Should You Refinance Your Mortgage While Rates Are Low?

The mortgage industry (and interest rates) have a somewhat complicated relationship with the rest of the overall economy. Generally speaking, when the economy is doing very well, the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates. This can help to try and ward off inflation which is not great for the economy. Conversely, when overall economic conditions are poor, the Federal Reserve will LOWER the interest rates, in an attempt to spur economic growth. Since the interest rates on most mortgage products are (directly or indirectly) tied to the overall Federal Reserve interest rate, these actions have a pretty significant impact on mortgage interest rates.

Mortgage rates can fluctuate daily or even hourly, so it’s good to have a basic idea of what you want to do and what might make you want to refinance. With mortgage rates at historic lows, let’s take a look at what that means and whether you should refinance while rates are low.

Mortgage rates are at historic lows

The mortgage market is a fairly complicated market with several different types of mortgages available. So when you hear that mortgage rates are at “historic lows”, it’s important to understand what type of mortgage is being talked about. Usually, the 30-year fixed mortgage is the loan product that is considered the “standard” mortgage. So if you hear about rates “dropping”, you’re usually hearing about the 30-year fixed. It is true that usually (but not always!) rates for different types of products rise and fall together.

(SEE ALSO: What is a “Good” interest rate?)

It was not uncommon in the 1970s or 1980s to see mortgage rates with double-digit interest rates. Since that time, interest rates have generally steadily dropped, to a low around 3.5% in 2012. Mortgage rates fluctuated in the 3-4% range for the next several years before rising to around 4.5% in 2018 and 2019. 

The recent coronavirus pandemic has affected the housing market and sent rates on the 30-year fixed mortgage down under 3.5%, around the lowest those rates have ever been.

Should you refinance to a 30-year mortgage?

As the name implies, a 30-year fixed mortgage will lock in your interest rate for the duration of your loan. You’ll have 360 monthly payments, all of the same amount. The exact amount you pay will depend on the amount of your loan, the duration and the interest rate. You can use our Loan Repayment calculator to find out the exact amount of your monthly payment. Keep in mind that that monthly payment amount will not include your property taxes or home insurance. Your lender may require that you set up an escrow account, or else you’ll need to make sure to budget for those expenses on top of your monthly mortgage payment.

The 30-year fixed mortgage will usually give you your lowest monthly payment. In fact, even if you currently have a 30 year fixed mortgage, you will likely save on your monthly payment by refinancing now. That is because of 2 reasons – the rates are likely lower than when you first got your mortgage and because you’ve paid down your mortgage balance so the amount you’re refinancing is less. 

Should you refinance to a 15 or 20-year mortgage?

Another option to consider when refinancing is to refinance to a 15 or 20-year mortgage. A mortgage with a shorter term (like 15 or 20 years) will usually have a lower interest rate than the 30-year fixed mortgage. However, because the shorter term means there are fewer payments, your payment may still go up.

If you’re currently on a 30-year mortgage, you’ll likely (but not always) find that the monthly payments on a 15 or 20-year mortgage will be higher. The good news is that your mortgage will be paid off 10 or 15 years sooner! Overall you’ll pay quite a bit less in interest.

An example of refinancing to a shorter-term mortgage

To illustrate the types of choices you have with refinance, let’s look at an example. Our fictional homeowner bought her house 5 years ago with a mortgage of $250,000, and took out a 30 year fixed mortgage. Her monthly principal and interest payments have been $1,267 per month, and after 60 payments, her mortgage balance is now $228,305.36 with 25 years remaining.

She’s looking to refinance with today’s low rates. We’ll say that her closing costs will make her new loan payoff amount $230,000. Again using our Loan Repayment Calculator, here are some options she could consider:

  • A 30 year fixed loan at 3.5% – monthly payments would be $1,033. 
  • A 20 year fixed loan at 3% – monthly payments would be $1,276.
  • A 15 year fixed loan at 3% – monthly payments would be $1,588.

You can see that refinancing to another 30-year mortgage would drop her payments by $234 each month. That comes at a cost of adding 30 more years to the total time it takes to repay. With a 20 year loan, her payments only go up $9 per month but she shaves 5 years and tens of thousands of dollars of interest over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan would pay even less interest but at a cost of increasing the mortgage payment by $321 each month.

Of course, every situation is different but hopefully, this can serve as a guideline to help you as you make your own decisions about refinancing.

The case against refinancing

Even though mortgage rates are at historic lows, refinancing is not right for everyone. Here are a few cases where it might not make sense to refinance, even if today’s interest rates are lower than the rate on your current mortgage:

  • You’re not sure if you’ll be in your home long term. Refinancing does come with some upfront costs, and if you won’t be in your home long enough to pay them back, it might not make sense
  • Your credit score or financial situation has taken a recent hit
  • You want to take advantage of some of your home’s equity with a home equity line of credit.
  • You don’t have enough money to pay the upfront closing and other costs associated with a refinance. If this is the case, see if it might make sense to roll those costs into your new loan.

For even more information about the pros and cons of refinancing, check out our list of 8 refinancing tips

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If You Had a Baby in 2020, You Can Get $1,100 of Stimulus Money

If you’re the proud new parent of a 2020 baby, here’s some good news to get you through those sleepless nights: Your 2020 bundle of joy qualifies you for a sweet bundle of stimulus cash — $1,100 to be exact.

Why Do New Parents Get an Extra $1,100?

The first stimulus check gave parents an extra $500 for each child age 16 and younger on top of the $1,200 for most adults. The second stimulus check provided families with $600 for each adult and dependent child 16 or younger. So between the two checks, parents generally got $1,100 per kid.

Both checks were an advance on a 2020 tax credit that were processed using 2018 or 2019 returns. But the IRS won’t know about any of the babies welcomed into the world in 2020 until you file a tax return.

When you file your 2020 taxes, you can receive the $1,100 as a Rebate Recovery Credit. That just means you’ll get the extra money as a tax refund. That’s on top of the $2,000 child tax credit parents who are single filers with incomes under $200,000 or joint filers with incomes under $400,000 qualify for.

What Are the Income Limits?

For both stimulus checks, the income limits to receive the full stimulus payments were:

  • $75,000 for single filers
  • $112,500 for heads of households
  • $150,000 for married couples filing a joint return

Checks phased out at 5 cents on the dollar for every dollar of income above these thresholds. For a more detailed explanation of how the phaseout works for child credits, check out Question 7 of our child stimulus credit FAQ.

Do I Get $1,100 if I Adopted in 2020?

You should qualify for an $1,100 stimulus payment for your family’s new addition as long as the child you adopted was 16 or younger at the end of 2020. The same rules apply: File your tax return to get the money as a refund.

What if I’m Not Married to My Child’s Other Parent?

The parent who’s claiming the child as a dependent for tax purposes receives the money.

I Didn’t Get the Money for My 2019 Baby. What Gives?

A lot of parents were frustrated to discover that their stimulus checks didn’t include the child credits — particularly in the first round, when many payments were processed using 2018 returns. If the IRS used your 2018 tax information, you wouldn’t have received a payment for a child born in 2019.

The solution is the same, though: File a tax return. If you file taxes online and provide your direct deposit information, you can expect to get that $1,100 of stimulus money within about three weeks.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

5 Steps to Take When Budgeting for a Career Break

Not everyone’s career path is a 40+ year marathon working full time until you can finally come up for air in your golden years.

Sometimes you need a little break along the way.

Taking time away from the workforce — whether it’s to travel, take care of loved ones, learn a new skill or whatever — can be a beneficial thing. But money — or the lack thereof — is what stops many people from even considering it.

With some significant planning and budgeting, however, it’s possible to make your career break dreams a reality. Here are five steps you should take when budgeting for a career break.

1. Think About What Your Career Break Will Look Like

People take career breaks for a number of reasons. Take some time to reflect on why you are planning time away from the workforce and what you intend to do.

When thinking about what your new day-to-day will look like, try to get as detailed as possible. Hone in on aspects that will affect you financially.

How long will your break last? When would you like it to start? Will you be staying at home or traveling the world? What adventures would you like to experience?

While it’s nice to dream about your best life ever, you’ve got to be practical too. Ranking what you want to do with your newfound free time will be helpful if you have to cut your list down to fit what you can afford.

2. Explore What Your Costs Will Be During Your Break

After you’ve fantasized what your work break will look like, it’s time to focus on the numbers. You’ve got to know what your expenses will be in order to determine whether your plans are realistic.

If you don’t already budget your income and track your expenses, now’s the time to start. Your budget will give you a good idea of how much you spend on essentials and where you can cut costs as you save up for leave.

Research all the additional costs you expect to incur during your break. If you’re taking extended parental leave after the birth of a child, you’ll be dealing with a ton of new baby-related expenses. If you’re taking time off to travel, you’ve got to pay for transportation and lodging.

The length of your break will also be a big factor here. Obviously, the longer you’re away from the workforce, the more money you’ll need saved up.

3. Set Up a Sinking Fund to Cover Expenses on Your Break

If you haven’t heard the term “sinking fund,” that’s just personal-finance speak for a stash of savings that you regularly contribute to over time to break up a big expense.

Once you’ve estimated the overall expenses for your leave, divide that by how many months you have left to come up with your target monthly savings goal.

If you already have existing savings you want to use to fund your career break, that will cut down on how much you’ll need to put aside each month — just make sure you don’t touch your emergency fund!

Your emergency savings should only be used on an actual emergency — like if you get into a car accident or Fido needs to be rushed to the pet hospital. Being away from work won’t make you immune to emergencies, so do not plan to use your emergency fund to tide you through your break.

In fact, before you focus on building up your sinking fund, you ought to have adequate savings in an emergency fund first.

4. Explore Opportunities to Make Money On Your Break

If you’re able to make money while you’re away from work, you’ll be less financially burdened. You won’t have to save up as much or worry about burning through your entire savings.

The first income stream you should explore is your current job. Taking a career break doesn’t necessarily mean calling it quits where you work now.

Depending on what type of leave you’re taking, your job may be protected and you might be able to continue collecting your salary — or a percentage of your current pay.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of a child, to deal with a serious health condition or to care for an ill or injured family member. While this type of leave is unpaid, you’ll continue to be covered under their workplace health insurance plan and there may be the possibility of coupling this leave with short-term disability pay.

Pro Tip

President Joe Biden’s proposed coronavirus stimulus package includes extending the expired paid time off policies for sick workers and those needing to care for family members due to COVID-19.

Find out if your employer offers any other paid leave programs — whether that’s parental leave, unlimited PTO or sabbaticals. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 27% of employers offered paid parental leave, 6% offered unlimited paid leave and 5% offered a paid sabbatical program.

Another 11% of employers surveyed offered an unpaid sabbatical program. While unpaid leave isn’t as ideal as paid leave, it gives you peace of mind that you’ll have a job to come back to after your break.

Other options to make money during your leave include picking up a side gig, bringing in passive income, renting out rooms (or your entire place) on Airbnb or selling your belongings.

If you need to pick up a little work while you’re on a career break, just make sure it doesn’t conflict with the reason you needed to take leave in the first place.

5. Develop a Re-Entry Plan

You need to plan for all aspects of your career break — including your transition back to the workforce.

Your budget needs to not only cover your expenses while you’re backpacking through Europe or nursing your elderly mother back to health. You’ve got to add a cushion for that period at the end where you’re actively seeking your next gig.

While data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average length of unemployment is about 23 weeks, how long it’ll take you to find new work will vary depending on your industry and the position you’re seeking.

Plan to keep up with contacts in your field and engage in relevant volunteer work or continued education while you’re away to improve your chances of quickly finding a new job.

If your savings run low toward the end of your leave, don’t brush off finding a bridge job — a temporary role to help you pay the bills while you search for better opportunities.

A career break should provide you with freedom to pursue something outside of your typical work life. You don’t want that freedom to drag you deeper into debt or put you in a worse financial position if you can avoid it.

Do your best to budget for more time than you’ll need so you can enjoy your career break stress free.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Store Brand vs. Name Brand: How to Save Money on Everyday Stuff

This video was produced in February 2020. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Editor’s note:  This post was originally published in February 2020.

What’s in a name? A lot actually.

We often default to certain brands when shopping simply because of the name on the package — and the reputation that comes along with it, thanks to clever advertising.

We buy Bounty paper towels because they’re the “quicker picker-upper” and Frosted Flakes because “they’re gr-r-reat.”

But on the shelves next to those items you can often find a comparable store-brand version that costs less — sometimes significantly less. We often refer to these as generic products. Sometimes these rival versions are even made in the same manufacturing facilities and have little to no noticeable differences.

Ultimately, the decision to buy a store-brand product or your favorite name brand is a subjective one. There’s trial and error involved, and in some cases you might land right back on the premium paper towels because you find that they really do pick more up, and quicker.

But before your next shopping trip, it’s worth considering how much money you could save if you take a few name brand items off your list.

Comparing the Cost of Store Brand Vs. Name Brand

I visited two stores — Publix (a southeastern grocery store chain) and Walmart — to do a little price comparison.

(Note: Prices were sourced on Feb. 19, 2020 at stores located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sales tax was not factored into this example.)

Product Store Brand at Publix Name Brand at Publix Store Brand at Walmart Name Brand at Walmart
Oreos $2.59 $3.89 $1.63 $2.72
Jif peanut butter $2.39 $2.72 $1.58 $2.22
Cheerios $1.93 $4.19 $1.23 $2.82
Kraft cheddar cheese $3.85 $4.19 $2.08 $2.38
Diet Coke, 2-liter $0.75 $2.19 $0.68 $1.74
Dove body wash $3.99 $6.81 $3.47 $5.58
Adult extra-strength Tylenol $6.99 $10.29 $1.98 $9.47
Children’s Motrin $4.99 $7.49 $3.94 $5.97
Total $27.48 $41.77 $16.59 $32.90

A shopper at Publix would save $12.72 or about 35% by buying the store-brand version of these eight items over their name-brand alternatives. A shopper at Walmart would save $13.10 or nearly 45%.

Consider that I only used eight items in this example. When’s the last time you went to the grocery store and walked away with just eight things?

The greater the grocery haul, the greater the savings by choosing the cheaper alternative. And since you likely go shopping more than once a month, you could see a significant difference in your monthly budget by swapping out name-brand items.

Store Brand Vs. Name Brand: How to Decide

Since store-brand merchandise costs less money than name-brand counterparts, a common perception is that they’re of lesser quality.

But that’s not always true.

One reason name-brand items are more expensive is because it costs money to market those products to the public. Consumers pay the price for those commercial jingles that stick in their heads.

Most store-brand products are made to closely compare to their name-brand products. If you check the ingredients, sometimes you’ll find they’re made of the exact same stuff — though the recipes may differ slightly. What the decision really comes down to is preference.

We asked The Penny Hoarder community members about buying store-brand items over name brand. Respondents said they often choose store-brand products to save money but still have name-brand preferences when it comes to certain items, despite any cost savings.

“I will use generic for anything but my hair products,” said community member KellyFromKeene.”Otherwise, [with] food, clothes [and] household supplies, I will get the generic if the ingredients are the same.”

Community member Jobelle Collie said she’s partial to Dove bar soap, Olay moisturizer and Palmolive green dishwashing liquid but buys generic trash bags, office supplies and kitchen staples like salt, pepper and sugar.

Sometimes going with the store brand is a matter of trial and error.

“I definitely try to choose store brand, at least initially. Sometimes, I can tell the difference,” said community member Sthom. “For example, I tried my store’s brand of filters for my Brita: I could tell the difference immediately, so I switched back. That happens sometimes.

“Recently, I tried my store’s brand of peanut butter,” Sthom continued. “I’m partial to smooth [Jif] but the store’s organic smooth brand was less than $2.00 — around $1.18, unbelievably — and was just as good if not better.”

Tips for Weighing Store Brand vs. Name Brand Products

When deciding between store brand and name brand, keep these things in mind:

  1. Try swapping out the name-brand version of single-ingredient items — like flour, rice, milk and eggs — for the store-brand version. You may find there’s less variation in taste or quality than multi-ingredient items like cookies or soup.
  2. Use spices or other ingredients you have at home to dress up a store-brand product — for example, adding basil and garlic to a jar of pasta sauce.
  3. All store brands aren’t created equal. You may dislike the taste of store-brand cereal or the quality of store-brand toilet paper at one grocer, but another store’s products could be more on par with the name brands.
  4. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires generic medications (over-the-counter and prescription) to have the same active ingredient, strength and dosage form as the name-brand equivalent. Both products should be medically equal.
  5. Store sales and coupons can cause name-brand products to cost less than the store version. Store brands aren’t always the cheapest option. This is a great time to indulge in your preferred brand and save money.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

3 Banking Moves That Can Tank Your Refinance

3 Banking Moves That Can Tank Your Refinance – SmartAsset

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If you’re gearing up to refinance your mortgage, the lender’s going to want to check out your credit and assets before you’re approved. One of the things they’ll pay attention to is what’s in your bank account. So if you haven’t gotten those statements ready yet, there’s no time to waste. If you don’t want to raise any eyebrows with the lender, there are certain banking moves you probably won’t want to make until after refinancing.

Check out our refinance calculator. 

1. Moving Your Money Around Too Much

Any time a bank lends you money, they’re taking on a certain degree of risk. Seeing that you’ve got a nice wad of cash saved up can quell any fears they may have about approving your refinance. The problem is that it can be difficult to see what the bottom line is if you’re constantly transferring money back and forth between accounts.

If you’ve set up regular transfers from your checking to savings, that could work in your favor since you’re growing your balance. There’s an issue, however, when you’re regularly pulling money out of savings and moving it somewhere else. This move could give the impression that you’re not very adept at managing your finances. When a refinance is on the horizon, it can be a good idea to take a hands-off approach so your statements reflect a stable balance history.

Compare mortgage refinance rates.

2. Making Large Deposits or Withdrawals

Pulling a lot of money out of your account is also another potential trouble spot. The bank might ask for an explanation and that could cause them to reevaluate your entire application. If you’re planning to make a big purchase in cash, you might be better off deferring it until after the lender gives your refinance the green light.

The same thing goes for suddenly making a sizable deposit out of the blue. If your balance increases overnight by thousands of dollars, that’s something the lender’s going to notice. Even if there’s a good reason – such as a relative or friend gifting you money for closing costs – the bank may still have concerns over your ability to repay. If you have to make a large deposit for any reason, it’s a good idea to be prepared to explain why and to provide supporting documents if you have them.

Try using the free SmartAsset closing costs calculator. 

3. Opening or Closing Accounts

Again, lenders want to see a certain degree of continuity when it comes to your banking habits so in the month or two prior to refinancing, you might want to steer clear of opening new accounts or closing old ones. Sure, there are some great account opening bonuses to cash in on these days, but if you’ve got five or six different accounts at several banks, your lender could wonder why you need so many.

Closing accounts is also probably a bad idea, especially if they’ve been open for a while. While closing an account won’t hurt your credit score the way getting rid of a credit card would, the bank isn’t likely to look on it favorably. If you don’t have statements for your new account showing where the money went, that could work against you when you apply for a refinance.

Final Word

Refinancing can save you a lot of money in the long run if you’re able to lower your interest rate or reduce your payments. How you manage your bank accounts prior to and during the refinance process can determine whether your loan application gets the seal of approval.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/christophe_cerisier, ©iStock.com/dobok, ©iStock.com/DNY59

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Why There’s No Way to Avoid Paperwork When Refinancing

Why There’s No Way to Avoid Paperwork When Refinancing – SmartAsset

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So you’re ready to refinance your mortgage loan to one with a lower interest rate. This could be a good move. Depending on your new interest rate, you could save a good bit of money each month in mortgage payments. You might also think that because you’re refinancing with your current mortgage lender, the one you already send your home loan payment to each month, you won’t have to come up with the reams of paperwork usually involved in a mortgage refinance.

Check out our refinance calculator. 

On this latter point, you’d be wrong. Your mortgage lender will always require you to come up with certain documents to prove your income, job status and credit score. This holds true even if you’re refinancing with the mortgage lender who is servicing your existing loan.

So get ready to dig for that paperwork. When you’re refinancing, there’s usually no way around it.

Existing Lenders Need Papers to Approve a Refinance

You might think this makes little sense. After all, your mortgage lender verified your job status and income just five years ago when you took out your existing mortgage loan. But look at it from your mortgage lender’s perspective. Your lender’s job is to make sure you can make your mortgage payments each month, without defaulting on them.

When you apply for a refinance, your lender must verify that your financial situation hasn’t changed since you were first approved for a mortgage loan. Your lender doesn’t know if your spouse lost a job or that you no longer own a rental apartment that once provided steady income each month.

Related Article: 3 Smart Reasons to Refinance Your Mortgage

If your income has changed since you first applied for a mortgage loan, you might not be able to afford your new monthly payment, even if it’s smaller than the one you’re making now. So your lender, playing it safe, requires you to verify your employment status and income before approving you for a refinance, even if he or she has been receiving regular home loan payments from you for years.

Here’s the interesting part of all of this: Because your current lender will require you to provide as much paperwork as any other one would, you might as well shop around when you’re ready to refinance. You can choose any lender licensed to do business in your state. And you might find someone offering a lower interest rate than your existing lender.

The Documents You’ll Need to Refinance

If you are ready to refinance – whether with your current lender or a competitor – you’ll have to provide certain information to prove your income and job status.

You’ll likely have to submit pay stubs from at least the past month and your W-2 forms from the last two years. You’ll need to send copies of your most recent bank account statements and maybe even your tax returns from the last two years.

Your lender will also check your credit to determine whether you have a history of paying your bills on time. Again, you might find this strange. Haven’t you been sending in your monthly mortgage payments to this lender? What your lender doesn’t know is if you’ve been paying your car loan or student loan payments by their due dates. Your credit score will give lenders a more complete view of your financial habits.

Related Article: 3 Must-Do Moves to Prepare for a Mortgage Refinance

Bottom Line

Providing all this paperwork isn’t much fun. But it’s the only way mortgage lenders can make sure you can afford to refinance. This holds true even if you’ve already established a long-term relationship with your lender.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/Rawpixel, ©iStock.com/DragonImages

Dan Rafter Dan Rafter has been writing about personal finance for more than 15 years. He is an expert in mortgages, refinances and credit issues. Dan’s written for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Phoenix Magazine, Consumers Digest, Business 2.0 Magazine, BusinessWeek online and dozens of trade magazines.

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New PUA Rules: Don’t Miss These Unemployment Deadlines

The second stimulus package is tightening the rules for millions of gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed workers receiving unemployment aid.

On Dec. 27, the $900 billion stimulus package extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a critical benefits program for folks who don’t typically qualify for regular unemployment aid. The deal lengthened PUA benefits for at least 11 weeks, but it also created new filing rules that affect current recipients and new applicants alike.

Chief among the new rules: You will need to submit income documentation to your state’s unemployment agency if you are a gig worker or self-employed worker — or risk losing future benefits and having to return any benefits collected after Dec. 27.

“I think they are a real pain,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, regarding the new PUA filing rules. “Not just for recipients, but for state agencies to collect. Every burden we add to state agencies slows benefit processing for everyone.”

The new requirements are intended to combat fraud. According to the Department of Labor, more than 7.4 million people are relying on PUA and are subject to the changes.

New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Rules and Deadlines

The new deadlines established by the second stimulus package are different for current PUA recipients and new applicants.

As a current PUA recipient, you have until March 27 to submit income-related documents to prove your PUA eligibility. If you apply for PUA before Jan. 31, you also have until March 27.

If you apply for PUA Jan. 31 or later, you will have 21 days from the date of your application to submit income-related documents.

The Department of Labor requires each state to notify you of your state-specific rules. Your state may have different deadlines. In that case, refer to your state’s instructions. The DOL is also leaving it to each state to determine exactly what documents are required to prove your eligibility.

Here are some examples of documents your state may ask you to file:

  • Tax forms such as 1099s and W-2s.
  • Ledgers, recent pay stubs and earnings statements from gig apps.
  • Recent bank statements showing direct deposits.

If you’re self-employed, you may be required to submit:

  • Federal or state income tax documents.
  • A business license.
  • A 1040 tax form along with a Schedule C, F, SE or K.
  • Additional records that prove you’re self employed, such as utility bills, rental agreements or checks.

If you’re qualifying for PUA because you were about to start a job but the offer was rescinded due to COVID-19 related reasons, you may be asked to submit an offer letter, details about the employer and other information related to the job to verify your claim.

Another new rule is that you will have to self-certify that you meet one or more of the following PUA eligibility requirements on a weekly basis:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms and are seeking diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has COVID-19.
  • You are taking care of someone with COVID-19.
  • You are caring for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to the pandemic.
  • You are quarantined by order of a doctor or health official.
  • You were scheduled to start employment and don’t have a job or can’t reach your workplace as a result of the pandemic.
  • You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household died due to COVID-19.
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • Your workplace is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.

Self-certification means that you swear the reason(s) you are on PUA is or are true at the risk of perjury. Previously, PUA applicants had to self-certify only once at the time of their initial application.

Evermore says that since current PUA recipients weren’t asked to submit all this information when they were first approved, they might no longer have access to the requested documents.

“People who were told they don’t need documentation may have lost it, and this will create panic resulting in more stress on people who have already had an unimaginably bad year,” she said.

The good news, Evermore says, is that states have leniency to waive some of these requirements if you can demonstrate “good cause” for not being able to submit the requested documents. What’s considered “good cause” is also determined on a state-by-state basis.

“People who got approved for benefits in the past won’t necessarily get cut off from benefits simply because they are unable to produce the requested documentation,” Evermore said. “Just follow all of the agency’s instructions carefully.”

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

3 Must-Do Moves to Prepare for a Mortgage Refinance

3 Must-Do Moves to Prepare for a Mortgage Refinance – SmartAsset

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Mortgage rates are still relatively low. That means that there’s no time like the present to consider refinancing the mortgage loan you have for your home. Shaving at least a point or two off your current rate or converting your 30-year loan to a shorter 15-year term can help you keep more of your money in your pocket and out of the hands of lenders. 

Before you go looking for a refinance loan, it’s a good idea to polish up your application package to make yourself as appealing as possible to lenders. SmartAsset has put together a quick checklist of things you need to do that can up your odds of getting your new home loan approved.

1. Track Down All Your Documents

Refinancing your home usually involves just as much paperwork as your original mortgage loan required. So getting your ducks in a row ahead of time can make the process a bit easier. You’ll likely need proof of income from your pay stubs for the past few pay periods and copies of your tax return for the last two years. If you’re receiving any child support or alimony payments, it’s also a good idea to have receipts or canceled checks on hand to show the sources of that income.

Next, you’ll need to gather up recent statements from your bank and investment accounts as proof of your assets. Lenders often check your account history from the past two years, so it’s best if you hold off on making any big withdrawals or deposits in the months leading up to your refinance application. If you do have any unusual banking activity, be prepared to explain it to the lender with documents to support your claims.

2. Take a Look at Your Credit

Lenders want to see that you’ve got enough income to cover your monthly payments after you refinance, but they’ll also be concerned with your credit score. If it’s been a while since you checked it, there’s no reason to put it off any longer.

There are plenty of ways to check your score without paying anything. You can get free copies of your credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. Also, a number of credit cards now offer complimentary FICO scores to card members. You can also get a look at your credit score from SmartAsset.

3. Find Out What Your Home Is Worth

Unless you’re applying for an FHA Streamline Refinance, you’ll need to have an accurate estimate of what your home’s value is before applying for a new mortgage loan. The bank must have enough information to decide how much of a loan you’re eligible for. If the appraisal value comes in too low, you may not qualify for a refinance at all. That’s something you want to know before you get too far along in the application process.

Bottom Line

Doing a little homework before you enlist the help of a professional can give you an idea of whether it’s worth it to shell out several hundreds of dollars for an appraisal. From there, you can compare your home’s value to the sale prices of similar homes to determine what ballpark you’re working with.

If you want more help with this decision and others relating to your financial health, you might want to consider hiring a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with top financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/baona, ©iStock.com/Geber86, ©iStock.com/Nuli_k

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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