Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.

But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create your home office on a budget.

Strive for an ergonomically correct home office

Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.

If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.

As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

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“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?

Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace

When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.

In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.

Establish the ideal setup for your workstation

Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.

When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.

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The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.

One more chair takeaway from Loesing?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.

While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:

  • Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
  • Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.

If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.

While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

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“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.

For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.

As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.

Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.

Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive

Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.

Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Why Refinance Rates Are Higher Than Purchase Loan Rates

Mortgage interest rates dropped dramatically over the summer, to the point where home loans have never been cheaper in most of our adult lifetimes. With rates at historic lows, you might’ve considered taking advantage of them, either by purchasing a new home or refinancing your current mortgage.

Recent figures from Freddie Mac show that mortgage refinances surged in the first quarter of 2020, with nearly $400 billion first home loans refinanced. However, as it turns out, refinancing your mortgage might actually be more expensive than purchasing a new home. 

This surprised us, too — why would there be a difference at all? 

We investigated how refinancing rates and new purchase home loan rates are set, and found several reasons for this rate disparity. On top of the rate difference, mortgage refinancing is even more difficult to qualify for, given the current economy.

Before rushing to refinance your home, read on to gather the information you need to make the right financial decision for your situation.

Pandemic Effects on Home Lending

Just as mortgage rates have stumbled, banks and lenders have tightened the screws on borrowers due to COVID-19, requiring higher credit scores and down payment amounts. Chase, for example, raised its minimum FICO score requirements for home purchases and refinances to 700 with a down payment requirement of at least 20%. 

Low rates have also driven a massive move to mortgage refinances. According to the same Freddie Mac report, 42% of homeowners who refinanced did so at a higher loan amount so they could “cash out.”

Unfortunately, homeowners who want to refinance might face the same stringent loan requirements as those who are taking out a purchase loan. Mortgage refinance rates are also generally higher than home purchase rates for a handful of reasons, all of which can make refinancing considerably less appealing. 

How Refinance Rates Are Priced

Although some lenders might not make it obvious that their refinance rates are higher, others make the higher prices for a home refinance clear. When you head to the mortgage section on the Wells Fargo website, for example, it lists rates for home purchases and refinances separately, with a .625 difference in rates for a thirty-year home loan. 

There are a few reasons why big banks might charge higher rates to refinance, including:

Added Refinance Fees

In August of 2020, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced it was tacking on a .5% fee on refinance mortgages starting on September 1. This fee will be assessed on cash-out refinances and no cash-out refinances. According to Freddie Mac, the new fee was introduced “as a result of risk management and loss forecasting precipitated by COVID-19 related economic and market uncertainty.”

By making refinancing more costly, lenders can taper the number of refinance loans they have to process, giving them more time to focus on purchase loans and other business.

Lenders Restraining New Application Volume

Demand for mortgage refinancing has been so high that some lenders are unable to handle all requests. Reluctant to add more employees to handle a surge that won’t last forever, many lenders are simply limiting the number of refinance applications they process, or setting additional terms that limit the number of loans that might qualify.

Also note that some lenders are prioritizing new purchase loans over mortgage refinance applications since new home buyers have deadlines to meet. With the housing market also on an upswing in many parts of the country, many major banks and lenders simply can’t keep up.

Rate Locks Cost Money

Generally speaking, it costs lenders more to lock the rate for refinance loans when compared to purchase loans. This is leaving lenders disinterested in allocating resources on the recent surge in mortgage refinance applications.

This is especially true since many refinancers might lock in a rate with one provider but switch lenders and lock in a rate again if interest rates go down. Lenders exist to turn a profit, after all, and it makes sense they would spend their time on loans that provide the greatest return.

Tighter Requirements Due to COVID-19

According to the Brookings Institute, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been asking lenders to make sure any disruption to a borrower’s employment or income due to COVID-19 won’t impact their ability to repay their loan. 

Many lenders are also increasing the minimum credit score borrowers must have while making other requirements harder to meet. As an example, U.S. Bank increased its minimum credit score requirement to 680 for mortgage customers, and it also implemented a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 50 percent.

This combination of factors can make it difficult to save as much money with a refinance, or to even find a lender that’s willing to process your application. With this in mind, run the math and to see if refinancing is right for your situation before contacting a mortgage lender.

How Mortgage Purchase Rates Are Priced

Mortgage purchase rates are priced using a similar method as refinance rates. When you apply for a home mortgage, the lender looks at factors like your credit score, your income, your down payment and your other debt to determine your eligibility.

The overall economy also plays a giant role in mortgage rates for home loans, including purchase loans and refinance loans. Mortgage rates tend to go up during periods of speedy economic growth, and they tend to drop during periods of slower economic growth. Meanwhile, inflation can also play a role. Low levels of inflation contribute to lower interest rates on mortgage loans and other financial products.

Mortgage lenders can also price their loans based on the amount of business they have coming in, and whether they have the capacity to process more loans. They might lower rates to drum up business or raise rates when they’re at or nearing capacity. This is part of the reason rates can vary among lenders, and why it always makes sense to shop around for a home loan.

Many people believe that the Federal Reserve sets mortgage rates, but this is not exactly true. The Federal Reserve sets the federal funds rate, which lenders use to ensure they meet mandated cash reserve requirements. When the Fed raises this rate, banks have to pay more to borrow from one another, and these costs are often passed on to consumers. Likewise, costs can go down when the Fed lowers the federal funds rate, which can mean lower costs and interest rates for borrowers.

The Bottom Line

Refinancing your existing mortgage can absolutely make sense in terms of interest savings, but don’t rule out buying a new home instead. Buying a new home could help you save money on interest and get the space and the features you really want. 

Remember, there are steps you can take to become a more attractive borrower whether you choose to refinance or invest in a new place. You can’t control the economy or the Federal Reserve, but you have control over your personal finances.

Improving your credit score right away, and paying down debt to lower your debt-to-income ratio are just a couple of strategies to start. And if you’re planning on buying a new home, make sure you save a hefty down payment amount. These steps help you improve your chances at getting the best rates and terms whether you choose to move or stick with the home you have. 

The post Why Refinance Rates Are Higher Than Purchase Loan Rates appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

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What Happens to Mortgage Rates When the Fed Cuts Rates?

Just about everybody with a wallet is impacted by the Federal Reserve. That means you—homeowners and prospective buyers. Whether you’re already nestled in to the house of your dreams or still looking to find it, you’ll probably want to track what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. When the Fed (as it’s commonly referred to) cuts its federal funds rate—the rate banks charge each other to lend funds overnight—the move could impact your mortgage costs.

The Fed’s overall goal when it cuts the federal funds rate is to stimulate the economy by spurring consumers to spend and borrow. This is good news if you are carrying debt because borrowing tends to become less expensive following a Fed rate cut (think: lower credit card APRs). But in the case of homeownership, what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates can be a double-edged sword.

What happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates depends on many factors.

The connection between a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates isn’t so crystal clear because the federal funds rate doesn’t directly influence the rate on every type of home loan.

“Mortgage rates are formed by global market forces, and the Federal Reserve participates in those market forces but isn’t always the most important factor,” says Holden Lewis, who’s been covering the mortgage industry for nearly 20 years and is also a regular contributor to NerdWallet.

To understand which side of the sword you’re on, you’ll need an answer to the question, “How does a Fed rate cut affect mortgage rates?” Read on to find out if you stand to potentially gain on your mortgage in a low-rate environment:

How a fixed-rate mortgage moves—or doesn’t

A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that remains the same for the entire length of the loan. If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates if you are an existing homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage? Nothing should happen to your monthly payments following a Fed rate cut because your rate has already been locked in.

“For current homeowners with a fixed-rate mortgage set at a previous higher level, the existing mortgage rate stays put,” Lewis says.

If you’re a prospective homebuyer shopping around for a fixed-rate mortgage, the news of what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates may be different.

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For prospective homebuyers: If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before.”

– Holden Lewis, mortgage expert and NerdWallet contributor

The federal funds rate does not directly impact the rates on this type of home loan, so a Fed rate cut doesn’t guarantee that lenders will start offering lower mortgage rates. However, the 10-year Treasury yield does tend to influence fixed-rate mortgages, and this yield often moves in the same direction as the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before,” Lewis says. It’s also possible that rates on fixed mortgages will not fall following a Fed rate cut.

How an adjustable-rate mortgage follows the Fed

An adjustable-rate mortgage (commonly referred to as an ARM) is a home loan with an interest rate that can fluctuate periodically—also known as variable rate. There is often a fixed period of time during which the initial rate stays the same, and then it adjusts on a regular interval. (For instance, with a 5/1 ARM, the initial rate stays locked in for five years and then adjusts each year thereafter.)

So back to the burning question: If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? The rates on an ARM typically track with the index that the loan uses, e.g., the prime rate, which is in turn influenced by the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, you may see your rate change.

“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments,” says Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management.

Since ARMs are often adjusted annually after the fixed period, you may not feel the impact of the Fed rate cut until your ARM’s next annual loan adjustment. For instance, if there is one (or more) rate cuts during the course of a year, the savings from the rate reduction(s) would hit all at once at the time of your reset.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates for prospective homebuyers considering an ARM? An even lower rate could be in your future—at least for a specific period of time.

“If you’re looking for a shorter-term mortgage, say a 5/1 ARM, you could save considerably on interest,” Stroud says. That’s because the introductory rate of an ARM is usually lower than the rate of a fixed-rate mortgage, Stroud explains. Add that benefit to lower rates fueled by a Fed rate cut and an ARM could be enticing if it supports your financial goals and plans.

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“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments.” 

– Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management

Benefits of other variable-rate loans following a rate cut

If you have a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates on your mind and are a borrower with other types of variable-rate loans, you could be impacted following a Fed rate cut. Borrowers with variable-rate home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and adjustable-rate Federal Housing Administration loans (FHA ARMs), for example, may end up ahead of the curve when the Fed cuts its rate, according to Lewis:

  • A HELOC is typically a “second mortgage” that provides you access to cash for goals like debt consolidation or home improvement and is a revolving line of credit, using your home as collateral. A Fed rate cut could result in lower rates for variable-rate HELOCs that track with the prime rate. If you are an existing homeowner with a HELOC, you could see your monthly payments drop following a Fed rate cut.
  • An FHA ARM is an ARM insured by the federal government. If you’re wondering about a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, know that this type of mortgage behaves much like a conventional variable-rate loan when the Fed cuts it rate, Lewis says. Existing homeowners with an FHA ARM could see a rate drop, and prospective homebuyers could also benefit from lower rates following a Fed rate cut.

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option for existing homeowners.

Refinancing: A silver lining for fixed rates

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option if you have an existing fixed-rate loan. The process of refinancing replaces an existing loan with a new one that pays off your old loan’s debt. You then make payments on your new loan, so the goal is to refinance at a time when you can get better terms.

“If someone buys a home one year and a Fed rate cut results in a mortgage rate reduction, for example, it presents a real refinance opportunity for homeowners,” Lewis says. “Just a small percentage point reduction could possibly trim a few hundred bucks from your monthly payments.”

Before a refinancing decision is made based on a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, you should consider any upfront costs and fees associated with refinancing to ensure they don’t offset any potential savings.

Managing your finances as a homeowner

You might be expecting some savings in your future now that you’re armed with information on what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. Whether you’re a homebuyer and financing your new home is going to cost you less with a lower interest rate, or you’re an existing homeowner with an ARM that may come with lower monthly payments, Stroud suggests to use any uncovered savings wisely.

“Invest that cash back into your property, pay down your home equity debt or borrow with it,” she says.

Understanding the connection between the Fed rate cut and mortgage rates can help you better manage your finances as a homeowner.

While news of a Fed rate cut may entice you to analyze how your mortgage will be impacted, remember there are many factors that help to determine your mortgage rate, including your credit score, home price, loan amount and down payment. The Fed’s actions are only one piece of a larger equation.

Even though the Fed’s rate decisions may dominate headlines immediately following a rate cut, your home is a long-term investment and one you’ll likely maintain for years. To best prepare for what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates is to always manage your home finances responsibly and be sure to make choices that will lead you down the right path based on your financial goals.

*This should not be considered tax or investment advice. Please consult a financial planner or tax advisor if you have questions.

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The post What Happens to Mortgage Rates When the Fed Cuts Rates? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

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5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter

Being a homeowner on a budget is nothing to be ashamed of, if anything, most people prefer to keep their expenses low, especially after recently purchasing a home! But,there are some things you shouldn’t cheap out on, and we’ve got you covered.

The post 5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com