How to Endorse a Check to Someone Else in 4 Steps

If you owe someone, you most likely want to pay them as soon as you can. With digital banking adding your paychecks right to your bank account, you may not always have cash on you. You may also have some checks lying around that you’ve put off depositing.

To save time, you could endorse a check to someone else to pay them. This means that you sign over a check to them that was originally given to you, and they deposit it instead. We go over the four main steps for how to endorse a check to someone else below.

How to Endorse a Check to Someone Else in 4 Steps

Step 1: Create a Plan With Your Recipient

Endorsing a check to someone else isn’t always an option, but you may be able to use this method for rent or other monthly expenses. First, talk to your recipient to ensure they’re comfortable with this payment option.

Recipients may worry about banks denying this payment, even though this may not be common. To avoid endorsing a check to someone that may not accept it, make sure you communicate beforehand. If they’re on board, exchange your full name and contact information for the next few steps.

Step 2: Double-Check With Your Bank

It’s common for banks to have different rules and requirements when it comes to endorsing a check to someone else. Given the risk of stolen checks or checks paid to the wrong person, some banks may not offer these services. To make this process smooth, call or visit your bank first.

Keep in mind you may need to contact the bank you initially received the check from. In most cases, you can find the bank’s contact information on the front of the check. When you reach out, don’t forget to ask about any extra identification your recipient may need to bring with them to cash it out.

Correctly Sign the Check Over to the Recipient

Step 3: Correctly Sign the Check Over to the Recipient

Now, how do you sign over a check to someone else? Start by flipping the check over to find the endorsement line. This is normally located on the right or left along the height of the check reading “endorse check here.”

Once you’ve found it, sign your name on the top line, then write out “Pay to the order of [recipient name]” underneath. This shows the teller that you authorize this check to be paid to a third party. Be sure to write out your recipient’s name as it appears on their I.D. — the teller will double-check their identification before cashing it out.

Step 4: Hand Over Your Check

It’s time to hand over the payment to your recipient! When you’re meeting up with your recipient, exchange contacts if you haven’t already. If any mishaps were to happen, like the bank not accepting the payment, they’ll be able to contact you.

If you get worried, touch base with your recipient to ensure the check went through. If you or anyone else in the exchange feels uneasy, opt for a more secure alternative. For instance, certified checks are authorized by banks for a more secure payment method and may be a better payment alternative, especially for large purchases.

Two Alternatives to Signing a Check For Someone Else

Two Alternatives to Signing a Check For Someone Else

Paying bills with checks you already have may save you time, but not always for the recipient. When an endorsed check isn’t a comfortable option, there are a few different routes to go down instead.

1. Cash Out at the Issued Bank

You could simply go to the bank and cash out your check. Most banking apps nowadays allow digital check deposits and online transfers. You can run to your local ATM to cash out the money, or transfer money online. To do this, use your bank’s mobile app or other apps like Venmo or Cashapp.

Keep in mind, most ATMs or banks that aren’t associated with your bank may charge service fees. While this usually costs only a few dollars, that could buy you your morning coffee.

2. Open a Bank Account

If you don’t already have a bank account, it may be time to open one! Frequently cashing in checks at banks you don’t have an account with can rack up a hefty bill. If you were to cash in your bi-weekly paychecks with a $5 service fee, that would cost you $120 a year in fees. That’s $120 you could be putting towards your savings for future investments.

Having a bank account may also help make payments easier and streamlined. Automating payments may help you avoid late fees and track your monthly spending. Using apps like Mint, you can keep track of your money going in and out via your trusty smartphone.

When checks are filled out to you, you may feel like you’re the only one that’s able to do anything with it. For times you don’t feel like cashing in your check, you can endorse it to someone you may need to pay. While this is doable, you may want to take the extra steps to make this as smooth as can be. To do this, use our steps above and check on your budget before making any financial decisions using our app.

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8 Ways to Save Money on Date Night

Planning budget-friendly date nights can keep your relationship and your finances healthy.

Whether you’re cozying up on the couch together with a bottle of wine or headed out to the trendy restaurant everyone’s talking about, date night is an essential part of most relationships.

“Date nights are important because they give new couples a chance to get to know each other and established couples a chance to have fun or blow off some steam after a rough week,” says Holly Shaftel, a relationship expert and certified dating coach. “Penciling in a regular date can ensure that you make time for each other when your jobs and other aspects of your life might keep you busy.”

Finding ways to spend less on date night can be easy if you're willing to be creative.

There’s just one small snag. Or, maybe it’s a big one. Date nights can get expensive. According to financial news website 24/7 Wall St., the cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.

When you’re focused on improving your finances as a couple, finding ways to spend less on date night is a no-brainer. But you may be wondering: How can we save money on date night and still get that much-needed break from the daily grind?

There are plenty of ways to save money on date night by bringing just a little creativity into the mix. Here are eight suggestions to try:

1. Share common interests on the cheap

When Shaftel and her boyfriend were in the early stages of their relationship, they learned they were both active in sports. They were able to plan their date nights around low-cost (and sometimes free) sports activities, like hitting the driving range or playing tennis at their local park.

One way to save money on date night is to explore outdoor activities.

If you’re trying to find ways to spend less on date night, you can plan your own free or low-cost date nights around your and your partner’s shared interests. If you’re both avid readers, for example, even a simple afternoon browsing your local library’s shelves or a cool independent bookstore can make for a memorable time. If you’re both adventurous, check into your local sporting goods stores for organized hikes, stargazing outings or mountaineering workshops. They often post a schedule of events that are free, low-cost or discounted for members.

2. Create a low-budget date night bucket list

Dustyn Ferguson, a personal finance blogger at Dime Will Tell, suggests using the “bucket list” approach to find the best ways to save money on date night. To gather ideas, make it a game. At your next group gathering, ask guests to write down a fun, low-budget date night idea. The host then gets to read and keep all of the suggestions. When Ferguson and his girlfriend did this at a friend’s party, they submitted camping on the beach, which didn’t cost a dime.

The cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.

– Financial news website 24/7 Wall St.

To make your own date night bucket list with the best ways to save money on date night, sit down with your partner and come up with free or cheap activities that you normally wouldn’t think to do. Spur ideas by making it a challenge—for instance, who can come up with the most ideas of dates you can do from the couch? According to the blog Marriage Laboratory, these “couch dates” are no-cost, low-energy things you can do together after a busy week (besides watching TV). A few good ones to get your list started: utilize fun apps (apps for lip sync battles are a real thing), grab a pencil or watercolors for an artistic endeavor or work on a puzzle. If you’re looking for even more ways to spend less on date night, take the question to social media and see what turns up.

3. Alternate paid date nights with free ones

If you’re looking for ways to spend less on date night, don’t focus on cutting costs on every single date. Instead, make half of your dates spending-free. “Go out for a nice dinner one week, and the next, go for a drive and bring a picnic,” says Bethany Palmer, a financial advisor who authors the finance blog The Money Couple, along with her husband Scott.

4. Have a date—and get stuff done

Getting stuff done around the house or yard may not sound all that romantic, but it can be one of the best ways to save money on date night when you’re trying to be budget-conscious. And, tackling your to-do list—like cleaning out the garage or raking leaves—can be much more enjoyable when you and your partner take it on together.

5. Search for off-the-wall spots

If dinner and a movie is your status quo, mix it up with some new ideas for low-cost ways to save money on date night. That might include fun things to do without spending money, like heading to your local farmer’s market, checking out free festivals or concerts in your area, geocaching—outdoor treasure hunting—around your hometown, heading to a free wine tasting or taking a free DIY class at your neighborhood arts and crafts store.

“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over,” Ferguson says.

6. Leverage coupons and deals

When researching the best ways to save money on date night, don’t overlook coupon and discount sites, where you can get deals on everything from food, retail and travel. These can be a great resource for finding deep discounts on activities you may not try otherwise. That’s how Palmer and her husband ended up on a date night where they played a game that combined lacrosse and bumper cars.

Turn to coupons and money-saving apps for fun ways to save money on date night.

There are also a ton of apps on the market that can help you find ways to save money on date night. For instance, you can find apps that offer discounts at restaurants, apps that let you purchase movie theater gift cards at a reduced price and apps that help you earn cash rewards when shopping for wine or groceries if you’re planning a date night at home.

7. Join restaurant loyalty programs

If you’re a frugal foodie and have a favorite bar or restaurant where you like to spend date nights, sign up for its rewards program and newsletter as a way to spend less on date night. You could earn points toward free drinks and food through the rewards program and get access to coupons or other discounts through your inbox. Have new restaurants on your bucket list? Sign up for their rewards programs and newsletters, too. If you’re able to score a deal, it might be time to move that date up. Pronto.

8. Make a date night out of budgeting for date night

When the well runs dry, one of the best ways to save money on date night may not be the most exciting—but it is the easiest: Devote one of your dates to a budgeting session and brainstorm ideas. Make sure to set an overall budget for what you want to spend on your dates, either weekly or monthly. Having a number and concrete plan will help you stick to your date night budget.

“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over.”

– Dustyn Ferguson, personal finance blogger at Dime Will Tell

Ferguson says he and his girlfriend use two different numbers to create their date night budget: how much disposable income they have left after paying their monthly expenses and the number of date nights they want to have each month.

“You can decide how much money you can spend per date by dividing the total amount you can allocate to dates by the amount of dates you plan to go on,” Ferguson says. You may also decide you want to allot more to special occasions and less to regular get-togethers.

Put your date night savings toward shared goals

Once you’ve put these creative ways to save money on date night into practice, think about what you want to do with the cash you’re saving. Consider putting the money in a special savings account for a joint purpose you both agree on, such as planning a dream vacation, paying down debt or buying a home. Working as a team toward a common objective can get you excited about the future and make these budget-friendly date nights feel even more rewarding.

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Holiday Spending Statistics for 2021

Rather than shopping in department stores and visiting Santa at the mall, this year’s holiday season is going to look a little different. You’ll likely be spending more time with your closest loved ones and exchanging gifts you ordered online. With the events of 2020, many have experienced unexpected changes in employment, income, and even health so the holiday budget is top of mind. To figure out what gifting budgets may look like this year, we ran our own holiday survey and collected 26 holiday spending statistics.

In 2019, roughly 729 billion dollars was spent during the holidays. This topped the charts, making it the biggest holiday season. This number may come as no surprise when you account for everyone on your shopping list. From your coworkers to family, holiday budgets can stretch thin to accommodate for everyone.

Wondering what others are spending on holiday gifts? Keep reading for our holiday spending statistics roundup, or jump to our infographic for our budget-friendly gifting etiquette for the workplace.

Average Christmas Spending

Average Christmas Spending

  • The average American planned to spend $942 on holiday gifts in 2019. (Gallup)
  • Last year, Americans spent $227.26 on non-holiday gift purchases such as decorations. (Alliant Credit Union)
  • Americans decide their holiday gift spending based on how close they are to the gift recipient (58 percent) and whether or not they’re family (28 percent). (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Over 50 percent of holiday spending goes towards clothing and accessories. (Avant)
  • In 2019, holiday retail sales soared past $700 billion, making it the biggest holiday shopping season. (Statista)

Holiday Spending Statistics and Trends

  • Americans were holiday shopping early in 2019, with 43 percent starting in November. (Black Friday)
  • On average, 64 percent of holiday shoppers waited for a sale before making a purchase in 2019. (American Research Group)
  • In 2019, 59 percent of wish lists included gift cards. (National Retail Federation)
  • More than half of Americans would rather have cash over a gift. (Mint)
  • In 2019, 67 percent of shoppers were spending the most on holiday gifts for their children. (Black Friday)
  • Pet lovers are also big shoppers. In 2019, 77 percent of pet owners planned for their pets to be part of their holiday festivities. (The Dog People)

Holiday Spending 2019 vs. 2020

Holiday Spending 2019 vs. 2020

  • Fifty-one percent of Americans plan to spend the same on holiday gifts in 2020 as they did in 2019. (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Roughly 40 percent of holiday shoppers plan to spend less this year, and 8 percent plan to spend more. (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Over half of consumers are opting out of retail shopping due to health risks. (Accenture)
  • Seventy-four percent of people agree that events will only include a small get-together. (Morning Consult)
  • In addition, 47 percent of adults agree that holiday events will be canceled. (Morning Consult)

Holiday Retail Sales

  • In 2019, 38 percent of shoppers planned to browse in-store displays for inspiration. (Black Friday)
  • In 2019, holiday ecommerce sales increased by 13 percent with roughly $142 billion dollars spent. (Adobe)
  • Cyber Monday, a special day for holiday ecommerce discounts, totaled $7.4 billion spent in 2019. (Adobe)
  • Sixty-one percent of holiday shoppers in 2019 used a smartphone to complete an online order. (Thinking With Google)
  • On Black Friday in 2019, more than two-thirds of holiday shoppers made impulse purchases. (Bluecore)

Holiday Budget Statistics

  • Ten percent of Americans budget for gifts based on how much the gift receiver spends on them. (Mint: Holiday Survey 2020)
  • Eighteen percent of Americans are trying to pay down debt this holiday season. (Morning Consult)
  • Twenty-one percent of customers say they will be giving out fewer gifts this holiday. (Morning Consult)
  • Thirty-three percent of adults are trying to spend less and save more due to COVID-19. (Morning Consult)
  • People’s 2019 holiday budgets fluctuated based on where they lived. Urban shoppers planned to spend roughly $200 more than rural shoppers last year. (NPD)

Whether you’re planning to spend more or less this holiday season, check in on your budget as you go. Using our app, you can set a specific budget and get notifications when you go over. You can also check in on your financial goals each week using our weekly summary updates.

Planning to shop for your coworkers this season? Check out our visual guide on office gift-giving etiquette below.

Download Gift-Giving Etiquette Guide

Sources: GlobeSmart

Methodology: This study was conducted for Mint using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no fewer than 1,500 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. Responses were collected October 23 – 27, 2020.

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What Happens to Mortgage Rates When the Fed Cuts Rates?

Your guide to understanding how a Fed rate cut could impact your mortgage as a homeowner or prospective buyer.*

Just about everybody with a wallet is impacted by the Federal Reserve. That means you—homeowners and prospective buyers. Whether you’re already nestled in to the house of your dreams or still looking to find it, you’ll probably want to track what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. When the Fed (as it’s commonly referred to) cuts its federal funds rate—the rate banks charge each other to lend funds overnight—the move could impact your mortgage costs.

The Fed’s overall goal when it cuts the federal funds rate is to stimulate the economy by spurring consumers to spend and borrow. This is good news if you are carrying debt because borrowing tends to become less expensive following a Fed rate cut (think: lower credit card APRs). But in the case of homeownership, what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates can be a double-edged sword.

What happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates depends on many factors.

The connection between a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates isn’t so crystal clear because the federal funds rate doesn’t directly influence the rate on every type of home loan.

“Mortgage rates are formed by global market forces, and the Federal Reserve participates in those market forces but isn’t always the most important factor,” says Holden Lewis, who’s been covering the mortgage industry for nearly 20 years and is also a regular contributor to NerdWallet.

To understand which side of the sword you’re on, you’ll need an answer to the question, “How does a Fed rate cut affect mortgage rates?” Read on to find out if you stand to potentially gain on your mortgage in a low-rate environment:

How a fixed-rate mortgage moves—or doesn’t

A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that remains the same for the entire length of the loan. If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates if you are an existing homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage? Nothing should happen to your monthly payments following a Fed rate cut because your rate has already been locked in.

“For current homeowners with a fixed-rate mortgage set at a previous higher level, the existing mortgage rate stays put,” Lewis says.

If you’re a prospective homebuyer shopping around for a fixed-rate mortgage, the news of what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates may be different.

For prospective homebuyers: If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before.”

– Holden Lewis, mortgage expert and NerdWallet contributor

The federal funds rate does not directly impact the rates on this type of home loan, so a Fed rate cut doesn’t guarantee that lenders will start offering lower mortgage rates. However, the 10-year Treasury yield does tend to influence fixed-rate mortgages, and this yield often moves in the same direction as the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before,” Lewis says. It’s also possible that rates on fixed mortgages will not fall following a Fed rate cut.

How an adjustable-rate mortgage follows the Fed

An adjustable-rate mortgage (commonly referred to as an ARM) is a home loan with an interest rate that can fluctuate periodically—also known as variable rate. There is often a fixed period of time during which the initial rate stays the same, and then it adjusts on a regular interval. (For instance, with a 5/1 ARM, the initial rate stays locked in for five years and then adjusts each year thereafter.)

So back to the burning question: If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? The rates on an ARM typically track with the index that the loan uses, e.g., the prime rate, which is in turn influenced by the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, you may see your rate change.

“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments,” says Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management.

Since ARMs are often adjusted annually after the fixed period, you may not feel the impact of the Fed rate cut until your ARM’s next annual loan adjustment. For instance, if there is one (or more) rate cuts during the course of a year, the savings from the rate reduction(s) would hit all at once at the time of your reset.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates for prospective homebuyers considering an ARM? An even lower rate could be in your future—at least for a specific period of time.

“If you’re looking for a shorter-term mortgage, say a 5/1 ARM, you could save considerably on interest,” Stroud says. That’s because the introductory rate of an ARM is usually lower than the rate of a fixed-rate mortgage, Stroud explains. Add that benefit to lower rates fueled by a Fed rate cut and an ARM could be enticing if it supports your financial goals and plans.

“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments.” 

– Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management

Benefits of other variable-rate loans following a rate cut

If you have a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates on your mind and are a borrower with other types of variable-rate loans, you could be impacted following a Fed rate cut. Borrowers with variable-rate home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and adjustable-rate Federal Housing Administration loans (FHA ARMs), for example, may end up ahead of the curve when the Fed cuts its rate, according to Lewis:

  • A HELOC is typically a “second mortgage” that provides you access to cash for goals like debt consolidation or home improvement and is a revolving line of credit, using your home as collateral. A Fed rate cut could result in lower rates for variable-rate HELOCs that track with the prime rate. If you are an existing homeowner with a HELOC, you could see your monthly payments drop following a Fed rate cut.
  • An FHA ARM is an ARM insured by the federal government. If you’re wondering about a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, know that this type of mortgage behaves much like a conventional variable-rate loan when the Fed cuts it rate, Lewis says. Existing homeowners with an FHA ARM could see a rate drop, and prospective homebuyers could also benefit from lower rates following a Fed rate cut.

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option for existing homeowners.

Refinancing: A silver lining for fixed rates

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option if you have an existing fixed-rate loan. The process of refinancing replaces an existing loan with a new one that pays off your old loan’s debt. You then make payments on your new loan, so the goal is to refinance at a time when you can get better terms.

“If someone buys a home one year and a Fed rate cut results in a mortgage rate reduction, for example, it presents a real refinance opportunity for homeowners,” Lewis says. “Just a small percentage point reduction could possibly trim a few hundred bucks from your monthly payments.”

Before a refinancing decision is made based on a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, you should consider any upfront costs and fees associated with refinancing to ensure they don’t offset any potential savings.

Managing your finances as a homeowner

You might be expecting some savings in your future now that you’re armed with information on what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. Whether you’re a homebuyer and financing your new home is going to cost you less with a lower interest rate, or you’re an existing homeowner with an ARM that may come with lower monthly payments, Stroud suggests to use any uncovered savings wisely.

“Invest that cash back into your property, pay down your home equity debt or borrow with it,” she says.

Understanding the connection between the Fed rate cut and mortgage rates can help you better manage your finances as a homeowner.

While news of a Fed rate cut may entice you to analyze how your mortgage will be impacted, remember there are many factors that help to determine your mortgage rate, including your credit score, home price, loan amount and down payment. The Fed’s actions are only one piece of a larger equation.

Even though the Fed’s rate decisions may dominate headlines immediately following a rate cut, your home is a long-term investment and one you’ll likely maintain for years. To best prepare for what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates is to always manage your home finances responsibly and be sure to make choices that will lead you down the right path based on your financial goals.

*This should not be considered tax or investment advice. Please consult a financial planner or tax advisor if you have questions.

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Money Etiquette: How to Politely Ask for a Honeymoon Fund

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Have you been to a wedding that used Honeyfund or similar registry in place of traditional gifts? These new-age registries are becoming more and more popular and a variety of reasons has lead to the sudden increase. Couples are more likely to live together before marriage and are moving to smaller apartments in big cities.

Either way, a honeymoon fund – commonly referred to as a honeyfund – is a great option for those who want to take a grand vacation after their wedding but need a little help. But, what is the polite way to ask for this kind of gift?

How to Spread the Word

The best place to spread the word is your wedding website. Most templates come preloaded with a page specifically for registries, making it easy to add the link to your honeymoon fund there. You can also add a small story, or give some context, to why you are choosing a honeymoon fund over traditional registries. When my husband and I were engaged we did just this. We explained we were about to move to NYC, a city notorious for tiny apartments and were only moving with the bare minimum. We told our guests that coming to our destination wedding was a gift itself! But, if they still wanted to gift us something we had a honeymoon fund set up.

You can also choose to add a small registry card to your main wedding invitation. This is very popular as well and an easy way to reference your honeymoon fund and your wedding website.

Setting up Your Honeyfund Account

Setting up an account with Honeyfund, the most popular of the honeymoon fund websites, is extremely easy. Once you register, you create a profile adding your wedding details and honeymoon dreams. You can then design custom gifts for your guests to choose from. Money for airline tickets, hotel upgrades, spa visits, excursions. All of these are created by you, so the sky’s the limit! Do be aware if a guest gifts you $100 towards airline tickets you don’t have to use the money on airline tickets. The gifts are in name only.

Fees on Honeymoon Funds

There are actually very few fees that are associated with most online honeymoon funds. If guests gift you via gift cards bought through the web services or offline they pay zero fees. Any credit or debit gift is charged a small fee between 1-3%.

Other Registries Besides Honeyfund

While Honeyfund was the first and most well known of the new-age registries, there are a couple other choices that all offer different advantages. Check out Zola, Blueprint Registry, or Travelers Joy for other options.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day if you still feel weird, remember that all wedding registries used to be considered tacky and these new registries are becoming much more common. Just don’t forget to send out thank you cards!

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What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You?

If you want to keep utility costs consistent month to month, budget billing may be for you.

Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities don’t.

Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you can’t predict the total each month. Or can you?

Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?

What is budget billing? It's a service that averages your monthly utility charges to determine a set amount to pay each month.

What is budget billing and how does it work?

As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.

How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.

Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous owners’ or renters’ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.

Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. There’s no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.

How does budget billing work? Utility companies determine the monthly charge by averaging your usage over the past year.

These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.

Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?

Does budget billing save money?

Not exactly.

“Budget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,” Cothern says.

How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.

How does budget billing work if you underpay? You’ll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.

What are the benefits of budget billing?

Overall, there’s a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesn’t save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.

For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.

“Anyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,” Rathner says. “You know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.”

Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring they’re paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.

What are the downsides of budget billing?

While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:

  • You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothern’s view, this negates the benefit since there’s no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. It’s important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when you’re researching how budget billing works.
  • You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.

“Always keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,” Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.

If you're wondering "Does budget billing save money?" remember that you may be charged extra fees for the service.

If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means you’re paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And that’s where the real opportunity to save money lies.

By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, you’ll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.

Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack

After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.

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Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. You’ll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you don’t have one already.

Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. You’ll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.

When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.

Do your homework before signing up for budget billing

After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.

Still asking, "How does budget billing work?" Read your utility company's program rules in detail to help answer any questions.

If that’s the case, it’s important to read your utility’s program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.

Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:

  • Are there startup or maintenance fees?
  • How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
  • What happens if you overpay or underpay?
  • What happens when you move or end service?

With the answers to these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.

Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.

Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.

Source: discover.com

How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check)

Writing a check. It’s one of those things you always wanted to know how to do right but were probably too afraid to ask. Well, fear no longer: in this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of check-writing, from how to fill out the lines you need, to knowing when it’s best to use a check — and when it’s not. We’ve also included a printable practice check at the bottom of the article so you can give it a shot before filling out a real one.

In this article, we’ll cover everything from how to write a check to the best situations to use one. Read through if you want to know everything you need to about writing a check, or click on a link below to jump straight to the section you’re most interested in.

Before we get into the details of learning how to fill out a check, let’s start with the basics.

What Is a Check?

A check is basically a statement in writing that you agree to pay some amount of money to whomever you’re making the check out to. It lets the bank know that they can withdraw those funds from your financial accounts and direct deposit it into the payee’s account (that’s the person who you’re paying). If you’re unsure about how much to keep in checking for checks you may be writing, check out our post on that for a brief explanation.

When to use a check

Checks are useful in a variety of situations. You can use a check to:

  • Pay your monthly rent
  • Make a large purchase without a card
  • Send money as a gift
  • Pay for groceries
  • Pay for hired work like a housekeeper or gardener

Basically, they’re good for situations where you’re paying large sums of money that wouldn’t be convenient to pay for in cash, and where you’d rather not use a credit or debit card.

Where can I get a checkbook?

You can usually get a checkbook straight from your bank for free or a small fee, and they’re also available from retailers like Costco and Walmart. Custom checks are also available online from sites like Checks.com, but be careful where you order from, as some sites may not be secure — or could even be a scam.

Before you get started making payments with checks, however, you’ll need to know how to fill one out.

How Do You Fill Out a Check?

Knowing how to write a check is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. First, take a look at this graphic that shows the way that all the necessary fields of a check should be filled out.

filling in a check

Next, we’ll walk through each step to make sure you know what goes into filling out each line. We get it — it’s a little nerve racking signing over money to someone on a little piece of paper. Knowing how to fill it out correctly will give you more confidence the next time you have to send a check.

  1. Start with the payee, the person who you’re sending money to. There’s usually text that reads “pay to the order of” beside a line that you’ll fill in. On that line, simply write the first and last name of the person who you’re paying, or the name of the company you’re paying if it’s not an individual person. Be sure that you spell everything correctly, as misspelling a name could result in the check not going through.
  2. Fill in the amount in words that you are paying your payee. This part is a little weird, since you usually write numbers out in numerals, but it’s an important security step. The dollar amount should be written in words, and any cents can be written as a fraction out of 100. For example, if you were paying your landlord $925.50 for rent and utilities, you’d write out “Nine hundred twenty five dollars and 50/100.”
  3. Fill in the amount in numbers in the box on the top right of the check. This is a bit easier. In the case of the example above, you’d just write out $925.50. Often, the dollar sign is already written on the check, so you just have to make sure that the numerals are written out correctly. Important note: be sure that you double-check that the amount you wrote in words matches the amount you wrote in numerals.
  4. The optional memo line is located on the bottom left of the check. Though leaving this blank won’t invalidate the check, it’s usually smart to include a brief description so that your payee knows what the money is for. For example, in the rent check example, including “September rent” on the memo line is a good way for you and your landlord to keep track of your rent payments.
  5. The date is on the top right of the check. Fill in the date of the day you fill out the check — this ensures that you and your recipient can keep track of when the payment occurred.
  6. Sign your check on the line on the bottom right. This line shows that you have officially agreed to pay the listed amount. Be sure that the name you sign matches the one on file with your bank or the check may not be valid. It’s also a good idea to have a consistent signature, that way there’s little doubt you’ve authorized the check.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to know how to fill out a check. If you need a little practice filling out a check before you’re ready to send one, try out our printable practice check.

Note: In addition to the parts that you’ll fill in, a check includes the routing number and account number for the bank account that it’s withdrawing from. You don’t need to worry about those when you learn how to write a check, but when you receive your checkbook, be sure to double check that the number match your bank. You want to know which bank account your check will be drawing from when it’s cashed.

What Do I Do After Writing a Check?

Once you’ve written the check, make sure to note in a check register the amount that you’ve paid. Check registers are often included in the backs of checkbooks, but you can also keep a separate one if that is more convenient for you.

Whether you use a paper register or a digital one, it’s important to record how much you’ve paid because, until your payee cashes the check and it’s processed at your bank, your account will still list those funds as available. Recording the amount that you’ve paid gives you a more accurate picture of the amount that is in your checking account, and will be necessary when it’s time to balance your checkbook.

Note: Making sure to track cash and checks is always an important way to stay on your budget. While you will likely be able to see your credit card purchases online as soon as they happen, checks and cash don’t leave as easy a trail. Maintaining a written log and using an app like Mint are helpful ways to keep an eye on the full picture of your spending as you wait for checks to clear.

Check Writing Security Tips

Because checks are physical pieces of paper, they aren’t password protected and aren’t as easy to track as electronic payments (more on that in the next section). So, there are some security risks that you should keep in mind if you plan on using your checkbook.

Check writing security basics

That said, checks are generally a secure way of paying for things if they’re filled out carefully and properly. Check out these tips before filling out your check to ensure that you aren’t scammed or defrauded.

  • Never leave a check blank. There’s a reason signing your check was the last step listed above. If you sign a check and hand it over without a dollar amount specified, your payee can simply enter whatever quantity they wish and withdraw that from your bank account. The same goes for the payee line. If you had a signed check made out for $500 without a payee, and it slipped out of your bag, anyone could pick it up, enter their name, and pay themselves. Be sure that you always wait until you know the dollar amount and payee before you sign your check.
  • Use a pen. For the same reasons you wouldn’t want to hand anyone a blank check, it’s a good idea to use pen when filling it out. A check written in pencil could be easily tampered with, so be sure your writing is clear and permanent to avoid check fraud.
  • Try out the line method. Following the same reasoning, you wouldn’t want someone to turn your check for $500 into a check for $5500. You can prevent this by drawing a line from the edge of the space where you’ve written the amount to the start of your first letter. Follow this up by filling the entire numerical quantity box with the numerals for your amount.
  • Keep a record. Whether you opt for a checkbook that makes carbon copies of every check you write, or simply record all your transactions in a check register, keeping a handy list of all your paid checks is a good way to make sure you notice if something goes wrong. It’s also just helpful when you’re trying to sort out how much money you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on.

Checks are generally a secure way to pay for things, but they might not be your best option for every situation.

Alternatives to writing a check

Alternatives to Writing a Check

Writing a check might be a useful way to make a payment in some situations, but in today’s world of tech, card payments and online banking, there’s often an easier and more secure alternative to pay or transfer funds.

Check alternatives

Here are some situations where you might use a check along with some alternatives that could be a better option.

  • Paying rent. There are plenty of landlords who keep things old school and only accept checks. However, many contemporary apartment complexes or apartments owned by property management companies will invest in an online payment portal for their residents. If you have the option to set up a payment portal, this is a much safer way of paying rent — plus, it eliminates the cost and hassle of mailing a check.
  • Making a large purchase. Credit cards are scary, but they often are a much better way of making large purchases. This is because many credit cards offer perks like cash back or airline miles, and consistently paying off your balance can seriously boost your credit. Plus, credit cards have stronger fraud protection than checks.
  • Buying groceries. Credit cards are also a great option here. Many grocery stores, or retailers that also sell groceries, offer credit cards themselves. These can be used to gain points or discounts, lowering your grocery bill monthly.

Wrapping up

Knowing how to write a check can be a handy and secure way to pay for something if you do it correctly. The guidelines in this post should help you start writing checks safely and carefully, and if you need a little extra practice, try out our printable practice check below. It’s a good way to feel confident before you put your pen (never pencil!) on the next check you write.

Blank check

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Budgeting Home Money Etiquette

The Essential Guide to Budgeting for New Homeowners

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Budgeting for new homeowners starts with understanding the true costs of owning a home.

Ready to buy your first home? While open houses, mortgage paperwork and the planning of your housewarming party may have you busy, creating your budget as a new homeowner and uncovering the hidden costs of owning a home should be top of mind as you take this big financial step.

“It’s extremely important to determine how homeownership will affect your monthly budget before you purchase a home and not afterwards,” says Emily Graham Stroud, president and owner of Stroud Financial Management, Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. “One of the biggest mistakes people make financially is house hunting and falling in love with a home before they’ve analyzed their monthly budget.”

“How do I adjust my budget after buying a home?” is a question to tackle as soon as possible during the buying process. Learning the rules of budgeting for new homeowners can help you avoid money headaches once the ink is dry on your mortgage.

To start budgeting for new homeowners, be sure to break down the cost of owning a home.

Break down the costs of owning a home

When adding up homeownership expenses, your mortgage payment is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things to budget for after buying a home beyond what you pay to your lender each month.

John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management app, says budgeting expenses for a first home usually fall into four categories:

  • Mortgage, insurance and property taxes
  • Utilities, including electric, water, pest control, garbage collection, internet and phone services
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Remodeling expenses

In addition to the principal and interest on your home loan, your mortgage payment may also include escrow for your annual property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and homeowner’s association dues (if you live in a condominium or neighborhood with an HOA). If not, you’ll need to separately include these hidden costs of owning a home in your budget.

“If you don’t escrow for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, then you need to create your own escrow savings account that’s earmarked specifically for these expenses,” Stroud says.

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For example, if your annual homeowner’s insurance premium totals $2,400, you could budget $200 per month toward this cost and stash that money in a high-yield online savings account. You’ll need to do the same for your property taxes. When it’s time to pay for these hidden costs of owning a home, you’ll have the cash on hand to cover all of it.

Include a line item in your budget for home savings

You likely already know that an emergency fund can help you cover unexpected expenses, like a flat tire or an unplanned visit to the doctor. When buying a home, budgeting for new homeowners should also include setting up a separate savings account for unplanned home maintenance and repairs.

“A good rule of thumb is to save between 1 and 4 percent of the purchase price of your home for annual preventative maintenance and repair costs,” Bodrozic says.

When considering things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic says if you’re dealing with a newer home, you may be able to aim for a one percent savings goal, as things like the roof, appliances, and heating and air system should still be in good shape. “If your home is 20 to 25 years or older, a budget of 4 percent is more appropriate because many of the home’s equipment and assets are near the end of their useful life.”

When determining which things to budget for after buying a home, remember that repair costs may increase over time as the property ages, and you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. Bodrozic says keeping up with regular maintenance can help preserve your home’s equipment and structural elements, potentially allowing you to delay spending on major repairs.

Determine your new disposable income

The hidden costs of owning a home could affect how much money you have left over each month after your bills are paid. While your monthly mortgage payment could be less than your previous rent, your property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and other home-related expenses may mean you’ll pay more on housing each month.

Stroud says if owning a home means having less disposable income each month, then you need to be clear about distinguishing between your wants and needs to better adjust your spending plan.

On the other hand, budgeting for new homeowners could mean monthly housing costs that are less than or equal to what you previously paid in rent. If you have more wiggle room in your budget, you could funnel any “extra” cash into your emergency fund or home maintenance savings.

Once those are fully funded, you could find room in your budget to pay down credit card or student loan debt, or increase the amount you’re saving for retirement each month. As you’re working toward your financial goals, be mindful of purchases you may be tempted make as a new homeowner—especially if lower housing costs mean you have more discretionary spending to play with in your budget.

“Many first-time homeowners find that their first home causes lifestyle changes,” Bodrozic says. That could mean buying new furniture, upgrading your TV, purchasing an expensive lawn mower or rushing into costly renovation projects.

Plan regular budget reviews

Once you add up the hidden costs of owning a home and the not-so-hidden ones, budgeting for new homeowners means regularly reviewing and adjusting your spending and savings plan.

“It’s important to review your home’s budget and expenses at least four times a year, perhaps even monthly if you bought an older home,” Bodrozic says.

The things to budget for after buying a home will change over time, so review your budget regularly.

Checking in with your budget regularly can help you track things to budget for after buying a home, like maintenance and repairs and seasonal changes that may affect your utility bills. It’s also a good way to stay on top of all of your expenses, not just homeownership costs, and monitor your savings progress, which can help you avoid overspending and taking on debt.

Think ahead

One final thing to consider is how much you will be chipping away at your mortgage over time. Though it’s not one of the things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic recommends being aware of how much equity you’re building up in the home over time because it may influence your future housing expenses.

For example, if you took out a conventional loan with less than 20 percent down and are paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), you can request that it be removed once you reach 20 percent equity in the home. That in turn can reduce your monthly mortgage payment. If you think you might consider a cash out refinance at some point to make upgrades or renovations, you’ll need to have equity available that you can draw on later.

Master budgeting for new homeowners

Buying a home can change your life and your budget. Reviewing the numbers and planning your budget before you sign on the dotted line can make a huge difference in creating a positive homeownership experience.

Source: discover.com

Money Etiquette Pets

What Is a Certified Check?

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The last thing you want to worry about when making a big purchase is being scammed. Whether you’re buying or selling something, you don’t want your money or investments to go to waste. Making any financial decision can be unsettling for your budget when faced with a chance of fraud. That’s where certified checks can help add security. But first, what is a certified check?

A certified check is authorized by a bank to guarantee buyers have the funds before writing the check. This ensures that the person receiving payment isn’t left hanging, and the buyer double-checks they have enough funds to make the purchase. 

Why Use a Certified Check?

A certified check is one of the most secure payment options available. When you’re selling or buying expensive items, you want to ensure you get what you were expecting. Certified checks generally require a bank or credit union to set aside money in the buyer’s account until the check has gone through. This way, the bank verifies the buyer has enough cash to make the purchase and the seller gets paid. If you’re selling a big ticket item, you can request payment with a certified check.

If you’re buying an expensive item, certified checks will offer your seller additional security. It will prove to the seller that you’re serious about your choice and that your finances are in place for this investment. 

Certified Check vs. Cashier’s Check

Chart compares the differences and similarities of a certified check and a cashier's check.

A cashier’s check is also used for large purchases and authorized by a bank or credit union. The main difference between cashier’s checks and certified checks is where the money’s stored until it’s cashed out. Before signing a cashier’s check, banks will move the funds into a separate account for security purposes. Then, a bank representative will sign the check over to the receiver. 

Even though both check types are generally safe, cashier’s checks tend to be more secure. As banks take the buyer’s funds when they authorize the check, your funds are waiting at the bank instead of in your buyer’s account until cashed out. 

How to Get a Certified Check

Illustration details the steps to getting a check certified.

For buyers looking to get certified checks, most banks or credit unions offer these services. While you’re able to get them at financial institutions that offer these services, fees may apply at banks you don’t have an account with. If you’re in need of a certified check, read our tips below:

The Pros and Cons of Certified Checks

Certified checks lower the risk of carrying around large sums of money or bounced checks. There are a few pros and cons to weigh before choosing your payment option as a buyer or seller. 

Pros:

Cons: 

4 Tips to Prevent Check Fraud

Illustrations depict the 4 ways to prevent check fraud.

Forty-seven percent of industry money losses were from fraudulent checks in 2018. Taking the extra steps to double-check your buyer’s payment could prevent your budget from taking a hit. Follow the steps below to ensure you and your earnings are on the right track:

1. Research Your Buyer

People may use fake names, addresses, phone numbers, and more to get away with a scam. Without knowing the identity of the person you’re selling to, it may be hard to get your money if things go wrong. Research your buyer or safely meet with them in person to get a better feel for their identity. 

2. Call or Visit Your Buyer’s Bank of Choice

For more security, reach out to the financial institution where the check is issued. Contact your buyer to see where they’ll be authorizing their check. Look up the branch’s phone number and call to verify the check went through. Avoid calling any phone numbers the buyer gives you in case they provide you with the wrong number. 

3. Immediately Double-Check With Your Bank

Right after you get paid, go straight to the bank or call to ensure there weren’t any complications processing the check. Ask your bank or credit union if the funds made it to your account safe and sound. 

4. Save All Documentation

Receipts, emails, and other information can build a case in the event you don’t receive your payment. Keep all documentation or files until you’ve been paid in full. As long as you have all the details, you’ll have a better chance of building a case. 

Key Takeaways

Having an uneasy feeling about selling or buying a large ticket item is normal. You don’t want your hard-earned money or investments going to waste over a bounced check or scam. Certified checks can be a safer payment option and it’s worth the extra research for your budget’s sake. 

Sources: Investopedia | DFI

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Home Money Etiquette

Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House?

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When you’re thinking about taking the plunge into homeownership, timing the market may not be as important as taking stock of your personal finances and lifestyle.

So you’re at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. You’re scrimping. You’re saving. You’re dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.

But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?

Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.

So, how do you think through this decision? You’ll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, you’ll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.

External factors can make buying a house right now intimidating, but your personal finances are an important factor.

This process will take some time, but it’s well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, you’ll be able to confidently go forth knowing you’re making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.

Honestly assess these aspects of your finances

Financial security is always important if you’re trying to determine when you’re ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:

How secure is your income?

Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when you’re thinking of buying a house right now.

If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that you’ll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.

Do you have enough money saved?

After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor you’ll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, it’s not necessary—far from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.

How much house can you afford?

The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesn’t stretch you too thin—experts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.

With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.

How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance and—if you don’t have the savings to put down 20%—primary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.

If you're buying a house right now, aim for mortgage payments around 28% of your monthly gross income.

Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. You’ll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.

Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether it’s a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you don’t want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.

How is your credit?

Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate you’re offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If you’re considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.

What is your debt-to-income ratio?

Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lower—in the 33% to 36% range.

Have you considered the opportunity cost?

Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If you’re renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.

After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when you’re ready to buy a home and whether now’s the time for you to dip into the market.

Consider key market factors

Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.

Where are housing prices?

As you’re looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.

Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventory—meaning the fewer houses available—the higher prices will be, Tucker says.

If you're trying to determine when you are ready to buy a home, track current listings to get a sense of how prices look today.

What’s going on with interest rates?

When you’re ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because you’re spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.

This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are low—you get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.

How does employment look nationally?

Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headed—if prices will drop or rise soon—check out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.

But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.

You don’t need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.

So when are you ready to buy a home? Paying attention to big-picture economic forces can help you decide.

Think about your future plans

After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.

“For buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,” Ziegler says. “If they’re just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.”

It’s unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.

That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?

Is now a good time to buy a house? That depends on your lifestyle and long-term goals.

While you’re thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?

These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and it’s not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, you’ll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.

If you’ve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, it’s time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.

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Source: discover.com