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.
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!
Numerous new laws provide economic relief to individuals and businesses hardest hit by this year’s pandemic. This much-needed financial assistance, however, comes with a few strings attached.
Here are three potential surprises if you use the available economic relief packages:
- Getting a tax bill for unemployment benefits. While the $1,200 economic impact payments most Americans received does not have to be reported as taxable income on your 2020 tax return, there is currently no such luck with unemployment benefits. In addition to paying federal taxes on your unemployment compensation, more than half of states also impose a tax on unemployment benefits.
- What you need to do: See if your unemployment compensation check withholds a portion of your pay for taxes. Even if your check does have withholding for income tax purposes, the withholding amount may not be enough. If possible, talk to your state unemployment office and try to get withholding amounts revised.
- Paying estimated tax payments. If you normally receive a paycheck from your employer, you may have never needed to write a check to the IRS to pay estimated future taxes. Your employer withholds your taxes from your paychecks and sends it to the IRS for you. If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, however, you may be required to pay tax on the unemployment benefits received during the first six months of 2020 by July 15, 2020.
- What you need to do: Estimate the amount of tax you owe for all sources of income, then compare that number with the amount of money withheld from your income to pay these taxes. If necessary, send in quarterly estimated tax payments to the U.S. Treasury and, in some cases, state revenue departments. This must be done each quarter with the next payment due July 15. You may need to send money in on September 15, 2020 and January 15, 2021 as well.
- Reporting emergency distributions from retirement accounts: You may withdraw up to $100,000 in 2020 from various retirement accounts to help cover pandemic-related emergency expenses without incurring penalties. While you will not be required to pay an early withdrawal penalty, you will still be subject to income tax when filing your 2020 tax return.
- What you need to do: If you plan to withdraw funds from your retirement account, reserve enough of the money to pay the tax! The amount you reserve depends on your potential tax situation so call for a tax review before taking money out of the account.
Do you need a quick infusion of cash?
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, you may be able to take money out of a qualified plan, like a 401(k), or an IRA, with favorable tax consequences. But should you do it? You might view withdrawing money from a retirement account as a last resort.
Among other changes in the CARES Act relating to qualified plans and IRAs, a participant can withdraw up to $100,000 of funds without paying the usual 10% tax penalty on distributions before age 59½. Plus, you can take as long as three years to pay the resulting tax bill, spread out evenly over the three years. If you repay the full amount within three years, you owe no tax.
To qualify for this program, you or your spouse must be diagnosed with COVID-19 or experience adverse financial consequences due to the virus such as being laid off, having work hours reduced or being quarantined or furloughed.
What are the pitfalls?
There are several reasons why you may want to avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts unless it’s an absolute emergency:
You’re diluting your retirement savings. Although the money comes in handy now, you’re chipping away at your nest egg and forfeiting growth. For example, if you withdraw the maximum amount of $100,000 that would have earned 6% annually tax-deferred for ten years, the value would have been $179,000.
It may be bad timing. Experts say it is difficult to time the markets in the current volatile environment. If you sell some holdings right now, you may be locking in losses that would miss the recovery in the next few months or years.
You still owe income tax. Income tax is due unless you replace the full amount within three years. Also, depending on your situation, you could end up paying tax at higher rates than you would in your retirement years.
Better options might exist. Arranging a hardship loan from your 401(k) might be a better alternative for your situation. You avoid the taxable event of the withdrawal and you pay back yourself with interest. Other options include refinancing a mortgage with lower interest rates, taking advantage of payment relief from mortgage, rent or student loan payments or deferred credit card billing.
While it is an option, retirement plan withdrawals are not always the best choice. Think through all scenarios before withdrawing from retirement funds to cover emergency expenses.
The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides individuals and businesses significant financial relief from the financial strain caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
Here is a snapshot of the unemployment benefits section of the bill and how it affects individuals and businesses.
- Who qualifies to receive unemployment benefits? In addition to full-time workers who are laid off or furloughed, the Act provides individuals who are not already eligible for state and federal unemployment programs, including self-employed individuals and part-time workers, a set amount of unemployment compensation.
- How much will I receive? There are two different components to the new law’s unemployment benefits:
- Each worker will receive unemployment benefits based on the state in which they work, and
- In addition to their state unemployment benefits, each worker will receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government.
- How will benefits for self-employed workers be calculated? Benefits for self-employed workers are calculated based on previous income and are also eligible for up to an additional $600 per week. Part-time workers are also eligible.
- How long will the state unemployment payments last? The CARES Act provides eligible workers with an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits. Most states already provide 26 weeks of benefits, bringing the total number of weeks that someone is eligible for benefits to 39.
- How long will the federal payments of $600 last? The federal payment of $600 per week will continue through July 31, 2020.
- How do I apply for unemployment benefits? You must apply for unemployment benefits through your state unemployment office. Most state applications can now be filled out online. Workers who normally don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed individuals, need to monitor their state’s unemployment office website to find out when they can apply, as many states need to update their computer systems to reflect every type of worker who is eligible to collect unemployment benefits under the CARES Act.
What to do now
If you have not already done so, you must file for unemployment with your state as soon as possible. State offices and websites are being slammed, so the sooner you get in the queue the better for you and your loved ones. And remember, these benefits now apply to self-employed and part-time employees.
Student loan debt is a hot topic and for good reason. Managing the burden that comes during repayment is very difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to get some relief while taking advantage of timely tax breaks at the same time. Here are four ways to help lessen the strain of repaying your student loans.
- Deduct your student loan interest. The IRS allows you to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest payments on your tax return each year. The great thing about this deduction is you can take it even if you don’t itemize! Each loan provider should issue you a Form 1098-E if you pay over $600 in interest for the year. If you pay less than that, and you don’t receive a Form 1098-E, save your monthly statements as back up for the interest you pay. Even if you are still in school, and you are making interest payments, you are eligible for the deduction.
- Exclude cancelled debt as income. In most cases the IRS considers cancelled debt as income. However, the IRS recently announced that students would not have to report cancelled student loans as income in the following situations:
- The school closed when you were attending, or shortly after you attended.
- The school actions are contradictory to applicable laws.
- You are a part of a successful legal settlement against the school.
If you receive a Form 1099-C for cancelled student loan debt, conduct research to determine if one of these exclusions applies to your situation.
- Refinance to lower your payments. Are you making two or more different student loan payments every month? Refinancing multiple accounts into one loan can lower your effective interest rate and your monthly payment. You can also lower your monthly payment by taking an existing loan and refinancing over a greater number of years.
- Plan for tuition costs. Utilizing student loans to finance your education is a necessity for many people. However, you can cut down on future payments with early savings. For example, parents and grandparents can create 529 college savings plans. And as soon as you start earning income, earmark a portion of every paycheck for college. Grants and scholarships are another way to reduce tuition costs, so start researching early.
College debt can seem daunting. But by combining a long-term plan while taking advantage of tax benefits, the mountain of debt can become a manageable hill.