Can I Inherit Debt?

Man trying to role a huge boulder labeled "DEBT" up a steep hillWhen someone passes away leaving debts behind, you might be wondering if you have any personal liability to pay them. If you have aging parents, for instance, you may be worried about having to assume responsibility for their mortgage payments, credit cards or other debts. If you’ve asked yourself, “Can I inherit debt?” the answer is typically no, even though those debts don’t automatically disappear. But there are situations in which you may have to deal with a loved one’s creditors after they’re gone.

How Debts Are Handled When Someone Passes Away

Debts, just like assets, are considered part of a person’s estate. When that person passes away, their estate is responsible for paying any and all remaining debts. The money to pay those debts comes from the asset side of the estate.

In terms of who is responsible for making sure the estate’s debts are paid, this is typically done by an executor. An executor performs a number of duties to wrap up a person’s estate after death, including:

  • Getting a copy of the deceased person’s will if they had one and filing it with the probate court
  • Notifying creditors and other entities of the person’s death (for example, the Social Security Administration would need to be notified so any Social Security benefits could be stopped)
  • Completing an inventory of the deceased person’s assets and their value
  • Liquidating those assets as needed to pay off any debts owed by the estate
  • Distributing the remaining assets to the people or organizations named in the deceased person’s will if they had one or according to inheritance laws if they did not

In terms of debt repayment, executors are required to give notice to creditors who may have a claim against the estate. Creditors are then giving a certain window of time, according to state laws, in which to make a financial claim against the estate’s assets for repayment of debts.

If a creditor doesn’t follow state guidelines for making a claim, then those debts won’t be paid from the estate’s assets. But if creditors are less than reputable, they may try to come after the deceased person’s spouse, children or other family members to collect what’s owed.

Not all assets in an estate may be used to repay debts owed by a deceased person. Any assets that already have a named beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, a 401(k), individual retirement account, payable on death accounts or annuity, would be transferred to that beneficiary automatically.

Can I Inherit Debt From My Parents?

Pencil erasing the word "DEBT"

This is an important question to ask if your parents are carrying high amounts of debt and you’re worried about having to pay those bills when they pass away. Again, the short answer is usually no. You generally don’t inherit debts belonging to someone else the way you might inherit property or other assets from them. So even if a debt collector attempts to request payment from you, there’d be no legal obligation to pay.

The catch is that any debts left outstanding would be deducted from the estate’s assets. If your parents were substantially in debt when they passed away, repaying them from the estate may leave little or no assets for you to inherit.

But you should know that you can inherit debt that you were already legally responsible for while your parents were alive. For instance, if you cosigned a loan with them or opened a joint credit card account or line of credit, those debts are legally yours just as much as they are your parents. So, once they pass away, you’d be solely responsible for repaying them.

And it’s also important to understand what responsibility you may have for covering long-term care costs incurred by your parents while they were alive. Many states have filial responsibility laws that require children to cover nursing home bills, though they aren’t always enforced. Talking to your parents about long-term care planning can help you avoid situations where you may end up with an unexpected debt to pay.

Can I Inherit Debt From My Children?

The same rules that apply to inheriting debt from parents typically apply to inheriting debts from children. Any debts remaining would be paid using assets from their state.

Otherwise, unless you cosigned for the debt, then you wouldn’t be obligated to pay. On the other hand, if you cosigned private student loans, a car loan or a mortgage for your adult child who then passed away, as cosigner you’d technically have a legal responsibility to pay them. Federal student loans are an exception.

If your parents took out a PLUS loan to pay for your higher education costs and something happens to you, the Department of Education can discharge that debt due to death. And vice versa, if your parents pass away then any PLUS loans they took out on your behalf could also be discharged.

Can I Inherit Debts From My Spouse?

When marriage and money mix, the lines on inherited debt can get a little blurred. The same basic rule that applies to other situations applies here: if you cosigned or took out a joint loan or line of credit together, then you’re both equally responsible for the debt. If one of you passes away, the surviving spouse would still have to pay.

But what about debts that are in one spouse’s name only? That’s where it’s important to understand how living in a community property state can affect your liability for marital debts. If you live in a community property state, debts incurred after the marriage by one spouse can be treated as a shared financial obligation. So if your spouse opened up a credit card or took out a business loan, then passed away you could still be responsible for paying it. On the other hand, debts incurred by either party before the marriage wouldn’t be considered community debt.

Consider Getting Help If You Need It

If a parent, spouse, sibling or other family member passes away, it can be helpful to talk to an attorney if you’re being pressured by debt collectors to pay. An attorney who understands debt collection laws and estate planning can help you determine what your responsibilities are for repaying debts and how to handle creditors.

The Bottom Line

Son talks with his mother about her debtWhether or not you’ll inherit debt from your parents, child, spouse or anyone else largely hinges on whether you cosigned for that debt or live in a community property state in the case of married couples. If you’re concerned about inheriting debts, consider talking to your parents, children or spouse about how those financial obligations would be handled if they were to pass away. Likewise, you can also discuss what financial safety nets you have in place to clear any debts you may leave behind, such as life insurance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to manage and pay off debts you owe or any debts you might inherit from someone else. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized advisor recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act caps the statute of limitations for unpaid debt collections at a maximum of six years, although most states specify a much shorter time frame. However, some debt collectors buy so-called zombie debts for pennies on the dollar and then – unscrupulously – try to collect on them. Here’s how to deal with such operators.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/NiseriN, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov, ©iStock.com/FatCamera

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What You Should Know About the Right of Redemption

If you are a homeowner with a mortgage, you might have heard about your right to redemption. For those who have been struggling to make their house payments, this is one route that can be taken to avoid foreclosure.  

What is the Right of Redemption?

If you own real estate, making mortgage payments can be hard, but foreclosure is something that most people want to avoid. The right of redemption is basically a last chance to reclaim your property in order to prevent a foreclosure from happening. If mortgagors can manage to pay off their back taxes or any liens on their property, they can save their property. Usually, real estate owners will have to pay the total amount that they owe plus any additional costs that may have accrued during the foreclosure process. 

In some states, you can exercise your right to redemption after a foreclosure sale or auction on the property has already taken place, but it can end up being more expensive. If you wait until after the foreclosure sale, you will need to come up with the full amount that you already owe as well as the purchase price.  

How the right of redemption works

In contrast to the right of redemption, exists the right of foreclosure, which is a lender’s ability to legally possess a property when a mortgager defaults on their payments. Generally, when you are in the process of purchasing a home, the terms of agreement will discuss the circumstances in which a foreclosure may take place. The foreclosure process can mean something different depending on what state you are in, as state laws do regulate the right of foreclosure. Before taking ownership of the property through this process, lenders must notify real estate owner and go through a specific process. 

Typically, they have to provide the homeowner with a default notice, letting them know that their mortgage loan is in default due to a lack of payments. At this point, the homeowner then has an amount of time, known as a redemption period, to try to get their home back. The homeowner may have reason to believe that the lender does not have the right to a foreclosure process, in which case they have a right to fight it. 

The right of redemption can be carried out in two different ways:

  • You can redeem your home by paying off the full amount of the debt along with interest rates and costs related to the foreclosure before the foreclosure sale OR
  • You can reimburse the new owner of the property in the full amount of the purchase price if you are redeeming after the sale date. 

No matter what state you live in, you always have the right to redemption before a foreclosure sale, however there are only certain states that allow a redemption period after a foreclosure sale has already taken place. 

Redemption before the foreclosure sale 

It’s easy to get behind on mortgage payments, so it’s a good thing that our government believes in second chances. All homeowners have redemption rights precluding a foreclosure sale. When you exercise your right of redemption before a foreclosure sale, you will have to come up with enough money to pay off the mortgage debt. It’s important that you ask for a payoff statement from your loan servicer that will inform you of the exact amount you will need to pay in order save your property. 

Redemption laws allow the debtor to redeem their property within the timeframe where the notice begins and the foreclosure sale ends. Redemption occurring before a foreclosure sale is rare, since it’s usually difficult for people to come up with such a large amount of money in such a short period of time. 

The Statutory Right of Redemption after a foreclosure sale 

While all states have redemption rights that allow homeowners to buy back their home before a foreclosure sale, only some states allow you to get your home back following a foreclosure sale. Known as a “statutory” right of redemption, this right as well as the amount of time given to exercise it, has come directly from statutes of individual states. 

In the case of a statutory right of redemption, real estate owners have a certain amount of time following a foreclosure in which they are able to redeem their property. In order to do this, the former owner must pay the full amount of the foreclosure sale price or the full amount that is owed to the bank on top of additional charges. Statutory redemption laws allow for the homeowners to have more time to get their homes back. 

Depending on what state you live in, the fees and costs of what it takes to exercise redemption may vary. In many cases during a foreclosure sale, real estate will actually sell for a price lower than the fair market value. When this happens, the former owner has a slightly higher chance of being able to redeem the home. 

What You Should Know About the Right of Redemption is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

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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Mortgage Rates vs. a Potential War with Iran

Well, it’s a new year and it certainly didn’t begin quietly. Might as well address the elephant in the room when it comes to your mortgage. This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the possibility of war and its impact on mortgage rates, with the last discussion centered on the Syrian conflict back in 2013. [&hellip

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Does a Refinance Require an Appraisal?

Mortgage Q&A: “Does a refinance require an appraisal?” A reader recently asked if they needed an appraisal to refinance their existing mortgage, knowing they can often add weeks to the loan process. As with anything in the mortgage realm, the answer is it depends. Mainly, it depends on the type of loan you plan to [&hellip

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It’s Taking a Really Long Time to Get a Mortgage Right Now

Similar to the increased waiting times to get a COVID-19 test these days, it’s taking an extended amount of time to get a mortgage to the finish line. The reason is simply unprecedented demand, just like those COVID-19 tests. The more people that need one, the longer the wait, period. This is the downside to [&hellip

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10 Mortgage Lenders to Consider for the Best Mortgage Rates (and Fees!)

Everyone likes a discount, right, even if it’s on a small one-time purchase that equates to a nominal amount. For one reason or another, it just feels like a win. It’s obviously even sweeter if you get a discount on a big-ticket item, as the savings will be much larger. Better yet, how about a [&hellip

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What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House

first time home buyerNatalie Johnson

First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.

In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.

At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.

Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.

Location: Fayetteville, NC

House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $111,900
Price paid: $115,000

A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?

Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasn’t fond of renewing the apartment lease—we had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.

We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, we’re not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.

Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson at one of their favorite hangouts in Fayetteville, where they’ve decided to put down roots

Natalie Johnson

LaVallee: I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.

Johnson: We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. That’s why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.

How much did you put down on the house—and how’d you save for it?

Johnson: We put 20% down.

LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.

Johnson: I cut spending. I didn’t buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldn’t go out.

LaVallee: We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you don’t put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.

first time home buyer
LaVallee and Johnson on LaVallee’s first morning in the new house after coming home from deployment

Natalie Johnson

What were you looking for in a house?

LaVallee: We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasn’t like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.

Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so they’ll all come down at the same time so we’ll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.

LaVallee: Garages aren’t very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.

Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.

Johnson and LaVallee’s new kitchen

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How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?

Johnson: It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.

During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.

The large living room in Johnson and LaVallee’s new house

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LaVallee: Well, I couldn’t really see all the details.

Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.

LaVallee: I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.

The big backyard where Johnson and LaVallee hope a dog will someday run around

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How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?

Johnson: We put three earlier offers in.

LaVallee: They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and I’m pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.

Johnson: It was ridiculous. It was definitely a seller’s market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.

Johnson had to move into the new home without LaVallee’s help.

Natalie Johnson

Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?

LaVallee: There were multiple offers.

Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyle’s gone right now and you’re first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,” which it did. The second I walked in, it’s this adorable brick house, it’s super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.

Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence payment—we usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.

After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didn’t ask for much.

LaVallee and Johnson are happy they stuck it out in a competitive seller’s market and landed this home.

Natalie Johnson

What surprised you about the home-buying process?

Johnson: How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.

LaVallee: From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.

Johnson: You never really think that when you’re married, you’re going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.

Johnson and LaVallee (pictured on the right) on the day LaVallee returned from deployment

Natalie Johnson

So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?

Johnson: He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.

Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldn’t see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.

I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.

LaVallee: I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But I’ve felt at home ever since I’ve been here.

Johnson decorated the house for LaVallee’s return from deployment.

Natalie Johnson

first time home buyer
After LaVallee came home, the two finally got to toast their first home with a bottle of wine, courtesy of their real estate agent.

Natalie Johnson

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Johnson: I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses you’ll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or they’re just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.

LaVallee: We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so it’s definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.

Johnson: We really didn’t know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, we’re really going to need some guidance. We don’t know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.

Johnson and LaVallee met in elementary school.

Natalie Johnson

The post What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

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.”

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Source: realtor.com