What Is a Jumbo Loan? Finance Your Property in a Competitive Market

After years of building a stellar credit history, you may have decided you’re finally ready to invest in that vacation home, but you don’t have quite enough in the bank for that eye-catching property just yet. Maybe you want to begin your investment journey early so you don’t have to spend years bulking up your life’s savings.

If an aspiring luxury homeowner can’t sufficiently invest in a property with a standard mortgage loan, there’s an alternative form of financing: a jumbo mortgage. This mortgage allows those with a strong financial history who may not necessarily be a billionaire to get in on the luxury property market. But what is a jumbo mortgage (commonly known as a jumbo loan), and how exactly does it work?

Jumbo Loan Definition

A jumbo loan is a mortgage loan whose value is greater than the maximum amount of a traditional conforming loan. This threshold is determined by government-sponsored enterprises (GSE), such as Fannie Mae (FHMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC). Jumbo loans are for high-valued properties, like mansions, luxury housing, and homes in high-income areas. Since jumbo loan limits fall above GSE standards, they aren’t guaranteed or secured by the government. As a result, jumbo loans are riskier for borrowers than conforming mortgage loans.

Jumbo loans are meant for those who may earn a high salary but aren’t necessarily “wealthy” yet. Lenders typically appreciate this specific group because they tend to have solid wealth management histories and make better use of financial services, ensuring less of a risk for the private investor.

Due to the uncertain nature of a jumbo loan, borrowers need to present an extensive, secure credit history, as well as undergo a more meticulous vetting process if they’re considering taking out a jumbo loan. Also, while jumbo loans can come in handy for those without millions in savings, potential borrowers must still present adequate income documentation and an up-front payment from their cash assets.

Like conforming loans, jumbo loans are available at fixed or adjustable rates. Interest rates on jumbo loans are traditionally much higher than those on conforming mortgage loans. This has slowly started shifting over the last few years, with some jumbo loan rates even leveling out with or falling below conforming loan rates. For example, Bank of America’s 2021 estimates for a 5/1 adjustable-rate jumbo loan were equivalent to the same rate for a 5/1 adjustable conforming loan.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has set the new baseline limit for a conforming loan to $548,250 for 2021, which is an increase of nearly $40,000 since 2020. This new conforming loan limit provides the new minimum jumbo loan limits for 2021 for the majority of the United States. As the FHFA adjusts its estimates for median home values in the U.S., these limits adjust proportionally and apply to most counties in the U.S.

Certain U.S. counties and territories maintain jumbo loan limits that are even higher than the FHFA baseline, due to median home values that are higher than the baseline conforming loan limits. In states like Alaska and Hawaii, territories like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and counties in select states, the minimum jumbo loan limit is $822,375, which is 150 percent of the rest of the country’s loan limit.

Jumbo Loan Rates for 2021

Ultimately, your jumbo loan limits and rates will depend on home values and how competitive the housing market is in the area where you’re looking to invest.

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan: Pros and Cons

The biggest question you might be asking yourself is “do the risks of a jumbo loan outweigh the benefits?” While jumbo loans can be a useful home financing resource, sometimes it makes more sense to aim for a property that a conforming loan would cover instead. Here are some pros and cons of jumbo loans that might make your decision easier.
Pros:

  • Solid investment strategy: Jumbo loans allow the investor to get a solid jump-start in the luxury real estate market, which can serve as a beneficial long-term asset.
  • Escape GSE restrictions: Jumbo loan limits are set to exceed those decided by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, so borrowers have more flexibility regarding constraints they would deal with under a conforming loan.
  • Variety in rates (fixed, adjustable, etc.): Though jumbo loan rates differ from conforming loan rates in many ways, they still offer similar options for what kinds of rates you want. Both offer 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed, 5/1 adjustable, and numerous other options for rates.

Cons:

  • Usually higher interest rates: Though jumbo loans are known for their higher interest rates, the discrepancies between those and conforming loan rates are starting to lessen each year.
  • More meticulous approval process: To secure a jumbo loan, you must have a near air-tight financial history, including a good credit score and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Higher initial deposit: Even though jumbo loans exist for those who are not able to finance a luxury property from savings alone, they still require a higher cash advance than a conforming loan.

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan- Pros and Cons

How To Qualify for a Jumbo Loan

As we mentioned before, jumbo loans require quite a bit more from you in the application process than a conforming loan would.

First and foremost, most jumbo lenders require a FICO credit score of somewhere around 700 or higher, depending on the lender. This ensures your lender that your financial track record is stable and trustworthy and that you don’t have any history of late or missed payments.

In addition to the amount of cash you have sitting in the bank, jumbo lenders will also look for ample documentation of your income source(s). This could include tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and any documentation of secondary income. By requiring extensive documentation, lenders can determine your ability to make a sufficient down payment on your mortgage, as well as the likelihood that you will be able to make your payments on time. Usually lenders require enough cash assets to make around a 20 percent down payment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, lenders will also require that you have maintained a low level of debt compared to your gross monthly income. A low debt-to-income ratio, combined with a high credit score and sufficient assets, will have you on your way to securing that jumbo loan in no time.

Furthermore, you will also likely need to get an appraisal to verify the value of the desired property, in order to ensure that the property is valued highly enough that you will actually qualify for a jumbo loan.

Key Takeaways:

  • Jumbo loans provide a solid alternative to those with a steady financial history who want to invest in luxury properties but don’t have enough in the bank yet.
  • A jumbo loan qualifies as any amount exceeding the FHFA’s baseline conforming loan limit: $548,250 in 2021.
  • Jumbo loan rates are typically higher than those of conforming loans, although the gap between the two has begun to close within the last decade.
  • To secure a jumbo loan, one must meet stringent financial criteria, including a high credit score, a low DTI, and the ability to make a sizable down payment.

For any financially responsible individual, it’s important to always maintain that responsibility in any investment. Each decision made should be carefully thought out, and you should keep in mind any future implications.

While jumbo loans can be a valuable stepping stone to success in competitive real estate, always make sure your income and budget are in a secure position before deciding to invest. You always want to stay realistic, and if you aren’t interested in spending a few more years saving or financing through a conforming loan, then a jumbo loan may be for you!

Sources: Investopedia | Bank of America | Federal Housing Finance Agency

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How to Make a Great Impression in a Virtual Interview

Are you thinking that a pandemic is no time to start a job search? Think again! Here’s how to show up as the must-have candidate in a virtual interview!

By

Rachel Cooke
December 28, 2020

Harvard Business Review, U.S. unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February of 2020 to 14.7% in April. But as of November 2020, it’s back down to 6.7%.

There is a job market, and it’s yours to partake in if you so choose. But the search is likely to be virtual.
So whether you’re out of a job or just looking for a change, let’s talk about strategies that will help you shine on screen and land your dream job.

1. Polish that profile

Keeping your online presence current and polished is a good idea in any moment or market. But according to Fast Company, there’s a particular urgency to sprucing it up right now. 
“Because many HR professionals are relying on video interviews, they’re also looking for ways to get a better feel for who the candidates are… [so] many are turning to social media profiles and looking for evidence of the candidate’s work online.”
This is a moment to assess your professional online presence. Personally, I focus on LinkedIn.
What’s your headline? What achievements are you highlighting? Do you have links in your profile to samples of your work?  Can you ask for testimonials or endorsements from people in your network? Ask a few friends to check out your LinkedIn profile as if they were looking to hire. Get their feedback and make adjustments. 

2. Set the scene for success

My family has this little holiday tradition. Every year we watch the 1989 classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It gets worse every year, but you don’t mess with tradition. This year, my 13-year-old was savvy enough to recognize that no one in Clark Griswold’s office had a computer on their desk. She simply couldn’t fathom the idea of work getting done in a pre-technology world. I can barely believe it myself.
Technology has evolved in ways the workforce of 1989 could never have imagined. It’s amazing what we can do today. But while videoconferencing technology has technically enabled amazing things, we all know it can be clunky and awkward by 2020 standards. So do your best to make your virtual interview as smooth as possible.
Here’s a quick checklist:
  • Check your tech. Internet connection, microphone, webcam—are they all working? If not, make sure you troubleshoot ahead of time.
     
  • Create a professional setting. Your background—real or virtual—should be as professional as possible.
     
  • Test the platform in advance. Make sure that wherever you’re meeting (Zoom, Teams, etc.) you have everything downloaded or updated, and you’ll be able to get into the virtual interview without a hitch. Do a practice run with a friend if you’re anxious.
     
  • Strip out distractions where you can. Kids, dogs, landscapers, snowblowers—they’re all noisemakers of the highest order! Be aware, and do your best to minimize.
     
  • Acknowledge distractions you can’t control. In a tiny apartment or homeschooling kids solo? Don’t stress! Just call this out as the meeting begins so no one is caught off guard. Any interviewer with a shred of humanity will offer you some grace.

If the interviewer isn’t willing to cut you some slack, pay attention to that vibe! I mean, is a workplace that can’t roll with real-world challenges graciously really where you want to be?

3. Account for the floating head syndrome

Videoconferencing is the best we’ve got, but it’s not perfect. There is so much about in-person interaction that we didn’t appreciate until we lost it! We’re now trading in floating heads. We’ve lost our access to body language which helped us read the room or sense how we were being received by our conversation partner.

In the absence of body language, you’ve got only your voice, so check in with the interviewer.

In a pre-pandemic world, the savvy among us might read subtle cues from the interviewer indicating we’ve gone off-topic, or we’re going into too much detail. But in the absence of body language, you’ve got only your voice.
So check in—not constantly, but periodically. Ask the interviewer “Am I answering the question you asked?” or “How’s this level of detail? I can provide more or less if that would be helpful.” 
The interviewer will appreciate your checking in. It demonstrates an emotional intelligence many of your competitors may not show.

4. Keep that energy soaring

We all know Zoom-fatigue is real. Energy tends to be lower on video, so find ways to express enthusiasm that the interviewer can’t help but experience.

Focus on being fully present.

This isn’t about singing and dancing (though some solid choreography would certainly make you memorable!) Focus instead on being fully present. Close all of your tabs or windows besides the videoconference. The temptation to multi-task or be distracted by an email is dangerous. This will help you stay focused on the conversation at hand.
Be prepared to share stories or examples about projects you were really excited about being a part of. Oh, and find moments to just smile! Let your interviewer know, visually, you’re just happy to be there. Your enthusiasm will shine through.

5. Ask questions of the moment 

It’s good practice in any climate to ask thoughtful questions in an interview. Hiring leaders respond well to curiosity. Especially the kind that shows you did some prep work.
In this particular climate, be sure you ask a question or two that is relevant to the experience we’re all having. You might ask how they’ve shifted their strategy or service delivery or what they’ve learned about their customers during Covid.
This line of questioning shows not only a spirit of curiosity, but that you’re thinking about the need to redirect, be agile, and consider the context when engaging with their products or customers.

6. Put your resilience on display

The great buzzword of 2020 will surely carry into 2021. You may have skills, experience, and connections, but every company wants to know: Are you resilient?
Buzzy though it may be, companies want, now more than ever, to recruit people who know how to deal with setbacks, handle rejection, learn from failure, and keep on truckin’!

Every company wants to know: Are you resilient?

So as you move through your conversation, find spots to highlight moments of failure that taught you something new; challenges you overcame; or difficult feedback you used to improve yourself. You can even talk about how you transitioned to working while homeschooling, nursing, and doing whatever else the pandemic has demanded of you.
These are the rules of the road when it comes to virtual interviewing. And of course, it goes without saying that what mattered in traditional interviewing—being on time, being professional, doing your research, sending a thank you note—all still applies.
Now go get ‘em, tiger!


About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Financial Planning Investing

June Financial To-Do List + Calendar

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Life happens, but you can be prepared for the unexpected with an emergency savings fund. These funds are designed to be set aside for unanticipated expenses, such as:

Emergency funds serve as an important financial buffer in the event of an emergency, and it’s easy to get started with this savings task. In this month’s financial checklist, we’re going to focus on tasks that will help you build an emergency savings fund.

 June Financial Checklist: Emergency Savings

  1. Determine how much you want to put away
  2. Pick where to save your emergency fund
  3. Set up automatic contributions
  4. Pad your emergency fund
  5. Review and adjust your contributions monthly

Let’s look at ways you can boost your savings, build your emergency fund, and keep your finances on track as we enter the second half of the year.

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How to Check Your Bags Without Paying Bag-Checking Fees :: Mint.com/blog

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  1. Determine how much you want to put away

Set a goal savings amount that is moderately challenging but attainable.

Example: If you make $3,200 per month after taxes, you’ll want to have $9,600 to $19,200 in your emergency fund.

2. Pick where to save your emergency fund

Consider emergency savings as untouchable for expenses that are just wants – keep this money here for when you really need it.

To help resist the temptation of spending these savings, put your emergency fund in the right place:

Sometimes there’s not a one-size fits all solution. Consider putting emergency funds away in more than one of the above options. 

3. Set Up Automatic Contributions

4. Pad your emergency savings

5. Review and adjust your contributions monthly

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How to Invest Your First $1,000 :: Mint.com/blog

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Key Takeaways

Prefer to organize online? Create an editable copy of our June monthly template in three simple steps:

  1. Open our Calendar Template in Google Sheets
  2. Select “File”, then “Make a Copy”
  3. Save in your own Google Drive to make edits

Our finance tips can help you throughout the year so be sure to take a look! Improve your finances in 2020 with our series of financial to-do lists tailored to each calendar month.

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Financial Planning

The 2021 Career Wisdom You Need from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg left behind a legacy of wisdom that feels more relevant in 2021 than ever. Here are a few lessons we should all carry into the new year.

By

Rachel Cooke
January 4, 2021

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The diminutive woman, known affectionately as The Notorious RBG, served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until her death on September 18th, 2020, at age 87. RBG was the breaker of all kinds of ceilings. She fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Before I charge too quickly into the spin of 2021, I plan to reflect on some of the amazing life and career lessons RBG left behind. She gifted us a legacy of wisdom that will remain relevant for years to come.

So today, let’s reflect on some of what she taught us and consider how it might apply to our own adventures in the coming months.

1. To persuade others, don’t react, respond!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved tremendous things in her lifetime. Much of her success required that she persuade others to share a point of view that may not have been popular.

And persuasive she was. Never one to steamroll or shame others onto her side, RBG was artful in how she changed hearts and minds.

She once shared with the New York Times some wedding-day advice she received from her mother-in-law: “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

And she goes on to say of that advice:

I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I believe she was telling us not to ignore or excuse unkindness or incivility but to label and rise above it in our response.

In 2021, we are all going to be processing and wading through the heaviness that was 2020 as we face the challenges of the coming year. Careless words are likely to be spoken. But when they are, try not to let them trigger a reaction. Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

The absence of your emotional reaction will make the intelligence of your response stand out even more. This is one way to bring hearts and minds to your side.

2. Disagree with an idea but respect the person who shared it

RBG maintained lifelong friendships with colleagues sitting on both sides of the political aisle. She was asked about her success at this many times throughout her career.

She spoke with NPR about her friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and shared that while they disagreed deeply on many issues, she respected him enough to listen to what he said. And although he rarely changed her mind, his thinking pushed and challenged her own, making her even better.

When an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it?

She also spoke of their finding common ground through shared interests and humor. She was able to separate her friend and colleague from the opinions he held. And this too feels like a useful skill to cultivate for 2021.

None of us knows what shape the workplace will take in the coming months. We will all hear many predictions, suggestions, and opinions. We will like some and hate others.

But when an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it? Is there something useful you can find in it?

Keep the idea and the person in separate corners.

3. Never stop learning

Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, responding to a letter from an 8-year-old girl

RBG never lost her appetite for more information, for expanding her mind. As much wisdom as she had acquired, it was never enough.

And in this, she wasn’t alone. According to Inc. Magazine, many of the world’s most successful leaders—from Warren Buffet to Tony Robbins to Mark Cuban—are voracious readers.

As we continue to navigate the uncertainty ahead, learning new ways to do things will be critically important. So make continuous reading and learning a priority in 2021.

Not sure how to make it happen? Here are a few ideas:

4. Prioritize self-care

RBG was so famous as an exerciser that her personal trainer published a book of the workouts she was still doing into her 80s. Once asked who the most important person in her life was, she famously responded, “My personal trainer.”

For RBG, intense exercise gave her the energy she needed to deliver her most impactful work. This is a lesson we all need to carry into 2021. As stress and burnout continue to threaten and plague us, we must all be mindful of how we manage our energy levels.

Working endless hours isn’t the most effective or fulfilling path to success. Working well is what delivers results. So find ways to care for yourself, to recharge your tank, every day.

You too may enjoy some intense exercise. Or you may choose to walk, meditate, journal, or call a friend. There is no right way to practice self-care, but doing it in some form is a must!

If you want some self-care guidance when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and coping with stress, here’s where I shamelessly plug podcasts from my amazing Quick and Dirty Tips colleagues:

Search for these wellness experts on your favorite podcast platform or visit QuickandDirtyTips.com.

I hope these nuggets of wisdom have helped you feel empowered to take on 2021. These are only a few of the countless gems RBG left us with. They feel, for me, entirely relevant in this moment. So let’s honor and celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life together by letting her wisdom guide us through some murky months ahead.


About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Financial Planning Investing

Best Checking Accounts 2020

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Sound money management is an important part of a solid financial strategy. You’ll want to have some of your money set for retirement in a traditional or Roth IRA. Still, other money might be saved for your kids’ college, a down payment on a house or other longer-term goals. And then you might have an emergency fund as well as a checking account that you use to pay your monthly bills and expenses. Each of these buckets of money can be in a different kind of account. In this article, we’ll look at some of the best checking accounts.

What makes a good checking account

Before we look at some of the best checking accounts, it’s a good idea to talk about what makes for a good checking account. A checking account is an account that you would typically use to pay your ongoing monthly expenses. It is more and more rare to actually write paper checks, and instead, you would typically use a debit card or cashless payment account linked to your checking account. 

With a checking account, some features to look for include no monthly or maintenance fees, a low minimum amount to open an account, the rate at which they pay interest, and any account opening bonus they might offer. The interest rate that checking and savings accounts pay is tied to the federal funds rate and usually varies over time. As of 2020, the interest rates are quite low, and many checking and savings accounts do not pay any interest at all. Also keep in mind that even if your account pays you 1% interest, you’re still losing money to inflation. So you wouldn’t want to keep any long-term investment money in a checking or savings account.

With all that being said, let’s take a look at some of the top checking accounts available.

Discover Cashback Debit

Discover’s checking account offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month, which is one of the few debit cards that offer a reward on ongoing purchases. The Discover Cashback Debit account also comes with no monthly maintenance or other fees, no fees to withdraw at over 60,000 ATMs worldwide and no fees for insufficient funds.

CapitalOne 360 Checking

The CapitalOne 360 Checking account has no account minimums or fees. It currently offers a 0.10% APY on balances, though you can also open a no-fee CapitalOne 360 Performance Savings account which offers 0.65% APY as of the time of this writing. CapitalOne also has thousands of branch offices nationwide, so you can do your banking online or in-person. The CapitalOne 360 Checking account offers three different options if you happen to overdraft your account – Auto-Decline, Next Day Grace and Free Savings Transfer.

Fidelity Cash Management Account

Fidelity’s Cash Management Account also offers no account fees or minimum balances. It also reimburses ATM fees nationwide, though only offers 0.01% APY on account balances. Fidelity makes it easy to transfer money between your checking account, savings accounts and any retirement accounts you have with Fidelity. Plus, the Fidelity Rewards Visa offers 2% cash back on all purchases, which you can redeem into your Fidelity Cash Management Account or any other Fidelity account.

Wealthfront Cash Account

Wealthfront’s Cash Account offers a high-interest checking account (0.35% APY as of this writing) with no fees. And Wealthfront’s convenient account dashboard lets you easily move money between your checking account and any investment or retirement accounts that you have with them. They also offer a service where you can get access to your paycheck up to two days early if you direct deposit into your Wealthfront Cash Account

HSBC Premier Checking

HSBC’s Premier Checking account also offers no fee on ATMs nationwide or for everyday banking transactions, but does charge a monthly maintenance fee if you don’t have at least $75,000 in combined accounts or direct deposits of at least $5,000 monthly. They are currently offering a promotion where you can earn 3% as a welcome bonus, up to $600. You’ll get 3% on qualifying direct deposits, up to $100 per month, for the first six months of having your account.

Chase Total Checking

Chase Total Checking is currently offering a welcome bonus of $200 when you open a new account and have a direct deposit made to your account in the first 90 days. Also, there is a $12 monthly maintenance fee which can be avoided if you either:

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Financial Planning

How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

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Are you thinking that brainstorming just won’t work in a virtual world? Think again! Here’s how to prepare and run a brainstorm that inspires a flood of creative ideas.

By

Rachel Cooke
November 30, 2020

Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there’s one place where video conferencing still shines, and that’s the good ol’ brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it’s harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That’s why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They’re a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

These are not brainstorm moments—they’re meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you’ve figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it’s time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here’s another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you’ve stated the problem or opportunity, it’s time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: “If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role.”

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn’t serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.


About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Budgeting Financial Planning

A Step-by-Step Guide to Prepare Your Budget for a Layoff

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Preparing financially for a job loss can help keep your budget secure through any hardship.

What would you do if you were laid off from your job today? This question isn’t meant to make you want to hide under your desk, but to encourage you to evaluate your circumstances. What would happen to your financial situation if you suddenly didn’t have an income to rely on?

While it’s not exactly fun to plan ahead for life’s hardships—say, your car breaking down or losing a job—doing so can help you stay afloat financially and avoid taking on debt to remedy an already tense situation.

What can you do to prepare your budget for a layoff? These four steps will help you prepare your budget for a layoff and survive a layoff financially:

1. Put some of your paycheck into savings

In order to prepare your budget for a layoff, one of the best things you can do is learn to live on less when you have your typical paychecks coming in. Living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for many, and a habit many promise to break once they earn more. If you can afford it, consider trying to live off only a portion of your paycheck. That way, you can always depend on having extra money to fall back on in the event of a hardship, like a layoff.

One way to save for an unexpected job loss is to put some of every paycheck into your savings account.

Jill Caponera, a consumer savings expert at coupon platform Promocodes.com, suggests paying yourself first—putting some of each paycheck into savings before you spend any of it—in order to save for an unexpected job loss.

“Put money directly into your savings account the moment you get paid so that you’re never in a position where you’re strapped during a true financial emergency,” Caponera says. Try scheduling an automatic recurring transfer from checking to savings that hits after each payday, or create a direct deposit to savings from each paycheck through your employer.

If living on less isn’t feasible for you right now, start small and focus on taking baby steps to prepare your budget for a layoff. You could start with a money savings challenge and a more attainable goal, like living off of 97 percent of your paycheck and saving the remaining 3 percent. This means that if your take-home pay is $4,000 a month, your goal is to put 3 percent, or $120, into savings monthly and then limit your bills and spending to $3,880. As you get accustomed to that amount, gradually increase the percentage of your paycheck you save each period. Some budgeting experts suggest saving at least 20 percent of your income and living off of the other 80 percent.

If you devote even a small percentage of your paycheck to savings before the bills and discretionary expenses roll in, saving will eventually become habit. You’ll get used to budgeting only with your post-savings take-home pay, and you won’t miss the savings portion of your paycheck.

“Put money directly into your savings account the moment you get paid so that you’re never in a position where you’re strapped during a true financial emergency.”

– Jill Caponera, consumer savings expert at Promocodes.com

2. Save 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund

Once you’ve gotten used to regularly saving a portion of your income, you can save for an unexpected job loss by building up a solid emergency fund over time—especially if you are using an online savings account with a high interest rate. An emergency fund is a dedicated savings account that you only touch in the event of financial hardship, such as a medical emergency or job loss.

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Christian Stewart, founder of financial coaching site Do Better Financial, recommends having an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses to help you survive a layoff financially.

“The goal is to make sure all your bases are covered, meaning you can pay the bills and proceed with a relatively normal life until you find another job,” Stewart says. She notes the actual amount of money you need to save for an unexpected job loss will vary based on your lifestyle, employment industry and willingness to relocate, since this can dictate how long it could take to find another job.

To build an emergency fund and save for an unexpected job loss, Stewart recommends starting a zero-based budget. This form of budgeting gives every dollar you earn a job, such as paying a bill, funding your emergency account or financing fun and discretionary expenses. In addition to making your emergency fund a priority, this budgeting strategy helps you identify exactly how much you spend within each budget category each month. You can then find areas of careless spending—perhaps an unused subscription service—where you could stand to cut back. You could redistribute those dollars to your emergency fund.

Having an emergency fund in place can help you survive a layoff financially.

“In the event of a layoff, you will have a clear line of sight to regular areas of your spending that can be cut if it takes longer to find a new job,” Stewart says.

After you’re comfortable with the size of your emergency fund and feel like you can survive a layoff financially, you can use any extra savings for a different financial goal, such as saving for retirement or a down payment on a car or home.

3. Find income from a side hustle

Another way to survive a layoff financially is to have a side gig in place. Contrary to what some believe, side hustles do not have to take up an onerous amount of your time. There are actually many side hustles you can do while working full time, such as freelancing in your current field, driving for a rideshare app or tutoring.

Not only do side jobs create extra cash flow to devote toward savings or debt repayment when you have a full-time job, they also give you an added layer of security to help you save for an unexpected job loss. You might not be able to replace your full-time earnings with your music lesson business, but it can provide you with some predictable cash flow while you interview for a new position.

You could even turn your side hustle into a full-time job if you have a passion project you’ve been wanting to turn into a career. Alternatively, your side hustle turned full-time gig could help maintain your income stream if you plan to take additional time off after a layoff—if you decide to go back to school or make a move to a new industry, for example.

4. Know where to turn for assistance

Being laid off can be a traumatic experience, and if it does happen, it is important to know where to turn and how to make decisions that aren’t rooted in fear or emotion.

“Sit down with a level-headed friend, spouse and/or counselor to process your new financial reality,” Stewart of Do Better Financial says. “If you’re receiving a compensation package, do yourself a favor and work out beforehand where the money will be spent and how long you need it to last.”

Speaking of work benefits, make sure you utilize all of the benefits possible before your layoff goes into full effect, such as getting an annual physical through your health insurance plan.

“Sit down with a level-headed friend, spouse and/or counselor to process your new financial reality. If you’re receiving a compensation package, do yourself a favor and work out beforehand where the money will be spent and how long you need it to last.”

– Christian Stewart, founder of Do Better Financial

“If you’ve been laid off, or are expecting an upcoming layoff, you should immediately contact your state’s unemployment office to set up your account and start receiving your compensation,” consumer savings expert Caponera says. “While these benefits won’t pay as much as your full-time salary, these funds will certainly help to cover your monthly bills and living expenses while you continue to look for work.”

Each state has different benefits and paperwork requirements, so make sure you’re using your state’s government website to learn more and to survive a layoff financially.

Prepare your budget for a layoff

Facing a layoff can be emotionally and financially draining, especially if you don’t see it coming. The most important thing is to start planning ahead, and prepare your budget for a layoff before it happens.

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Financial Planning Investing Personal Finance

3 Financial Self-Care Habits You Can Start Today

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If you’re someone who struggles with financial anxiety and stress, practicing a financial self-care routine could help. Just like other areas of your life, the more consistent you are about financial self-care, the better. This is why I am emphasizing the idea of building habits. The reality is that anxiety and stress are life’s constants. We ourselves don’t have the luxury of removing those factors from our environment, but what we do have are tools to help manage and reduce them. 

Before I get into it, I want to note that there’s a pretty extensive list of financial-self care options available, but what I’ve realized is that when we are struggling, we often overcommit ourselves to perfectionism instead of trying to be a little less imperfect. I’m the first to admit that it’s really tough not to go all-in when reading advice that sounds life-changing. Often, we find ourselves trying out anything and everything to feel in control, and it is for this reason that I won’t offer you the extensive list today. Instead, I hope to help you focus on taking things slow for once so that you don’t set yourself up for failure (and ultimately right back in the anxiety-ridden state you first found yourself in). You can view these three foundational habits as a starting point for a long-term financial self-care routine that you will work to enhance over the course of your life. With this in mind, let’s dive in.

HABIT # 1: REVIEW & CATEGORIZE YOUR TRANSACTIONS DAILY

Building awareness of what and how much you’ve spent can be a game-changer. This habit not only takes the dreaded guessing game out of your end-of-month leftover income and total spending, but it can help you course-correct throughout the month to ensure you hit budgeting goals, cut back in areas you may find yourself regretting, or even upping your spend in areas that bring you joy. A few added bonuses of this habit include saving time at the end of the month if you’re someone that typically sits down for 4-5 hours to get yourself organized, in addition to helping you catch fraudulent transactions faster! 

Pro tips for building this habit: 

HABIT # 2: CHECK YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT(S) DAILY

Checking your savings accounts is a great way to flood your brain with positivity about your financial situation. Having savings is a rewarding feeling, and even more rewarding, is seeing your savings progress over time. Getting in this habit will also be a good reminder to actively save for each of your financial goals. 

Pro tips for building this habit: 

HABIT # 3: REWARD YOURSELF 1X PER WEEK

I saved the best for last. Rewarding yourself is a critical step that most skip when trying to become more disciplined. Self-control can be a draining experience, especially at first. Make sure to set aside “free time” each week to do something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to require a lot of money. Think of it as a way of telling yourself good job for working hard and trying to improve. 

Pro tips for building this habit*: 

*Making it attractive and satisfying isn’t necessary here because the reward in and of itself will reinforce the habit. 

With that, you now have 3 habits to start building a financial self-care routine. Give this a shot, and let me know how it goes in the comments below. 

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Financial Planning

A QDT Q&A With Ken Kwapis

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Ken Kwapis
November 6, 2020

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Budgeting Financial Planning

Taking the Leap: How to Make a Career Change and Land on Your Feet

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Changing careers can be financially risky, but with the right preparation, you can make a smooth transition.

Imagine this: You’ve gone to college—even grad school—to pursue a career path you always thought you wanted. But after a few years and many tuition dollars spent, it suddenly hits you: If you have to write one more press release, it might push you over the edge. If this is the case, it’s time to prepare for a career change.

Transitioning careers is not unusual. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the American Staffing Association, 38 percent of working adults say they are likely to change careers within the next year. The only problem is, if you are unsure of how to make a career change and whether it will be financially sound, you might be hesitant to make the leap.

“No one wants to change careers without knowing the chances of success,” says Mark Anthony Dyson, host of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, a show designed to help those in career transition. “Adequate preparation can make all the difference.”

“Preparation in every form—from updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling career—will be a huge factor in your career-change success.”

– Mark Anthony Dyson, The Voice of Job Seekers

“How do I make a big career change with this adequate preparation,” you ask?

Learning how to prepare for a career change financially and finding out which skills you’ll need in your new career are great places to start. Take these steps to understand your career intentions, then determine the best financial strategies for achieving them:

Figure out if a career change is right for you

Before preparing for a career change, start by doing an honest self-assessment on whether or not a switch is right for you. This is important, says Dyson, because you’ll want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of changing careers versus exploring a job transition within your current field. Doing the latter might make more sense for you if you aren’t quite ready to go through a full-blown career transition. Either way, taking the time for self-reflection will help you get to your desired career path sooner.

It’s important to complete a self-assessment in order to prepare for a career change.

When you are thinking about how to make a career change and if it’s the right time for you, Dyson suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • What are the professional and financial impacts if I stay on my current career path? A quick list of pros and cons might help your analysis.
  • Are there other opportunities in my current field that I haven’t yet considered? Talk to a human resources professional or research online to understand the qualifications, salaries and opportunities for advancement within your area of expertise.
  • What does my ideal career look like?
  • Do I currently have the skills and experience that can transfer to a new career?
  • What are the possible financial and professional outcomes if my new career doesn’t work out?

Kelan Kline, a jail deputy turned personal finance blogger for The Savvy Couple, felt stifled by his previous job and the limitations it imposed on his time. He believed that in order to achieve career growth and increase his money-making potential, he would have to change careers. “I knew I was done working for others altogether,” Kline adds.

If you're wondering how to make a career change, consider the skills you already have in your current position and how they could apply to a new one.

You may not think you have the skills and experience necessary to transition into a new career, but a tip to prepare for a career change is to consider the skills that have led to your career success thus far. That’s what 10-year human resources veteran Lisa Cassella did when she decided a new career direction was in order and wanted to follow her passion for real estate.

“As hiring and program manager for a senior living facility, I met face-to-face with with people everyday,” says Cassella, now a licensed real estate salesperson for the brokerage firm Compass. “Sometimes you have to have some difficult conversations,” she continues. “It’s the same in real estate. But for the most part, you are helping people—which is what I enjoy and a strong connection between both careers.”

Sasha Korobov, a career and success strategist, agrees that a tip for preparing for a career change is to use your current skills as a foundation for a new career. Having undergone a career change herself, she advises people to “really think about what you want to do next, and see if you can start getting those skills and experience in the job you’re already in.”

Once you understand your motives and capabilities, you’ll have the groundwork for what needs to come next: smart ways to financially support yourself through the transition.

Prepare yourself financially for making the switch

One of the best things you can do when figuring out how to make a career change is to have a financial plan. Depending on how you approach your career change, the steps that you take to move to a new industry could impact your finances in various ways.

For example, when you start out in a new industry, you might be taking a lower level position than what you had in your previous career. This may come with a dip in income, for which you will need to adjust your budget as you progress in your new career.

If you plan to take any time off before you make the switch, you may experience a gap in income. “You have to think about how many months of income you need to save to get over that hump,” Cassella says. Cassella planned in advance so that she had at least six months of income in the bank before she made the switch to her new career.

One of the most important tips to prepare for a career change: prepare financially before taking any action.

Another consideration when you prepare for a career change is whether there is a cost investment required in moving to the new career you have chosen. For example, you might need to spend money on additional education, training, certifications and other measures before you can move into your new role. Your financial plan will have to consider dips in income that could occur if you need to reduce your hours or quit working in order to get the training and education your new career requires, Korobov says. Cassella had to get licensed before moving into real estate sales. She quit her job and took a two-week course, then immediately took the state test.

If your career change means starting your own business venture, you may have to prepare for all of the financial scenarios mentioned above. Your income might decrease as you establish your own business and gain traction, for instance. You might also have to pay for things that were once provided to you by an employer, such as supplies, computer equipment, software and health insurance.

Because of these potential challenges, having a savings plan is key when considering tips to prepare for a career change.

Fine-tune your savings to prepare for a career change

No matter which path you choose, preparing for a career change may present you with some financial risk. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have savings set aside to manage the transition. With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change, says finance blogger Kline.

To prepare for a career change, find ways to cut costs and build up your emergency fund.

Here are Kline’s tips to prepare for a career change and the areas he focused on most when he prepared for his professional move:

  • Reduce unnecessary expenses. As you work on how to make a career change, consider cutting back on discretionary spending such as eating out, entertainment and vacations, and set that money aside for your career change. Don’t already have a budget to track your expenses? Now is the perfect time to start one.
  • Pick the right type of savings account. You’ll want to put the money you save from reducing your expenses into the best type of account to support your career transition. A high-yield savings account, such as the Discover Online Savings Account, will help you grow your savings. For a long-term savings strategy, a Discover Certificate of Deposit might be a great fit.

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  • Start an emergency fund. Similar to establishing a budget and picking a savings account, if you haven’t already started an emergency fund, now is the time to create one (or add to it if you already have some momentum with your rainy day savings). An emergency fund can help you prepare for unexpected expenses and the financial risks involved in changing careers. Experts suggest that you keep at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.
  • Pay down debt. If you are able to pay down debt, such as student loan and credit card debt, it will free up cash to save toward your career transition. Pay more than the monthly minimum to reduce or eliminate the debt altogether as you prepare for a career change.

With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change.

– Kelan Kline, The Savvy Couple

Approach your new career at a gradual pace

For some, a slower transition, with moonlighting or side hustling until they are ready to go full time, has proven effective. When Jeff Neal started his online retail site selling bait and live feeders, he was still a full-time project manager in e-commerce, but not passionate about his day-to-day. He was able to use his skills from this position to build his own online ventures.

Neal says he started his online business as a side hustle, with the intention of always having a full-time job keeping his household afloat. He has now been able to transition into being a full-time internet entrepreneur.

Korobov, the career and success strategist, also started to prepare for her career change with a part-time entrepreneurial venture that grew out of corporate coaching. “I wanted to go into business for myself as a career strategist for women, and I knew that having corporate coaching experience would fast-track my credibility with a lot of potential clients,” she says.

“I began offering workshops and brown-bag lunches at my office,” Korobov continues. This experience was a valuable lesson for Korobov in how to make a career change, helping her boost her confidence and allowing her to tweak her workshops as she got more experience.

Slowly transitioning into a new job is how to make a career change without quitting your day-to-day all at once.

One of Korobov’s biggest tips to prepare for a career change that she learned firsthand: “Your entrepreneurial ventures, even if done part-time, can make the transition into your career smoother, while giving you extra income to help with your financial preparation process.”

Ensure your path to career-change success

Making a career change can seem like a huge risk, since you don’t really know if it will work out in your favor. But with research and readiness, you can confidently prepare for a career change. Dyson, of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, can’t emphasize enough that “preparation in every form—from updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling career—will be a huge factor in your career-change success.”

Understanding your goals and expectations—and trusting your gut—before you begin is a big step in the right direction. Says Cassella of her move into real estate: “It just made a lot of sense for me and my family. My expectations are that once I really get going, there is no limit to what I can make.”

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