20 Ways to Cut Your Monthly Budget and Reduce Spending

Spend less than you earn. That’s the mantra of personal finance success. Every week, month and year that you spend less than you earn, the more you can save and the better your financial situation will be. A big part of that solution is cutting back on spending, and for many people, the thought of […]

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4 Credit Cards with No Spending Limit

Life can be unpredictable, and you never know exactly what you may need to spend money on tomorrow. In these situations, you may suddenly need more spending power on your credit cards than you previously anticipated. Fortunately, there are credit and charge cards that allow you to make the charges you need.

If your credit score is good enough, you might be able to score an “unlimited credit card”—one without a preset spending limit. That’s not a free pass to go on a months-long shopping spree, of course, as these credit cards technically do have some limitations. But they can be a flexible way to manage your finances, especially if you manage large monthly expenses or travel a lot. Find out more about credit cards with no limits below and whether one might be right for you.

What a No Limit Credit Card Really Means

The phrase “no limit credit card” is a bit misleading. Technically, all credit cards have limits. It’s not in the interest of lenders to allow card holders to drive up balances with no end in sight.

When people talk about unlimited credit cards, then, they usually mean one of two things. First, they could mean a credit card with a very high limit—one you’d be unlikely to hit in the normal course of spending if you’re regularly paying off the card. These types of cards include exclusive invitation-only “black cards.”

Second, and more commonly, they mean cards with no preset or published limits. Cardholders on these accounts are given a limit that’s unique to them, and it’s based on factors such as creditworthiness, income, and how long you have had an account. The credit limit might even fluctuate as you demonstrate continued or increased creditworthiness.

How to Determine if No Limit Credit Cards Are Right for You

Typically, these cards require good or excellent credit, so they aren’t something everyone can qualify for. The most exclusive cards with no preset spending limits are available only to individuals who receive an invite.

Cards with especially high credit limits or extremely flexible limits may also not be the right choice for someone who is in financial distress or already struggling to manage debt. It’s an unfortunate paradox that if you really need the larger credit line, you might be at greater risk of running up the credit card balance and digging yourself deeper in debt—and therefore unlikely to be approved for the larger credit line.

Need a card for fair or poor credit? We’ve got you covered.

Find a Card

Alternatives to No Limit Credit Cards

If you don’t have great credit, you might want to consider a different option, such as a balance transfer card. If your credit is good enough, you can get a balance transfer card with a preset limit that lets you transfer high-interest debt and pay it off faster at 0% interest for a specific period of time.

If you’re doing well financially and would like the flexibility of a credit card with a high limit without the temptation of ongoing debt, you might consider a charge card. Charge cards are a type of credit card—often with high limits—that you have to pay off each billing cycle.

4 High Limit or No Limit Credit Cards to Consider

If a high limit card does sound like a good idea, you’ll want to research available options and choose the best one for your needs and preferences. Here are four to consider.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now

on Chase’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
  • 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards credit card
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable
  • Signup bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
  • Rewards: 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
  • Annual fee: $95

Once you’re approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Chase will designate a credit access line for your account. However, you are permitted to exceed the account on a case-by-case basis. And when you do exceed this amount, you will not be charged an over-limit fee. The decision to allow you to charge beyond your credit access line is based on your payment history, your income, and other factors.

2. American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
See Pay Over Time APR


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$250


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Signup bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards® points if you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months.
  • Rewards: Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets or at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Annual fee: $250

The American Express® Gold card is a card with a high-limit. With its Pay Over Time feature, this Amex card allows eligible charges of $100 or more to be carried across statements with interest. Other charges are due each month. You also get up to $120 in dining credits a year by earning up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.

3. Mastercard Black Card

Mastercard® Black Card™

Apply Now

on Luxury Card’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
14.99%


Balance Transfer:
0% introductory APR for the first fifteen billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening. After that, your APR will be 14.99%.


Annual Fee:
$495 ($195 for each Authorized User added to the account)


Credit Needed:
Excellent

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Patented black-PVD-coated metal card—weighing 22 grams.
  • 2% value for airfare redemptions with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. 1.5% value for cash back redemptions. Earn one point for every one dollar spent.
  • 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge®—available by phone, email and live mobile chat. Around-the-clock service to help you save time and manage tasks big and small.
  • Exclusive Luxury Card Travel® benefits—average value of $500 per stay (e.g., resort credits, room upgrades, free wifi, breakfast for two and more) at over 3,000 properties.
  • Annual Airline Credit—up to $100 in statement credits toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more. Up to a $100 application fee credit for the cost of TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry.
  • Enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select with access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide with no guest limit. Includes credits at select airport restaurants for cardholder and one guest.
  • Cell phone protection for eligible claims of up to $1,000 each year. Plus additional World Elite Mastercard® benefits.
  • Annual Fee: $495 ($195 for each Authorized User). Terms and conditions apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards/Cash Back
  • Credit Needed: Excellent
  • Ongoing APR: 14.99%
  • Sign up bonus: n/a
  • Rewards: Earn redemption cash back in the value of 2% if you redeem on airfare or 1.5% if you redeem for cash back.
  • Annual fee: $495 ($195 for each Authorized User added to the account)

One of three products offered by Luxury Card, the Mastercard Black Card is truly luxurious. There is no official minimum starting limit for this card—but that flexibility comes with a cost. The annual fee is steeper than many can afford, but the card comes with $100 in airline credit and $100 in TSA Pre-check application credit every year, Exclusive luxury travel perks, and around-the-clock access to a concierge. It also includes a full range of traveler perks. Coupled with the rewards, this card can pay for itself when used by frequent travelers.

4. American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% for 12 months on purchases


Ongoing Apr:
13.99%-23.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Cash Back
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Sign up bonus: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Rewards: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and some streaming services, up to $6,000 per year, then 1%; 3% cash back when spending at gas stations or on public transit; and 1% cash back on other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred® card comes with a lot of standard Amex benefits. There’s no overlimit fee, and its “Plan It” features allow you to create monthly payment plans with a fixed finance charge each month, rather than the ongoing APR.

No Limit Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

Paying on time and keeping your balance low is as important with these types of cards as with any other card. But you also need to consider your revolving credit utilization. Since these cards may not have a set or published limit, it’s important that you understand what the actual limit is and how it’s being reported. Check your credit report to see what limit is being reported so you know whether your credit utilization is high. Charge cards may not affect your utilization rate at all.

If you really want to dig in to your credit reports and the factors affecting your credit scores, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit lets you access this information from all three credit bureaus whenever you want. That helps you best manage all of your debt, whether you have an unlimited credit card or not.

Sign Up Now

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, American Express Gold, Mastercard Black, and American Express Blue Cash Preferred cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for either of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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4 Practical Ways to Leave College Debt-Free

A college student looks down at her notebook and smiles because she'll leave college debt-free.

The following is a guest post by Lisa Bigelow, a content writer for Bold.

When it comes to paying for college, the anxiety about how to leave college debt-free starts early. And for thousands of grads who are buckling under the weight of monthly student loan payments that can cost as much as a mortgage, that worry can last for as long as 25 years.

According to EducationData.org and The College Board, the cost of a private school undergraduate education can exceed $200,000 over four years. Think you can avoid a $100k+ price tag by staying in-state? Think again—many public flagships can cost over $100,000 for residents seeking an undergraduate degree, including room and board. And with financial aid calculators returning eye-poppingly low awards, you’d better not get a second topping on your pizza.

In fact, you’d better hope that you can graduate on time.

The good news is that you can maintain financial health and get a great education at the same time. You won’t have to enroll as a full-time student and work 40 hours a week, either—each of the methods suggested are attainable for anyone who makes it a priority to leave college debt-free.

Here are four practical ways you can leave college debt-free (and still get that second pizza topping).

1. Cut the upfront sticker price

Don’t visit schools until you are certain you can afford them. Instead, prioritize the cost of attendance and how much you can afford to pay. Staying in-state is one easy way to do this. But if you have wanderlust and want to explore colleges outside state lines, an often-overlooked method of cutting the upfront cost is the regional tuition discount. Many US states participate in some form of tuition reciprocity or exchange programs. You can explore the full list of options at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators website.

Let’s explore how this works. As a resident of a New England state, for example, you can study at another New England state’s public university at a greatly reduced cost if your home state’s public schools don’t offer the degree you want. So, for example, if you live in Maine but want to go to film school, you can attend the University of Rhode Island and major in film using the regional tuition discount.

Some universities offer different types of regional discounts and scholarships that appear somewhat arbitrary. The University of Louisville (in Kentucky) includes Connecticut in its regional scholars program. And at the University of Nebraska, out-of-state admitted applicants are eligible for several thousand dollars in renewable scholarship money if they meet modest academic standards.

If you already have your heart set on an expensive school and you’re not likely to qualify for reciprocity, financial help, or merit aid, live at home and complete your first two years at your local community college.

Here’s another fun fact: in some places, graduating from community college with a minimum GPA gives you automatic acceptance to the state flagship university.

2. Leverage dual enrollment and “testing out”

When you enroll in a four-year college it’s pretty likely that you’ll spend the first two years completing general education requirements and taking electives. Why not further reduce the cost of your education by completing some of those credits at your local community college, or by testing out?

Community college per-credit tuition is usually much cheaper than at four-year colleges, so take advantage of the lower rate in high school and over the summer after you’re enrolled in your four-year college.

But beware: you’ll probably need at least a C to transfer the credits, so read your institution’s rules first. Also, plan to take general education and low-level elective classes, because you’ll want to take courses in your major at your four-year school.

If you’ve been given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses, study hard for your year-end exams. Many colleges will accept a score of 3 or higher for credit, although some require at least a 4 (and others none at all). Take four or five AP classes in high school, score well on the exams, and guess what? You’ve just saved yourself a semester of tuition.

3. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities

After taking steps one and two, you probably have a good idea of what the leftover expense will be if you want to leave college debt-free. Your next job is to figure out how to cut that total even more by using financial aid. There are four types to consider.

The first is called need-based aid. This is what you’ll apply for when you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Known as the FAFSA, this is where you’ll enter detailed financial information, and you’ll need at least an hour the first time you complete this form. Hint: apply for aid as soon as the form opens in the fall. It is not a bottomless pot of money.

There is also medical-based financial aid. If you have a condition that could make employment difficult after graduating from college, you may be eligible, and qualifying is separate and apart from financial need and academic considerations.

The third type of aid relates to merit and is offered directly by colleges. Some schools automatically consider all accepted applicants for merit scholarships, which could relate to academics or community service or, in the case of recruited athletes, athletics. At other universities, you’ll need to submit a separate scholarship application after you’ve been admitted. Some merit awards are renewable for four years and others are only for one year.

If you didn’t get need-based or merit-based aid then you still may qualify for a private scholarship. Some require essays, some don’t, and some are offered by local community organizations such as rotary clubs, women’s organizations, and the like. Don’t turn your nose up at small-dollar awards, either, because they add up quickly and can cover budget-busting expenses such as travel and books.

4. Find easy money

Small-dollar awards really add up when you make finding easy money a priority. Consider using the following resources to help leave college debt-free:

  • Returns from micro-investing apps like Acorns
  • Tax return refunds
  • Browser add-ons that give you cashback for shopping online
  • Rewards credit cards (apply for a travel rewards credit card if you’re studying out of state)
  • Asking for money at the holidays and on your birthday
  • Working part-time by capitalizing on a special talent, such as tutoring, photography, or freelance writing

Leave College Debt-Free

Finally, if you have to take out a student loan, you may be able to have it forgiven if you agree to serve your community after graduation. The Peace Corps is one such way to serve, but if you have a specialized degree such as nursing, you can work in an underserved community and reap the rewards of loan forgiveness.


Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to Credit.com, Lisa has contributed to The Tokenist, OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.

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Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You.

Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You

It wasn’t until a few months after my husband and I got married that I decided to check both our credit scores. While my husband’s credit score wasn’t horrible, it certainly didn’t qualify as “excellent.” This got me thinking about how newlyweds’ financial histories can affect both spouses’ finances moving forward, and how critical it is to acknowledge this reality—ideally before getting hitched.

Why It’s Important to Have a Good Credit Score

Manisha Thakor cuts right to the chase in her book On My Own Two Feet: “Your credit score is essentially your financial reputation in numeric form.”

Aiming for an excellent credit score—generally defined as 750 or more—is a worthy goal, owing to the range of ways in which it can save you money. Credit scores are critical when applying for loans—for instance, car loans and mortgages. In addition, many employers consider prospective employees’ credit scores during the hiring process.

A high credit score means you can access lower interest rates when borrowing, because creditors will view you as reliable. The perceived risk that you’ll default on your loan is lower compared to those with poor credit scores. Lower interest rates, especially on large amounts borrowed over significant timeframes, can save you thousands and thousands of dollars!

A poor credit score can indirectly hurt your financial efforts as well; consider the fact that when you’re paying over the odds in debt repayments, you’re committing fewer dollars to saving and retirement planning.

photo credit: LendingMemo via photopin cc

Till Debt Do Us Part

Marriage makes you one combined financial unit.

However, that doesn’t mean your credit scores are merged; your credit history continues to be maintained on an individual basis. One spouse’s poor credit cannot directly damage the individual score of the other spouse.

That being said, if you apply for a loan as a married couple, creditors look at both your credit scores to determine your eligibility and terms. So, if one of you has the credit of an angel whereas the other’s credit history is limited or even littered with missed payments and liens, you may find your application is denied.

But, this is not just about loan applications—poor credit can belie more than just a few bad credit card habits. Other financial follies, like paying taxes late, not focusing on saving, and day-to-day overspending, could be lurking in the closet.

What Do You Do After You’ve Said I Do?

While bad credit isn’t good news, it’s not necessarily a reason not to get married. And, it’s not necessarily the precursor to divorce! It is, however, an alarm signaling that it is time to get clear on your joint financial situation and start communicating. Make sure you do this respectfully and compassionately to minimize blame and financial stress. (If you’re the type of person who’d like to know this information from prospective partners before things get serious, there are now dating sites catering just to you.)

Once you’ve identified that one of you has less-than-optimal credit, it’s time to take action. Here are four top tips for taking immediate action:

1. Check your credit report for mistakes: Errors are, unfortunately, pretty common and can be really detrimental. Check your report at least once per year.

2. Make payments on time: Yes, this is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said! Mary Beth Storjohann of Workable Wealth says, “35% of your credit score is based on how you pay your bills (making this the biggest determining factor for your score)! Are you often late of missing payments? The impact of just one 90-day late payment goes way beyond the three months you took to pay, so set up automatic bill payments.”

3. Lower your debt-to-credit ratio: This is how much debt you have as a proportion of your overall credit limits. 30% of your credit score is based on the amount of money you owe versus the amount of credit available to you. The higher the amount of credit you’re utilizing, the more negative the impact on your score. Keep the debt level as low as possible (30% of your limits, or less).

4. Pay down your debt faster: Make more than the minimum payments wherever possible by utilizing the snowball method or targeting the balance with the highest interest rate to pay down first.

photo credit: natloans via photopin cc

Alongside these tips, it’s super important to remember that improving your credit score won’t happen overnight. The length of time it takes for your score to improve is directly related to reasons for the drop. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years for your credit report to reflect the positive changes you’re making. As Mary Beth notes, “The most important thing is to be proactive in clearing up any issues.” In addition, two of the criteria factored into your score are the length of your overall credit history and the average age of your accounts.

So, don’t be discouraged—be patient and give it time.

And, Finally, Some Tips on What Not to Do!

There are always two sides to every coin so, while you’re following the tips above, make sure that you’re not unwittingly hurting your score and negating your good work.

Be mindful of the following ways that you could be hurting your credit score:

1. Opening too many new accounts: This comes back to the point that the average age of your accounts is a key factor. Opening lots of new accounts reduces that average.

2. Closing too many old accounts: Older accounts indicate that you have managed payments for a long time and increase the average age of your accounts. When you close credit card accounts, this also decreases the amount of credit available to you, which can reflect negatively if you have other accounts that are still carrying high balances (it essentially increases your debt to credit ratio).

3. Signing up for lots of retail incentive programs: Every time you apply for credit, the company issuing the credit will request information about you from the credit bureaus. Too many of these requests can reduce your score.

4. Over-utilizing your credit. Mary Beth advises, “If you’re depending on your credit cards to fund your daily expenses and lifestyle needs, but aren’t able to pay them off in full at the end of each month, something needs to change. Start tracking your spending and get a handle on your expenses.”

In summary, start taking positive steps, be aware of actions that can hurt your credit, and focus on building solid financial foundations for the future.

This post was written by Erika Torres of GoGirl Finance. GoGirl Finance is a fast-growing community of women seeking and providing financial wisdom across money management, lifestyle, family and career. For more finance tips, follow GoGirl Finance on Twitter @GoGirlFinance

The post Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You. appeared first on MintLife Blog.

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Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)

What is the AAMS certification?New financial advisors need something to help them stand out. Consequently, the AAMS does just that. Designed for newcomers to the financial advice business, the AAMS trains advisors to identify investment opportunities as well as help clients with other financial goals. It also gives more experienced advisors a fast and simple way to learn more about asset management and improve their credentials. Here’s how it works.

AAMS Defined

An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) can advise clients on college savings, taxes, and retirement savings. The course and tests for this certification are designed to ensure advisors can assist clients with their complete financial needs. It emphasizes evaluating the client’s assets and making appropriate recommendations.

The AAMS certification is granted by the College for Financial Planning, a unit of the Kaplan Company. The college oversees a large number of financial certification programs, including the Certified Financial Planner designation, one of the most valued certifications in the field.

AAMS Certification Requirements

What is the AAMS certification?

To receive an AAMS, students first have to complete a 10-module education program provided by the College for Financial Planning. Then they have to pass an examination. Finally, they must agree to abide by a code of ethics and promise to continue their education.

The courses are online and can be delivered in self-study or instructor-led formats. Courses are open-enrollment, therefore students can begin at any time without waiting for the next session.  The 10 modules cover the following material:

1.:The Asset Management Process

2. Risk, Return & Investment Performance

3. Asset Allocation & Selection

4. Investment Strategies

5. Taxation of Investments

6. Investing for Retirement

7. Deferred Compensation and Other Benefit Plans

8. Insurance Products for Investment Clients

9. Estate Planning for Investment Clients

10. Fiduciary, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues for Advisors

The College of Financial Planning provides everything necessary to study for and complete the modules and take the test. Students have access to the study materials and tests through an online portal.

Streaming video lectures, audio files, and interactive quizzes also can be found through the college’s site. Meanwhile, students can access live classes online and contact professors with questions and issues.

The AAMS Test

To get the AAMS certification, students have to pass just one test. However, they have to make their first attempt at the test within six months of enrollment and pass it within a year.

The fee for the first attempt at taking the test is included in the course tuition. There are no prerequisites for signing up to take the AAMS course.

Time and Money Requirement

Tuition for the AAMS courses is $1,300. This includes the fee for the first attempt at passing the certification exam. It also includes all needed course materials. Each additional attempt costs $100.

Students employed with certain financial services firms may be able to get tuition discounts. The college may also provide scholarships.

The College for Financial Planning recommends students plan to spend 80 hours to 100 hours on the course. Since the course is self-study, this amount of time is flexible.

To maintain AAMS certification students have to commit to completing 16 continuing education credits every two years. Also, continuing education has to cover one or more of the topics covered in the AAMS coursework.

AAMS certificate holders also have to agree to follow a professional standard of conduct. As a result, they have to maintain integrity, objectivity, competency, confidentiality and professionalism in providing financial services.

AAMS Certificate Holder Jobs

AAMS certificates are generally earned by entry-level workers in the financial advice business. Consequently, AAMS holders are typically trainees. In some cases, they may provide support services to more experienced and highly credentialed advisors.

The AAMS designation does not confer any special powers or privileges. Instead, it’s an optional credential that students may obtain to advance their careers and enhance their knowledge of financial advice.

Comparable Certifications

What is the AAMS certification?

In addition to the AAMS, the College for Financial Planning offers an Accredited Wealth Manager Advisor (AWMA) certificate. This is a somewhat more advanced designation. As a result, it requires a course equivalent to three graduate level college credits and requires 90 hours to 135 hours to complete.

Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor (CMFC) is sponsored by the Investment Company Institute along with the College of Financial Planning. It is similar to the AAMS certificate except it focuses on mutual fund assets.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a general personal finance advice certificate from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. First, it requires 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience. Secondly, it demands three letters of reference. Finally, applicants must both complete coursework and pass an exam.

Bottom Line

The AAMS designation is usually for newly minted financial advisors, but even experienced pros can use it to bulk up their credentials. The courses and tests associated with the AAMS teach advisors how to evaluate assets and make recommendations.

While this certification doesn’t give an advisor any real powers, it’s a sign that they can identify investment opportunities specific to their clients. Above all else, it can be a great relief to a client who has a child going to college or a retirement house on their wish list. As a result of obtaining an AAMS, and advisor can point them toward the right investments for their goals.

Investing Tips

  • If you’re looking to identify investment opportunities, consider using an AAMS as your advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with 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.
  • An AAMS can help you with college savings, taxes, and retirement savings if you know what your goals are. However, if you are unsure how much you want to invest, what your risk tolerance is, or how inflation and capital gains tax will affect your investment, SmartAsset’s investing guide can help you take the first steps.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SARINYAPINNGAM, ©iStock.com/fizkes, ©iStock.com/Suwanmanee99

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Source: smartasset.com

What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

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When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.

This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealing—a lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.

However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.

No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.

Be prepared for a higher interest rate

But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.

“Over time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,” says DiBugnara. “If no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, ‘What is my rate if I pay the fees?’”

Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.

“Closing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,” he explains. “On a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.”

So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.

Consider the life of the loan

And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.

“No-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I don’t think it’s a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,” says Jack Choros of CPI Inflation Calculator.

A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.

“If I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.”

What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?

As with any large purchase, whether it’s a car or computer, there’s no flat “this is it” price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.

“Most of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,” says DiBugnara. “Also, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.”

“All other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,” adds Yates.

It’s important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.

“Deposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,” says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. “Most fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.”

When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?

For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but don’t mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.

“If your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,” says DiBugnara. “If your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.”

The post What Is a No-Fee Mortgage? 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

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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

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

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

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

Jumbo Loan Definition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumbo Loan Rates for 2021

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

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan: Pros and Cons

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

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

Cons:

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

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan- Pros and Cons

How To Qualify for a Jumbo Loan

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

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

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

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

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

Key Takeaways:

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

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

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

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

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Source: mint.intuit.com