Your Credit Score: The (Other) Key To Your New Home

Each potential home buyer dreams of the day they’ll finally get the symbol of independence, security and prosperity: the key to the front door of their new home. Before you get that one, though, there’s another key you need to craft. Your credit score, a numerical representation of your credit history as an indicator of your ability to pay your bills, will determine a lot about your housing situation, from how much house you can afford to the interest rates you’ll receive.
Your credit score is determined by three different credit monitoring agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Each has its own method for determining which events are most important to your score, so your number may vary depending upon the agency. Paying debts off, making payments on time and using only a small percentage of your available credit make your score go up. Missing payments, opening many credit accounts or carrying a significant balance of debt from month-to-month will decrease your score.
Less important than the actual score is your score grouping. Lenders tend to lump borrowers into four categories: sub-prime, near-prime, prime and super-prime. Different lenders break these categories down at different score points, but the terminology and treatment are fairly universal. Super-prime lenders get the lowest rates, because they represent the lowest level of risk for the lender. Sub-prime and near-prime borrowers will have a lower cap for the size of the loan they can take and will generally pay a higher interest rate. If you’re working on raising a low credit score, a good target number is 640. This will generally put you in the prime group and ensure you don’t have to pay extra on your mortgage because of credit. If you’re building good credit, 740 is generally the lowest super-prime score, which will give you access to some of the best rates and terms available.
If you’re going house-hunting in the next year, there are three steps you can take right now to improve the terms of your mortgage. Check your credit score, take steps to raise it and manage your loan in other ways. Taking these three steps will put you on the fast track to affordable home ownership! 
Check your credit score 
You can check your credit report for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Note, though, that there may be a nominal fee to receive your actual score along with the report. There are many similar websites, but many of them will charge you. Annualcreditreport.comis the site created by the three credit companies to provide consumers with transparent access to their financial information.
If your score isn’t at the level you think it should be, there may be errors or inaccuracies that are dragging down your good name. Look for accounts you don’t recognize or balances that are not up-to-date. You may even catch an identity thief red-handed! The report comes with instructions for challenging any item. In most cases, you can leave a note for lenders in the file explaining the item under dispute. 
Boost your credit score! 
There are no simple tricks to bump your credit score in advance of a mortgage. You need to develop a 6- to 12-month plan to boost your credit score before getting your mortgage by making sound financial decisions. Demonstrate to lenders that you can use credit responsibly, and your score will increase.
One of the biggest drags on a credit score is percentage of utilized debt. If you’re carrying a balance on credit cards, this tells lenders that you may be using credit to pay for your day-to-day expenses, and that lending you more money would not be a smart move for them. Getting balances to zero should be goal number one!
Also, take care that you don’t make any major purchases using credit right before you attempt to qualify for a mortgage. Even if you’re expecting a major windfall, such as an overtime check or a tax refund, creditors don’t see that on your report. Hold off until you have the cash in hand before you splurge on a new TV or car!
If it’s a lack of credit history that’s hurting your score, many lenders offer “credit builder” loans. These involve borrowing a small amount of money and making regular installment payments on it. Parents can frequently take out these loans on behalf of children to help them build a stronger credit history. 
What else? 
If your credit score is low, and there’s nothing you can do about it, you may need to take other steps to get a better position on a loan. You might try boosting your down payment or shopping for less expensive houses, so you’re borrowing a smaller sum of money. A co-signer, another responsible party willing to take on the risk of the loan, can also improve your terms. If your debt is a serious problem, perhaps moving into a new house isn’t a good short-term priority. Focus instead on paying off debt and saving up for a down payment. This can keep you from getting stuck with a house payment you can’t afford before you’re ready for it.
Destinations Credit Union offers its members free, unlimited financial counseling through our partnership with Accel Financial Services.  Take advantage of this great resource to help boost your credit score. 
SOURCES:

http://hubpages.com/money/Tips-To-Increase-Your-Credit-Score

Your Down Payment On A House

Q: I’m hoping to buy a house in the next few months. How much of a down payment should I have saved up?
A: When you think about your down payment, balance is key. If you think you might sell the house within just a few years of ownership, having a large down payment exposes you to greater risk if real estate prices fall. However, a larger down payment can also mean lower monthly payments.
The value of $1,000 is pretty hard to quantify, especially in a real estate market that might have $30,000 homes and $300,000 homes. Instead of thinking about the amount of money, think about a percentage of the value of the house. When making these decisions, here are three questions to ask yourself.
Can I put 20% down?
A down payment of 20% is something of a magic number. With 20% down, borrowers are no longer responsible for carrying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is a protection most lenders require to cover their investment in you should you not repay your loan. The premiums for this insurance are paid by you, either as a lump sum at closing or included with the mortgage payment, and thus make your monthly payment higher. PMI usually costs between 0.5% and 1.0% of the value of the loan, though prices vary based upon several factors. Using this model, on a $100,000 loan, expect to pay around $83 more per month.
20% is also a magic number for interest rates. Lenders see a 20% down payment as a sign of a responsible borrower. Meeting that down payment amount means the borrower typically has a lifestyle of spending responsibly and saving money, both of which are signs of a solid credit risk. Regardless of your credit score, a 20% down payment can help save on the costs of the loan.
Can I get help to get there?
There are a wide variety of home buyer assistance programs designed to help people reach that 20% threshold. These come in two forms: grants and delayed repayment loans. They’re offered by housing departments at all levels of government and frequently go unused because home buyers don’t think they qualify.
Grants are no-strings-attached checks that you have to use for a specific purpose, in this case, the down payment on a home. Many are limited by income level or region of purchase, but they are definitely worth exploring. Even more options are open to first-time home buyers, former or current members of the armed forces and people in public service-oriented professions.
Delayed repayment loans are similar. These are second mortgages held by an organization for a portion of the total cost of the house. They do not begin accruing interest until after you’ve paid off your primary mortgage, and some of them are forgiven after you’ve owned the home for a certain amount of time. These are available from housing authorities and private organizations all over the country.
One important note: While you can get a lot of help, you cannot use another loan, even one from your parents or relatives, as part of your down payment. Doing so is a federal crime and can get you in serious trouble! In the best case, lenders will be suspicious of large deposits you can’t explain, and may even refuse to issue the mortgage loan.
If you can’t get to a 20% down payment, there are several options. You could make the smaller down payment, understanding that you’ll have to pay higher interest rates and PMI. You could also look at houses in lower price ranges. You might also decide to postpone home ownership and focus on saving so you can get there the next time around.
Should I go over 20%?
Making a very large down payment is an investment. Think of your mortgage like a savings account. You make an initial “deposit” when you make a down payment. A portion of your payment goes into your account each month while the rest goes to cover interest, which is the price you pay for living in your savings account. The return on your investment in the large initial down payment is the lower total interest you’ll have to pay.
When deciding if you want to put more than 20% down, think of your mortgage rate like the rate of return. If you can put another $1,000 down, that’s $1,000 less you’ll need to borrow. If your interest rate is 4%, then the return on that investment is $40 in interest you don’t have to pay. On the other hand, you don’t have that $1,000 to invest somewhere else now. If your retirement account earns 5%, then that same $1,000 will earn $50 if invested there. Making the larger down payment will end up “costing” you $10 in the long run.
As with any other investment decision, weigh the pros and cons. It may have a comparatively low rate of return, but the risk is negligible. Unless the value of your house drops dramatically, you won’t lose your down payment. It can be a smart move to put down as much as you can, but make sure to leave your retirement fund and emergency fund intact.

The Government’s $3 Trillion Dollar Plan


So, whatever happened to that interest rate hike?  It was supposed to happen all spring, then all summer, and now we’re supposed to be fully confident that the Federal Reserve is going to raise interest rates by the end of 2015.  But so far, it hasn’t.  On one hand, that’s great news: You still have time to lock in a fixed-rate mortgage or take out a low, fixed-rate home equity loan to pay off those credit cards before the rates go up. By the way, if you’re interested, that’s only a click away.  

On the other hand, it’s a little worrisome.  Raising the prime interest rate is how the Fed tells us that the economy is doing well and it’s time to save money.  So, why haven’t we seen an interest rate hike? The answer is more interesting than you might think, because it involves a multinational chain of events and a $3 trillion gamble with your tax dollars on an interesting new idea. It’s an idea that falls somewhere between efficiently practical and boringly immoral, just as many decisions often are when they’re made by folks who have spent too much time staring at spreadsheets and not enough time breathing fresh air.

To explain what’s going on, we need to flash back six years.  At the height of the financial crisis, the two biggest concerns for the long-term future of the American economy were the resiliency of the big banks and the incredible number of home foreclosures.  If the banks couldn’t get their balance sheets straight, they couldn’t loan money, which would mean that anyone who wanted to buy a home, start a business, or go to college would suddenly find themselves without a loan to do so. Meanwhile, those on the brink of foreclosure, trying to keep their businesses afloat or finishing their education might lose everything they’d worked to acquire.  Of particular concern to the government were American homes, because our homes represent the largest part of our wealth, are essential to our well-being and buoy our retirement accounts.  Unfortunately, investment products built on inadvisable home loans were the centerpiece of the financial crisis, making the protection of our mortgages a difficult task.

The government’s solution was to bail out the banks, but to do so in a way that we hadn’t tried before.  Normally, the Fed puts money into the economy by buying government bonds from banks by using money it creates on a computer in its offices.  Fed managers tap on their keyboards, change a few spreadsheets, and poof, money is created.  In the aftermath of the financial crisis, however, they decided to create money by buying mortgage bonds, which made it easier for government money to flow to beleaguered homeowners, thereby protecting Wall Street and Main Street at the same time.  

However, the Fed can’t just create money without enduring some repercussions. Usually, it has to either remove the money from the economy over time, which can slow down an economic recovery, or watch as inflation eats away at the value of the dollar, causing people to dip into their savings and work harder for less actual pay. Neither option is fantastic.
This time, the repercussions could be even worse.  Because the Fed has tied the $3 trillion it created over the last six years to mortgage bonds, removing the money could cause a spike in mortgage rates. After all, that $3 trillion has been paying part of your mortgage for the last six years; that’s a profit for your lender that’s been passed on to you.  If the Fed chose to remove the $3 trillion and raise interest rates, we could see a spike in mortgage rates that all but guarantees young people will rent their homes for their whole lives.  If you were planning on selling your house in time for retirement, it could cripple the value of your home, because the same buyer who had $250,000 wouldn’t have more money, but they would have to pay more to their lender.  Not fantastic.

All year, the Fed has been staring down this crisis, warning us that it would have to raise rates, all the time hoping that doing so wouldn’t kill the housing market. Then, a really odd set of circumstances kept it from having to do so.  Twin financial crises in Europe and China drove international investors to the dollar. As they sought to sell other currencies, they propped up the value of the dollar, delaying the effects of inflation and buying the Fed more time.  

Now, a new plan has emerged, which is where a really interesting idea comes into play.  What if the Fed didn’t take the money out? Instead, it’s started paying the banks to keep savings with Washington, just like your savings account (except thousands of times larger).  The idea is that, as long as inflation is being kept under control through foreign investment, our central bank can pay about $30 billion a year in interest for financial institutions to store money. That money makes the banks want to save, which takes money out of the economy, which they pass on to some customers in the form of higher savings rates and making them want to save as well. Suddenly, the money has come out of the economy, inflation isn’t a risk, and everyone along the way is getting paid for doing so, especially big banks and their shareholders.  

Reminder: that’s your $30 billion per year.  Another reminder:  $30 billion was the budget request to keep Pell grants in line with inflation … over the next 10 years.  You’re paying the mega-banks 10 times what you’re paying to keep college funding from shrinking.

It’s a short-term solution, obviously.  Voters don’t love their tax dollars being spent to reward the same banks that caused the financial crisis, and those banks, by definition, are the ones being let off the hook.  Europe and China won’t buy dollars forever, particularly if it doesn’t look like the Fed is raising rates (which would help foreign investors who are saving their greenbacks).  At some point, the money is coming out of the economy.  Ten years from now, the Fed says, it will all be gone.  The only question is, how fast it will come out, which means we’re still waiting to hear when the prime interest rate is going up.

And that brings us back to today.  We’ve been told to expect a rate hike by the end of the year, and when it comes, it’ll cost you more to pay off your credit cards.  If you’re in a variable rate mortgage, your monthly payment will eventually go up.  The best move today is the simplest one, which is transferring over to fixed-rate loans.  Do it today, so you can save thousands of dollars.  Then, once you’ve locked in your rate, let your congressperson know that you don’t love your tax dollars continuing to bail out the mega-banks six years later.  

Sources:

Rethinking Your Money With Apple Math



When it comes to your finances, it can seem like all the advice you get is deadly boring, unbearably abstract or both.  For example, when it comes to paying off debts, how can you be expected to make a dent without first having a spreadsheet that compares all your credit cards and loans with columns for principal, interest rate, fees and maybe even frequent flyer miles?  It’s intense. At the same time, when it comes to spending, you’re no better off. How do you compare the value of a fancy dinner to buying a new outfit for the kids?

In 1986, The Economist created “The Big Mac Index” as a way to compare currency values across eras and national borders.  The index shows how many hours of labor it takes to earn the cost of a Big Mac. So, if it took you 10 minutes to earn the cost of a Big Mac last year and it takes you nine minutes today, you are – in theory – better off than you were before. That’s true whether those gains come from getting a raise, moving to a town with a lower cost of living or improvements in McDonald’s supply chain to save consumers money. While the value of a dollar changes over time, the value of a Big Mac to a hungry customer remains constant.
We’re going to use the same Big Mac concept here, but we’ll use it to explain personal finance. If you’re a fan of Apple products, fabulous. If not, feel free to substitute other luxury goods of your choosing.  As an added benefit, if you’re looking to talk about money with a young person, you may find the Apple index to be a helpful tool for starting a conversation.  After all, that young person is probably staring at their phone, tablet or laptop right now. 
The price of luxury 
If you’re carrying an iPhone, it’s probably the most expensive thing you carry every day.  You might not think so, because you might be used to those two-year contracts that artificially decrease the price of a phone by several hundred dollars.  In reality, though, a lot of companies, from your service provider to the handset manufacturer, stand to make money by concealing the price from consumers.
Even then, you could be skeptical.  “After all,” you might say, “I’m currently wearing a very expensive watch.  This Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is the same model as the one that’s been on the moon.” Or maybe you’re glancing at your Hermès Clemence Birkin purse, believing no phone could cost as much as a bag for which a noble alligator gave its life.
Actually, it does.  You see, when a person buys a luxury watch, he or she usually expects to hand it down to their son, daughter or whomever so they may stay in a family for generations.  The same is true for Hermes bags, particularly because they have to last long enough to get back to the top of the waiting list.  A Hermes reservation can last a family for generations, too.  A $10,000 watch or bag that lasts 100 years actually costs $100 per year.  Similarly, a basic two-year phone contract typically came with a $200 credit toward a phone purchase, so even a free phone on that plan costs $100 per year, the same as an Omega watch or Hermes bag.  A $649 iPhone 6s costs more than three times that much. 
The price of five bucks 
Most phones sold this year don’t have 2-year plans.  Instead, AT&T, Verizon and many of their competitors offer plans that can be canceled at any time, with the cost of the phone spread over two years or more, disguising the total price of the product.  After all, the difference between spending $25 per month and $30 per month seems negligible. If you’re already writing a check to your service provider for $200 worth of data, talk, taxes and fees every month, what’s another five bucks, right? Of course, that difference over two years comes out to $120.  If you have three lines on your account, the bill comes to $360.
When are you planning on paying off that smartphone?  When do you expect to not have to pay another phone bill?  The smartphone manufacturers assume a two-year lifecycle, and intentionally do not design their phones to last forever. Five years ago, one of the best selling phones was the original Motorola Droid. Go back another year, and it’s Nokia at the very top of the sales charts, capping over a decade of the company’s dominance.  It’s hard to remember that environment, but it included 3G networks and sliding keyboards.
Phones have short shelf-lives, so you can probably expect to make payments on a phone for most of the rest of your life.  If you made that $5 payment into your savings account instead, that would be around $16,000 in time for your retirement.  That’s an expensive five bucks.
It’s not a Big Mac, but hopefully the iPhone works just as well to explain the value of money when it’s difficult to understand.  Buying a product that lasts a lifetime can actually be quite affordable in the long run.  On the other hand, a mindlessly squandered five dollars can be quite expensive.  We’ve got a lot more lessons from the Apple index coming up, so stay tuned! 
Sources: 

Is It Time To Upsize Your Home?

Life rarely turns out the way we plan, and when a surprise comes along, it’s usually not an opportunity to simplify our lives.  If you’re one of the many parents blessed with one more angel than you had planned for, you understand just how such surprises can make the simplest things much more complicated. Or maybe the innocent angel you’ve been raising has entered adolescence and wants some space alone.  Or maybe it’s gone the other way for you:  You bought a house when prices were low and wages were tight, and now that you have some equity and a higher income you’d like to bump up your standard of living.

If any of those scenarios sound familiar, it might be time to upsize your home. But is expanding right for you? 

Upsizing is great … 
You probably don’t need anyone to tell you that a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood would be fantastic.  If you could get the kids out from under your feet, you could go back to reading that book you never finished or start that workout regimen you’ve been putting off, or whatever it is that makes you want to plunk down your hard-earned money for a new home.
But there are really strong arguments to be made for upsizing that might not be as obvious.  For example, you may not actually want more square footage.  One way to upsize without getting a giant house full of rooms you might not need is to look into adding outdoors space.  Some homes have gorgeous patios, outdoor kitchens and even wood-burning outdoor pizza ovens!
Another alternative to upsizing your space is to move into the home of the future.  That Cape Cod or Queen Anne you’re in right now might be beautiful, but is it built for the 21st century?  Are the speakers built into the walls?  Is it set up for home automation?  Or does it have that one bizarre room with no outlets, like some mid-century houses in the Midwest?  For some people, particularly those with a home business, it can even be worth paying more every month if doing so moves you to a neighborhood with faster Internet.
Baby Boomers have been upsizing their homes at a surprising rate, often moving into larger homes for retirement.  Usually, people move into larger homes because they want the space and retirees presumably have an empty nest.  Moreover, as we get older, it can be harder to lug a vacuum up the stairs or commit to mowing an enormous lawn every weekend.  But Boomers have learned the value of luring others over, often choosing houses on artificial lakes or in gated communities with kid-friendly amenities.  Suddenly, the big house is a blessing, because there’s room for everyone at Thanksgiving!  If you’re wanting to cut down on your travel time or increase your hosting duties at social events, a bigger house might be just the ticket. 
… But maybe not? 
You’ve been through this before, when you bought your current place. Buying a home is a little tedious and a lot expensive.  As you’re looking back on it, you might wonder why you’d ever go through that process again when it might be easier just to ask one of the kids to sleep in a tent out back or put up guests in a nearby hotel.
The good news is that it’s not going to be that difficult this time.  You know what you’re doing and you should have fewer surprises.  You’ve got the down payment set up through the equity in your current home.  And if you’re already financing through [credit union], a new loan approval will be fairly quick and easy. 
What about right now? 
If you’re considering the idea of upsizing your home, now’s the time for action. The dollar is gaining steam and plenty of economists are predicting we’re likely to see interest rates go up at some point this fall.  If you can get in before then, you’ll save some real cash in the long run.
It’s also a good idea to act now because you can catch both sides of the housing recovery.  If your home has regained its value, but you know a neighborhood that hasn’t gotten back to full value yet, you can make a shrewd investment to get a bigger, nicer house in the other neighborhood and wait until that new home gets to the value it should have been selling at all along.  Right now, you’ve got a great buy low, sell high opportunity.
If you’re ready, or you think you might be ready to think about being ready to upsize your home, give Destinations Credit Union a call.  Rates are still fairly low.  If you don’t know if you can afford to upsize, give us a call anyway.  Our home loan specialists can help you figure out if upsizing is the way to go, help you build a budget, or show you our construction and remodeling loans if you’re looking to upgrade your new home before you move in.

The Effects of China’s Market Crash On Typical Americans Like You

Predicting the future of international finance can be a fool’s errand. Fluctuations in a small aspect of a small market can ripple in untold ways, changing the environment all the time, like the proverbial butterfly responsible for all of those hurricanes.

Unfortunately, shrugging in the face of the unknown is really uncomfortable when it comes to finances. When we need to know how it will affect us, we go to financial advisors.

What about when we don’t have any specific investments in either area?  How might it affect us then?  Below are some of the people likely to be affected by the economic news of China’s struggles last week.  Some it will hurt, some it will help and some we’ll have to wait and see. 

You might be hurt if:
Your portfolio is heavy on retail brands.  In the last decade or so, American demand for retail goods slowed at the same time Chinese demand grew, so many of our corporations recorded sales growth that was largely or exclusively based on Chinese consumers.  Yum! Brands, Intel, McDonald’s and Starbucks all rely on Chinese consumers for between 15 and 20 percent of their revenue, and the Chinese middle class just got hit with back-to-back market crashes.  We won’t really know which companies were hit the worst until sales figures and quarterly reports start coming out, but you should identify which stocks you own that are heavily invested in China and see what they plan to do to keep afloat.
 Your income is directly related to manufacturing.  Banks around the world are stockpiling dollars because American currency seems much safer than a Euro that’s dealing with a crisis in Greece or any Asian currency that is inextricably tied to China.  As a result, the dollar has increased in value about 3% in the past month.
That sounds great, but a strong dollar makes exporting more difficult and makes imports cheaper, both of which make it harder for American manufacturing firms to compete with overseas factories. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has repeatedly pushed China to strengthen its currency for this reason, but has little to show for it.  Some financial analysts suggested the Asian free trade agreement signed last month was meant to prevent exactly this kind of situation: Chinese market insecurities resulting in problems for American manufacturing.
You might be helped if:
You own a business.  Whether your company is big or small, a strong dollar gives you a leg up right now.  Obviously, you can order stock from overseas, knowing it will cost less and pocket the profit.  It might be time to think bigger, though.  If your dollar is worth 3% more than it was a month ago, that means any loan you take out will come at a discount.  If you wanted to buy a $10,000 piece of equipment from China but scoffed at the interest rate, you can cut it considerably right now. 
You own a home.  It may not be obvious at first, but everything in your home goes through China. Your car had parts manufactured or assembled there, your clothes, your furniture … everything. You’ll feel the effects of Chinese firms trying to get sales every time you go to the store and possibly until Black Friday.

But you could also get a great deal on home fixtures and appliances very soon. Chinese factories need the cash, and with their domestic housing bubble bursting, you’re the only one left to buy that amazing new washer/dryer.  What if you moved up your remodel to this fall?  You could be looking at glorious home goods at ridiculous prices.

Talk to Destinations Credit Union about automobile and personal loans. Get one of the lowest loan rates in the Baltimore area in addition to the cheaper cost of the goods you want to buy.  Let’s see if we can help you capitalize on this opportunity. 


Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/24/barack-obama-fast-track-trade-deal-tpp-senate

The New Homeowner Diet


Saving money is a lot like losing weight. It’s no fun, requires sacrifices and no one at a dinner party wants to hear about your plan.  For many first-time home-buyers, trying to save enough money for the down payment on a house can seem like a diet that won’t end. It might even be tempting to click one of those email links that promise magical results, even though you know there’s no magic pill for weight loss and no magic plan for saving money.  

Fortunately, if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you already know how to save money. While most weight loss results are temporary, buying a home is something that won’t disappear if you skip the gym for a week: You’ll be living in a home you own, building equity and moving closer to financial independence.  So, here are some tips to get you moving toward that down payment, based on what you already know about trimming your waist:  

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

One of the biggest mistakes new homeowners make is buying more house than they can realistically afford. At Destinations Credit Union, we want to get the right loan for you so that you can move into the home that’s comfortable and fits your lifestyle.  That doesn’t mean you have to use every dollar you qualify for. Let’s talk it through to figure out exactly how much you can spend every month and make sure you don’t get in over your head.  

A good rule of thumb when planning is that you want to put down around 20 percent of the sale price. Before the financial crisis, a lot of people were putting down 10 percent or considerably less – as much as 0%. It didn’t turn out well for many of those folks, nor did it for their lenders.

Even if you feel comfortable with the risk that comes with a low down payment, putting down more money now can lower your interest rate, so you’ll pay less money in the long term and have a lower monthly payment.  It’s easy to see the down payment as your goal and forget about the rest of the mortgage, but this won’t be the last purchase you make.  You’re going to want to save for college, retirement or your dream vacation.  If you don’t put the money in now, you’ll have to do so later, and you’re essentially taking a loan from yourself against those future purchases.

No matter how long you run, you can’t burn off that midnight cheesecake

You may be making sacrifices and saving as much as you can, but still not feel like you’re getting any closer to your dream home.  You’re not alone.  Unlike their parents or grandparents, today’s typical middle class family has more than one job, and a surprising number of those families has three or more sources of income. Even with the popularity and necessity of taking on a second job, some people are embarrassed to do so, as if having a working spouse or taking on extra work on the side is a sign of failure.  Don’t be that person who’s too embarrassed to go to the gym because they don’t want anyone to see them get healthy.  There’s no shame in working.

You can’t lose weight without a scale

Most people keep track of their weight every day while dieting.  Some keep a food log.  Some count calories, points, or carbs.  The bottom line: You need to be able to see how you’re doing so you know when you can splurge and when you need to cut back.  The same is true when saving for a home. Make a budget and stick with it.  If you have a bad month, don’t get frustrated. Instead, commit to doing better next month.

Everyone needs a spotter

When you save money every month, where does it go?  Do you have a series of Mason jars filled with crumpled singles?  Is it sitting in your checking account, looking pretty when you check your balance but not doing anything else?  Even if you keep your money in one of our savings accounts, there’s a lot more we can do to help make your money work for you.  Our Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking pays a really high rate when you do a few simple things to qualify.  And, you can attach a high rate Kasasa Saver account to that checking which sweeps all of the rewards into the savings automatically.  We have a variety of great savings plans, from low-risk savings certificates to High Yield Accounts, which earn a higher dividend rate for your savings. High Yield accounts share many of the same conveniences as our regular savings accounts, including no-penalty access to your money if an unexpected emergency occurs.  

If you want to own a home, you need to save money, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Think of us as your personal trainer for your financial health.  Call us at 410-663-2500 or info@destinationscu.org, and we’ll help you figure out what you can afford and how you can get there.  Our plans are always easier to swallow than a kale smoothie. But then again, what isn’t?
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4 Home Improvement Projects With High Long-Term Return


When you’re making improvements to your home, you’re not just making your life better in the short term. You’re also making an investment in your future. Ideally,  the increase in the value of your home will exceed the cost of the improvement.

However, it seldom works out like that. The most efficient home improvements don’t pay for themselves immediately. The first item on this list has an ROI of 98%. That means you get back 98% of the money you put into it. To look at it another way, you lose 2% of your initial investment.

It takes years for the appreciation in your home to recoup the expense of an improvement. If you’re looking for an investment, putting your money in a share certificate or other long-term investment option will net you more. When you’re making home improvements, though, you’re looking for ways to improve your quality of life while being as thrifty as possible.

Calculating ROI can be difficult because the data is based on national averages. For instance, in drought-afflicted parts of the country, water-efficient fixtures, rainwater collection facilities and low-water landscaping will pay long-term dividends. In places with lots of solar exposure and high utility costs, solar panels will make your home more cost-efficient and attractive to buyers. No one will pay more for a well air-conditioned house in Alaska! Keeping that in mind, finding out what works for your market therefore depends a lot on trends and local conditions.

There is some good news if you’re looking for more universal approaches for getting the best increase in value for your home improvement dollar. There are a few simple rules to follow. Seek relatively low-cost improvements that require little to no maintenance. They should immediately distinguish your house from similar homes and, ideally, they also improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Here are four home remodel projects that can improve the resale value of your home. They’re excellent uses for your home equity line of credit (HELOC) and you may be able to save money by doing part or all of them yourself! By the way, consult your tax advisor to determine if those improvements apply for tax deductions. 

1.) Replace the front door 

There’s an old adage in real estate that suggests the features get tours, but the front porch gets sales. People make decisions on home-buying all the time by starting with a gut reaction and finding reasons to support it later.

Why not start your home remodeling project with the first thing you interact with on your house: the front door. Upgrading an old, poorly-fitting front door with a newer energy-efficient model is a cheap, quick project that can instantly improve your home’s efficiency and aesthetic appeal. Best of all, hanging a door can be done in an afternoon!

With an average price of just over $1,200, including labor, an energy-efficient front door has an ROI of 98%! It’s also a chance to be creative. A new front door can add a splash of color and window placements can break up a monotonous front profile. 

2.) Minor kitchen remodels 

Replacing major appliances and installing new flooring is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive task. Being without a kitchen for weeks on end can be a nightmare and the number of professionals needed to install new lighting and other features is mind-boggling. The national average for spending here is $57,000, and the ROI for major kitchen remodeling isn’t great, at only 68%.

Minor kitchen upgrades, like new cabinets, counter-tops, and energy-efficient cook-tops, are comparatively inexpensive. The average spend here is just under $20,000 with an estimated return on investment at an impressive 80%. Just like with the front door, the changes are mostly aesthetic. People perceive a more modern-looking kitchen as being a better fit than a more “retro” look.

This is also a chance to customize a place where you spend a remarkable amount of time. Having a kitchen laid out just the way you like it can make it easier and more enjoyable to cook. This will encourage you to eat more meals in, and energy-efficient appliances can lower your electric bills for the life of the home. 

3.) Wooden decks 

Outdoor space is one of the hallmarks of the current iteration of the American dream. Where else can a family sit and enjoy a frosty lemonade on a hot summer day? Watch the kids play in the yard while tending the grill on a beautiful wooden deck!

Wooden deck additions were unpopular for years, as consumers see them as luxuries. During a recession, remodeling dollars tend to focus on needs, like kitchen and bedroom updates. Now that the economy is improving, more people are looking at decks as valuable extensions for their living space.

The average cost, based upon a 16 foot by 20 foot wooden deck, is $10,000. The average return on investment is just over 80%. This is because of the perception of expanded living space at a reasonable price. Adding a deck costs about $35 per square foot, while a square foot of inside space costs an average of $85! Decks are a great way to increase the play space for a modest cost.

Bear in mind that just like the air conditioning in Alaska, a deck in a climate where the climate in inhospitable outdoors for much of the year will not have as much value as one in more temperate climes. 

4.) Convert an attic space into a bedroom 

For most houses, the attic is an afterthought. It’s a place where unused craft projects and abandoned hobbies go to die. Consider turning that dead space into living space with a remodeling project!

Turning an existing attic space into a spare bedroom or office, complete with its own bathroom, can be done for a slightly steeper price. Nationally, the average cost is just over $50,000. That includes constructing a room, extending utilities to it and adjusting the exterior of the house to accommodate the new space.

This remodel provides a 77% return on investment in resale value, with the potential for more. If you have adult children or relatives visiting from out of town, an attic room can be a wonderful guest room. You could also rent it out for additional income!

Contact Destinations Credit Union if you need help in financing your next home improvement project!  

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Home Equity: Loans Vs. Lines of Credit

If you are looking for funds to improve your home, using the equity in your home can be a great way to finance the improvements.  Using the equity in your home is not something to take lightly, but if you are doing something to improve the value of the home, it can be well worth your while. 

What is My Equity?

The available equity in your home is calculated by taking the current market value of the home (as determined by an appraisal) and subtracting the current mortgage balance.  Destinations will loan you up to 80% of that amount.  To get a rough idea of what your home is worth on the market, you can check internet sources, such as zillow.com, for recent sales of homes in your neighborhood.

Loans Vs. Lines of Credit

A Home Equity Loan is a fixed-rate, fixed-term loan.  The payment and the interest rate are constant over the agreed-upon term.  Therefore your payment amount will not fluctuate.  You cannot borrow against the equity again until the loan is paid off.

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is an open-ended loan that you can borrow against any time you need the funds.  The line of credit is up to 80% of the equity in your home.  The rate on the line of credit is generally lower at the time you apply because it is a variable rate.  As market rates rise, so may your interest rate.  With a HELOC, you can draw against the line whenever you need the funds. 

Both options provide low rate loans to accomplish your goal.

With Destinations Credit Union, our HELOC rates are the Prime Rate minus 1% with a floor of 4%.  Since the Prime Rate is now at 3.25% (and has remained so since the end of 2008), our current rate is 4% Annual Percentage Rate.  Prime would have to rise to more than 5% before the rate would rise on our HELOC.

If you are interested in exploring a Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit, contact us through our website or give us a call at 410-663-2500.

Five Reasons To Use A Credit Union Instead Of A Big Bank


Many people go to a big bank because they’re easy to find.  Those banks spend billions on advertising and building branches on every corner.  Becoming a member of a credit union takes a little more work – finding one that you can join takes a little bit of research.  But, it’s easier than you think.  Most people in the United States are eligible to join a credit union.  You can find one through work, or where you live, or through organizations you belong to.

Last year, 2 million people between the ages of 18 and 35 joined a credit union. 28% of credit union members are under 35 while 54% of them are under age 50. The tools of technology are making it easier to see the value that credit unions offer.

Don’t just take our word for it. Do your research and see for yourself how credit unions compare to for-profit banks. Consider these five categories:

1.) Ease of service

Here’s a fun game. Call a corporate bank with a simple request, like checking the balance of a savings account. Count the number of irritating phone tree menus you have to sift through before you could talk to a real person who could answer your question. You win when you get frustrated and slam the phone down in anger!

For-profit banks have earned a reputation for cumbersome customer service and out-of-touch policies. Getting information on financial services, like credit repair or auto loans, means sitting on hold for hours. Credit unions, on the other hand, provide easy-to-use services and real, live human beings who can answer questions, make recommendations and help you understand the complicated world of finance.

2.) Lending practices

For-profit banks answer to corporate owners. They expect a predictable, stable rate of return on their investments. This demand puts a straitjacket on lending and ensures those practices never deviate from a pre-determined formula. Take income, multiply by credit score, divide by 2, that’s the interest rate they’ll charge.

However, let’s pretend you just got a new job, so last year’s tax returns aren’t a good indicator of how much you are earning. That’s not in the formula, so it doesn’t matter. Credit history ruined by an old medical bill? Corporate banks stop reading after the first three words of that sentence. In short, there’s no room for flexibility and interest rates tend to be much higher.

Credit unions are community institutions, so helping people out is part of what they do. Their rates tend to be lower than those of corporate banks. They also tend to be more willing to make exceptions for details that may not be reflected in the conventional lending formula.

3.) Online banking is everywhere

In the wild west days of the Internet, only corporate banks could afford online banking. Now, your pet gerbil can have his own website. The Internet is everywhere and credit unions are on board. The services you use every day, like online bill pay, direct deposit and checking on account balances are just a click away. Credit unions are increasingly integrated with e-commerce services like Paypal and Square, making it easier than ever to send and receive money electronically.

Mobile services, such as transfers and remote deposit are increasingly more common at credit unions.

4.) Educational resources

Corporate banks have historically made a killing by keeping people in the dark about their practices. Credit card companies made it hard to tell exactly how much interest you were being charged. Banks charged overdraft fees without ever telling you they were doing it. These things got so bad, Congress took action. Consumer ignorance was built into the profit model of big financial institutions. Educating consumers was not just a waste of money to them, it was actually costing them business.

Credit unions are not-for-profits that want to make their communities a better place. Part of that mission includes financial education. If you need advice about home-buying, making a budget or using credit responsibly, your credit union will be happy to help.

5.) Savings

Credit unions work for their members. They pay back the money they make to their members in the form of dividends. Since their members are also the people paying for their services, they don’t have much of an incentive to charge an arm and a leg in interest and fees.

Credit unions also offer competitive rates on savings accounts and Certificates. Because they don’t have to siphon off money to pay shareholders, they can return that money to their investors: you know, the people who do their banking with the credit union. Compare the earned interest on a credit union checking or savings account to those offered by a for-profit bank. Then, go open an account at a credit union. You’ll thank yourself later.
Destinations Credit Union offers many of the same services you’ll find at the big banks, but can save you money on your everyday banking needs.  Want to get started?  Join Destinations Credit Union today!