Jeffrey Harrington's Blog
When choosing a house or condo to live in for the next several years, comfort, convenience, and affordability are among the most important factors to keep in mind. A fourth item that many real estate agents would add to that list is "location."
The location of your next home is crucial for many reasons -- not the least of which is future resale value. Ideally, you want the value of your home to appreciate over time, which will help improve your financial situation. Whether you decide to upgrade or downsize in your next real estate purchase, the equity you've built up can benefit both your lifestyle goals and real estate objectives.
In addition to the investment features of picking a good location for your next home, there are also several other worthwhile advantages.
- A reasonable commute time, preferable under a half an hour, will help reduce your stress level, enable you to spend more time with your family, and reduce the amount of wear and tear on your vehicle. A short commute can also help you save money on gas, highway tolls, depreciation, and insurance. One way to reduce your driving time is to look into telecommuting possibilities at your job. Even if you have a relatively long commute to work, that can be offset by having the freedom to work from home a couple days a week. Fortunately, more and more businesses are realizing the mutual benefits of allowing or even encouraging telecommuting. While it may be necessary to prove to your employer that your productivity won't suffer when you're working from home, doing so can save you money, lower your stress, and improve your overall quality of life. Let's face it: There are a lot more fulfilling things you can do with your time than getting stuck in traffic jams and feeling frazzled when you return home every night!
- A convenient location can also mean proximity to shopping, entertainment, recreation, family, friends, and places of worship. Being close to medical, dental, and veterinary services can also make your life a lot easier -- especially when you need to get there quickly.
- From a health and fitness standpoint, it also pays to live within a short distance to public parks, tennis courts, golf courses, bike paths, gyms, and bodies of water for swimming, kayaking, and other aquatic sports.
- For younger families, being close to childcare resources -- whether it be a daycare center or nearby (and available) relative -- can also be a major factor in getting to work on time, making sure your children are properly cared for, and minimizing chaos in your life!
What do buying a house, opening a credit card, and getting approved for an auto loan have in common? They all depend on your credit score.
Building credit is a multifaceted undertaking. In a way, this is a good thing--you wouldn’t want lenders to base their opinions solely on one aspect of your financial history. The downside is that understanding just what makes up your credit score can be difficult.
To complicate matters further, there isn’t one standard method for scoring your credit, and different credit bureaus each use their own criteria.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the factors the major credit bureaus use to calculate your credit, and give you some ways you can boost your credit.
But first, let’s talk about some of the implications of having a good credit score.
Why credit matters
Typical credit scores range anywhere from 250 to 850. The three main reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Most lenders use a combination of those scores that is reported by FICO.
Most credit reports will rank your category from “bad” to “excellent.” Here’s an example of what a credit ranking might look like:
Good: 700 - 749
Fair: 650 - 659
Poor: 550 - 649
U.S. legislation makes it possible for Americans to receive a free report of their credit score and to challenge and correct the score if it contains inaccuracies.
If you’re thinking about buying a house, opening a new line of credit, or taking out a loan of some kind, then the provider will likely run your credit score. Those providers are going to want to see a return on their investment, so they’ll charge interest.
If you have a high credit score, it tells the lenders that you are a low-risk investment, and therefore they can offer you a lower interest rate, saving you money in the long run.
Components of a credit score
There are five main factors that credit bureaus take into consideration when formulating your credit score. Not all of the factors are treated equally. Your ability to pay your bills on time, for example, is considered to be more important than the types of bills you have. Here’s a breakdown of the five components that make up a credit score:
35% - Bill and loan payments
30% - Current total amount of debt
15% - Amount of time you’ve had credit (since you took out your first loan or opened your first credit card)
10% - Types of credit (cards, loans, etc.)
10 % - New credit inquiries
Quick tips for building credit
It takes time to build credit and improve your score. So, if you’re hoping to buy a home within the next few years, now is the time to start working on your credit. Here are some best practices for building credit:
Set up autopay for your bills to avoid late payments. Even if the service doesn’t offer autopay, you can likely set up recurring payments through your bank.
Settle outstanding debt. Avoiding debt that you can’t pay off will only hurt you more in the long run. Call your creditor and see if they offer debt relief programs. More likely than not they’d rather work with you to ensure they receive some repayment rather than none at all.
Start budgeting the right way. New budgeting software like Mint and “You Need a Budget” are easy to use and link up with your accounts. They’ll help you monitor your spending and start paying off debt.
Don’t open new lines of credit close to when you want to take out a loan. New credit inquiries can briefly lower your credit, especially if you make more than one. Viewing your free credit reports doesn’t count as an inquiry, so feel free to do that as often as needed to check your progress.
Get credit for bills you’re already paying. You can report your monthly rent payments, switch bills into your name that you contribute to, or take out a credit builder loan. All three will help you build rent without changing your spending habits.
Buying a home through a cost savings program like the Veteran's Administration, a community financial services firm's initiative or similar program is a great way to save money on the overall cost of owning a home. Participating in these types of programs can also reduce your monthly mortgage payments.
Mortgage savings through an established program
Yet, everyone may not qualify to participate in a mortgage cost savings plan. For example, some organizations only offer mortgage discounts to people who work at their organizations and make a low salary.
To take advantage of other mortgage cost savings programs, you might need to be a member of an association or you might need to be a long standing customer at a bank. Unions also offer mortgage cost saving programs.
Fortunately, not qualifying to participate in a mortgage reduction program at work or through a lender or association doesn't exempt you from saving money when you buy a house. There are ways that you can save money on your mortgage independently.
Don't wait to start saving money as a homeowner
In fact, if you're serious about homeowner savings, you'll be creative and keep looking for ways to save money. You won't accept that owning a house is expensive and simply keep spending unnecessary funds on your house.
Below are homeowners' savings actions that you could start reaping benefits from now. Specifically, you could:
- Unplug electrical appliances while you are at work and away from home on vacation
- Close refrigerator and freezer doors as soon as you get what you want out of the appliances
- Make sure that your washer is full before you wash laundry
- Hang laundry outside on the clothesline or in your basement instead of using a clothes dryer
- Limit your use of your dishwasher to occasions when you have a lot of guests over your house
- Pay utilities and other household bills on time to avoid incurring late fees, fines and penalties
- Buy healthy foods like leafy greens and fresh fruit to cook with instead of eating out at restaurants
- Bundle homeowner's, auto and life insurance plans
- Bundle cable, Internet and phone services if doing so will reduce these payments
- Regularly price compare costs on utilities, insurance and household expenses
- Ask service providers if they have a loyalty price reduction plan that you can participate in through your employer or after you've been their customer for a certain number of years
Cut out these costs and you could stay financially on track as a homeowner
Your mortgage payments are the same from month to month if you have a fixed mortgage. What fluctuates are expenses like your utilities, home repairs and home maintenance costs. It's these costs fluctuations that can sink your budget. It's these costs that can tempt you to send in a mortgage payment late.
Avoiding getting in over your financial head as a homeowner is fairly simple. Honesty and awareness are key. As soon as you start to struggle to pay your mortgage, home repairs and for house maintenance work, look over the last two to three months of your bills.
Reduce or eliminate usage of products or services that you really don't need. Also, focus on growing your savings. Put money away for unexpected repairs. Give yourself enough financial cushion to enjoy living at your house stress free. After all, you didn't buy a house just so you could worry endlessly, pacing the floor and staring at the ceiling late at night wondering how you are going to afford to stay in the house you love.