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Why You Should Check Your Credit Reports on a Regular Basis

Financial institutions request copies of credit reports to help them decide whether to approve loan and credit card applications. Reviewing your credit reports regularly can help you correct any errors and better understand your overall financial situation.

Find Inaccurate Data 
Sometimes the information contained in credit reports is inaccurate or out of date. One person’s data may wind up in another person’s credit report if the two individuals have the same or similar names. Identity thieves may create fraudulent accounts using stolen personal data. Credit reports may list closed accounts as active or may not include up-to-date information on payments that have been made. Derogatory information, such as a bankruptcy, may still be included in a credit report when it should have been removed. If lenders base their decisions on inaccurate or outdated information, you may be denied a loan or credit card that you deserve.

Get a Better Handle on Your Finances
In your credit reports, you will see all the debt you have. If your credit utilization ratio— the percentage of your total available credit that you’re using—is too high, you may be denied credit. 

Credit reports usually don’t contain credit scores, but you may be able to request them when you check your credit reports. Monitoring your credit regularly can help you spot trends. If you consistently make payments on time and keep your credit utilization ratio down, you may see your credit scores climb. If you make late payments or let your debt get too high, your credit scores may decrease. That information can help you figure out if you need to make changes to your spending habits. 

Prepare for a Major Purchase 
Many people don’t give much thought to their creditworthiness until they want to buy a house or a car. If you want to take out a loan, but your credit isn’t good, you may be denied. If you happen to get approved, you may have to pay a high interest rate. Keeping track of your credit standing will give you time to address any problems and get your credit in shape before you need to borrow money. 

How to Get Copies of Your Credit Reports
The three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) compile their own credit reports. Companies that you do business with don’t necessarily report information about you to all of them. Your three reports may contain different information, which is why it’s important to check them all. 

You can go to annualcreditreport.com to request free copies of your credit reports from each of the three bureaus once a year. You can get them all at once or at different times. Requesting copies of your own credit reports won’t lower your credit scores.

Beware of other websites that claim to offer free credit reports. In many cases, you’ll be required to provide credit card information and will be billed monthly fees if you don’t cancel your membership. 

If You Recently Changed Jobs, Should You Wait to Buy a House?

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender will consider several factors. Your employment history and salary are two of the most important. Switching jobs may or may not impact your ability to qualify for a home loan, depending on the circumstances.

Lenders Look for Stable Employment and Income
A mortgage lender wants to be confident that you will continue to be employed and will earn enough money to cover your loan payments. A record of stable employment and income that has remained steady or increased can help you qualify for a mortgage.

Being promoted to a more senior position with the same company and getting a raise, or accepting a position with higher pay for a different company in the same field, can work in your favor. Moving to a job in a completely different field may raise concerns for a lender since it will be difficult or impossible for the lender to know if your employment and income will be stable in the future.

Switching from a salary or hourly position to a job where some or all of your earnings come from commission may raise a red flag for a lender. It will have no way to know how much you will earn if you can’t provide documentation showing your income over a period of time. 

Leaving a position with a consistent income and becoming self-employed can also make you look risky to a lender. If you’re just starting out on your own, a lender won’t be able to project your future earnings.

Should You Try to Buy a House if You Recently Started a New Job?
The short answer is that it depends. If you got a promotion that increased your earnings, you will most likely be approved for a home loan, as long as your finances are in order in other areas. If your new position will make you appear risky to a lender, you may find it difficult or impossible to get a mortgage right now. You may have to wait a period of time, possibly as long as two years, to be able to demonstrate that your employment is stable and that you make enough money to afford a house. 

If you will have trouble qualifying for a mortgage, consider staying in your current home for the time being. If you have to relocate for your new position, renting a house or apartment may be the best option at first. It will give you an opportunity to get to know the area while you settle in at your new job. It can also give you an opportunity to save more money for a down payment and to pay off debt, which can put you in a better position when you eventually apply for a home loan.

Organization Tips for a More Efficient Home

For many American families, the past year has meant more time at home, more challenge in balancing work, school and play, and more time spent mastering new skills in the kitchen, in the garden and online.

The result, as light appears at the end of the shut-in tunnel, is a houseful of disorganized ‘stuff’ and pandemic-weary people who don’t want to think about sorting it.

So, as we enter the traditional spring-cleaning season, here are seven tips from professional home organizers to help you turn your disorganized mess into a pleasing, more efficient space:

  1. Take It Slow – Clutter can feel overwhelming, so approach it one room or one pile at a time, rewarding yourself with short rest breaks. 
  2. Stay Focused – It’s not unusual to start cleaning your desk, take something from it into your bedroom and get distracted enough to start cleaning the mess in there. Steel yourself to stick with the task you started.
  3. Sort Strategically – Take three baskets with you into the room you are organizing. Toss laundry in one, trash in another and things to be donated in the third. Then hang up or stow away the remainder, and you’re ready to clean and vacuum.
  4. Give Everything a Home – You rarely lose forks and spoons because they have a designated drawer in the kitchen. Similarly, everything in your home, including items like toys, jackets, unanswered mail and homework, should be designated to  a specific space.
  5. Make Use of Small Spaces – Each shelf of a bookcase or cabinet holds a limited number of books, toys, dishes or spices. Layering storage containers, say two on each shelf, literally doubles the storage space. Adding plastic shelving to the insides of closets and kitchen cabinet doors provides extra storage capacity.
  6. Buy the Right Containers – Before you head to the home store to buy containers and shelving options, measure the space where you plan to use them. Choose clear containers so that contents are visible and/or label each one.
  7. Set up 10-Minute Saturdays – Once your home is more or less organized, establish a 10-minute Saturday clean-up, with each family member tasked with picking up, tossing laundry into a bin and returning items to where they belong.

7 Basic Tools No Homeowner Should Live Without

From upgrades to quick repairs to preventative property maintenance, there are plenty of reasons every homeowner needs a great set of basic tools at their disposal. Here are the seven basic tools every homeowner should have in their arsenal.

A Pair of Screwdrivers
It’s imperative to have a pair of screwdrivers on hand for repairs and maintenance needs. While it’s preferable to have a set that includes multiple heads for a variety of projects around the house, at the very least, make sure you have a Phillips head (or cross) screwdriver and a flat-head screwdriver.

Electric Drill
For those looking to save a little time, an electric drill is your best bet. A good drill set will come with multiple bits to ensure you have the ability to tackle multiple projects and screws of various shapes and sizes.

A Hammer
Perhaps a no-brainer, a hammer can be used for a variety of projects around the home. From actual repairs to simply hanging your favorite wall art, a hammer is a tool no homeowner should live without.

A Set of Wrenches
Another tool that requires multiple sizes and shapes, wrenches are valuable for assembling furniture and for tightening a loose bolt under the sink. Ideally, you should work toward collecting a few different sizes to tackle multiple repair needs, but if you’re just beginning to build your toolkit, invest in both an adjustable wrench and an allen wrench key set. 

Tape Measure
Whether you are working on a more extensive project or simply trying to find the best spot in the house for your antique china hutch, a tape measure is an essential tool that will come in handy more often than you think.

Stud Finder
Relatively inexpensive and easy to find in just about any hardware section, a stud finder is useful for hanging heavy wall art and mounting shelves. It will even come in handy for those tackling more extensive home renovations.

Pipe Repair Kit
In the event of a burst or cracked pipe, you’ll want to turn off the water and repair the pipe as soon as possible to prevent water from gushing out. Having a pipe repair kit on hand for emergency repairs is crucial for homeowners in a pinch. Fiberglass pipe repair kits are generally inexpensive and are safe for food and water service lines. Be sure to double-check your specific brand and have it at the ready for an easy or temporary fix.

No one wants to find themselves in the middle of a project without the necessary tools to complete the job, and no homeowner should find themselves unable to make simple repairs. 

8 Things to Have in Your Home for Family Health and Safety

You typically have milk in the fridge, bread in the pantry and clean towels in the linen closet. But to help ensure your family’s health and safety in a variety of situations, consumer watchdogs say, here are eight things every home should have:

  • First Aid Kit – A fully stocked first aid kit, including band aids, rolled gauze bandages, safety pins, surgical tape, antibiotic cream, etc., belongs in every kitchen. Check it regularly and replace items as needed.
  • Power Outage Basics – These include a few flashlights of different sizes, replacement batteries, candles and matches, as well as some bottled water and canned foods.
  • Smoke Alarm – Placed in the main hallway, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, these offer fire warnings in time to get the family to safety in case of a fire.
  • Fire Extinguisher – Keep one handy in the kitchen, in the garage and in the second story area, if you have one.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector – Carbon monoxide is known as an ‘invisible killer’ because it’s a toxic gas that you can’t see or smell. A detector can alert you to the presence of the gas in time to get to safety. Install one on every level of your home.
  • Whistles – It’s a good idea to keep a few whistles handy on each floor and tell family members to blow them if they spot something going wrong, such as fire breaking out or a person or animal breaking in.
  • Emergency Contact List – A list of phone numbers for family doctors, nearest adult relatives, poison control office and health insurance information, should be posted on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. You can also include parents’ cell phone numbers and be sure every babysitter or caregiver knows where to find it. 
  • Disaster Kit – This is the biggie, a go-bag or barrel equipped with what you need to feed, water and care for your family for a few days in case of a natural disaster. Research common occurrences in your area and be sure your disaster kit is fully equipped.

3 Repairs Homeowners Should Be Able to Do and Repairs to Leave to the Pros

There are some repairs that every homeowner should learn to do. There are others, though, that always need a professional’s touch. Here are three types of repairs that fall into each category:

DIY: Basic Leak Repair You’d be amazed how easy it is to fix a leaky faucet. Tightening up a few bolts or replacing a simple part can let you get the job done in a flash, saving you a great deal of money and making you feel like a home repair pro. These simple jobs should almost always be attempted first by the homeowner before looking for professional help.

Professional: Installing New Plumbing If you’re looking at installing new plumbing, though, you’re going to need to get some help from a professional. Plumbing systems are incredibly complex and even a small mistake can lead to expensive consequences. While you should be able to take care of small leaks on your own, going after the big problems almost always requires calling a plumber. 

DIY: Patch Repairs There are many repairs that fall into the category of simple patch repairs. From fixing a simple hole in your drywall to replacing the locks on your doors, these are jobs that take little to no special training and that can be done by almost any homeowner. Though these jobs are small, knowing how to take care of them yourself can save you quite a bit of time and money.

Professional: Drywall Replacement

Although you can likely patch a hole yourself, you definitely shouldn’t be installing drywall on your own if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re looking at any kind of repair that involves major demolition and reconstruction, you’ll want a professional handyman’s help; doing so is the best way to ensure that you don’t cause structural problems while you’re trying to fix basic problems. A handyman can help with things like large drywall damage and basic carpentry.

DIY and Professional: Toilet Replacement This is the only home repair that we’re covering that could really go either way. If you’re just looking to replace a toilet seat or you need to install a basic toilet, the good news is that the process is incredibly straightforward and can be done quickly. However, if you’re looking at a specialized toilet or anything that involves a major plumbing change, you’ll want to hire a professional.

Some repairs are easier than others. If you feel confident in your DIY skills, give a few of them a try. If you don’t, though, there’s no shame in getting help from your local handyman or another professional.

Anita Ginsburg is a freelance writer from Denver, Colorado. She studied at Colorado State University and now enjoys writing about health, business and family. A mother of two wonderful children, she loves traveling with her family whenever she isn’t writing. She recommends contacting a handyman for any repairs you can’t do yourself. You can find her on Twitter @anitaginsburg.

This article first appeared on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall.

What Happens If You Can’t Close on Time Because of an Error?

If you have entered into a contract to buy or sell a house, you’re likely eager to close. An error can throw a monkey wrench into your plans and may lead to a delay. In some cases, it may cause the deal to fall through completely.

Errors That May Hold Up the Closing
An error may create a problem with the title. For instance, a key document may have been filed incorrectly or may not have been filed at all. Records may indicate that a previous owner of the property is the current owner. A lien for back taxes or another debt may have been paid off, but the records may not have been updated. 

The seller or a neighbor may have been confused about the location of the property line and may have built a structure in the other person’s yard. A property survey can pinpoint the exact location of the boundary. If there was an error, the parties may sign an affidavit consenting to the encroachment, or the structure may need to be moved or taken down, which may delay the closing.

The buyer’s lender is required to provide the buyer with a Closing Disclosure form at least three business days before the closing date. That form includes information on the loan terms, closing costs and other expenses. Those figures should be consistent with the Loan Estimate that the buyer received after applying for a mortgage. If there are any discrepancies in those figures or in other information, such as the spelling of the borrower’s name, the buyer will need to have them addressed before the parties can close.

The buyer and seller may agree to contingencies. For instance, the seller may agree to make some repairs or to leave some appliances behind. At a final walk-through, the buyer will look at the house to make sure everything that should be included in the house is there and that the appliances work properly. If something is wrong, or if the parties realize that they had a different understanding of the terms of their arrangement, that may delay the closing. 

What May Happen if You Can’t Close as Planned
Your agent can include contingencies in the contract to deal with potential problems that may arise. If an error comes to light, the closing date may be extended or the deal may fall through, depending on the nature of the error and the terms of the contract. Under some circumstances, the seller may have to return the buyer’s earnest money, while in other cases, the seller may get to keep it.

Keep in close contact with your real estate agent throughout the process to make sure that the parties involved are working to get things done by your target closing date. If you become aware of a problem, talk to your agent about your rights and options under the contract and decide on an appropriate course of action.

Why You Should Look at Properties With Asking Prices Below What You Can Afford

If you’re searching for a new home, you have probably already gotten pre-approved for a mortgage. Many people think that the amount they were pre-approved for is the amount they should spend, but a lender may not consider savings for retirement and college, daycare and healthcare costs, and other expenses. The amount you can actually afford may be much lower than the amount in your pre-approval letter.

Once you have figured out how much you’re comfortable spending on a home, it’s a good idea to look at properties below that range. Doing so will give you flexibility and breathing room in several ways.

Room to Negotiate
If two or more parties are interested in the same house, they may become involved in a bidding war. If you know that you can afford to go above the asking price, you may be able to make a higher bid than the other prospective buyer and get the property you want.

Lower Closing Costs
If you buy a house at a lower price point, you will pay less in closing costs. The money you save up front can go toward other purposes, such as new furniture and appliances or a fund for home maintenance, repairs, or renovations. 

Financial Flexibility
The amount you finance will directly impact your monthly mortgage payments. If you buy a house that costs less than what you can afford, you will be able to take out a smaller mortgage and enjoy lower monthly housing costs. That will give you room in your budget to fund other priorities, such as saving for retirement, your children’s college education, a family vacation, or a new car. Lower housing payments will also make it easier for you to build an emergency fund in case you lose your job or suffer an accident or illness.

If your goal is to pay off a mortgage before you retire, buying a less expensive home can help you do that. You may be able to take out a loan with a shorter term or make extra payments to pay off the mortgage early so you won’t have to worry about monthly housing payments when you retire on a fixed income.

Lower Costs for Other Housing Expenses
Purchasing a less expensive house may help you save a bundle when it comes to other costs of homeownership. Houses that cost more are generally larger than less expensive properties. Larger houses typically cost more to heat and cool, have higher electricity bills and cost more to insure. Maintenance and repairs also generally cost more for larger properties. 

Be Careful Not to Become ‘House Poor’
It may be in your best interest to look for a house that costs less than the amount you can afford so you will have room in your budget to cover your other priorities. That way, you won’t be forced to do without things that are important to your family in order to cover your mortgage payments and other housing costs.

5 Things to Consider When Buying a Second Home

Purchasing a second residence is always a significant decision, especially if you intend to use it as a vacation home. Of course, there are many considerations to take into account beforehand, not the least of which is accounting for the associated costs of owning multiple properties for personal use. When you feel fully prepared to start looking for a second home, here are several additional factors to consider.

Cater to Your Lifestyle
While your primary residence likely caters to essential aspects of your daily life, such as proximity to schools and jobs, luxury buyers often seek a second home that supports their personal interests and provides access to a coveted lifestyle. Whether that means living in a golf community, in the mountains, or along the coast, this home should provide you and your family with a place to make special memories.

Are you willing to hop on a plane every time you go to your vacation property? Or is it essential that it be a car ride away? It’s important to consider how, and how often, you plan to use this home. If you anticipate it being used for extended stays, perhaps you’re willing to travel a bit further, whereas you’ll probably want a weekend destination to be closer to your main residence. 

Seasonal or Year-Round
For some buyers, a deciding factor when choosing between two locations can be the amount of usage that they’ll get out of the home. While some properties can only be enjoyed for part of the year, one that has year-round appeal will allow you to get the most out of it. 

Long Term Goals
Be sure to discuss how this property aligns with your long term goals with your financial planner. Whether you see it as a short-term investment or a place where you can retire someday, a second home is a significant asset that can help you to achieve your financial goals.

Work With a Local Specialist
Make sure that your real estate agent has proven experience in the area. Second home markets can be significantly different from a primary market, even if they are just a car ride away, which is why it’s always recommended to work with a professional who has an intimate understanding of the location that you’re looking in. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Decide on the Ideal Home Size for Your Family

Making the choice to purchase a new home is a major decision for anyone. Once you’ve settled on the idea that you do want to buy a home, there are many more options you’ll have to face; one of the most important is the ideal size of a home to best fit your family and lifestyle. Here are some tips so that you can choose the right size home to meet your needs:

Realize That Bigger Isn’t Always Better
You may initially start your home search thinking that size doesn’t really matter. As long as it seems big enough to live in, you don’t care how large it actually ends up being. The truth is that bigger isn’t always better. A large home requires more money—and time—to maintain. Unless you’re using the space, you could just end up wasting your money on maintaining a big house for no reason.
Know Your Maintenance Budget
A crucial aspect of your home purchase decision is to determine what your budget is going to be for home maintenance. A bigger home requires more time and money to take care of, particularly if you’re looking at homes with substantial front and backyards. As for the interior, there are cleaning, repair and energy costs for heating and cooling. Discuss your budget with your partner and your real estate agent to decide the square footage you can realistically handle.
Identify the Number of Rooms You’ll Need
If you really don’t know what amount of space is ideal for your family, then you need to start simple. This means counting the number of rooms that you’ll need. Consider your main rooms like your kitchen and living room, and then move on to counting the number of bedrooms and bathrooms that you need. This will give you a good starting point to identifying how much space your family will require. Keep in mind if you plan on expanding your family, if you frequently have guests visit and if you may need to have a family member, like an aging parent, live with you in the future.
Tour Different Homes in Varying Sizes
Once you get an idea of the size range that will fit your needs, it’s time to take some tours. Search for homes that are in the appropriate size range that you determined. This isn’t so much about evaluating potential purchases as it is about determining if that size range will fit what you have in mind. Home tours will give you a better idea of what you want the square footage of your home to be and how you want those square feet distributed throughout the bedrooms, common areas and exterior.
Determining the right size home for your family may be challenging at first. Start by breaking down your budget versus what you think you’ll need and begin looking at sample homes from there. After all the work, you’ll be able to choose the perfect home size for you and your family!
Anica Oaks is a freelance writer who hails from San Francisco. When she’s not writing, she’s enjoying her time outside with her dogs. Keep up with her on Twitter @anicaoaks.

This article first appeared on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall.

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