length of the loan. Otherwise, you may have to explain yourself to the IRS and the person lending you the money could be charged imputed interest and have to pay additional taxes.

If you have a family member or a friend who is both willing and able to lend you money, and if your credit isn’t strong enough to qualify favorably for one of the other options above, this could be a quick and inexpensive way to consolidate your debt.

6. Retirement accounts

Employer retirement plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s often have provisions that allow you to borrow from the accumulated sums, with repayment of the loan going right back into your account.

And while you can’t borrow from an IRA, you can withdraw up to the amount you’ve contributed to a Roth IRA at any time without penalties or taxes, and you can withdraw money from a traditional IRA early if you’re willing to pay both taxes and a 10 percent penalty (with a few exceptions).

The biggest advantage of taking the money out of a retirement account is that there is no credit check. You can get the money quickly, no matter what your credit history looks like. And with a 401(k) or 403(b), you are also paying interest back to yourself rather than giving it to a lender.

Still, while there are situations in which borrowing from an employer plan can make sense, most financial experts agree that this should be considered a last-resort debt consolidation option.

One reason is simply this: Your current debt is already hindering your ability to save for the future, while taking money out of these accounts will only exacerbate the problem. Another is that tapping a retirement account now may increase the odds that it will happen again.

“I’d stay away from a 401(k) loan like the plague,” says Ryan McPherson. McPherson, based in Atlanta, Ga., is a certified financial planner and fee-only financial planner and the founder of Intelligent Worth. “With no underwriting process, and because you’re not securing it with your house, you’re more likely to do it again in the future.”

If you are in dire straits and cannot use any of the other strategies above, then borrowing or withdrawing from a retirement account may be the only consolidation option you have. Otherwise, you are likely to be better off going another route.

Things to consider before picking a debt consolidation strategy

With all these debt consolidation options at your disposal, how do you choose the right one for your situation? To be sure, it’s a key decision: The right option will make it easier for you to pay your obligations, and less likely that you’ll fall back into debt.

Here are the biggest variables you should consider before making the choice:

  1. Have you fixed the cause of the debt? Until you’ve addressed the root cause of your debt, how can any consolidation option help you get and stay out of debt?
  2. How much debt do you have? Smaller debts can be handled through any of these options. Larger debts might rule out balance transfers or borrowing from relatives or friends.
  3. What are your interest rates? You need to be able to compare your current interest rates with the interest rates you’re offered by the options above, if you want to know whether you’re getting a good deal.
  4. What is your credit score? Your score determines eligibility for various debt consolidation options, as well as the quality of the offers you’ll receive. You can check your credit score here.
  5. When do you want to be debt-free? Shorter repayment periods will cost less but require a higher monthly payment. Longer repayment periods will cost more but with a lower monthly payment. With this in mind, you need to decide both what you want and what you can afford.
  6. Do you have home equity? This determines whether a home equity loan or line of credit is an option. If it is, you should decide if you’re comfortable putting your home on the line.
  7. Do you have savings? Could you use some of your savings, outside of retirement accounts, to pay off some or all of your debt? That may allow you to avoid debt consolidation altogether and save yourself some money.

So … what’s the best consolidation strategy?

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this tough question. The right answer for you depends the specifics of the situation.

Your job is to know what you currently owe and understand the pros and cons of each option we’ve outlined above. In this fashion, you can make an informed choice, one that’ll get you out of debt now and keep you out of it forever.

The post How to Choose the Right Type Of Debt Consolidation appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Ultimate Guide to Personal Loans

Part I: Personal Loans 101

Personal loans are among the easiest financial tools to understand. When you take out a personal loan, a bank lends you money for a fixed interest rate and a fixed period of time.

This means you’ll be expected to make a fixed monthly payment for the life of the loan, but it also means you’ll face less uncertainty than with a credit card. With a personal loan, you’ll know exactly how much you borrowed, how much you’ll pay every month and when your debt will be paid in full.

This isn’t to suggest that personal loans are perfect. Like anything else in life, they come with risks and drawbacks. Most of the downsides depend on how responsible you are with credit and what interest rate you’ll pay.

Keep reading to learn more about how personal loans work, which pitfalls to avoid and how to get the most out of the loan you choose.

How personal loans work

As we mentioned, a personal loan is easy to grasp. You borrow money at a fixed interest rate, over a fixed amount of time, then you pay a fixed monthly payment until your loan is paid off.

While the terms of your personal loan can depend on an array of factors, these loans are typically offered in amounts up to $35,000. You may be able to borrow this amount for any length of time from 12 months to 20 years.

In addition to the interest rate you’ll pay, personal loans may also come with an origination fee, which can range from 1 percent to as high as 8 percent at some lenders, according to a review of personal loan terms on MagnifyMoney.com. On the bright side, it’s a competitive business and many lenders charge no origination fee or any other fees upfront.

The real costs to worry about with personal loans involve the APR. Interest rates charged through personal loans can vary quite a bit, and they are typically higher than you see with secured loans such as home equity or auto loans. That’s because personal loans are unsecured debts. Whereas a secured loan — think home or auto loan — is secured by an underlying investment (in these cases, a home or car), unsecured loans aren’t secured by an investment. The banks are taking on a greater risk lending without any collateral, so they charge higher fees and APRs as a result.

How to qualify for one

If you’re considering a personal loan, here’s what you’ll need to qualify:

  • Good or excellent creditSome personal loan companies will approve you with a credit score as low as 580, according to MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree. But having very good credit (a FICO score over 740) will put you in a position to qualify for a personal loan with the best interest rate and terms.
  • Proof of ability to repay – You need to be able to show your ability to repay your loan, usually with pay stubs or other evidence of employment.
  • Low debt-to-income ratio – Lenders may be hesitant to lend you money if your debt-to-income ratio is high. This ratio is determined by taking your total monthly recurring debt and dividing it by your monthly income. Discover Personal Loans notes that borrowers with a debt-to-income ratio below 36 percent may qualify for the best terms and rates on loans and mortgages.
  • Co-signer – If your credit score is poor, you may need a co-signer with good credit to help you qualify for a personal loan.

How to pick the best personal loan

When it comes to personal loans, there is no one-size-fits-all option. The best loan for your needs depends on factors such as how much you need to borrow and whether you have good credit scores.

Here are some tips that can help you identify a loan that fits your goals:

  • Shop around with different lenders. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to shop around and compare rates and loan terms. Our parent company, LendingTree, is an excellent place to start because you can easily explore options from different lenders in one place. Start by filling out an online form.
  • Read the fine print. Make sure you understand each loan’s terms, conditions and interest rate, along with your monthly payment.
  • Look for a low-cost loan. Ideally, you should look for a personal loan with the lowest rate and fees (or no fees) you can find.
  • Read reviews. The internet is a treasure trove for reviews of various lenders. Reading product reviews can help you gauge the quality of each lender and what your experience might be like.

Part II: Common Uses for a Personal Loan

While borrowing money and paying it back slowly can be ideal no matter what your goals might be, you might be surprised to find out just how many uses personal loans can have.

“I’ve found that personal loans can be helpful when looking to consolidate higher interest debt, pay for a major expense or quickly get funds when needed for an emergency,” says Jeff Rose, founder of Good Financial Cents and partner of Discover Personal Loans.

Rose also pointed to a new survey from Discover Personal Loans, which showed that 26 percent of respondents cited a major medical expense as the most popular potential use for a personal loan, followed by 22 percent saying debt consolidation, and 13 percent using it to fund a small business.

Take note: That doesn’t mean personal loans are ideal for all uses. Here are some potential uses for personal loans, along with some pros and cons to consider:

Debt consolidation

If you have several types of debt and you’re struggling to keep up, consolidation can be a smart way to tackle the problem. When you consolidate debt, you take out a new loan, use it to pay off your existing debts and are left with just one loan to repay.

The real benefit of using a personal loan for debt consolidation is knowing exactly how much you pay each month and precisely how long you have until you’re debt-free.

“You don’t get that with a credit card,” says Gerri Detweiler, a writer, educator and authority on credit and loans.

You’ll have to decide when a personal loan makes sense as a debt consolidation tool over other options — such as a balance transfer credit card. It will likely come down to your credit score and which option will cost you the least over time. For example, a debt consolidation loan may have a higher interest rate than a balance transfer credit card, many of which come with a 0 percent APR for 12 to 21 months.

You can find 0% balance transfer offers at CompareCards.com, another LendingTree site.

Medical expenses

Taking a personal loan to cover medical expenses “can be very helpful, especially if it keeps you out of collections,” Detweiler says.

Before you take this step, however, you should speak to your provider to see if it offers a payment plan. If so, you may be able to make payments on your outstanding medical debts without paying interest.

Car purchase

You can take out a personal loan to buy a car, but should you? Detweiler says it depends on the type of car you’re buying and how much it costs.

“You would probably get a better interest rate through a car dealership since personal loans are unsecured but car loans use the car as collateral,” she says.

On the flip side, a personal loan might work better if you’re buying an older used car from an individual instead of a dealership.

Home improvement

Detweiler notes that, while a lot of people use a home equity loan or HELOC, or home equity line of credit, to remodel their home, not everyone has enough equity to qualify. A personal loan could be ideal since you may qualify no matter how much equity you have in your home.

Not only that, but you won’t lose your home if you fall behind on payments with a personal loan. A home equity loan uses your home as collateral.

Moving expenses

Moving can be expensive, but you should try to save up the cash before your move, if you can. If you’re short on funds, a personal loan or a credit card can work well. The best option for your needs depends on the interest rate you qualify for and how long repayment might take you.

Starting a business

Detweiler says she’s a big fan of trying to separate personal and business credit, but there are still times when using a personal loan to finance a business could be beneficial.

If you’re a startup that’s not yet earning money, for example, you might not yet qualify for a business loan.

“In that case, a personal loan could help you get your business off the ground,” she says.

Boosting your credit

“A personal loan can help you improve your credit mix, and that can boost your score,” says Detweiler. “But you shouldn’t get into debt just to build credit.”

If you want to build credit without getting into debt, signing up for a secured credit card and using it regularly can also help. Read more about how secured cards work.

Emergencies

When it comes to the unexpected, personal loans can be a better option than some other types of borrowing, like payday loans. Not only are interest rates typically low, but you can figure out an exact payment plan to pay the debt off before you sign up.

But first, you should “really think about whether you need to borrow or whether you could come up with the money another way,” says Detweiler.

When to avoid using a personal loan

While a personal loan can be a valuable financial tool, there are plenty of times where you might be better off borrowing money a different way – or not borrowing at all.

Joseph Toms, president of the nonbank consumer lender Freedom Financial Asset Management, says these instances really depend on individuals and their situation, although there are many telltale signs a personal loan is not for you.s

One of the biggest signs, he says, is when you can’t afford to keep up with the monthly payments for the loan you plan to take out.

“Not being able to keep up with the monthly payments means you won’t pay your loan on time,” he says. “If you pay your bills late or not at all, your credit will take a hit. That can lead to higher interest rates and cause your debt to spiral out of control.”

Before you take out a personal loan, you should write out a budget and make sure you can truly afford the monthly payments, he says.

Another time you shouldn’t take out a personal loan is when you don’t truly need what you’re borrowing for – or if you should probably live without it.

“A personal loan can be like a candy store,” says Toms.

The temptation of being able to borrow money can be too much for some people. It can inspire crazy actions, like financing purchases that can leave the borrower in financial peril, Toms says.

Another instance where you may not want to get a personal loan? “If you’re going to buy a house in the near future, you should think twice about taking out a personal loan,” Detweiler says.

This is because the amount you owe can affect how much you can borrow for a home.

Lastly, you should probably avoid a personal loan if you’re on shaky financial ground, says Detweiler.

“If you aren’t in a very stable financial situation, a personal loan could make your problems worse,” she says. “It’s risky because if you don’t make the payments, you could wind up hurting your credit and could end up in default or collections.”

Using personal loans for a vacation might be tempting, but it’s not the wisest choice. However, the truth is, some people do this anyway. In a recent survey, we found that 16 percent of people who said they are going into debt for vacation are using personal loans.

“Don’t borrow money and go into debt for a vacation,” Detweiler urges. “You’ll come back from vacation in debt. Save the money instead, or have a staycation.”

Like vacations, a wedding financed with debt is rarely a good idea.

“Don’t start your marriage in debt,” says Detweiler. If you have to use a personal loan for your wedding, make sure you shop around for a loan with the lowest interest rate and best terms.

If you believe you could pay the balance off in a short amount of time, you may also be better off with a 0 percent APR credit card.

The risks of using a personal loan

Taking out a personal loan can help you borrow the money you need to achieve any goal, but that doesn’t mean these loans are without risk. Some of the perils you’ll face when taking out any loan include:

  • Overspending – A personal loan can be the answer to your prayers, but some experts say they’re almost too easy. “No one is going to question what you’re spending the money on, so you might use this loan to justify things you shouldn’t really buy,” says Detweiler. “If you go overboard, you can end up with debt that takes years to pay off and a lifetime of regret.”
  • Damage to your credit if you don’t repay the loan – Obviously, your personal loan may go off without a hitch if you don’t borrow too much and can always afford your payments. “But if you can’t afford your payments due to job loss or another issue, your credit will see damage,” Detweiler explains. That damage can ruin your credit, or even lead to collections or bankruptcy.
  • Bad financial habits – Getting into the habit of constantly borrowing money can make your life more difficult, she adds. While personal loans can be easy to get, relying on credit over and over can leave you short on cash to reach other financial goals.

And the benefits?

There are times to avoid a personal loan, without doubt, but these loans aren’t all bad. In the real world, there are plenty of instances where a personal loan can help you get what you want or even improve your financial life.

If you take out a personal loan – and do it in a financially responsible way – there are plenty of benefits to look forward to. These loans can:

  • Simplify your financial life – “A personal loan can be a great tool for people looking to simplify and save by consolidating higher interest debt into one fixed monthly payment,” says Rose, of Discover Personal Loans. “If you have multiple credit cards or store card bills, and are having difficulty keeping track of them all, a personal loan can be a smart tool to streamline your payments and potentially save thousands of dollars on interest.”
  • Help with emergencies – If you are hit with an unexpected expense you can’t cover, “personal loans can provide the funds fairly quickly to help manage through the situation,” says Rose. In that sense, a personal loan could actually save you from financial peril.
  • Offer you predictable payments and interest – Because of the way personal loans are set up, you’ll never wonder how much you’ll pay each month or how much interest you owe. “Compared to higher-interest financial tools, having a fixed interest rate and monthly payment could save you money in the long run,” Rose explains.

Part III: Personal Loan Traps and Scams to Avoid

While there are plenty of reputable lenders in the personal loan space, that doesn’t mean it’s scam-free. Like most other areas of personal finance, there are plenty of fraudsters who will use personal loans to extract money from you or perpetrate fraud in some other way.

As you explore the world of personal loans, here are some traps to be aware of:

Advance loan fees

Occasionally, a fraudulent loan company will offer outrageous loans and loan terms with a catch: You have to pay the first few months of payments to qualify.

“They usually ask for these funds via Western Union or Moneygram,” says Detweiler. “But it’s a complete scam.”

No reputable lender would ask you to pay money upfront. “Do not pay money upfront for a personal loan under any circumstances,” she says.

Loan insurance

Another one from Detweiler: the fraudulent lender who will offer you a personal loan, only to say you need to buy “insurance” to cover the loan in case you default.

This is also a scam because personal loans are unsecured – and because no reputable lender would require you to buy insurance to insure your own loan.

‘No credit check’ loans

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a lender who isn’t interested in checking your credit should set off alarms.

Ads that say: “Bad credit? No problem” or “We don’t care about your past” should be particularly worrisome, notes the CFPB. These slogans are usually suggestive of a scam.

Pre-compute interest

Some personal loans might come with the caveat of pre-compute interest, interest that is stacked so you pay the bulk of it near the beginning of your loan term.

This is a bad deal, since you’ll wind up paying extra interest – even if you pay your loan off early. Before you take out a personal loan, make sure you know how interest is accrued and how it will impact the total costs of your loan.

Prepayment penalties

Some personal loans will tack on a prepayment penalty if you pay your loan off early. Since this fee isn’t that common and is totally unnecessary, you should avoid loans that charge this fee altogether.

Make sure you read through your loans terms to check for a prepayment penalty. If you find one, look for another lender and loan.

Part IV: Alternatives to a Personal Loan

A personal loan might be ideal for helping you reach your financial goals, but it’s also possible a different financial product might work better. As you consider the prospect of a personal loan, don’t forget to explore your other options.

Here are some alternatives to consider, along with some instances where they may represent a better deal:

Personal loans versus credit cards

According to Paul Gentile, president of Cooperative Credit Union Association, there are definitely times where a credit card may be better than a personal loan.

“A credit card can be used to purchase something, so that can offer more flexibility,” he says. Credit cards can also be a great deal if you pay them off monthly, he notes, since you have the potential to earn rewards. Lastly, credit cards can be beneficial for certain short-term purchases since many offer 0 percent APR for 12 to 21 months.

On the flip side, “a personal loan may be better for someone who wants to make a large, intentional purchase that they planned for.”

Personal loans also offer the benefit of a fixed payment and payoff date, whereas credit cards can literally tether you to payments indefinitely if you keep using them for purchases.

Personal loans versus HELOCs

As Gentile notes, HELOCs come with the advantage of interest deductions (similar to how you deduct mortgage interest) if you itemize your taxes. In contrast, interest paid on your personal loan is not tax-deductible. Rates on HELOCs may also be lower than those on personal loans, he notes.

A possible downside with HELOCs is the fact that some only require you to pay interest for years. “This means you may not be paying anything toward the principal,” Gentile says.

Some HELOCs also come with balloon payments at the end, and those big payments may be hard to handle. On the other hand, personal loans come with predictable, fixed monthly payments and no surprises.

Personal loans versus peer-to-peer loans

Gentile notes that peer-to-peer lending is really similar to a personal loan. Both things allow you to borrow a fixed rate of cash and repay it over a predetermined length of time.

But since peer-to-peer lending isn’t regulated as heavily, this could be worrisome, says Gentile.

Before you choose among personal loans and peer-to-peer loans, make sure you compare all related fees, all total costs and interest rates.

Personal Loans versus cash-out refinancing

Gentile believes that opting for a cash-out refinance is the best option for people committed to their properties in the long term, whereas personal loans are better for short-term financial needs.

There are risks to getting cash out of your home as well, he notes. “If home prices drop, you could end up underwater.”

On the other hand, refinancing your home to get access to your home equity could help you qualify for a lower interest rate than a personal loan. “You also get to write off your mortgage interest, so you get a tax deduction,” notes Gentile.

Check out this cash-out refi calculator from MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree.

Frequently Asked Questions

According to the CFPB, lenders and loan brokers are required to be registered in all states where they conduct business. To check registration, they suggest calling your state attorney general’s office, or your state’s Department of Banking or Financial Regulation.

Yes, if you use it to consolidate high interest debts from credit cards or other loans. To get out of debt faster, make sure your new personal loan comes with a lower interest rate than you’re already paying, along with no or few fees. Paying more than your minimum payment is another great way to pay down debt faster.

Your interest rate will be determined based on the type of loan you apply for, how much you want to borrow and the quality of your credit. Getting the best loan terms and the best interest rate typically requires a credit score of 740 or more, or very good or exceptional credit.

If you were denied a personal loan due to poor credit, the best thing you can do is take a few simple steps to improve your credit rating over time. Pay all of your bills on time, pay off debt to reduce your credit utilization, and avoid opening or closing too many accounts.

Thanks to the internet, you can apply for a personal loan online and from the comfort of your own home. You can also compare lenders, fees, and interest rates by visiting this page.

Because personal loans are unsecured, you don’t need collateral. What you do need is the ability to illustrate how you’ll repay your loan, along with a good credit score.

You can absolutely pay your loan off early; very few loans will charge a prepayment penalty. Before you take out a personal loan, you should make sure you won’t be charged a prepayment penalty if you’re able to repay your loan early.

While applying for a personal loan will result in a hard inquiry being placed on your credit report, any negative hit your score takes will be short-lived. Borrowing too much in relation to your credit limits can hurt your utilization, however, and yes, that could hurt your credit score.

On the other hand, repaying your personal loan on time, and ultimately in full, can actually help your score in the long run.

Depending on your lender, you may receive funds from your new personal loan as early as the next business day. However, it could take up to seven business days (or longer) if you apply for a loan on a weekend, have errors in your application, or your loan takes longer to process for any reason.

The best part about personal loans is that you can use the funds however you want. You can use the cash to pay off high interest debt, remodel your kitchen or buy a newer car, for example.

Just keep in mind that borrowing is never free. In addition to the interest you pay on your loan, you may also incur additional costs, such as origination or application fees.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Personal Loans appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

More Than 40% of U.S. Adults Struggle to Make Ends Meet

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You may be struggling to pay bills every month, but so are plenty of other people.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Tuesday reported that 43 percent of American adults struggle to make ends meet, based on the results of a national survey conducted in 2016 on the financial well-being of U.S. consumers.

About 34 percent of all consumers surveyed reported experiencing material hardships —  these include running out of food, not being able to afford a place to live or lacking the money to seek medical treatment — in the past year, the bureau said.  

In the survey, the bureau asked more than 6,000 participants from all walks of life to answer 10 questions about current and future financial security and freedom of choice, and to give a score from 0 to 100 on each question. The average consumer score was 54 in the survey. Not surprisingly, consumers surveyed said that their financial conditions were closely tied to their level of education, income and employment status, according to the bureau. 

Young adults are especially susceptible to financial hardships, the agency found. 

Millennials — those age 34 and below — reported an average score of 51 for their financial well-being, 10 points lower than seniors ages 65 and up and three points lower than the national average. 

The report, what the bureau calls “the first of its kind,” not only provides a view of the the overall state of financial conditions in the U.S., it also sheds light on how individuals from different demographics are faring financially. 

Adults with scores of 50 or below have a high likelihood — more than 50 percent — of struggling to pay bills and of experiencing difficult financial situations, according to the report. 

In contrast, those who reported scores of 61 and above had a much lower probability — less than 10 percent — that they would have trouble paying for basic needs.  

 Savings = stability  

Of all the factors examined, the bureau found that the amount of savings and financial cushions is the most important when it comes to disparities in people’s financial situations. 

The average financial well-being for adults with savings of less than $250 — the lowest level — is 41. That compares with 68 for people with the highest level of savings — $75,000 or more, according to the report. 

Similar differences in scores were seen with the ability to absorb unexpected expenses.  

“These findings highlight the importance of savings and other safety nets in helping people to feel financially secure, one of the basic elements of financial well-being,” the report said. 

Having some sort of financial knowledge appears to benefit financial well-being. 

The survey found that individuals with higher levels of financial confidence, knowledge and day-to-day money management behaviors tend to report better financial conditions. 

Apart from the survey, the bureau initiated  an interactive online tool allowing consumers to measure their own financial well-being.  

 7 tips to improve your financial health: 

  1. Have “rainy day” cash available. Often, people who feel they are broke don’t have the means to absorb unexpected expenses. We’ve ranked the best options for when you need cash fast.  A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.   
  2. Save. Save. Save. It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Financial planners often suggest you stash at least 10 percent of your income every month. 
  3. Focus on paying down high interest debts. Sometime it makes more sense to pay off debt than to save, especially if you have high-interest debt like credit cards.  Here are four fast ways to achieve that goal.
  4. Consider changing your lifestyle. Lifestyle inflation is the ultimate budget-killer — a widespread phenomenon that occurs when people spend more as their incomes increase.
  5. Learn to ignore the Joneses. Focusing on your needs and goals rather than aligning them with the people in your life or in your social media feed is critical to being happy with the state of your finances and your life.
  6. Come up with strategies to help break your negative spending habits. For example, we’ve written about a simple $20 rule that can help break your credit card addiction. Explore other ways to break bad money habits here.
  7. Educate yourself. The more you know about your finances, the better off you’ll be. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply using an app to track your spending or asking your HR department for a review of your retirement savings options are good places to start. The key is to engage in day-to-day money management and establish a habit of saving and budgeting. 

The post More Than 40% of U.S. Adults Struggle to Make Ends Meet appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Consolidating Your Debt? Consider These 6 Downsides First

Your next debt collector may never say a harassing thing to you at all. That debt collector might also not be human.

Credit card debt among Americans is at an all-time high.

In June, it increased to $1.02 trillion, according to a report from the Federal Reserve. In other words, Americans now have more credit card debt than just before the 2008 financial crisis.

When facing such massive amounts of debt, it may be tempting to consider consolidation, one of the most popular ways for consumers to cope with mountains of bills. But before making such a move, it’s important to think about the potential downsides and drawbacks—and there are quite a few.

“Debt consolidation is rarely a good option,” says Holly Morphew, a certified financial health counselor. “Those looking to consolidate debt usually don’t understand what it is and are simply stressed about unmanageable debt and looking for a way out of it.”

Among the nuances to understand is how consolidation impacts your credit score, what your new interest rate will be, and what the repayment terms are—particularly when consolidating student loan debt, which can be dangerous, says Morphew.

Here are six of the biggest drawbacks to keep in mind when considering debt consolidation.

1. Transfer Fees

Consolidating credit card debt via a balance transfer to a new card can seem enticing, especially when there are so many 0% APR offers being presented to you at every turn. But Han Chang, cofounder of InvestmentZen.com, warns that nothing is ever free.

“Offers like this usually come with a one-time balance transfer fee ranging from 3% to 10% of the total balance transfer,” says Chang. “That can really add up and, if you’re not careful, completely negate any savings that 0% APR offers.”

2. Government-Backed Program Losses

Another often-overlooked drawback of debt consolidation is the potential loss of government-backed programs, primarily pertaining to student loans. While there can definitely be some advantages to combining all of your student loans, be sure to read the fine print of your new agreement carefully.

In particular, determine whether you’ll still be eligible for common federal government perks.

Morphew says student debt consolidation is actually one of the most risky things to do.

“If you don’t choose the right company, or decide to consolidate federal subsidized loans into a private loan, you can lose those repayment benefits such as deferment, forbearance, and loan forgiveness,” she says.

3. Credit Score Dings

If you are working with a debt consolidation company or a financial institution to combine your bills, the company will likely conduct a hard credit inquiry. While the effects of this inquiry are temporary, says Chang, be prepared to see your credit score drop in the short term.

“If multiple creditors pull reports, your score could drop significantly,” he adds. You can keep an eye on your credit score by reviewing your credit report for free on Credit.com.

4. Unchanged or Increased Interest Rates

Often the goal of debt consolidation is to secure a lower overall interest rate. But that’s not always what happens, says Morphew. You can actually end up paying more because the company giving you the new consolidated loan will average the rates on your debt and round up based on its terms, she says.

In addition, if you have poor credit to begin with, you may not qualify for a lower interest rate, says Amber Westover of BestCompany.com.

“You may end up paying more for your debt over the course of your consolidation loan,” Westover says.

5. Expensive Debt Consolidation Costs

Debt consolidation companies don’t work for free. Many national companies offering this type of service charge a fee of 15% of the total debt, says Richard Symmes, a consumer bankruptcy attorney.

“This leads the consumer to pay much more than if they had negotiated with the creditor on their own. Many of these fees may even be fraudulent under individual state laws, which cap how much a company can charge for debt consolidation services,” he says. He instead suggests conducting such negotiations with the help of an attorney, who simply charges a flat fee.

6. Increased Overall Loan Costs

One last drawback worth noting: just because your monthly payments may go down under a debt consolidation program doesn’t necessarily mean your overall debt is going down.

“If you consolidate high-interest short-term debt for very long-term debt, then you may actually be paying more,” says financial analyst Jeff White. “For instance, paying $500 per month for one year (which translates into $6,000) is less than paying $75 per month for 10 years (which is $9,000).”

Consolidating could be a smart financial move, or it may just sound like it. To find out if consolidation or another debt management strategy is right for you, visit our Managing Debt Learning Center.

Image: Geber86

The post Consolidating Your Debt? Consider These 6 Downsides First appeared first on Credit.com.

Capital One Balance Transfer Offer

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Balance transfer offers on credit cards can be an excellent way to reduce the cost of expensive credit card debt, helping you can get out of debt faster. Capital One only offers one card with a balance transfer intro period. Balance transfers are usually offered only to people with excellent credit, however you may qualify if you have good credit. It’s always a good idea to check if you’re prequalified before submitting an application.

In this article, we will:

  • Review the balance transfer offer from Capital One
  • Provide details on who can be approved for the offer
  • Decode the fine print, so that you know how to avoid tricks and traps that could cost you

Note: If you are looking to get out of debt, you should consider downloading our free Debt Free Guide. It will show you how to slash your interest rates, boost your credit score, negotiate hard with creditors and become debt-free fast and forever. Balance transfers can be a great tool in your debt-free strategy, but everyone should have a strategy. And this guide can help you build one.

Offer Review

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Quicksilver from Capital One

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on Capital One’s secure website

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is best known for having no annual fee, and providing unlimited 1.5% cash back on all of your spend. Unlike many cash back credit cards, there are no rotating categories, no caps, and no minimums for getting your cash back. They really raised the bar on cash back credit cards, until Citibank created the Citi® Double Cash Card which does the same thing, except you earn unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 0% for 9 months on balance transfers, with a 3% fee. When compared to the rest of the market, this is a mediocre intro period. You can find cards with intro periods of 15, 21 and 24 months. We list all of the balance transfer options here.

Approval Criteria

Capital One markets this card for people with excellent credit. On their website, excellent credit is defined as someone who:

  • Has never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan
  • Hasn’t been more than 60 days late on any credit card, medical bill, or loan in the last year
  • Has had a loan or credit card for 3 years or more with a credit limit above $5,000

If your credit score isn’t excellent, your options are much more limited. In fact, we recommend considering a personal loan to get a lower rate on your debt, where you will have a better chance of getting a higher loan amount.

 Fine Print Alert

Balance transfers can save you a lot of money. However, there are certain traps out there, and if you fall for those traps it could end up costing you a lot of money. Make sure you do the following:

  • If you are approved for your balance transfer credit card, complete the balance transfer right away. The 0% promotional offer begins the day your account is open.
  • Set up automatic payments so that you are never late. Even being late by one day can result in a steep late fee. And, if you are late by 60 days or more, you can see a big spike in your interest rate.
  • Don’t spend on the credit card. Although Capital One does offer 0% on purchases, they do that as a temptation. They want you to spend, so that you don’t use the promotional period to pay down your debt. If you are using a balance transfer, you should be doing it to get out of debt faster.

To learn more about balance transfers, you can visit our learning center.

Balance transfers, when used properly, can take years off your debt repayment. With proper credit behavior, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card can save you money and help rid you of debt.

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5 Things to Consider Before Paying Off Your Student Loan Debt

Credit cards are a super convenient financial tool, but they can often be confusing.

Paying off debt is often a top priority. Not only can too much debt hurt your credit score, it can impact your ability to achieve other important milestones in life, such as buying a home.

But when it comes to student loan debt, obsessing over repayment and devoting every spare penny to paying down balances can actually have negative consequences, particularly when you become so focused on repayment that you ignore all other elements of a sound personal financial plan.

“I’ve seen a number of individuals who have devoted unhealthy amounts of time and money towards paying down their student debt, people who are pinching every penny,” says Michael Lux, founder of The Student Loan Sherpa, a website focused on student loan education, strategy, and borrower advocacy. “You can’t just look at your student loan debt in isolation. You need to consider all of the things that paint the complete financial picture.”

As Lux indicated, there’s a variety of reasons why devoting too much of your hard-earned income to repaying student loans can be an unwise approach. Here are the top five.

1. It’s Not Sustainable in the Long Run

Denying yourself all of the day-to-day extras that you enjoy in order to pay off your student loan is not likely to work forever, says Lux.

“The key to success is making it sustainable for years,” he explains. “First, you have to know yourself. When you make a budget, you have to make a realistic budget. If you’re someone who loves the movies, you have to budget money to go to the movies.”

Another tactic that helps create a more balanced and manageable approach is to create milestone repayment goals for yourself and then reward yourself in small ways when attaining those goals, says Lux. For example, when a loan is half paid off, treat yourself to a fancy dinner. Or, when one loan is completely paid off, find another affordable and meaningful way to indulge in some positive reinforcement. 

2. Retirement Savings Should Also Be a Top Priority

Paying off student loan debt should not come at the expense of getting started on a retirement plan. But unfortunately for some, that’s exactly what’s happening.

“Many people put paying off student loans ahead of retirement saving,” says Ryan Farnung of New York–based GPS Financial. “So while they are saving some interest on student loans, and ultimately freeing up some monthly cash flow, they may also be . . . missing out on the potential to tap into the power of compounding interest.”

Carrying some student debt is all right, says Farnung, if it means using your money elsewhere in ways that will provide a greater long-term benefit.

3. Establishing an Emergency Fund Is Also an Important Part of a Healthy Financial Plan

A sound personal financial plan also includes establishing emergency savings accounts, ideally two separate accounts—one with six months of living expenses and a separate liquid emergency fund.

“Student loan rates are so low right now, under 4 or 4.5%,” says Oliver Lee, owner of Michigan-based The Strategic Planning Group. “So I always recommend my clients pay the very bare minimum. Then, create a six-month or one-year living expense shelter so if something goes wrong when you get out of school or you can’t find a job, you have the money you need. And once you have that, you also need a liquid emergency fund—in case the tires go bad on the car or the transmission goes. This account should have $1,000 to $3,000.”

Those who don’t have such emergency funds are likely to rack up costly credit card debt in order to pay for life’s unexpected expenses. And the interest on a credit card is almost always far more than the interest on a student loan.

“You could have your student loans completely paid off and yet have $10,000 to $15,000 in credit card debt because you had no emergency funds,” says Lee. Making savings a priority can help prevent unnecessary credit card debt.

4. Real Estate Is a Better Investment

Devoting too much money to student loan repayment often leads people to put off other investments that come with valuable rewards of their own. Home purchases are a prime example.

Real estate has historically given returns far above the interest rate of student loans, says Lyn Alden, founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy. So it’s beneficial to prioritize building these sorts of investment assets, even if it means keeping low-interest student loan debt around for a while. 

5. Missed Life Experiences

There are many variables to consider when deciding how much money to devote to student loan repayment, but according to Farnung, they revolve around one primary question: what are you giving up today in order to improve cash flow tomorrow?

It’s easy to measure how much it costs to carry student loans by determining how much interest you pay annually and what that looks like after taxes. But what’s far more difficult to measure is the experiences you may miss out on or the opportunities for real financial growth you may be overlooking when focusing solely on student loan repayment.

“If you’re postponing funding and maintaining an emergency fund, contributing to your retirement savings, getting married, buying a home, or any number of other life goals and aspirations, you need to take a step back and really think about what the interest on your student loans is costing you,” says Farnung.

To learn more about smart strategies for managing debt, visit our Managing Debt Learning Center.

Image: Peopleimages

The post 5 Things to Consider Before Paying Off Your Student Loan Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Here’s Why You Need to Know Your Net Worth

When you know your net worth, your life can improve in major ways.

It’s perhaps one of the most important financial numbers you should know, but many people aren’t even sure exactly what it is. If someone were to ask, would you know your net worth? Would you even know what the question meant? If you’ve never heard the term until today, fear not. Here’s everything you need to know about that pesky little number that is one of the best indicators of your overall financial health.

What Is Net Worth?

In its simplest terms, the phrase net worth refers to the overall value of your goods and possessions minus what you owe. In broader terms, your net worth is the total value of all of your assets. Take your possessions — how much you have in savings, retirement accounts, your home value, checking accounts, etc. Then, subtract your overall debt — credit cards, student loans, debt, etc. Hopefully, when you subtract what you owe from your possessions you get a positive number. The higher the number, the better.

How Can I Build My Net Worth?

A high net worth is a good thing and there are a few different ways to focus on building your net worth.

1. Tackle Debt

The main thing you can do to increase your net worth is to pay off your debt. High-interest credit card debt is a great place to start. If you have multiple cards with balances, consider paying off the smallest balance first. This way you’ll receive a little boost early in your debt payoff schedule to help bolster you through what you need to do to pay off the rest. (Check out more methods for paying down credit card debt.)

The longer you hold on to debt, the more you’re likely to pay in interest rates. There are a lot of strategies to take that might make paying off debt easier. Consolidating your loans into one place might help make your loans more manageable if you have more than one. It might even be possible to refinance to a lower interest rate. Check out all your options before deciding which one is best for your situation.

2. Make More Money

This is easier said than done, but another way to work on your net worth is to simply bring in more cash. Whether that’s asking for a raise at your current job or taking on a side gig to bring in a little extra pocket money, the more you can pad your income, the better your net worth will be.

3. Invest in Retirement

If you have an employer offering to match your 401K policy and you aren’t taking them up on it, you’re lowering your net worth. If you’re taking part in a company match or contributing to a retirement plan but haven’t re-evaluated it in a while, it’s time to reconsider how much you’re putting away, and it might be time to increase it. Remember, you don’t need to have a retirement plan through work to invest in your future, there are other IRA options are available as well.

Image: Mikolette

The post Here’s Why You Need to Know Your Net Worth appeared first on Credit.com.

U.S. Mortgage Market Statistics: 2017

Homeownership rates in America are at all-time lows. The housing crisis of 2006-2009 made banks skittish to issue new mortgages. Despite programs designed to lower down payment requirements, mortgage originations haven’t recovered to pre-crisis levels, and many Americans cannot afford to buy homes.

Will a new generation of Americans have access to home financing that drove the wealth of previous generations? We’ve gathered the latest data on mortgage debt statistics to explain who gets home financing, how mortgages are structured, and how Americans are managing our debt.

Summary:

  • Total Mortgage Debt: $9.9 trillion1
  • Average Mortgage Balance: $137,0002
  • Average New Mortgage Balance: $244,0003
  • % Homeowners (Owner-Occupied Homes): 63.4%4
  • % Homeowners with a Mortgage: 65%5
  • Median Credit Score for a New Mortgage: 7546
  • Average Down Payment Required: $12,8297
  • Mortgages Originated in 2016: $2.065 trillion8
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Banks: 43.9%9
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Credit Unions: 9%9
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Non-Depository Lenders: 47.1%9

Key Insights:

  • The median borrower in America puts 5% down on their home purchase. This leads to a median loan-to-value ratio of 95%. A decade ago, the median borrower put down 20%.10
  • Credit score requirements are starting to ease somewhat The median mortgage borrower had a credit score of 754 from a high of 781 in the first quarter of 20126
  • 1.24% of all mortgages are in delinquency. In 2009, mortgage delinquency reached as high as 8.35%.11

Home Ownership and Equity Levels

In the second quarter of 2017, real estate values in the United States surpassed their pre- housing crisis levels. The total value of real estate owned by individuals in the United States is $24 trillion, and total mortgages clock in at $9.9 trillion. This means that Americans have $13.9 trillion in homeowners equity.12 This is the highest value of home equity Americans have ever seen.

However, real estate wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated as overall homeownership rates fall. In 2004, 69% of all Americans owned homes. Today, that number is down to 63.4%.4 While home affordability remains a question for many Americans, the downward trend in homeownership corresponds to banks’ tighter credit standards following the Great Recession.

New Mortgage Originations

Mortgage origination levels show signs of recovery from their housing crisis lows. In 2008, financial institutions issued just $1.4 trillion of new mortgages. In 2016, new first lien mortgages topped $2 trillion for the first time since the end of the housing crisis, but mortgage originations were still 25 percent lower than their pre-recession average.8 So far, 2017 has proved to be a lackluster year for mortgage originations. Through the second quarter of 2017, banks originated just $840 billion in new mortgages.

 

As recently as 2010, three banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase) originated 56 percent of all mortgages.13 In 2016, all banks put together originated just 44 percent of all loans.9

In a growing trend toward “non-bank” lending, both credit unions and nondepository lenders cut into banks’ share of the mortgage market. In 2016, credit unions issued 9 percent of all mortgages. Additionally, 47% of all mortgages in 2016 came from non-depository lending institutions like Quicken Loans and PennyMac. Behind Wells Fargo ($249 billion) and Chase ($117 billion), Quicken ($96 billion) was the third largest issuer of mortgages in 2016. In the fourth quarter of 2016, PennyMac issued $22 billion in loans and was the fourth largest lender overall.9

Government vs. Private Securitization

Banks tend to be more willing to issue new mortgages if a third party will buy the mortgage in the secondary market. This is a process called loan securitization. Consumers can’t directly influence who buys their mortgage, but mortgage securitization influences who gets mortgages and their rates. Over the last five years government securitization enterprises, FHA and VA loans, and portfolio loan securitization have risen. However, private loan securitization which constituted over 40% of securitization in 2005 and 2006 is almost extinct today.

Government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) have traditionally played an important role in ensuring that banks will issue new mortgages. Through the second quarter of 2017, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac purchased 46% of all newly issued mortgages. However, in absolute terms, Fannie and Freddie are purchasing less than in past years. In 2016, GSEs purchased 20% fewer loans than they did in the years leading up to 2006.8

Through the second quarter of 2017, a tiny fraction (0.7%) of all loans were purchased by private securitization companies.8 Prior to 2007, private securitization companies held $1.6 trillion in subprime and Alt-A (near prime) mortgages. In 2005 alone, private securitization companies purchased $1.1 trillion worth of mortgages. Today private securitization companies hold just $490 billion in total assets, including $420 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans.14

As private securitization firms exited the mortgage landscape, programs from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have filled in some of the gap. The FHA and VA are designed to help borrowers get loans despite having smaller down payments or lower incomes. FHA and VA loans accounted for 23 percent of all loans issued in 2016, and 25 percent in the first half of 2017. These loan programs are the only mortgages that grew in absolute terms from the pre-mortgage crisis. Prior to 2006, FHA and VA loans only accounted for $155 billion in loans per year. In 2016, FHA and VA loans accounted for $470 billion in loans issued.8

Portfolio loans, mortgages held by banks, accounted for $639 billion in new mortgages in 2016. Despite tripling in volume from their 2009 low, portfolio loans remain down 24% from their pre-crisis average.8

Mortgage Credit Characteristics

Since banks are issuing 21% fewer mortgages compared to pre-crisis averages, borrowers need higher incomes and better credit to get a mortgage.

The median FICO score for an originated mortgage rose from 707 in late 2006 to 754 today. The scores on the bottom decile of mortgage borrowers rose even more dramatically from 578 to 648.6

Despite the dramatic credit requirement increases from 2006 to today, banks are starting to relax lending standards somewhat. In the first quarter of 2012, the median borrower had a credit score of 781, a full 27 points higher than the median borrower today.

In 2016, 23% of all first lien mortgages were financed through FHA or VA programs. First-time FHA borrowers had an average credit score of 677. This puts the average first-time FHA borrower in the bottom quartile of all mortgage borrowers.8

Prior to 2009, an average of 20% of all volumes originated went to people with subprime credit scores (<660). In the second quarter of 2017, just 9% of all mortgages were issued to borrowers with subprime credit scores. Who replaced subprime borrowers? The share of mortgages issued to borrowers people with excellent credit (scores above 760) doubled. Between 2003 and 2008 just 27% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit. In the second quarter of 2017, 54% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit.6

Banks have also tightened lending standards related to maximum debt-to-income ratios for their mortgages. In 2007, conventional mortgages had an average debt-to-income ratio of 38.6%; today the average ratio is 34.3%.15 The lower debt-to-income ratio is in line with pre-crisis levels.

LTV and Delinquency Trends

Banks continue to screen customers on the basis of credit score and income, but customers who take on mortgages are taking on bigger mortgages than ever before. Today a new mortgage has an average unpaid balance of $244,000, according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.3

The primary drivers behind larger loans are higher home prices, but lower down payments also play a role. Prior to the housing crisis, more than half of all borrowers put down at least 20%. The average loan-to-value ratio at loan origination was 82%.10

Today, half of all borrowers put down 5% or less. More than 10% of borrowers put 0% down. As a result, the average loan-to-value ratio at origination has climbed to 87%.10

Despite a growing trend toward smaller down payments, growing home prices mean that overall loan-to-value ratios in the broader market show healthy trends. Today, the average loan-to-value ratio across all homes in the United States is an estimated 42%. The average LTV on mortgaged homes is 68%.16

This is substantially higher than the pre-recession LTV ratio of approximately 60%. However, homeowners saw very healthy improvements in loan-to-value ratios of 94% in early 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 more than a quarter of all mortgaged homes had negative equity. Today, just 5.4% of homes have negative equity.17

Although the current LTV on mortgaged homes remains above historical averages, Americans continue to manage mortgage debt well. Current homeowners have mortgage payments that make up an average of just 16.5% of their annual household income.18

Mortgage delinquency rates stayed constant at their all-time low (1.24%). This low delinquency rate came following 30 straight quarters of falling delinquency, and are well below the 2009 high of 8.35% delinquency.11

Today, delinquency rates have fully returned to their pre-crisis lows, and can be expected to stay low until the next economic recession.

Sources:

  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS September 28, 2017.
  2. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2017,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  3. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2015.” Accessed June 22, 2017.
  4. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Homeownership Rate for the United States [USHOWN], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USHOWN, September 28, 2017. (Calculated as percent of all housing units occupied by an owner occupant.)
  5. “U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates,” Mortgage Status, Owner-Occupied Housing Units. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  6. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  7. Calculated metric:
    1. Down Payment Value = Home Price* Average Down Payment Amount (Average Unpaid Balance on a New Mortgageb / Median LTV on a New Loanc) * (1 – Median LTV on a New Loanc)
    2. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2015.” Accessed September 28, 2017. Gives an average unpaid principal balance on a new loan = $244K.
    3. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Page 17, Median Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  8. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” First Lien Origination Volume from the Urban Institute. Source: Inside Mortgage Finance and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  9. Mortgage Daily. 2017. “Mortgage Daily 2016 Biggest Lender Ranking” [Press Release] Retrieved from https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/04/03/953457/0/en/Mortgage-Daily-2016-Biggest-Lender-Ranking.html.
  10. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  11. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Mortgage Delinquency Rates, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  12. Calculated metric: Value of U.S. Real Estatea – Mortgage Debt Held by Individualsb
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
  13. Mortgage Daily, 2017. “3 Biggest Lenders Close over Half of U.S. Mortgages” [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.mortgagedaily.com/PressRelease021511.asp?spcode=chronicle.
  14. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017” Size of the US Residential Mortgage Market, Page 6 and Private Label Securities by Product Type, Page 7, from the Urban Institute Private Label Securities by Product Type, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  15. Fannie Mae Statistical Summary Tables: April 2017” from Fannie Mae. Accessed June 22, 2017; and “Single Family Loan-Level Dataset Summary Statistics” from Freddie Mac. Accessed June 22, 2017. Combined debt-to-income ratios weighted using original unpaid balance from both datasets.
  16. Calculated metrics:
    1. All Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / Value of All U.S. Homesd
    2. Mortgages Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / (Value of All Homesd – Value of Homes with No Mortgagee)
    3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
    4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
    5. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Aggregate Value (Dollars) by Mortgage Status, September 28, 2017.
  17. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Negative Equity Share, Page 22. Source: CoreLogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  18. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2017,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed September 28, 2017.

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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Cut Your Budget to the Bone to Get Out of Debt

Getting out of debt is a lot like dieting. Sure you can stop eating, but that approach isn't sustainable. Here's how to focus on the long term.

So you have some debt that you need to pay off. If you listen to the advice of many get-out-of-debt gurus, you should pay it off as quickly and intensely as possible. They say you should never set foot in a restaurant, go on vacation, or do anything “extra” until the last credit card and student loan are paid off.

This seems like a good approach. If you can just cut out all your extra expenses — and maybe bring in some additional income — you’ll get out of debt much sooner, right?

Well, maybe not.

In fact, becoming debt-free may be quite similar to getting to and maintaining a healthy weight. The intense, fast options may seem like a good idea, but they can actually have negative consequences.

Paying Off Debt & Yo-Yo Dieting

Intense weight loss strategies can often result in what’s called a “yo-yo diet.” It’s when you lose a bunch of weight quickly only to gain it back quickly after your intense efforts are done. Even Biggest Loser contestants aren’t immune to this problem.

If you cut calories dramatically for three weeks before a big event, sure you’ll lose weight. But you haven’t made sustainable changes that will help you stay healthy over the long term.

This is similar to getting out of debt. Sure, you can cut your budget to the absolute bare bones to pay off credit cards in a matter of months. But does this approach really help you build sustainable habits — and a sustainable budget — for the long run? Maybe not.

My husband and I struggled with this early on in our marriage. We wanted to pay off our student loans and car loan desperately. So for a few months, we’d cut everything extra out of our budgets. No restaurants. No fun money. No nothing.

It would work for a bit, and we’d make some progress. But eventually, we’d get to the point where we felt so restricted, we just had to break free. And break free we did. Usually to the tune of a couple hundred dollars or more of “unnecessary” spending.

We went through this cycle for literally years until we learned to take a more measured approach to our “debt diet.” We still keep a close eye on our spending and try not to waste money. But we each have a monthly allowance for things like new clothes, our hobbies, and other personal items. And we have a date night fund so that we can enjoy each other’s company out of the house at least once a month.

This extra spending means we’re not paying off debt as quickly. But it also means that we avoid those splurges that used to throw us completely off track.

You Should Still Enjoy Life

What’s the main point of losing weight on a diet? Sure, you want to look good in a pair of jeans. But you also want to be able to move more freely, have more sustainable energy levels, and just enjoy life more.

What’s the main point of getting out of debt? Sure, you want to stop paying ridiculous interest rates on your credit cards. But you also want to free up money in your budget so that you have more options financially, so that you can enjoy life more.

So what’s the point of dieting or paying off debt if you’re miserable for months or years while you’re doing it?

When you’re dieting, you could cut out everything but salads with dry grilled chicken and probably lose weight very quickly. Or you could learn to make delicious, healthy meals that you love. And you could give yourself tiny splurges once in a while. You might see slower, steadier weight loss progress, but you’ll enjoy life while working towards your goal.

The same applies when paying off debt. You could spend on only the absolute necessities — food, housing, utilities, and transportation — to pay off debt more quickly. Or you could create a reasonable, sustainable budget that allows for frugal vacations, occasional meals out, and entertainment options you love. Again, you’ll see slower, steadier progress, but you’ll actually enjoy life while getting to that debt-free goal.

Your Approach Depends On Your Situation

Are there some times when a quick crash diet may be appropriate? Sure. Bodybuilders who are already in excellent shape will often cut calories dramatically right before an event. They’re just taking their everyday discipline one step further for a few days or weeks.

Similarly, what if you’re generally good at managing your money but just had an unexpected emergency — a broken-down vehicle or a medical emergency, for instance — that bloated your credit card debt? In this case, a few weeks or a couple months’ worth of cutting your budget to the bone to pay off the debt may make sense. Since you’ve already got good money management habits in place, you’re unlikely to rebound into more unnecessary spending.

But if you’re staring down a scale that says you need to lose 50 pounds? Research shows that slow and steady is the way to go.

And if you’re staring at massive amounts of debt? Slow and steady may work better for you, too.

Some Tips & Tricks

So how do you get started with a slower, steadier approach to paying off debt? Here are some tricks we’ve swiped from the diet world:

Make smart swaps on things you eat every day. When you’re trying to cut calories, it’s amazing how much progress you can make just by switching to a lower-calorie salad dressing or sprucing up your breakfast routine. The same goes for your finances. Try refinancing your mortgage or auto loan, renegotiating or even eliminating your cable bill, or revamping your insurance policies for painless ways to save money month after month.

Also keep in mind that your credit can impact how much you pay in mortgage and auto loan interest, and even increase your insurance costs if it isn’t very good. You can keep track of your credit by checking your credit scores regularly right here on Credit.com.

The quality of your calories matters. More and more research is saying that “calories in, calories out” isn’t the end-all-be-all of dieting. High-quality foods, especially healthy proteins and fats, can keep you satisfied for longer, making cutting calories easier. Similarly, not all spending is equally satisfying. If you only have a few extra bucks a month to enjoy life, spend it on what really makes you happy. (Hint: Experiences are usually a better bet than more stuff!)

Track your progress. Weekly weigh-ins are an important part of many weight loss programs. Weighing in often helps keep you motivated — and lets you spot problems quickly so you can correct your course. When paying off debt, keep track of your debts each month. Consider using a line chart to get a visual representation of your debt dropping each month over time.

Budget calories for enjoying. Many successful weight loss programs operate with the idea of a cheat meal, cheat day, or set number of cheat calories per week. This means you know how much and how often you can splurge. Do the same for your budget. Set aside some fun money each month, and you’ll reap the benefits of staying on track without feeling miserable.

Paying off debt isn’t exactly like dieting, of course. But you can draw plenty of parallels. So when you’re trying to get debt-free, think about ways to make your progress steady and sustainable over the long haul.

Image: LeoPatrizi

The post Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Cut Your Budget to the Bone to Get Out of Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

How Debt — Yes, Debt — Can Help You Jump-Start Your Business

Debt isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it can help your small business thrive.

Many business owners run in the other direction when they hear the word debt. But debt can help a business thrive. If you take away the stigma, you can see how it can be used to your advantage — if you know how to manage it. Here are four tips for using debt to help grow your business.

1. You’ll Grow Faster

Taking out a loan can help you grow your business, creating more opportunity for profit. A loan can be used to purchase new equipment to develop your product quicker, increase your overall inventory or help open a new location. By taking out a loan, you give yourself room to grow without making additional investments with company profits.

Before taking on a new loan for your business, make sure you have a plan. If you take out a loan without one, or if your business is struggling financially, it may set you back. However, if you leverage your debt effectively, you could be on the right track to using your debt wisely. Before making any big financial decision for your business, consider speaking with a debt attorney or financial planner to help you weigh out your options. (Disclosure: I am a debt attorney.)

2. You May Keep Ownership of Your Business

Sometimes businesses need extra cash flow to expand and continue running smoothly. By choosing to take out a loan, you will owe the lending institution interest but retain full ownership of your business. Any profits you make after paying principal and interest will be yours to keep.

If you decide to take on a partner to increase capital, you may not only lose full control of your business but be asked to share profits, so be sure to think through the options before you sign up.

3. You May Get Tax Deductions

In most cases, the IRS will allow your business to deduct the interest paid on your loan if you used it for business purposes. This tax relief means more money for you and your business — a good thing since every dollar counts for a business owner. Consider speaking with a tax expert to see if you meet the requirements for tax relief.

4. You May Build Credit & Increase Your Spending Limit

When you decide to take out a loan for your business, a lending institution is trusting you to repay the debt. If you make responsible, on-time payments, you can increase your business’ creditworthiness, or business credit score. Smart credit habits can increase your overall spending limit, lower your future interest rates and help you obtain better terms. You’ll need decent credit to take out a business credit card, so be sure to check your credit score before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. Checking your credit is free and won’t harm your scores. It’s also a way to stay on top of your personal finances.

Using a business loan to help generate cash flow can be a way to grow your business, but it isn’t for everyone. Taking on unnecessary or bad debt can put your business at risk if you aren’t careful. Though a loan can be helpful, it’s important to be aware of the consequences in case things get out of hand. Before you shop for a loan, evaluate the possible risks, costs and benefits, and develop a proper business plan.

Image: mapodile

The post How Debt — Yes, Debt — Can Help You Jump-Start Your Business appeared first on Credit.com.