Working from home has its perks. Thereâs 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 âwork-from-home casualâ 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, youâre probably asking yourself, âHow can I set up a home office on a budget?â
Whether youâve 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:
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. Thatâs 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. Loesingâs 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 doesnât have to be that way, Loesing says.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.â
There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budgetâeven if youâre stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,â Loesing says. âFor those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractionsâmaybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own paceâit has been proven this makes for a happier employee.â
Who doesnât 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 âThe Smarter Home Office.â Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room youâve always thought could become an office space.
If you donât have a dedicated office, donât despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.
Varone once visited a clientâs home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. âAt the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,â Varone says.
But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadnât occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.
âThere are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,â 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 youâve 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. Donât face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight thatâs perpendicular to the window, Varone says. Thatâs because, even on an overcast day, youâd be looking into too much bright light if youâre facing the window.
âWhatâs happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that youâre facing and the darker light of your computer screen,â Varone says. âAnd that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.â
If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your âofficeâ if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while youâre working, apart from an emergency.
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 âofficeâ will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.
âThat also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, âAll right, my workday is over,ââ Varone says. ââNow I can focus on my personal life.ââ
Choose your furniture wisely
Now that youâve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe itâs a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.
If you do need to buy a desk or chair, donât 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.
The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone whoâs 5â8â, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.
Thatâs where your chair comes in. Most people donât 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, youâll have a comfortable setup.
Itâs important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you donât 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?
âIf you canât spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where youâre sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,â Loesing says. âWhen you donât sit so your back is against the backrest, youâre using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.â
Adjust your furniture and equipment
As you continue planning a home office, youâll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether itâs a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says itâs the single most important feature to addressâas 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. (Thatâs typically about 4â 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. âThere are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,â Loesing says. âIf you donât want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.â
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 youâre working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, thatâs a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you donât 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 thereâs no strain on anything, Loesing says.
âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
Stand if it suits you
If youâre intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, youâre not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.
âStatic postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,â Loesing says. âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
You donât have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. âThe 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,â Loesing says.
Even if you donât have a standing deskâmakeshift or otherwiseâyou 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.
Donât forget the ambience and accessories
Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when youâre setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.
Your overhead light fixture likely isnât 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 youâre 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 noisesâespecially if youâre 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 theyâre better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.
After youâve 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.
One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether itâs a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. Itâs 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, youâre ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether youâre an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office thatâs 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.
Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
âI think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,â Dawson says. ââWhat do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?â Those conversations are really valuable.â
As Dawsonâs clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, âHow should I adjust my household budget if weâre spending more time at home?â
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
âThere are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,â Rogin says. âAnd there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.â
Even if youâve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure youâre at least staying on track to meet your savings goalsâand at best, shortening your savings timelines. Itâs also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as youâve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad. But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. âYou can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,â she says. âWhat do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. Youâll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but thereâs no reason to feel anxious.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad,â she says. âBut it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then youâll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and youâre actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on whatâs really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
âMaybe youâre spending more on groceries, but thatâs less than you were spending on eating outâand you enjoy it,â she says. âYouâre spending more time with your family. Youâre eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.â
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, itâs allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because theyâre comfortable, and no one can see them when sheâs video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether youâre facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a âvalues-based spending planâ for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesnât.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, itâs time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, donât get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If youâre reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a birdâs-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when youâre trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what youâre saving for, as well as where youâll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account wonât allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money youâve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
âBe really clear about what each savings account is for,â she says. âThen youâre more likely to fund it.â
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
âSo many people are in need now,â Rogin says. âThere are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like youâre making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.â
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, youâll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If youâve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Save More Money in the Stay-at-Home Economy by Focusing on What Matters Most appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
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 mightâve 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 â 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.
Refinancing your existing mortgage can absolutely make sense in terms of interest savings, but donât rule out buying a new home instead.
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 âcash out.â
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 âas a result of risk management and loss forecasting precipitated by COVID-19 related economic and market uncertainty.â
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 wonât 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 canât 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 borrowerâs employment or income due to COVID-19 wonât 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 thatâs 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.
Related: The Best Mortgage Refinance Companies
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 theyâre 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.
Related: What Are The Best Mortgage Rates Today?
The Bottom Line
Refinancing your existing mortgage can absolutely make sense in terms of interest savings, but donât 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 canât 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 youâre 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.
Keep Reading: Steps to Take Before Refinancing Your House
The post Why Refinance Rates Are Higher Than Purchase Loan Rates appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so itâs important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities donât.
Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you canât predict the total each month. Or can you?
Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?
What is budget billing and how does it work?
As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.
How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.
Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous ownersâ or rentersâ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.
Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. Thereâs no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.
These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.
Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?
Does budget billing save money?
âBudget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,â Cothern says.
How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing.â
How does budget billing work if you underpay? Youâll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.
What are the benefits of budget billing?
Overall, thereâs a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesnât save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.
For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,â Rathner says. âYou know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.â
Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring theyâre paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.
While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:
You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothernâs view, this negates the benefit since thereâs no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. Itâs important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when youâre researching how budget billing works.
You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.
âAlways keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,â Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.
If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means youâre paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And thatâs where the real opportunity to save money lies.
By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, youâll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.
Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack
After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. Youâll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you donât have one already.
Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. Youâll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.
When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.
Do your homework before signing up for budget billing
After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.
If thatâs the case, itâs important to read your utilityâs program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.
Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:
Are there startup or maintenance fees?
How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
What happens if you overpay or underpay?
What happens when you move or end service?
With the answers to these questions, youâll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.
Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Just about everybody with a wallet is impacted by the Federal Reserve. That means youâhomeowners 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 rateâthe rate banks charge each other to lend funds overnightâthe 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.
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 movesâor 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.
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.”
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 periodicallyâalso 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 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 futureâat 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.
“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.”
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.
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. âJust 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.
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.
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.
The internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding information that can help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, searching for âHow much house can I afford?â will mostly lead you to online calculators that use an algorithm to come up with a generic estimate.
To come up with a figure, these calculators ask you for details like your zip code, your gross annual income, your down payment amount, your monthly liabilities, and your credit score. From there, they come up with an estimate of your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the amount of bills and liabilities you have in relation to your monthly income.
The truth is, most lenders prefer your debt-to-income ratio to be at 43 percent or lower, although some lenders may offer you a loan with a DTI slightly above that.
Either way, the figures these calculators throw at you are a simple reflection of what a bank is willing to lend you â not an estimate of what you really can or should spend.
Let’s dig in a bit more to what factors to consider.
Factors that Should Impact Your Home Purchase Price
One of the main factors to consider when deciding how much to spend on a home is how much you want to pay for your mortgage each month. What kind of payment can you commit to without sacrificing other goals?
A mortgage payment calculator is a good tool to use in this case. With a mortgage calculator, you can see how much your monthly payment might be depending on the amount you borrow, the interest rate you qualify for, and the term of the loan.
While you decide on a monthly payment you can live with, there are additional details you should consider. The main ones include:
Down Payment: If youâre able to put down 20% of your home purchase price, you can avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI. PMI adds an additional cost to your mortgage each month (usually around 1% of your loan amount), although you can have this charge removed from your loan once you have at least 20% equity.
Property Taxes: Find out the annual property taxes for any home youâre considering, then divide that amount by 12 to figure out approximately how much youâll need to pay toward taxes in your mortgage payment each month. Also remember that your property taxes will likely go up slowly over time, which will increase your monthly housing payment along the way.
Homeowners Insurance: Your homeowners insurance premiums will also vary depending on the property and other factors. Make sure to get a homeowners insurance quote so you know approximately how much youâll pay for coverage each year.
Home Warranty: Do you want a home warranty that will repair or replace major components of your property that break down? If so, youâll want to price out home warranties that can provide coverage for your HVAC system, plumbing, appliances, and more.
Other Monthly Bills: Take other liabilities you have into account, and especially the big ones. Daycare expenses, college tuition, utility bills, car payments, and all other bills you have should be considered and planned for.
Financial Goals: Are you trying to save more than usual so you can retire early? Or, are you saving in a 529 plan for future college expenses? If your financial goals are a priority (as they should be), then youâll want to make sure your new house payment wonât make saving for other goals a challenge.
Upgrades and Repairs: Finally, donât forget to come up with an estimate of how much you might want to spend on repairs or changes to your new home. A property that is new or move-in ready may not require much of anything, but money you plan to spend on a major renovation should be taken into consideration along with the purchase price of your home.
Hidden Expenses to Plan For
The factors you should consider when figuring out how much home to buy are pretty obvious, but what about all the expenses of homeownership you canât always plan for? The reality is, you will need to do some work on your home at some point, and many of the most popular repairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars on their own.
These repair and renovation cost estimates from Remodeling Magazineâs 2020 Cost vs. Value study are just a few examples:
Garage door replacement: $3,695
Vinyl siding replacement: $14,459
Wooden window replacement: $21,495
Asphalt roof replacement: $24,700
In addition to major repairs like these, youâll also have repair bills for your HVAC system, mulch to buy for your flower beds, and ongoing costs for maintenance and upkeep to pay for. You may also decide to remodel your older kitchen one day, or to add an extra bedroom as your family grows.
As you figure out how much you should spend on a home, remember that you wonât know exactly how much youâll need for home repairs or upgrades. Most people set aside some money for home maintenance in their emergency fund, but you can also set aside money for home repairs in a separate high-yield savings account.
How to Calculate How Much House You Should Afford
All of the costs weâve outlined above probably seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that most major home repairs will be spread out over the years and even decades you own your home. Not only that, but you will hopefully start earning more over the course of your career. As your paycheck grows, youâll be able to set aside more money for emergencies and potentially even pay your mortgage off faster.
So, how do you calculate how much house you can afford? Thatâs really up to you, but I would start by tallying up every bill you have to pay each month including car payments, insurance, utilities, student loans, and any other debts you have. From there, add in some savings so you have money to set aside for your investing and savings goals. Also factor in money you set aside for retirement in a workplace account.
At this point, you could consider other factors that might impact how much you want to pay for a home. For example:
Do you need to build an emergency fund?
Are children on the agenda, and should you play for daycare expenses?
Do you like being able to save more money for a rainy day?
Do you want to have one spouse stay at home in the future?
How long do you want to pay off your home loan?
Once youâve considered all other factors, you may decide that you should set aside money for some other goals, like future daycare bills or college savings. Maybe you decide you want to pay double on your student loans so you can pay them off early, or that you want a 15-year-home loan with a larger monthly payment instead of a traditional 30-year loan.
Either way, experts tend to agree that your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your income. For a $7,000 monthly income, that means your payment shouldnât exceed $1,750. If your income is $5,000 per month, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,250 per month. These are ballpark estimates, and your property taxes and homeowners insurance premiums (or estimates) should also be figured into this amount.
What to Do If You Already Spent Too Much?
If you already overspent on your home, youâre probably wondering which steps to take next. Maybe your monthly mortgage payment is making it impossible to keep up with other bills, or perhaps the home you bought required a lot more work than you realized.
Either way, there are some steps to get back on track financially if you bit off more than you can chew. Consider these options:
Refinance your mortgage. Todayâs incredibly low rates have made it so almost anyone can refinance an existing mortgage and save money these days. If youâre able to qualify for a new mortgage with a lower interest rate, you could lower your monthly payment and save money on interest each month. Compare mortgage refinancing rates here.Â
Cut your expenses. Look for ways to cut your spending on a daily basis â at least until you figure out what to do in the long run. Figure out areas of your budget where you might be spending more than you realized, such as dining out, getting takeout, or going out on the weekends. If you can cut your monthly spending somewhat, you can find more money to use toward your mortgage payment each month.Â
Get a roommate. Consider renting out your guest room in order to get some help with your mortgage. If you live in a tourist area, you can also rent out a space using platforms like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com.Â
Sell your home and move. Finally, consider selling your home and moving if you have enough equity to do so without taking a financial loss. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a financial crisis is cut your losses and move on.
The Bottom Line
How much house you can afford isnât always the same as how much you should afford. Only you know what your monthly bills and liabilities look like each month, and only you know the goals and dreams you really should be saving for.
When it comes to buying a home, youâre almost always better off if you err on the side of caution and borrow less a bank will lend. Buying a modest home can leave you with a lot more choices in life, but buying a home you canât really afford can leave you struggling for years to come.
The post How Much House Should I Afford? appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.