It suddenly just got a whole lot more difficult to buy a home
The banking sector is the latest industry to dramatically change how it operates in response to the current economic environment. The most visible change for consumers are new requirements for taking out a mortgage.
Here are some tips for working with banks and other lending institutions in the midst of tighter lending requirements and a heightened awareness of staying healthy.
Save more for a mortgage downpayment. New requirements for taking out a mortgage are requiring borrowers to put down at least 20% and have a credit score of 700 or better. Unfortunately, the average credit score of U.S. citizens under the age of 50 is below 700. The short-term reality is that you may need to save for a bigger downpayment and actively manage your credit before getting your dream home.
Take advantage of your bank’s mobile app. Social distancing is changing the way we interact in public and banking is no exception. Traditional bank tellers, drive through options, and in some cases entire branches, are being replaced with digital banking options and mobile deposits. This trend will surely accelerate in the aftermath of COVID-19. For the branches that remain open, visiting will likely be more restrictive. Smaller capacity banking spaces and appointments might be required to help banks control the flow of traffic.
Use digital payments for your purchases. While cash might still be king in the U.S. economy, consider using “germ-free” digital payments as retailers are steering customers toward electronic transactions. With businesses needing to adapt to new spending habits, innovation is going to steer towards digital payment technologies and make paying with cash more difficult in the future.
Look for lending deals. During these uncertain times, banks will be putting more effort into connecting with their customers. Bank leaders are making it a priority to personalize the banking experience with proactive marketing campaigns. Be on the lookout for special deals offered by lending institutions to help keep you as a customer.
Shuttered businesses are realizing that lifting lockdown restrictions doesn’t mean a return to business as usual. Social distancing guidelines and a public wary of venturing into crowded environments means light customer traffic for many businesses.
Here are several ideas to help local businesses financially as they re-open their doors:
Continue buying gift cards. For many small businesses, positive cash flow is the primary factor whether they survive this economic downturn. Buying gift cards is a great way to get them the cash they need now, while still providing value for yourself down the road. Even better, if you are in a position to do so, consider giving a gift card to a friend who’s negatively been affected financially. Also consider donating gift cards to schools, churches or non-profit organizations. Just remember to keep your receipts so you can potentially claim a tax deduction!
Tip more than usual. Of all industries impacted by the economic downturn, the leisure and hospitality industry is being hit the hardest. On top of the millions of workers in this industry that have filed for unemployment, even more have had their hours scaled back. When you order takeout or pay for a service, consider tipping more than you normally would. It may not seem like much, but every extra dollar helps.
Shop online locally. The prices you pay might be higher, but when you add the property taxes, local employment taxes and donations to school events that local businesses fund, the added costs are worth it. Also, with many retail shops restricted to limited foot traffic because of social distancing guidelines, online sales are currently a significant source of revenue for many small businesses.
Write a review. Reviews left on Google, Yelp, and other sites are a major source of new customers for local businesses and restaurants. Take the time to leave a positive review for each of your favorite local businesses so new, potential customers can find them.
Offer your services. With the change in spending habits, businesses are forced to adapt. If you have skills and knowledge that could help a small business make the transition, consider donating some of your time. Some examples include web development, marketing strategies, cash flow management and budgeting.
Many Americans have been focused on their own finances over the past several months. But don’t neglect helping those closest to you with their finances as well, especially aging parents. Here are some questions to ask your parents to help them sort through their financial picture.
Have you decided when you’ll start taking Social Security benefits? If your parents have not started taking Social Security, a discussion in this area will help both of you. Generally, Baby Boomers can receive their full amount of benefits at age 66, but benefits increase gradually if they wait longer, reaching the peak at age 70. Conversely, if your parents intend to retire early, they may wish to start receiving reduced benefits as soon as age 62. To add more complexity, a spouse can take retirement benefits from their partner’s work history. Often a rule of thumb is if you expect to live past 80, consider delaying when you first receive benefits, if you can afford to do so.
Do you have a durable power of attorney? If you need to act on behalf of your parents regarding financial matters, you will need a power of attorney. Without this document in place, you’ll have to go to court to get guardianship of your parents in order to access their financial accounts.
Is there an executor? Who is responsible for going through everything when necessary? You don’t really need to know who it is, just that there is someone in place with a potential backup executor if the primary executor is unwilling or unable to help.
Where do you keep financial records? Does someone, other than your parents, know where financial documents and information are kept? This includes bank account numbers along with usernames and passwords for websites.
Who are key advisors? The executor will need the names and contact information for each member on your parents’ team of trusted advisors. Ideally your parents have introduced their executor to each of the members of their team.
How are you planning to pay for long-term care? One of the main financial concerns is the possibility of paying exorbitant amounts for long-term care in a nursing home or with stay-at-home assistance that will drain all your parents’ assets. Traditionally, this was handled by long-term care insurance to absorb at least some of the cost. Unfortunately, these policies are now very expensive. But there are other ideas that can help, including certain tax advantaged insurance policies and establishing a trust to shield assets from nursing home costs (subject to certain restrictions for Medicaid assistance).
Do trusts need to be created or updated? Although there are numerous types of trusts, each with a various purpose, your parents may use a trust to preserve assets for their heirs. They are also used to avoid probate. An irrevocable trust can fully protect assets, but your parents must give up all control over their assets. In contrast, a revocable trust can be modified (where your parents can still change beneficiaries), but offers less protection.
Remember, your goal is not to pry into your parents’ finances, but to help ensure a plan is in place. And as an added benefit, many of the questions outlined here are great to apply to your own situation!
Identity thieves are very active right now
Countries and citizens around the world are banding together to defeat the coronavirus. While your attention is concentrated on protecting your family, friends and community, identity thieves are seeing an opportunity to swipe your confidential information.
Very few things in life create a higher degree of stress and hassle than having your Social Security Number (SSN) stolen, especially during a pandemic like we are now experiencing. This is because, unlike other forms of ID, the SSN is virtually permanent. While most instances of SSN theft are outside your control, there are some things that you can do to minimize the risk of this ever happening to you.
- Never carry your card. Place your SSN card in a safe place. This place is NEVER your wallet or purse. Only take the card with you when you need it, then return it immediately to your designated safe place.
- Know who needs it. As identity theft becomes more common, there are fewer people or organizations who really need to know your Social Security number. Here is a list of entities who still need your SSN:
- The government. Federal and state governments use this number to track your earnings for retirement benefits and to ensure you pay proper taxes.
- Your employer. The SSN is used to track your wages and withholdings. It is also used as proof of citizenship and to contribute to your Social Security and Medicare accounts.
- Certain financial institutions. Your SSN is used by various financial institutions to prove citizenship, open bank accounts, provide loans and establish other forms of credit.
- Know who really does not need it. Many other vendors may ask for your Social Security number, but having it is not an essential requirement. The most common requests come from health care providers and insurance companies. But the request for your number may come from anyone who wishes to collect an unpaid bill. When asked on a form for your number, leave it blank. Challenge the provider if it is requested.
- Destroy and distort. Shred any documents that have your SSN listed. When providing copies of your tax return to anyone, distort or cover your SSN. Remember your entire SSN could appear on the top of each page of Form 1040, although that is becoming less common. If the government requests your SSN on a check payment, only place the last four digits on the check, while pre-filling the first five digits with x’s.
- Keep your scammer alert on high. Never give out your SSN over the phone or via e-mail. Do not even confirm your SSN to someone who happens to read it back to you on the phone. If this happens to you, file a police report and report the theft to the IRS and Federal Trade Commission.
- Proactively check for use. Periodically check your credit reports for potential use of your SSN. If suspicious activity is found, have the credit agencies place a fraud alert on your account. Remember, everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year. Multiple businesses can provide you with your free credit report.
Replacing a stolen SSN is not only hard to do, it can create hardships. You will need to re-establish your credit history, re-assign your SSN benefits history, and realign your tax records. Your best defense is to stop the theft before it happens.