Tagged: Federal Reserve

Current Mortgage Rates Stay Lower on Monday

We saw mortgage rates dip a little lower on Friday after trouble in Turkey led financial market participants to seek out the perceived safety of long-term government bonds. Mortgage rates are expected to stay close to current levels this week, but we could see some movement after a few key economic reports get released. Read… View Article

Understanding How Mortgage Interest Rates Work

Question: What do home mortgage loans (including second mortgage loans), retail installment loans, automobile loans, home improvement loans, and mobile home loans, have in common — aside from being loans to consumers?

Answer: The interest charge sometimes is calculated monthly and sometimes daily. With a monthly interest rate the borrower is charged for each month, whereas with a daily interest rate the borrower is charged for each day.

Why is this distinction important? Because daily rates are a potential trap for unwary borrowers, countless numbers of whom have found themselves permanently, usually with no understanding of how it happened. The problem has been entirely overlooked by regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


No, You Didn’t Just Lose Half Of Your Retirement Savings

So here we are just a month later,  in a full-blown economic panic, and at the start of the most sudden recession ever. The pandemic has spread much further and faster than most uninformed people (including me) would have ever guessed, and the whole world is on some form of lockdown. Nothing quite like this […]

Should I Refinance My Mortgage? When to Refinance

The Federal Reserve recently lowered interest rates in an effort to stimulate the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more and more people are becoming interested in refinancing their mortgage. Depending on the situation, refinancing your mortgage can…

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The post Should I Refinance My Mortgage? When to Refinance appeared first on MintLife Blog.

What Is a Mortgage Refinance? 5 Ways to Know If It’s a Good Idea

Jason says:

Hi, Money Girl. I’m interested in refinancing and getting a lower interest rate on my mortgage; however, I may need to sell my home and relocate in a year or so. In that case, does a refinance still make sense? If so, what factors should I consider?

Jason, thanks for your question! It’s a perfect time for homeowners to consider refinancing because interest rates are at historic lows.

If you’re a homeowner, your mortgage payment is probably your largest monthly expense, so it’s wise to stay alert for opportunities to reduce it by refinancing. Plus, your financial circumstances and needs today may be very different than they were when you originally got your mortgage.

It’s a perfect time for homeowners to consider refinancing because interest rates are at historic lows.

I'll answer Jason’s question by reviewing what a mortgage refinance is, explaining common reasons to consider doing one, and covering five ways to know if it’s a good idea for your situation.

What is a mortgage refinance?

Refinancing is when you apply for a new loan to pay off an existing loan balance. The new loan could be with your same institution or with a different lender. The idea is to swap out a higher-interest loan for a lower-interest one, which decreases the amount of interest you have to pay and may also reduce your monthly payments.

When you take out a mortgage to buy a home, various factors determine the interest rate you get offered. While your credit, down payment, and income history are critical, lenders base mortgages on the prevailing interest rates. 

An interest rate is simply the cost of money for borrowers. Rates in the U.S. fluctuate according to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve or Fed, which is our central bank. 

A good rule of thumb is to consider refinancing when the current rate dips at least one percentage point below what you’re paying for your mortgage.

When interest rates are low, it’s like money’s on sale, as strange as that sounds! Banks should display a big banner on their front door or website that reads “bargain basement prices on dollars” or “we sell money cheap” because that’s what happens when interest rates go down. Low rates are great for borrowers, but not so good for lenders. 

The Freddie Mac website shows historical data for interest rates on 30-year mortgages since 1971. In August 2020, the average for a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage was 2.94%. A year earlier, the same loan was 3.62%, and ten years before, it was 4.43%. 

Since interest rates change periodically, the rate you’re currently paying on a mortgage may be significantly different than the going rate. A good rule of thumb is to consider refinancing when the current rate dips at least one percentage point below what you’re paying for your mortgage.

What’s the cost to refinance a mortgage?

You need at least one percentage point between the going rate and yours because there’s a cost to do a refinance. Closing a loan means you must pay fees to various companies, including your lender or mortgage broker, property appraiser, closing agent or attorney, and surveyor. Plus, there are fees required by the local government for recording the mortgage, and maybe more costs, depending on where you live. 

The total upfront cost of a refinance depends on the lender and property location. It could be as high as 3% to 6% of your outstanding loan balance. The trick to knowing if it’s worth it is to figure out when you’d break even on those costs. In other words, when do you go from the red to black on the deal? 

If you pay for a refinance but don’t keep your home long enough to recoup the cost, you’ll lose money. But if you do keep the property beyond the financial break-even point (BEP), you’ll feel like a genius because you saved money in the long run!

If you pay for a refinance but don’t keep your home long enough to recoup the cost, you’ll lose money.

You may be able to roll closing costs for a refinance into the new loan, which means you would have nothing or little to pay out-of-pocket. But adding them increases the amount you borrow and may also increase the interest rate you pay for the life of the loan. For that reason, it’s essential to ask the lender for a side-by-side comparison of all the terms for each loan option so you can carefully evaluate them. 

So, how do you figure the BEP to know if doing a refinance is wise? Here’s a simple BEP formula: Refinance break-even point = Total closing costs / Monthly savings.

For instance, if your closing costs are $5,000 and you save $150 a month on your mortgage payment by refinancing, it would take 34 months or almost three years to recoup the cost. The calculation is $5,000 total costs / $150 savings per month = 33.3 months to break even.

For help crunching your numbers, check out the Refinance Breakeven Calculator at dinkytown.com.

Since how long you own your home after a refinance is critical for making it worthwhile, I’m glad that Jason brought it up in his question. For instance, if he finds out that he’d need to own his home for five years to break-even, but he only plans on staying in it for two years, that should be a deal-breaker.

How to get approved for a mortgage refinance

If you believe that doing a refinance could be wise, you’ll also need to consider if you qualify. Lenders have different underwriting requirements, but most require you to have a minimum amount of equity in your property.

Equity is the difference between your home’s market value today and what you owe on it. A critical ratio for refinancing is known as the loan-to-value or LTV.

For example, if your home value is $300,000 and you have a $150,000 mortgage outstanding, you have $150,000 in equity, an LTV ratio of 50%. But if you owed $250,000, that would be an LTV of 83%. 

You typically need an LTV less than 80% to qualify for a mortgage refinance.

You typically need an LTV less than 80% to qualify for a mortgage refinance. So, Jason should do some quick math to make sure he doesn’t owe more for his home than this threshold based on the current market value. Lenders may still work with you if you have a high LTV and good credit, but they may charge a higher interest rate.

If you have an existing FHA or VA mortgage, you may qualify for a “streamlined” refinance program that requires less paperwork and less equity than a conventional refinance. Check out the FHA Refinance program and the VA Refinance program to learn more.

Reasons to consider refinancing your mortgage

There are a variety of reasons why it may make sense for you to refinance a mortgage. Here are some situations when doing a refinance may be a good solution.

  • Rate-and-term refinance. This is when you get a new loan with a lower interest rate, a different term (length of the loan), or both. It’s probably the most common reason why homeowners refinance their mortgages. 

    Example: If you have a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 5%, you could refinance with a 30-year mortgage at 3%. That would reduce your monthly payments and the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan.
     

  • Cash-out refinance. This is when you get a larger loan than your existing mortgage, so you walk away from the closing with cash. 

    Example: Let’s say your home’s market value is $200,000, and your mortgage balance is $100,000. If you need $25,000 to pay for college or renovate your home, you could do a cash-out refinance for $125,000. After paying off the original mortgage of $100,000, you’d have $25,000 left over to spend any way you like.  
     

  • Cash-in refinance. This is when you pay cash at the closing to pay off an existing mortgage balance. That could be necessary if you don’t have enough equity to qualify for a refinance, or you owe more than your home is worth. 

    Example: You might do a cash-in refinance if having a lower LTV qualifies you for a lower mortgage rate or allows you to get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments. Read or listen to How to Avoid PMI on Your Home Loan for more information.

You may also need to refinance a mortgage if you want to remove a co-borrower, such as an ex-spouse, from your loan. But if one spouse doesn’t have sufficient income and credit to qualify for a refinance on his or her own, your best option may be to sell the property instead of refinancing the mortgage.

5 ways to know if it’s the right time to refinance

Here are five ways to know if doing a rate-and-term refinance is a good idea.

1. You have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)

Buying a home with an adjustable-rate mortgage comes with lots of advantages like a lower rate, a lower monthly payment, and being able to qualify for a larger loan compared to a fixed-rate mortgage. With an ARM, when interest rates go down, your monthly payments get smaller. 

Instead of worrying about how high your adjustable-rate payment could go, you might refinance to a fixed-rate loan.

But when ARM rates go up, you can feel panicked as your mortgage payment increases month after month. There are caps on annual increases, but your rate could double within just a few years if rates have a significant spike.

Instead of worrying about how high your adjustable-rate payment could go, you might refinance to a fixed-rate loan. That move would lock in a reasonable rate that will never change and make it easier to manage money and stick to a spending plan.

2. You could get a lower interest rate

If you bought a home when mortgage rates were higher than they are now, you’re in a great position to consider refinancing. As I mentioned, you need to do your homework to understand the cost and BEP fully. 

I recommend shopping for a refinance with the lender who holds your current mortgage, plus one or two different companies. Let your mortgage company know that you’re shopping for the best offer. They may be willing to waive specific fees if some of the necessary work, such as a title search, survey, or appraisal, is still current for your home.

3. You don’t plan on moving for several years

Once you know what a refinance will cost, make sure you’ll own your home long enough to pass the BEP, or you’ll end up losing money. For most homeowners, it typically takes owning your home for at least three years after a refinance to make it worthwhile.

4. You have enough home equity

As I mentioned, you typically need at least 20% equity to qualify for a refinance. If you have less, you may still find lenders that will work with you. However, unless your credit is excellent, you’ll typically pay a higher interest rate when you have low equity.

Also, if you don’t have 20% equity, lenders charge PMI. Adding that to your new loan could cut your savings and give you a much longer break-even point. 

5. Your finances are in good shape.

The higher your income and credit, and the lower your debt, the better your refinancing terms will be. If you’re unemployed or your credit took a dive due to a hardship, wait until your overall financial situation has improved before making a mortgage application. Good credit can save thousands in mortgage interest.

Good credit can save thousands in mortgage interest.

If you investigate doing a refinance and decide that it’s not worth the cost, another strategy to save money is to ask your lender for a mortgage modification on your existing loan. You may be able to negotiate modified terms, such as a lower interest rate, without having to pay for a full-blown refinance.

If you’re unsure how much home equity you have or know that you have very little, don’t let that stop you from inquiring about your refinancing options and saving money. Getting advice and refinancing quotes from your lender is free and will help you understand your range of financial options.

10 COVID-19 Stimulus Benefits for the Self-Employed

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, life and business certainly have changed. If you’re self-employed full-time or earn business income on the side of a day job, you may be wondering what economic relief applies to you.  

Let's review what relief Congress passed to help self-employed Americans cope with financial challenges. I’ll review ten key stimulus benefits that apply to solopreneurs and small businesses.

If you're experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus, using some of these new regulations may be the ticket to managing your personal and business finances better.

10 ways the self-employed can get financial relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on March 27 as the largest stimulus legislation in American history since the New Deal in the 1930s. Here are ten ways it provides relief for individual solopreneurs and small business owners.

1. Getting lower interest rates

On March 3, the central U.S. bank, also known as the Federal Reserve or Fed, made a surprising emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point. That’s the largest single rate cut since the financial crisis of 2008. While this move wasn’t part of a coronavirus stimulus package, it was an aggressive cut meant to prepare the economy for problems the pandemic was expected to cause.

An economic recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate will stay near zero through 2023.

In mid-September, the Fed reiterated its promise to keep interest rates near zero until the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines. They indicated that a recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate stays near zero through 2023.

While savers never celebrate low interest rates, they're beneficial to borrowers. In general, the financing charge on variable-rate credit cards and lines of credit goes down in lockstep with interest rates. Carrying a balance on your personal and business credit cards may be slightly less expensive, depending on your card issuer and type. For instance, if your card’s annual percentage rate or APR is 20%, your adjusted rate could go down to 19.5%.

If you have a fixed-rate credit card, the APR doesn’t change no matter what happens in the economy or with federal interest rates. Also, note that if you pay off your balance in full each month, a credit card’s APR is irrelevant because you don’t pay interest on purchases.

2. Having more time to file taxes

Earlier this year, the due date for filing and paying 2019 federal taxes was postponed from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. You didn't have to be sick or negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for this federal tax delay. It applied to any person or business entity with taxes due on April 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension.

Most businesses make estimated tax payments each quarter. Those payment dates have shifted, too. The 2020 schedule gives you more time as follows:

  • The first quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The second quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The third quarter was due on September 15, 2020
  • The fourth quarter is due on January 15, 2021

Individuals and businesses can request an automatic extension to delay filing federal taxes. But it doesn’t give you more time to pay what you owe for 2019, only more time to submit your tax form—until October 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension. Individuals must file IRS Form 4868, and most incorporated businesses use IRS Form 7004.

However, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state income taxes, which have not been postponed. If you need a state tax filing extension, check with your state’s tax agency to determine what’s possible.

Taxes due on any date other than April 15, 2020—such as sales tax, payroll tax, or estate tax—don’t qualify for relief.

3. Getting more time to contribute to retirement accounts

You typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make traditional IRA or Roth IRA contributions for the prior year. But since the CARES Act postponed the federal tax filing deadline, you also have until July 15 or October 15, 2020 (if you requested an extension) to make IRA contributions for 2019.

However, this deadline doesn't apply to retirement accounts you may have with an employer, such as a 401(k). Nor does it apply to self-employed accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP-IRA, which correspond to the calendar year.

4. Getting more time to contribute to an HSA

Like with an IRA, you typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make HSA contributions for the prior year. Under the CARES Act, you now have until July 15 or October 15, 2020, to make HSA contributions for 2019.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan. In early March, the IRS issued a notice that a high-deductible health plan may cover COVID-19 testing and treatment and telehealth services before meeting your deductible. And just as before the coronavirus, you can pay for medical testing and treatment using funds in your HSA.

5. Delaying tax on retirement withdrawals

While you typically must pay income tax on retirement account withdrawals that weren’t previously taxed, the good news is that for a period, you can delay or avoid tax altogether. The CARES Act gives you two options for withdrawals made in 2020:

  • Repay a hardship distribution within three years to your retirement account. You can replace the funds slowly or all at once, with no change to your annual contribution limit. If you take money out but return it within three years, it’s like you never took a distribution.
  • Pay taxes on a hardship distribution from your retirement account evenly over three years. If you can’t pay back your distribution, you can ease your tax burden by paying one-third of your liability for three years. 

Since withdrawing contributions from a Roth retirement account doesn’t trigger income taxes, it’s a good idea to tap a Roth before a traditional retirement account when you have the option.

6. Skipping early withdrawal penalties

Most retirement accounts impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take make withdrawals before age 59.5. Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

For instance, if you, your spouse, or a child gets diagnosed with COVID-19 or have financial challenges due to being laid off, quarantined, or closing a business, you qualify for this penalty exemption. You can withdraw up to $100,000 of your retirement account balance during 2020 without penalty. However, income taxes would still be due in most cases.

The no-penalty rule applies to workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It also applies to IRAs, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs.

Since you make after-tax contributions to Roth accounts, you can withdraw them at any time (which was also the case before the CARES Act). However, the earnings portion of a Roth is subject to income tax if you withdraw it before age 59.5.

7. Getting larger retirement plan loans

Some workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, permit loans. Typically, you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000 and repay it with interest over five years.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year.

For retirement plans that allow loans, the CARES Act doubles the limit to 100% of your vested balance in the plan up to $100,000. It applies to loans you take from your account until late September 2020, for coronavirus-related financial needs.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year. For example, if you have $20,000 vested in your 401(k), you could take a $20,000 loan on September 30, 2020, and delay the repayment term until September 30, 2021. You’d have payments stretched over five years, ending on September 30, 2026. Any amount not repaid by the deadline would be subject to tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note that individual retirement accounts—such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs—don’t allow participants to take loans, only hardship distributions.

8. Suspending student loan payments.

Starting on March 13, 2020, most federal student loans went into automatic forbearance until September 30, 2020, due to the CARES Act. On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

The suspension covers the following types of loans:

  • Direct Loans that are unsubsidized or subsidized
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
  • Federal Perkins Loans

Note that FFEL loans owned by a private lender or Perkins loans held by your education institution don’t qualify for automatic forbearance. However, you may have the option to consolidate them into a Direct Loan, which would be eligible for forbearance. Just make sure that once the suspension ends, your new consolidated interest rate wouldn’t rise significantly.

During forbearance, qualifying loans don’t accrue additional interest. Even if you have federal student loans in default because you haven’t made payments, zero percent interest applies during the suspension period.

Additionally, missed payments during the suspension don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and can’t hurt your credit. Qualifying payments you skip also count toward any federal loan repayment or forgiveness plan you’re enrolled in.

However, if you want to continue making student loan payments during the suspension period, you can. With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

If you’re not sure what type of student loan you have or the pros and cons of consolidation, contact your loan servicer. Even if your student loans are with private lenders or schools, they may offer relief if you request it.

9. Having Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans forgiven

The PPP is part of the CARES Act, and it supports small businesses, organizations, and solopreneurs facing economic hardship created by the pandemic. The program began providing relief in early April 2020, and the application window ended in early August 2020.

Participating PPP lenders coordinated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer loans to businesses in operation by February 15, 2020, with fewer than 500 employees. Loan amounts could be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll up to $10 million; however, annual salaries were capped at $100,000.

For a solopreneur, the maximum PPP loan was $20,833 if your 2019 net profit was at least $100,000. The calculation is: $100,000 / 12 months x 2.5 = $20,833.

When you spend at least 60% on payroll and 40% on rent, mortgage interest, and utilities, you can have those amounts forgiven from repayment. Payroll includes payments to yourself, but you can’t cover benefit costs, such as retirement contributions, or payments to independent contractors.

In other words, a solopreneur could have received a PPP loan for up to $20,833, paid the entire amount to themselves, and not repaid it by having the load forgiven. Using a PPP loan for qualifying expenses turns it into a grant.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, if you have employees, the PPP forgiveness calculations and requirements are more complex. For example, you must maintain reasonable salaries and wages. If you decrease them by more than 25% for any employee (including yourself) who made less than $100,000 in 2019, your forgiveness amount will be reduced. 

PPP loan forgiveness also depends on keeping any full-time employees on your payroll. But if you had employees who left your company voluntarily, requested a cut in hours, or got fired for cause during the pandemic, your loan forgiveness amount won’t be reduced for those situations.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, not all states have issued their rules on taxing PPP forgiveness. So be sure to get guidance if you live in a state with income tax.

You must complete a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and get approved by your lender to qualify for forgiveness. The paperwork should come from your lender, or you can download it from the SBA website at SBA.gov. Most PPP borrowers have from six months after loan disbursement or until the end of 2020 to spend the funds. 

The forgiveness application explains what documents you must include, and they vary depending on whether you have employees. Once you submit your paperwork, your lender has 60 days to decide how much of your PPP loan can be forgiven.

If some or all of a PPP loan isn't forgiven, you typically must repay it within five years at a 1 percent fixed interest rate. You don't have to start making payments for ten months after loan disbursement, but interest will accrue during a deferral period.

10. Getting SBA loans

In addition to PPP loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loans for businesses and solopreneurs facing economic hardship caused by a disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) can be up to $2 million and repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75 percent. You can use these funds for payroll and other operating expenses.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans gives borrowers up to $25,000 for help overcoming a temporary loss of revenue. However, you must have an existing relationship with an SBA Express lender. 
  • SBA Debt Relief is a program that helps you make payments on existing SBA loans for up to six months.

Depending on your state, you may qualify for unemployment assistance, which allows self-employed people, who typically are ineligible for unemployment benefits to get them for a period.

This isn’t a complete list of all the economic relief available for small businesses and solopreneurs. There are federal tax initiatives, funds from local and state governments, and help from private organizations that you may find by doing a search online.

How to manage money in uncertain times

When it comes to surviving uncertainty, such as how COVID-19 will affect the economy, those who have emergency savings will feel much less financial stress than those who don’t. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a cash reserve of at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible. If you don’t have a cash reserve, accumulate savings by cutting non-essential expenses, and even temporarily pausing contributions to retirement accounts. That’s a better option than succumbing to panic and tapping your retirement funds early.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible.

If you find yourself in a cash crunch, contact your creditors before dipping into any retirement accounts you have. Many lenders will be willing to work with you to suspend payments or modify existing loan terms temporarily.

RELATED: How to Reduce Money Anxiety—Compassionate Advice from a Finance Pro

My new book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, covers many strategies to earn more, manage variable income, and create an automatic money system so you can strengthen your financial future. It’s a great resource if you’re thinking about earning side income or have already started a business.

Many economic factors that affect your personal and business finances aren’t under your control. Instead of worrying, look around, and figure out how you can create more income or cut unnecessary expenses. Working on tasks that you can control gives you more clarity and helps manage stress in uncertain times.