Tagged: insurance coverage

Skipping Renters Insurance? Why That’s a Bigger Risk Than You’d Think

As a finance writer, I am surrounded by people who know a lot about managing money. But even those with the most money know-how can still miss financial must-haves. For instance, in a recent conversation, a few of my coworkers stated they didn’t have renters insurance. This puts them among the 59% of renters who… Read More

The post Skipping Renters Insurance? Why That’s a Bigger Risk Than You’d Think appeared first on Credit.com.

What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a convenient way to store funds specifically for medical expenses. If you qualify for an HSA, you will get to enjoy a few tax advantages as well. While this might sound like an ideal setup, not everyone is eligible for a health savings account. To qualify for a health […]

What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Credit Cards

Credit cards can be a useful tool if you do your research a make a plan for your spending. Here’s how to get the most out of your credit cards.

The post Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Credit Cards appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Peter Anderson. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

How Much Is Pet Insurance?

couple with cats and dogs

It’s not unusual for people to think of a pet as a member of their family. (There may even be days when a cat, dog, or bird is by far the household favorite.) So of course those pet owners want to be sure they’re providing the best possible care for their animals without having to […]

The post How Much Is Pet Insurance? appeared first on SoFi.

Podcast: Insurance For Homeowners and Real Estate Investors

Insurance For Homeowners and Real Estate Investors
For this podcast about insurance I chatted with Matt Kincaid of Meridian Captone.  In the podcast we discussed insurance for homeowners and real estate investors.  Topics included first time homebuyer tips for arranging insurance, insurance for real estate investors with long term tenants and insurance for investors working in the short term rental space.
I hope you enjoy the podcast and find it informative.  Please consider sharing with those who also may benefit. Listen via YouTube: You can connect with Matt at LinkedIn,  You can reach out to Matt for more information on their insurance products by emailing him at mkincaid@meridiancapstone.com.
You can connect with me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.
About the author: The above article “Podcast: Insurance For Homeowners and Real Estate Investors” was provided by Luxury Real Estate Specialist Paul Sian. Paul can be reached at paul@CinciNKYRealEstate.com or by phone at 513-560-8002. If you’re thinking of selling or buying your investment or commercial business property I would love to share my marketing knowledge and expertise to help you.  Contact me today!
I work in the following Greater Cincinnati, OH and Northern KY areas: Alexandria, Amberly, Amelia, Anderson Township, Cincinnati, Batavia, Blue Ash, Covington, Edgewood, Florence, Fort Mitchell, Fort Thomas, Hebron, Hyde Park, Indian Hill, Kenwood, Madeira, Mariemont, Milford, Montgomery, Mt. Washington, Newport, Newtown, Norwood, Taylor Mill, Terrace Park, Union Township, and Villa Hills.
Transcript
[RealCincy.com Insurance Podcast]
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Paul S.:             Hello everybody, this is Paul Sian with United real estate home connections. Real estate agent licensed in the state of Ohio and Kentucky. And with me today is Matt Kincaid with Meridian. Hi Matt, how are you doing today?
Matt K.:            I’m doing great, Paul, thanks for having me.
Paul S.:             Great to have you on here, and looking forward to our podcast today. Where we’re going to discuss insurance for homeowners, for investors as well as looking in-depth into the insurance policies and how that’ll help out buyers and investors, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background? When did you get started in insurance?
Matt K.:            Yes. It really started in junior/senior year of college. I went to NKU, graduated in 2015. My best friend actually dropped out of school and started selling commercial trucking insurance to long-distance truckers. So he thought it might be a good part-time job for me to do, do some customer service work.
So that’s what I did my senior year mostly. And picked up on it pretty quickly, and after I graduated, I started selling full-time, and it just happened to be when I stuck with. Ended up transitioning to more personal lines. So I still do a lot of commercials, but our main focus is personal. So we’re typical home auto landlord insurance that sort of thing, so that’s kind of how I got started.
Paul S.:             Great. And you’ve been with Meridian ever since?
Matt K.:            Yes. I’ve been with Meridian. It’ll be four years in September; I’ve been in the industry for about six years now.
Paul S.:             Nice. So I understand a lot of people don’t know that you’ve got your insurance brokers, which I believe Meridian is an insurance broker, and then you got your insurance agents. Can you explain a little bit the difference between an insurance broker and an insurance agent?
Matt K.:            Yes. So in the insurance world, there’s independence and captives; captives are just what it sounds are captive to one product, one company. Whereas with independence Meridian particular, we have about 15 different companies that we’re able to shop around through. So one of our companies is, for example, is Allstate. A lot of captives also have Allstate, but we have the same exact product.
But we also have 12 other companies that we can shop around through, to make sure that you’re getting the best. So it’ll really benefit to the customer and me as an agent, or I’m not if I was just one company, I know I have to stand behind that product 100% no matter what. Whereas being a Meridian, I can just do whatever is best for the customer.
Paul S.:             Yes. So the ideal then I guess is that you can shop around from multiple policies. Just like going into the store, you can compare different types of bread, and whatever price works best for you, whatever flavor works best for you. That’s similar to what you’re able to provide.
Matt K.:            Yes, that’ll be a good example. For like your typical, this may not be what we’re talking about but, but for like your home and auto, most of time, it’s best to be with one company, but not all the time. So I’m able to mix and match if need be, whatever is going to save the customer most money, whatever they’re company is having.
Paul S.:             Great. So let’s move on to first-time homebuyers. Insurance is a, especially for homeowners, insurance is the new thing for first-time homebuyers if they don’t really know what they’re looking for. When’s a good time for them to start having that conversation with their insurance person?
Matt K.:            So I think whenever you get in contract is a good time to start looking. Getting a quote is never going to hurt, you’re not bound to any coverage, or you’re not going to be paying. 90% of time, you’re not going to be paying the full 12 months up front.
So it’s good to start getting your quotes shops around, getting some final numbers to give to your lender if you have one. So they can finalize numbers and give you a good picture of what you might be looking at going forward. So it’s never too early in my opinion, but once you get into contract, I think is an ideal time.
Paul S.:             Yes. That’s something I agree with too. And it should be pointed out for those first-time homebuyers who don’t know, I mean insurance is required if they’re financing the purchase, and the lender is going to require homeowners insurance.
Matt K.:            Yes. A lot of people know that it’s not a law that have home insurance, but the lender can make that stipulation that you have to have it upon closing.
Paul S.:             Great. And when a homebuyer first time, whether homebuyer existing or first-time homebuyer. What exactly is the insurance company looking at when they’re pricing out policies?
Matt K.:            So a big one is, you’ll hear this term going out a lot, insurance score. It’s a credit-based score; you don’t need a social to run it. But they’re able to calculate a similar score based on the amount of claims you’re turning in, your payments.
Are you making your payments on time? That sort of thing. So they’re able to get a good a good picture of the type of risk that the insurance company is taking on so that I mean if you’re looking at the property itself, the construction of the property, how old it is, the exterior that sort of thing.
Paul S.:             So does that involve a hard credit pool or a soft credit pool?
Matt K.:            It’s soft; you won’t see it on your credit at all.
Paul S.:             Okay, great. So that’s something that doesn’t have, even though during the home shopping process there’s going to be a bunch of credit pools, whether from a couple of lenders. But insurance it’s not one of those things that the buyers have to look at.
Matt K.:            No, absolutely not. Especially, that would be a big pain. Especially if I’m shopping through 15, and I’m running NVR and insurance score. But no, it won’t even show up on your score.
Paul S.:             Okay. So what are some of the best ways that homebuyers can improve their chance of getting a better insurance rate?
Matt K.:            Right. So prior insurance history is a big one, making your insurance payments on time. The area that you are in is going to be a big factor. The zip code, there’s different what’s called protection classes based on where the home is. So that’s based on how far you are from the fire hydrant, and also how far you are from the fire department.
So the highest protection class you can have is ten, that’s a maximum risk. You’re over five miles away from the nearest fire department, and your insurance rate is going to be higher. Simply do the fact if there was a fire or total catastrophe, it’s going to take longer for them to reach you.
Paul S.:             Okay. Let’s talk about the risk; you mentioned risk in there. How does risk play into it? Let’s say whether of the buyer themselves and if they’ve had past history of claims or the house even if they’ve never been in the house before what about the risk associated with that.
Paul S.:             Yes. So like I said before pass to insurance, history is big. With these landlord policies, it’s hard to tell what the price is exactly going to be. Because obviously, they’re going to rate it based off the buyer’s insurance score.
But they don’t know who’s going to be living in there. They don’t know the type of risk for who’s going to occupy that home. So it’s very limited; there’s more of a baseline price just based off the buyer’s insurance score and the protection class and the age and the property itself.
Paul S.:             Okay. In terms of the property itself, there’s a CLUE report which a lot of buyers probably have not heard about. Can you explain what the clue report is, what does it stand for, and what does that exactly provide?
Matt K.:            Yes. So I kind of describe it as a moto vehicle report for your home.  So it stands for the comprehensive loss underwriting exchange. So a lot of times, LexisNexis, you’ll get your reports from there. It’s just a big aggregate of claims that are turned in by insurers, and obviously, when I’m running your clue report, it’s going to pull up based off your name, your date of birth and the address if there are any claims that correspond to you, the insurance company can grade it importantly.
Paul S.:             Okay, great. Is there any cost for you pulling a clue report for a buyer?
Matt K.:            No, absolutely not. So for a personal policy, so if we’re talking landlord, that’s four units, four family and under. Most of the times, the company can run that itself. If it’s a commercial policy, it’s a little bit more different.
For example, if this is not a new purchase, maybe you’ve had this property for a few years, and you’re shopping right around, you may have to order that from your prior insurance company. But if it’s a new purchase, a lot of times it’s not going to be necessary, if it’s a commercial risk.
Paul S.:             Okay. Let’s talk about a homeowner who’s been in their house for a few years now, and they had a policy in place with an insurer. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions for them? I mean, do the rates get better? Do the rates get higher if they get another quote?
Matt K.:            So it’s kind of a cache one to it. It’s almost impossible to know what the insurance company is going to do. Obviously, you want to find a company that is A-rated or higher, that means they have a good financial stability, so they’re not just going to raise your rates for no reason.
But insurance is kind of like the stock market in some ways. If a company is taking big losses a certain year, they may try to recoup by raising rates, and that’s just going to be across the board based on your zip code. But I always just say just keep track of your rates. I know Meridian we have somebody who’s dedicated to be shopping if your policy goes up a certain percentage. So I think that’s great to have. But just pay attention to it, and re-shop it every couple of years if need be.
Paul S.:             Okay. By the fact of them, somebody re-shopping it, that’s not necessarily going to increase their rates, will it?
Matt K.:            No, absolutely not. Companies like to see that you’ve been insured, they don’t want to see you bounce around all the time, because that means they’re probably going to lose that risk in a year. But to answer your question, there’s no harm in re-shopping. I have customers that will call me each and every year to make sure that we have the best rate, that’s totally fine by me.
Paul S.:             Okay, that’s great and helpful information. To move on to investment real estate, can you talk about the differences in commercial versus residential investment real estate insurance?
Matt K.:            Yes, so kind of hard to describe the four. Commercial is going to be the five units and above, personal is going to be four and under. Coverages on that, the only differences that you’re going to see with commercial, instead of having a one hundred thousand or three hundred thousand liability limit, most of the time they’re going to include a general liability policy, which is going to include one million in liability.
A bunch of different other things that fall under that, so that might look different. Other than that, the forms are fairly similar. You just want to make sure that you have replacement cost, or if you want actual cash value, deductible, loss of rent. So those things are going to be similar, it’s just a matter of how many years you have, that sort of thing.
Paul S.:             Okay. In terms of investors who are owner occupying, they’re buying a duplex or four-unit, and they want to live in one unit. Are the insurance rates generally better for that type of situation?
Matt K.:            There’s not a clear answer for that, I mean it’s still going to be written on the same type of form. There might be some discounts being that the insurance company is able to calculate their risk, maybe a little bit more accurately. I mean, that could be a good thing or a bad thing for the customer.
But really, you just want to make sure that you’re asking those questions, make sure the agent is writing the policy correctly. So down the road, if there are any changes or let’s say the insurance company audits you and that information is inaccurate, that could then raise your rate.
Paul S.:             Okay. So I guess the answer is it depends?
Matt K.:            Yes. With a lot of insurance, it just depends, unfortunately.
Paul S.:             That’s still good to know. So let’s talk a little bit about insurance riders, I guess insurance riders applies both to regular homeowners as well as investors. What can you tell me? I guess first, let’s explain what’s an insurance rider, and why would somebody want one or need one.
Matt K.:            Yes. So with any insurance policy, there’s going to be a lot of things that are automatically included. Like if we’re talking landlord policy wind, hail, fire, that sort of thing. And then if you want to have personal property protection, let’s say you’re furnishing some of the items may be the appliances in the home can have that. Otherwise, the writers are going to look fairly similar to what you’re going to see on a typical homeowner’s insurance policy.
Or do you want water and sewage backup? Do you want replacement cost on your belongings or the roof? So those are going to look fairly similar. If the agent is asking the right questions and going over it thoroughly, there should be no question on how you want it covered. Some other things that might be on there is earthquake that’s not included; flood insurance it’s a totally separate policy, so there’s always that misconception that flood is included in the homeowners; it’s never included.
Whether it’s a landlord policy or homeowner’s policy, the way to differentiate that with water coverage is where the water is originating from. If the water originated from outside the house, that is flood. If the water is originating from inside, let’s say you have a pipe that burst, or a toilet that overflows or some pump that’s water inside the house and that’s something that could be covered either automatically or with a rider.
Paul S.:             Okay. And just look a little further into flood insurance that applies to both regular buyers and investors, but that’s also like you said this based on external factors close to a river, close to the lake. Where would somebody find out if their property falls under that, or requires flood insurance?
Matt K.:            So a lot of the times, the lender may have an idea if it’s required or not. Otherwise, just asking your insurance agent. There’s not like an automatic identification that is going to tell you. In the loan process, it will probably come up that flood insurance is required, and then at that point, the insurance agent can find out what flood zone you’re in, what kind of rate impact that’s going to have on you, and that sort of thing.
Paul S.:             And then flood insurance too is not something you provide directly, I believe that’s provided from the government, correct?
Matt K.:            Yes. So it’s a FEMA based product, but we do also have a private flood company if your loan accepts that, which can be up to 40% off of a FEMA back product, and it’s the same exact coverage.
Paul S.:             Okay. So let’s talk a little bit more about the private insurance coverage you said for flood insurance, as opposed to FEMA. That’s something you said the lender would have to allow it. Otherwise, they have to go through the government program?
Matt K.:            Yes. So I mean the laws are changing for this all the time, most of the time if it’s a Government loan, they’re not going to allow private flood insurance. But that could depend on a bunch of different factors.
So the best thing to do is just ask your lender if private flood is acceptable because if it is, that’s going to save you a ton of money. I just did one a couple of weeks ago, where FEMA wanted 1,500 bucks, and my private flood carrier came back at like 700. So that could be a big difference, especially if you have a certain down payment you need to make for the home, and just cut cost in general.
Paul S.:             That’s 1500 versus 700 is that a yearly cost?
Matt K.:            Yes, flood is always going to be a 12-month policy, just like your homeowners.
Paul S.:             Okay. Is it worth it? Let’s say somebody’s not listed as a; the property is not listed in flood zone, so they don’t require flood insurance. Is it worth it for them to maybe they happen to live behind a, there’s a small lake behind them? Is it worth it to get flood insurance for them?
Matt K.:            I think it’s at least worth having that conversation, you know everybody’s different. You know there are some customers they’re going to want all the bells and whistles, they are going to want earthquake even if you’re not even close to a fault, that sort of thing.
So it’s just having that conversation, I mean you can never be too covered. It’s never a bad idea to cover all your paces, but it’s just a matter of what the insured is willing to spend, and if they think it’s worth taking that risk or not.
Paul S.:             Okay. Most of the insurance policies we’re talking about, and I shouldn’t say most, I should say all the policies we’re talking about right now are generally applied to like long term whether you as a long term owner-occupant or as a long term investment property, where you have a one continuous tenant may be staying a year after a year or long-term leases basically.
Let’s talk a little bit about short term tenants like your Airbnb, your VRBO, I mean, are there different insurance requirements for that, different insurance policies? What would you recommend? And what have you seen for other people who are looking for that type of insurance?
Matt K.:            Yes. So honestly, I’ve ran across it a few times. The one thing you want to make sure of is most companies will either not write it, or they’ll have an endorsement done for a short-term rental. So that’s going to be a surcharge for you. Other than that, it’s going to be fairly similar. You just want to make sure if you’re going through air Airbnb or VRBO make sure what they are going to cover.
They’re going to include an insurance policy, so you don’t want to have any overlaps, we also don’t want to have any gaps in the insurance. I know Airbnb will, for example, not cover bodily injury or property damage, so that’s something that’s going to fall under your insurance policy. So it’s just making sure that you understand the verbiage. So if you do have an Airbnb home that you want to get insured, take a look at that policy, send it to your insurance agent. Have them write over it, and make sure that you’re fully covered.
Paul S.:             Okay. That’s something that you’d provide if somebody’s coming to look for a policy through you for a short term rental that you would be able to assist them with too?
Matt K.:            Yes, absolutely. I did one last week; the customer was very concerned about the pricing. He was coming from USAA; they wanted like 2,500 bucks on the year for a single-family Airbnb.
I have a great company called Berkshire Hathaway; they have a product specifically for Airbnb or VRBO. I was able to cut his price almost in half. So we definitely have products for it; off the top of my head I probably have three or four that I can quote through.
Paul S.:             Okay, great. And just to go back to your company’s footprint, Meridian, basically, are you able to offer insurance all 50 states? Are you limited anywhere?
Matt K.:            So yes, we’re not available in all 50 states, but we are available in the Tri-State as well as Tennessee, Illinois, a lot of the southeast. So if you have any questions about that, please give me a call.
That being said, I have a lot of property investors that are coming from either across the country or overseas. That is totally fine, as long as the property that they’re buying is within our scope, we can definitely accommodate.
Paul S.:             Okay, great. And what’s the best way for somebody to reach out to you if they want to get some more information?
Matt K.:            So you can reach me either by phone or email. I’m also very active on Facebook. My phone number is 513-503-1817. Or you can reach me by email that is MKincaid@Meridiancapstone.com.
Paul S.:             Okay, great. That’s all the questions I have for you today, Matt, thanks for being on.
Matt K.:            Yes, thanks for having me.
[End of Recorded Material]

Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

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The post How Businesses Can Prepare for Hurricane Season appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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Which Debts Should You Prepay First? A 6-Step Plan

Maya asks:

“Is it better to pay off student loans or a mortgage first? I’m asking for my brother, who took out $80,000 in student loans about 20 years ago and has only paid off about $10,000. He recently bought a home in Southern California and took out a 30-year mortgage that might be as much as $400,000. I don’t know the interest rates he’s paying on these debts. I think he should pay off his student loans first because the total debt is smaller, older, and can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy. What do you think?”

Thanks for your question, Maya! This dilemma is common, especially now that most federal student loans are in automatic forbearance from March 13 to September 30, 2020, due to coronavirus-related economic relief. That means millions of student loan borrowers suddenly have the option to stop making payments without adverse financial consequences, such as hurting their credit or getting charged additional interest or fees.

If you have qualifying student loans and you're dealing with financial hardship due to the pandemic or another challenge, you may be grateful to have your payments suspended. But if your finances are in good shape and you don’t have any dangerous debts, such as high-rate credit cards or loans, you may be wondering what to do with the extra money. Should you send it to your student loans despite the forbearance, to your mortgage, or to some other account?

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief

6 Steps to Decide Whether to Pay Off Student Loans or a Mortgage First

Let's take a look at how to prioritize your finances and use your resources wisely during the pandemic. This six-step plan will help you make smart decisions and reach your financial goals as quickly as possible.

1. Check your emergency savings

While many people begin by asking which debt to pay off first, that’s not necessarily the right question. Instead, zoom out and consider your financial life's big picture. An excellent place to start is to review your emergency savings.

If you’ve suffered the loss of a job or business income during the pandemic, you’re probably very familiar with how much or how little savings you have. But if you haven’t thought about your cash reserve lately, it’s time to reevaluate it.

Having emergency money is so important because it keeps you from going into debt in the first place. It keeps you safe during a rough financial patch or if you have a significant unexpected expense, such as a car repair or a medical bill.

How much emergency savings you need is different for everyone. If you’re the sole breadwinner for a large family, you may need a bigger financial cushion than a single person with no dependents and plenty of job opportunities.

If you’re the sole breadwinner for a large family, you may need a bigger financial cushion than a single person with no dependents and plenty of job opportunities.

A good rule of thumb is to accumulate at least 10% of your annual gross income as a cash reserve. For instance, if you earn $50,000, make a goal to maintain at least $5,000 in your emergency fund.

You might use another standard formula based on average monthly living expenses: Add up your essential costs, such as food, housing, insurance, and transportation, and multiply the total by a reasonable period, such as three to six months. For example, if your living expenses are $3,000 a month and you want a three-month reserve, you need a cash cushion of $9,000.

If you have zero savings, start with a small goal, such as saving 1 to 2% of your income each year. Or you could start with a tiny target like $500 or $1,000 and increase it each year until you have a healthy amount of emergency money. In other words, it might take years to build up enough savings, and that’s okay—just get started!

Your financial well-being depends on having cash to meet your living expenses comfortably, not on paying a lender ahead of schedule.

Unless Maya’s brother has enough cash in the bank to sustain him and any dependent family members through a financial crisis that lasts for several months, I wouldn’t recommend paying off student loans or a mortgage early. Your financial well-being depends on having cash to meet your living expenses comfortably, not on paying a lender ahead of schedule.

If you have enough emergency savings to feel secure for your situation, keep reading. Working through the next four steps will help you decide whether to pay down your student loans or mortgage first.

2. Reach your retirement goals

In addition to saving for potential emergencies, it’s critical to save regularly for your retirement before paying down a student loan or mortgage early. So, if Maya’s brother isn’t contributing regularly to meet a retirement goal, that’s the next priority I’d recommend for him.

Consider this: If you invest $500 a month for 35 years and have an average 8% return, you’ll end up with an impressive retirement nest egg of more than $1.2 million! But if you wait until 10 years before retirement to start saving, you’d have to invest over $5,000 a month to have $1 million in the bank. When it comes to your retirement savings, procrastinating can make the difference between scraping by or have a comfortable lifestyle down the road.

When it comes to your retirement savings, procrastinating can make the difference between scraping by or have a comfortable lifestyle down the road.

A good rule of thumb is to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement. For instance, if you earn $50,000, make a goal to contribute at least $5,000 per year to a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as an IRA or a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k) or 403(b).

For 2020, you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over age 50, to a workplace retirement account. Anyone with earned income (even the self-employed) can contribute up to $6,000 (or $7,000 if you’re over 50) to an IRA.

The earlier you make retirement savings a habit, the better. Not only does starting sooner give you more time to contribute money, but it leverages the power of compounding, which allows the growth in your account to earn additional interest. That’s when you’ll see your retirement account value mushroom!

3. Have the right insurance

In addition to building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, an essential part of taking control of your finances is having adequate insurance. Many people get into debt in the first place because they don’t have enough of the right kinds of coverage—or they don’t have any insurance at all.

Without enough insurance, a catastrophic event could wipe out everything you’ve worked so hard to earn.

As your career progresses and your net worth increases, you’ll have more income and assets to protect from unexpected events. Without enough insurance, a catastrophic event could wipe out everything you’ve worked so hard to earn.

Make sure you have enough health insurance to protect yourself and those you love from an illness or accident jeopardizing your financial security. Also, review your auto and home or renters insurance coverage. And by the way, if you rent and don’t have renters insurance, you need it. It’s a bargain for the protection you get; it only costs $185 per year on average. 

And if you have family who would be hurt financially if you died, you need life insurance to protect them. If you’re in relatively good health, a term life insurance policy for $500,000 might only cost a couple of hundred dollars per year. You can get free quotes for many different types of insurance using sites like Bankrate.com or Policygenius.com.

If Maya’s brother is missing critical types of insurance for his lifestyle and family situation, getting it should come before paying off a student loan or mortgage early. It’s always a good idea to review your insurance needs with a reputable agent or a financial advisor who can make sure you aren’t exposed to too much financial risk.

4. Set other financial goals

But what about other goals you might have, such as saving for a child’s education, starting a business, or buying a home? These are wonderful if you can afford them once you’ve accounted for your emergency savings, retirement, and insurance needs.

Make a list of your financial dreams, what they cost, and how much you can afford to spend on them each month. If they’re more important to you than paying off student loans or a mortgage early, then you should fund them. But if you’re more determined to become completely debt-free, go for it!

5. Consider your opportunity costs

Once you’ve hit the financial targets we’ve covered so far, and you have money left over, it’s time to consider the opportunity costs of using it to pay off your student loans or mortgage. Your opportunity cost is the potential gain you’d miss if you used your money for another purpose, such as investing it.

A couple of benefits of both student loans and mortgages is that they come with low interest rates and tax deductions, making them relatively inexpensive. That’s why other high-interest debts, such as credit cards, personal loans, and auto loans, should always be paid off first. Those debts cost more in interest and don’t come with any money-saving tax deductions.

Especially in today’s low interest rate environment, it’s possible to get a significantly higher return even with a reasonably conservative investment portfolio.

But many people overlook the ability to invest extra money and get a higher return. For instance, if you pay off the mortgage, you’d receive a 4% guaranteed return. But if you can get 6% on an investment portfolio, you may come out ahead.

Especially in today’s low-interest-rate environment, it’s possible to get a significantly higher return even with a reasonably conservative investment portfolio. The downside of investing extra money, instead of using it to pay down a student loan or mortgage, is that investment returns are not guaranteed.

If you decide an early payoff is right for you, keep reading. We’ll review several factors to help you know which type of loan to focus on first.

 

6. Compare your student loans and mortgage

Once you have only student loans and a mortgage and you’ve decided to prepay one of them, consider these factors.

The interest rates of your loans. As I mentioned, you may be eligible to claim a mortgage interest tax deduction and a student loan interest deduction. How much savings these deductions give you depends on your income and whether you use Schedule A to itemize deductions on your tax return. If you claim either type of deduction, it could reduce your after-tax interest rate by about 1%. The debt with the highest after-tax interest rate is typically the best one to pay off first.

The amounts you owe. If you owe significantly less on your student loans than your mortgage, eliminating the smaller debt first might feel great. Then you’d only have one debt left to pay off instead of two.

You have an interest-only adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). With this type of mortgage, you’re only required to pay interest for a period (such as several months or up to several years). Then your monthly payments increase significantly based on market conditions. Even if your ARM interest rate is lower than your student loans, it could go up in the future. You may want to pay it down enough to refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage.

You have a loan cosigner. If you have a family member who cosigned your student loans or a spouse who cosigned your mortgage, they may influence which loan you tackle first. For instance, if eliminating a student loan cosigned by your parents would help improve their credit or overall financial situation, you might prioritize that debt.

You qualify for student loan forgiveness. If you have a federal loan that can be forgiven after a certain period (such as 10 or 20 years), prepaying it means you’ll have less forgiven. Paying more toward your mortgage would save you more.

Being completely debt-free is a terrific goal, but keeping inexpensive debt and investing your excess cash for higher returns can make you wealthier in the end.

As you can see, the decision to eliminate debt and in what order, isn’t clear-cut. Mortgages and student loans are some of the best types of debt to have—they allow you to build wealth by accumulating equity in a home, getting higher-paying jobs, and freeing up income you can save and invest.

In other words, if Maya’s brother uses his excess cash to prepay a low-rate mortgage or a student loan, it may do more harm than good. So, before you rush to prepay these types of debts, make sure there isn’t a better use for your money.

Being completely debt-free is a terrific goal, but keeping inexpensive debt and investing your excess cash for higher returns can make you wealthier in the end. Only you can decide whether paying off a mortgage or student loan is the right financial move for you.