Mortgage Rates vs. Fed Announcements

File this one under “no correlation,” despite a flood of news articles claiming the Fed’s rate cut directly impacts mortgage rates. Today, the Fed cut the federal funds rate by half a percentage point to a range of 1-1.25% due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, this despite a strong U.S. economy. That sent mortgage [&hellip

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Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk?

Angela Caban

The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?

Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC, an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.

Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.

Angela Caban bought this South Carolina home online just from this listing photo.

Southern Bell Living

Location: Hanahan, SC
House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn
List price: $234,000
Price paid: $232,000

How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?

You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why you’re giving up so much.

Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadn’t kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. That’s what put me over the edge.

Caban’s old apartment building in Astoria, Queens (She lived on the ground floor to the right of the red awning.)

Google Maps

I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “We’re in this together.”

When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.

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Watch: Listing Agents Answer Our Burning Questions About the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ House

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The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”

first time home buyer
Caban’s new living room is almost the size of her old apartment.

Angela Caban

What made you choose Charleston as your new home?

I’d have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.

Caban’s new spacious kitchen makes her want to cook again.

Angela Caban

How did your house hunt go?

I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because I’d already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it. 

Caban loves spending time on her new front and back porches.

Angela Caban

What were your biggest challenges?

There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!

How did you find the house you eventually bought?

Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But I’m from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house. 

Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?

I was emboldened because I could always back out—you have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.

first time home buyer
Caban is happy to have a fireplace to decorate for the holidays.

Angela Caban

How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?

It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.

Caban’s Charleston, SC, home has a 600-square-foot barn.

Angela Caban

How was the mortgage process?

It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubs—especially during COVID-19, when they’re afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.

Caban’s new bedroom—one of four in her Charleston home

Angela Caban

How did you finally secure the loan?

Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”

I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.

How did you close on the house during the pandemic?

That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.

Caban painted her new door red and added the bumblebee knocker.

Angela Caban

How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?

I couldn’t get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilà.

Caban’s cats adjusting to their new home

Angela Caban

Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28 years?

Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like it’s a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didn’t have the energy in New York.

A formal dining room is a luxury that few New Yorkers can afford.

Angela Caban

Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?

It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.

Caban now loves starting her days watching birds on her back patio instead of exterminating roaches in her New York apartment.

Angela Caban

What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?

When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.

first time home buyer
Caban says she can finally breathe since leaving New York.

Angela Caban

The post ‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes

beach house Darwin Brandis/Getty Images

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and civil unrest could cause many rental real estate properties to run up tax losses in 2020 and maybe beyond. This column covers the most important federal income tax questions and answers for rental property owners. Here goes.

What can I write off?

Nothing new here. You can deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on rental properties. You can also write off all standard operating expenses that go along with owning rental property: utilities, insurance, repairs and maintenance, care and maintenance of outdoor areas, and so forth.

What about depreciation write-offs?

For many rental property owners, the tax-saving bonus is the fact that you can depreciate the cost of residential buildings over 27.5 years, even while they are (you hope) increasing in value. You can generally depreciate the cost of commercial buildings over 39 years.

Example: You own a small apartment building that cost $1.5 million not including the land. The annual depreciation deduction is $54,545 ($1.5 million/27.5). The deduction can shelter that much annual positive cashflow from income taxes. So, depreciation write-offs are nice tax-savers, especially if you own an expensive property or several properties.

Variation: As stated earlier, commercial buildings must be depreciated over a much-longer 39-year period. Even so, the annual depreciation write-off for a $1.5 million commercial building is $38,462. The deduction can shelter that much annual cash flow from income taxes.

Can I claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation?

Yes, for qualified improvement property (QIP) expenditures on a nonresidential building. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a retroactive correction to the statutory language of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The correction allows much faster depreciation for commercial real estate qualified improvement property (QIP) that’s placed in service in 2018-2022. QIP is defined as an improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service. However, QIP doesn’t include any expenditures attributable to: (1) enlarging the building, (2) any elevator or escalator, or (3) the internal structural framework of the building. Thanks to the CARES Act correction, you can write off the entire cost of QIP in Year 1, because it qualifies for 100% first-year bonus depreciation.

Alternatively, you can choose to depreciate QIP over 15 years using the straight-line method. That alternative might make sense if you expect higher tax rates in future years. Discuss your QIP depreciation options with your tax pro.

What else do I need to know about depreciation write-offs?

You ask such good questions. There’s more. The TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction for qualifying real property expenditures to $1 million, with annual inflation adjustments. The inflation-adjusted maximum for tax years beginning in 2020 is $1.04 million. The Section 179 deduction privilege potentially allows you to deduct the entire cost of qualifying real property expenditures in Year 1. I say potentially, because Section 179 deductions are subject to several limitations. Ask your tax pro for details.

The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying property to include expenditures for nonresidential building roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Finally, the TCJA further expanded the definition of qualifying property to include depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. Examples of such property include beds, other furniture, and appliances used in the living quarters of an apartment house.

Can I claim the qualified business income (QBI) deduction base on my net rental income?

Maybe. For 2018-2025, the TCJA established a new personal deduction based on qualified business income (QBI) passed through to your personal Form 1040 from a pass-through business entity (meaning a sole proprietorship, LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, partnership, LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes, or S corporation). The deduction can be up to 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that kick in at higher income levels. For a while, it was unclear if you could claim QBI deductions based on net rental income passed through to you from one of the aforementioned pass-through entities. The IRS eventually issued taxpayer-friendly guidance that allows QBI deductions in most such cases, but you must follow complicated rules to collect the tax-saving benefit. As your tax pro for details.

What about the passive loss rules?

Ugh. If your rental property throws off tax losses (most properties do, at least during the early years and during years when the economy is suffering — like now), things can get complicated. The so-called passive activity loss (PAL) rules may come into play. Losses from rental properties will usually be classified as passive losses.

In general, the PAL rules only allow you to currently deduct passive losses to the extent you have current passive income from other sources, like positive income from other rental properties or gains from selling them. Passive losses in excess of passive income are suspended until you either have enough passive income or you sell the property that produced the losses. Bottom line: the PAL rules can postpone any tax-saving benefit from rental property losses, sometimes for years. Fortunately, there are several exceptions to the PAL rules that can allow you to deduct rental property losses sooner rather than later. Your tax pro can explain the exceptions and help you plan to become eligible, if possible.

Is that the end of the bad news?

Not exactly. Say you manage to successfully clear the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules for your rental property losses. So far, so good. But the TCJA established another hurdle that you must also clear to currently deduct those losses. For tax years beginning in 2018-2025, you cannot deduct an excess business loss in the current year. An excess business loss is one that exceeds $250,000 or $500,000 for a married joint-filing couple. Any excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for net operating loss (NOL) carry-forwards. This loss disallowance rule applies after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your rental losses, this rule is a nonfactor.

COVID-19 Relief: Thankfully, the CARES Act suspends the excess business loss disallowance rule for losses that arise in tax years beginning in 2018-2020. That’s good news.

What’s the deal with net operation losses (NOLs)?

Say you manage to successfully clear both of the preceding hurdles for your rental property losses. Now we are talking, because you can generally use those losses currently to offset taxable income from other sources. If losses for the year exceed income from other sources, you may have a net operating loss (NOL) for the year.

COVID-19 Relief: The CARES Act allows a five-year carryback privilege for an NOL that arises in a tax year beginning in 2018-2020. So, you can carry an NOL from one of those years back to an earlier year, deduct it, and recover some or all of the federal income tax paid for the carryback year. Because federal income tax rates were generally higher in years before the TCJA took effect, NOLs carried back to those years can be especially beneficial. The TCJA kicked in starting with tax years beginning in 2018.

What if I have positive taxable income?

Eventually your rental property should start throwing off positive taxable income instead of losses, because escalating rents will surpass your deductible expenses. Of course, you must pay income taxes on those profits. But if you piled up suspended passive losses in earlier years, you can now use them to offset your passive profits.

Another nice thing: positive taxable income from rental real estate is not hit with the dreaded self-employment (SE) tax, which applies to most other unincorporated profit-making ventures. The SE tax rate can be up to 15.3%. Something to avoid when possible.

One bad thing: positive passive income from rental real estate owned by a higher-income individual can get socked with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and gains from selling properties can also get hit with the NIIT. Ask your tax pro for details.

The bottom line

There you have it: most of what you need to know about the federal income tax issues that can come into play for rental property owners. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and recent civil unrest increase the odds that rental properties will suffer losses in 2020, but tax relief provisions may soften the blow.

The post 2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next

mortgage forbearanceSEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

Millions of Americans struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments because of COVID-19 have received relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

But mortgage forbearance is only temporary, and set to expire soon, leaving many homeowners who are still struggling perplexed on what to do next.

Enacted in March, the CARES Act initially granted a 180-day forbearance, or pause in payments, to homeowners with mortgages backed by the federal government or a government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Furthermore, some private lenders also granted mortgage forbearance of 90 days or more to financially distressed homeowners.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 8.39% of loans were in forbearance as of June 28, representing an estimated 4.2 million homeowners nationwide.

So what are affected homeowners to do when the forbearance goes away? You have options, so it’s well worth contacting your lender to explore what’s best for you.

“If you know you’re going to be unable to meet the terms of your forbearance agreement at its maturity, you should call your loan servicer immediately and see what options they may be able to offer to you,” says Abel Carrasco, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Advisors in St. Petersburg, FL.

Exactly what’s available depends on the fine print in the terms of your mortgage forbearance agreement. Here’s an overview of some possible avenues to explore if you still can’t pay your mortgage after the forbearance period ends.

Extend your mortgage forbearance

One simple option is to contact your lender to request an extension.

Homeowners granted forbearance under the CARES Act can request a 180-day extension, giving them a total of 360 days of forbearance, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The key is to contact your lender well before your forbearance expires. If you let it expire without an extension, your lender could impose penalties.

“If you just stop making regular, scheduled payments, you could have a late mortgage payment on your credit,” warns Carrasco. “That could severely impact refinancing or purchasing another property in the immediate future and potentially subject you to foreclosure.”

Keep in mind, though, a forbearance simply delays payments, meaning they’ll still need to be made in the future. It doesn’t mean payments are forgiven.

Refinance to lower your mortgage payment

Mortgage interest rates are at all-time lows, hovering around 3%. So if you can swing it, this may be a great time to refinance your home, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

Refinancing could come with some hefty fees, however, ranging from 2% to 6% of your loan amount. But it could be worth it.

A lower interest rate will likely lower your monthly payment and save you thousands over the life of your mortgage. Dropping your interest rate from 4.125% to 3% could save more than $40,000 over 30 years, for example, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Lenders have tightened standards, though, so you will need to show that you are a good candidate for refinancing,” Kapfidze says. You’ll need a good credit score of 620 or higher.

As long as you’ve kept up your end of the forbearance terms, having a mortgage forbearance shouldn’t affect your credit score, or your ability to refinance or qualify for another mortgage.

Ask for a loan modification

Many lenders are offering an assortment of programs to help homeowners under hardship because of the pandemic, says Christopher Sailus, vice president and mortgage product manager at WaFd Bank.

“Lenders quickly recognized the severity of the economic situation due to the pandemic, and put programs into place to defer payments or help reduce them,” he says.

A loan modification is one such option. This enables homeowners at risk of default to change the terms of their original mortgage—such as payment amount, interest rate, or length of the loan—to reduce monthly payments and clear up any delinquencies.

Loan modifications may affect your credit score, but not as much as a foreclosure. Some lenders charge fees for loan modifications, but others, like WaFd, provide them at no cost.

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Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

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Put your home on the market

It may seem like a strange time to sell your home, with COVID-19 cases growing, unemployment rising, and the economy on shaky ground. But, it’s actually a great time to sell a house.

Pending home sales jumped 44.3% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index, the largest month-over-month growth since the index began in 2001.

Home inventory remains low, and buyer demand is up with many hoping to jump on the low interest rates. Prices are up, too. The national median home price increased 7.7% in the first quarter of 2020, to $274,600, according to NAR.

So if you can no longer afford your home and have plenty of equity built up, listing your home may be a smart move. (Home equity is the market value of your home minus how much you still owe on your mortgage.)

Consider foreclosure as a last resort

Foreclosure may be the only option for many homeowners, especially if you fall too behind on your mortgage payments and can’t afford to sell or refinance. In May, more than 7% of mortgages were delinquent, a 20% increase from April, according to mortgage data and analytics firm Black Knight.

“When to begin a foreclosure process will vary from lender to lender and client to client,” Sailus says. “Current and future state and federal legislation, statutes, or regulations will impact the process, as will the individual homeowner’s situation and their ability to repay.”

Foreclosures won’t begin until after a forbearance period ends, he adds.

The CARES Act prohibited lenders from foreclosing on mortgages backed by the government or government-sponsored enterprise until at least Aug. 31. Several states, including California and Connecticut, also issued temporary foreclosure moratoriums and stays.

Once these grace periods (and forbearance timelines) end, and homeowners miss payments, they could face foreclosure, Carrasco says. When a loan is flagged as being in foreclosure, the balance is due and legal fees accumulate, requiring homeowners to pay off the loan (usually by selling) and vacating the property.

“Absent participation in an agreed-upon forbearance, deferment, repayment plan, or loan modification, loan servicers historically may begin the foreclosure process after as few as three months of missed mortgage payments,” he explains. “This is unfortunately often the point of no return.”

The post Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Business credit cards

If you are a small-business owner and cash is not flowing and bills are piling up, the most important thing to do is contact your card issuer.

Some banks are also providing assistance in case you can’t pay your business credit card bill.

Another coronavirus complication: Scams

As consumers wrestle with the impact of the coronavirus, scammers are trying to take advantage of the situation.

In a June 2020 public service announcement, the FBI warned that the increasing use of banking apps could open doors to exploitation.

“With city, state and local governments urging or mandating social distancing, Americans have become more willing to use mobile banking as an alternative to physically visiting branch locations. The FBI expects cyber actors to attempt to exploit new mobile banking customers using a variety of techniques, including app-based banking trojans and fake banking apps,” the PSA warns.

Scammers might also be capitalizing on health and economic uncertainties during this time. In one such scam, cybercriminals are sending emails claiming to contain updates about the coronavirus. But if a consumer clicks on the links, they are redirected to a website that steals their personal information, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

Identity theft in 2020: What you need to know about common techniques

Bottom line

The outbreak of a disease can upset daily life in many ways, and the ripple effects go beyond our physical health. Thankfully, many card issuers are offering relief. If you’re feeling financially vulnerable, contact your credit card issuer and find out what assistance is available. And while data security may seem like a secondary consideration, it’s still important to be vigilant when conducting business or seeking information about the coronavirus online.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Exercise Outside While Social Distancing

exercising-outside-while-social-distancing

Guest Post

How to Exercise Outside While Social Distancing

Yoga studios and gyms, even fitness centers found in the average apartment complex, have been closed as a response to the spread of COVID-19. As a result, people are left needing to find alternative ways to stay active in order to meet their fitness goals. For people who prefer exercising with a group, navigating through this might be a bit tough as you are looking for ways to stay in shape while social distancing. 

Social distancing while living in an apartment can be tricky. Especially when you are looking for ways to get outside and exercise. It is important to understand that at this time, social distancing is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, this does not mean that you need to stay inside your apartment binge watching Netflix. Maintaining good health habits is important, especially right now. If you are at a loss of things that you can do to stay in shape, here are a few fun ideas that you can practice while still maintaining social distance. 

Local Trails

Most areas have local trails nearby. If you have a car, driving to one of these areas can be a great way to get out of the house and enjoy some nature. You can hike the trails at a national or state park. In fact, many neighborhoods offer trails that you can run, bike, or walk on. 

Take a few minutes to do a bit of research and chances are you will be surprised at how many public trails there are around your apartment complex for you to enjoy. The official website of your town is likely to offer information about different city trails that you can enjoy. You can also search your county and state websites for more information about what trails are currently open for you to enjoy. 

Remember, when you are running on a trail, you should maintain a six-foot distance between yourself and others who might be out enjoying the trail. If necessary, slow your pace or go around the other person at a safe distance while you are out. 

Run Through Neighborhoods

Taking a walk or a jog along the side of the road is a great way to get outside and exercise. With fewer cars on the roads these days, running along the side of the road is fairly safe. You should maintain distance and be careful, but there are plenty of neighborhoods around your apartment that you can take a run through. Your apartment complex likely has areas that you can run in as well. If necessary, you could just walk around the different buildings throughout your apartment complex. Choose different paths and learn more about the area that you live in, all while maintaining social distance. 

Yoga in the Park

Yoga is a great form of exercise that can relieve stress. All you really need for this type of exercise is a yoga mat or a soft surface such as a grassy field. Of course, you can practice yoga from the comfort of your home, but if you are looking for a way to exercise outside, pack up your mat and head to an open area. There is a good chance that you will not have to go very far from your apartment to find an open area where you can practice yoga. There are parks that have open areas where you can spread out, enjoy the great outdoors, and strike some yoga poses.  

Go Fly a Kite

If you are looking for something fun to do, that is also a form of exercise, why not build a kite and take it out to fly? Flying kites may seem like something that will not give you much exercise, but when you are sprinting to get it up in the air, you are definitely going to be winded afterwards. Kite flying is a great social distancing activity because you will be in an open field, away from others. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of getting a kite up in the air and watching it soar?

If you are used to group exercise, join a virtual accountability group. Create a step challenge among your friends. Social media provides a great way to stay connected and motivated. You could even put up flyers in your apartment complex for an exercise competition group. You can use a social media app to track goals and possibly even come up with prizes for the winners. 

Read How to Exercise Outside While Social Distancing on Apartminty.

Source: blog.apartminty.com

Mortgage Rates vs. the Coronavirus: We Might Test New All-Time Lows

Mortgage rates can be pretty volatile. Just like stocks, they can change daily depending on what’s happening in the economy. Beyond that, mortgage rates can move based on news that doesn’t involve a report on the economic calendar, such as a jobs report, GDP, housing starts, inflation, etc. Even if there isn’t a direct financial [&hellip

The post Mortgage Rates vs. the Coronavirus: We Might Test New All-Time Lows first appeared on The Truth About Mortgage.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

What Is a Force Majeure Clause, and What Does It Mean for Mortgages?

RapidEye/Getty Images

In French, it means superior force. However, in legalese, the term force majeure refers to a clause that can allow a person or business to extricate themselves from a contract.

“In general, it’s a force outside the control of a party,” says Denver, CO, contracts attorney Susan Goodman. “What the force majeure clause says is: If there’s an act of force majeure, then performance is excused if the performance is affected by that act.”

In even plainer English, it means: If something completely unpredictable occurs, a contract may be voided.

The current pandemic certainly seems to fit the bill, and will have contract holders invoking force majeure for relief from creditors.

However, mortgage holders looking for a way out of their debt obligations are likely to be out of luck when it comes to following the path of force majeure. Here’s how force majeure works in a contract.

What is an act of force majeure?

Contracts with a force majeure clause often list (very) specific potential calamities. If any of those calamities come to pass, a contracted party is allowed to back out of the deal with no penalty.

Force majeure events often written into contracts include:

  • “Acts of God,” which often include severe weather, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, etc.
  • Acts of war
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Acts of government authorities
  • Strikes or labor disputes
  • An inability to secure materials
  • Other causes beyond the reasonable control of a party

 

Do all contracts have force majeure clauses?

Force majeure clauses are almost always written into business-to-business contracts.

However, personal mortgages usually do not contain force majeure clauses. Neither do apartment leases or contracts for home improvements.

Commercial leases and development projects often do, and those clauses may be invoked due to COVID-19.

“You’re seeing a lot of activity on the on the [commercial] leasing front now with the argument of force majeure,” says Jack Fersko, co-chair of the real estate department at the law firm Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, & Davis LLP in New Jersey and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s real estate section committee.

Businesses “can’t use the space—whether it is because of the virus, which has closed operations down, or [because of local] government orders.”

Construction firms might also invoke the clause if they’re unable to meet deadlines or milestones on a development project. Adding to the confusion is that each state has different requirements for force majeure clauses, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all option.

Invoking a force majeure clause

By definition, an act of force majeure must prevent one or both parties from performing a service listed in the contract.

But economic hardship is not a reason to invoke force majeure.

“Anybody can always claim economic hardship. If your company goes into bankruptcy, that doesn’t void a contract, and you can’t get out of it by force majeure,” says Goodman.

As always, the key for consumers is: Be aware of all terms in any contract.

Courts around the country are already investigating COVID-19 and how it might relate to force majeure.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is such a unique situation. We’re already hearing that courts are treating things differently than one might expect—like not calling this an act of God,” Goodman says.

Fersko adds that there isn’t much legal precedent for the current crisis.

“I guess we’ll look to fall back to the early 1900s with the flu. We’ll look to other events in history that may be akin to this, and see what sort of case law evolved from that,” he says.

“In many respects, this being a worldwide pandemic, it’s certainly going to create some novel legal issues.”

Future contracts are likely to include allowance for pandemics

“Force majeure clauses are all written differently,” Goodman explains. She adds that she has seen some clauses with the word “epidemic,” but none with the word “pandemic.”

That will change, of course, after the coronavirus outbreak.

“Most force majeures after 9/11 added terrorism to the clauses. It was never in it before, because nobody really thought of it—because it wasn’t really part of our society,” Goodman says.

“I think pandemics and epidemics are going to be added to every force majeure clause. Attorneys are already advising their clients to do that.”

The key to a force majeure event is its unpredictability. However, if an unfortunate event or disaster was something that you could and should have prepared for, it’s nearly impossible to invoke the clause.

The post What Is a Force Majeure Clause, and What Does It Mean for Mortgages? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Average credit card interest rates: Week of January 13, 2021

The average credit card interest rate is 16.05%.

The average minimum credit card APR held firm Wednesday after lenders declined to revise rates on new offers for another week. As a result, borrowers in the market for a new card continued to enjoy starting APRs that are more than a full point lower on average than they were a year ago.

Cardholders with excellent credit are enjoying some of the sharpest rate savings this year. For example, lenders have clipped APRs on some of the most popular rewards cards by at least a point and a half in the past year. For example, the Discover it® Cash Back card currently starts APRs at 11.99%, which is well below the minimum APR most low rates advertise. A year ago, by contrast, it advertised a minimum APR of 13.49%.

Some of the most striking rate decreases have occurred on travel cards, which had surged to record high rates in 2019. For example:

  • In January 2020, the Chase Sapphire Reserve charged an 18.49% minimum APR. Today, it starts APRs at 16.99%.
  • Similarly, APRs on the Citi Premier® Card currently start at 15.99%. A year ago, the lowest APR cardholders could get was 17.49%.
  • The lowest rate Hilton enthusiasts could get on the Hilton Honors American Express Card last winter was 17.24%. Today, the card’s APR starts at 15.74%

As a result, the average rewards card APR has tumbled from 17.11% in the second week of 2020 to 15.76% today, while the average airline card APR has fallen from 16.9% to 15.53%.

As the end to the coronavirus pandemic edges closer, lower rate travel cards could become more attractive to cardholders who are dreaming of a post-pandemic vacation.

Even low interest and balance transfer cards are much less expensive nowadays, giving cardholders who need to carry a balance a temporary reprieve.

Last January, for example, the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card and Citi Simplicity® Card both charged a 15.49% APR. Now, borrowers could secure an APR as low as 13.99% on the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum and as low as 14.74% on the City Simplicity. Meanwhile, Bank of America has reintroduced the BankAmericard® credit card after a temporary pause with a minimum APR of 12.99%. A year ago, the best APR cardholders could get was 14.49%.

Most cards received their biggest rate cuts in March and April when the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, by 1.25 percentage points. When federal interest rates change, most lenders also match the changes on new card offers that are tied to the U.S. Prime Rate.

However, a few lenders have cut rates on select cards by an even larger amount. For example, Wells Fargo cut the APR on the Wells Fargo Rewards® card by five and a half percentage points last year, making it one of the lowest rate cards Wells Fargo offers. Cardholders who qualify could get a rewards card APR as low as 12.49%.

Today’s lower rates won’t last forever, though, since most are due to federal interest rate changes, rather than independent rate strategies.

As soon as the Federal Reserve begins increasing rates, the APRs on all variable rate cards tied to the prime rate will also go up.

It will be a long time, though, before cardholders in good standing will have to worry about higher rates on cards they’ve already opened. The Fed has said it is unlikely to hike rates for at least another year.

See related: How do credit card APRs work?

All information about the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card and Citi Simplicity Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. These cards are no longer available through CreditCards.com.

CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report

Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 16.05% 16.05% 16.03%
Low interest 12.77% 12.77% 12.83%
Cash back 15.85% 15.85% 16.09%
Balance transfer 13.85% 13.85% 13.93%
Business 13.91% 13.91% 13.91%
Student 16.12% 16.12% 16.12%
Airline 15.53% 15.53% 15.48%
Rewards 15.76% 15.76% 15.82%
Instant approval 18.38% 18.38% 18.65%
Bad credit 25.30% 25.30% 24.43%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. issuers and representing every card category listed above. (Introductory, or teaser, rates are not included in the calculation.)
Source: CreditCards.com
Updated: January 13, 2021

Historic interest rates by card type

Some credit cards charge even higher rates, on average. The type of rate you get will depend in part on the category of credit card you own. For example, even the best travel credit cards often charge higher rates than basic, low interest credit cards.

CreditCards.com has been calculating average rates for a wide variety of credit card categories, including student cards, balance transfer cards, cash back cards and more, since 2007.

How to get a low credit card interest rate

Your odds of getting approved for a card’s lowest rate will increase the more you improve your credit score. Some factors that influence your credit card APR will be out of your control, such as the length of time you’ve been handling credit.

However, even if you’re new to credit or are rebuilding your score, there are steps you can take to ensure a lower APR. For example:

  1. Pay your bills on time. The single most important factor influencing your credit score – and your ability to win a lower rate – is your track record of making on-time payments. Lenders are more likely to trust you with a competitive APR – and other positive terms, such as a big credit limit – if you have a lengthy history of paying your bills on time.
  2. Keep your balances low. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible with your credit and don’t overcharge. As a result, credit scores take into account the amount of credit you’re using, compared to how much credit you’ve been given. This is known as your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your ratio, the better. For example, personal finance experts often recommend that you keep your balances well below 30% of your total credit limit.
  3. Build a lengthy and diverse credit history. Lenders also like to see that you’ve been successfully using credit for a long time and have experience with different types of credit, including revolving credit and installment loans. As a result, credit scores, such as the FICO score and VantageScore, factor in the average length of your credit history and the types of loans you’ve handled (which is known as your credit mix). To keep your credit history as long as possible, continue to use your oldest credit card so your lender doesn’t close it.
  4. Call your lender. If you’ve successfully owned a credit card for a long time, you may be able to convince your lender to lower your interest rate – especially if you have excellent credit. Reach out to your lender and ask if they’d be willing to negotiate a lower APR.
  5. Monitor your credit report. Check your credit reports regularly to make sure you’re being accurately scored. The last thing you want is for a mistake or unauthorized account to drag down your credit score. You have the right to check your credit reports from each major credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Source: creditcards.com