South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

What Would Americans Do With an Extra Couple Hundred Bucks?

An article from The Atlantic, by Gillian B. White, dated  10/8/2015

That’s not a hypothetical question. Falling gas prices mean the average household will be about $700 richer this year.

shopping cartsFor most Americans, trying to cut back on bills involves a mix of discipline and sacrifice: Moving into a smaller place, searching for sales at the grocery store, or forgoing air conditioning on hot days, for examples. But drivers around the country have been getting a reprieve without any effort thanks to falling gas prices. So what are they doing with the unanticipated bonus in their bank accounts? Not saving it, a new report from J.P. Morgan finds.

The price of gas peaked at about $3.70 a gallon in 2014. At present, that price has declined by about $1.50. While those single-gallon prices might seem insignificant, they add up. Take the example of a Toyota Camry, one of the nation’s top-selling cars with a fuel tank that holds around 17 gallons: Filling a totally empty tank at the peak would cost over $60. Now it would cost a much more reasonable $37. And for those who rely on their car as the main method of transportation, that’s a big deal. It’s been estimated that over the course of 2015, Americans will save on average $700 thanks to the dip in gas prices. That’s more than government stimulus checks in recent years, which paid out between $300 and $600.

And they’re spending it—most of it, at least. According to the J.P. Morgan Institute, Americans are spending about 80 cents for every dollar they’ve saved. They’re going out to restaurants—which accounted for nearly 20 percent of gas savings—shopping for clothes, and buying groceries, electronics, and appliances.

These findings imply that Americans are feeling surprisingly upbeat about the economy. Were they more pessimistic, economists would expect them to be saving a greater portion of the money for the expected tough times ahead, or using the money strictly for essentials, like housing and bills. Other recent reports on the impact of lowered gas prices have painted a less optimistic picture. The Council of Economic Advisors puts the consumption bump at closer to 45 percent of gas savings, and a Gallup poll found that though nearly 60 percent of respondents said they’re feeling the positive effects of lower prices, only about one-quarter said that that they were spending the extra money. The bulk of respondents told Gallup that the money was going toward bills or savings.

So what explains the difference? The study’s authors, Diana Farrell and Fiona Greig note that these discrepancies could be related to sample size or more limited data in those surveys. In their study, J.P. Morgan analyzes the spending of 25 million clients via transactions on debit and credit cards between October 2012 and June 2015. While that certainly is a robust sample, it too has its own limitations and biases. For instance the bank’s data won’t capture transactions made with cash or on other credit or debit cards, which could be money that families are using for essentials rather than a night out or a new television. The data could also be skewed to reflect the habits and demographics of the bank’s clientele. For instance, the survey finds that gas bills account for only 2.9 percent of individual’s incomes in 2014 while the Consumer Expenditure Survey reports that it accounts for 3.7 percent, which could reflect a difference between where these sample groups live, their access to public transportation, or their income.

Nonetheless, some of the broad trends are intriguing. The data show that the gas-price infusion is obviously not spread equally among all Americans. It’s more heavily concentrated among those who live in the South and Midwest where people drive more, over greater distances, and have decreased access to and use of public transportation. The savings are also more meaningful for low-income households—who saw their monthly disposable income climb by more than 1 percent for those pulling in less than $30,000 a year—and young people.

Though the money spent on gas makes up a nominal amount of consumption in the grand scheme, the impact of gas prices on American families can be a telling way to assess how confident people are feeling about spending. It could also help predict spending trends should prices hold steady, or increase in the future. That could help inform policy decisions on things like gas taxes. For an economy that’s been puttering along with little wage growth, increasing costs of living, and little disposable income—spending is a good thing. It puts more money into businesses, which then creates more jobs and helps spur further economic growth. And there hasn’t been quite enough of that since 2008.

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Three iPhone and Android Apps That Make Managing Your Mortgage Payments Quick and Easy

Three iPhone and Android Apps That Make Managing Your Mortgage Payments Quick and EasyYour mortgage payment may be among the largest payments you make every month. While certainly an important part of your budget, this payment is also critical to helping you build equity in your home because it attributes to mortgage principal reduction. Managing your mortgage payments can be challenging, but there are some incredible apps available for use with Android or iPhone smartphones that can simplify your mortgage management tasks.

Mortgage Mentor

This app is available for both iPhones and Android devices, and is designed to be compatible with all types of mortgages. It can calculate PMI for adjustable rate and variable rate mortgages, and it can help you to determine the true cost of a mortgage. Through the use of this intelligent app, you can track your account information in real-time, or you can manipulate the numbers to help you to make more thoughtful and intelligent decisions about your finances.

Loan Calculator Pro

This app is only currently available on iOS devices, but those with this operating system may want to download it today. It has some of the same capabilities as Mortgage Mentor, but it goes a step above and beyond by providing you with mortgage payment notification reminders. It also has a unique feature that allows you to set a final payoff date for your mortgage, and it will calculate how much money you need to pay per month toward your mortgage to accomplish this goal.

Bill Payment Log

The Bill Payment Log app is a unique program that can entirely replace the outdated manual entry checkbook balancing task. It is suitable for use with iOS, Android and even Windows. You can use it to monitor and track payments for all credit accounts, including mortgages. While it does not have the analytical tools associated with some of the other mortgage apps, those who are looking for an all-in-one app that facilitates bill payment tasks for all accounts, this may be a great option to consider.

Making your mortgage payments on time is important, but you also may need to know if you need to pay extra each month and what the effects of that will be. You may also be concerned about “what if” scenarios for your adjustable rate mortgage. There are numerous apps available on the market today that can help you to facilitate your efforts, and these are among the leading choices available.

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Experiencing ‘Purchase Anxiety’? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New Home

Experiencing 'Purchase Anxiety'? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New HomeWhether this is your first big purchase, or your family is moving to a new location or looking for more space, buying a home has its share of ups and downs.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious about whether or not you’ve found the right property. Here are some things you can do to make yourself feel more secure with your decision.

Do The Math

You’ve probably already done this, but it’s okay to go over it a number of times to be sure. Factor in your household income and all the bills you expect to pay every month. Add everything up.

It sounds like a stressful activity, but when you look at the numbers and realize that buying a home is actually doable, it can be a liberating feeling.

When you know for sure you can make it as a homeowner without getting underwater, you will feel more confident.

Meet The Neighbors

If you haven’t had the chance to knock on a couple of doors yet, you should spend some time saying hello to people in the neighborhood. The more you can get to talking with families that are just like yours, the more you will be able to picture yourself as a member of the community.

If you have kids, find out if there are other kids the same age nearby. That will help to ease their anxiety about moving as well.

Ask Your Agent

Don’t feel like you are being overly cautious if you ask your real estate agent and or mortgage professional your lingering questions. Make sure you’re getting a good price for the area, and make sure you know about any issues with the condition of the property.

You should be able to trust that your realtor and mortgage professional are excited for your decision.

Familiarize Yourself With The Neighborhood

Take a drive and figure out which stores you’re nearest to, the route you can take to get to work, and which other amenities you might take advantage of. Home buyers often underestimate how important living in a safe neighborhood with plenty of accessible businesses can be.

The more you can imagine yourself living at your new address, the better you will feel.

Remember, never sign the papers on a new home unless you feel one hundred percent secure in your buying decision.

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Can One Missed Mortgage Payment Affect Your Credit Rating? Yes! Here’s What to Do if You Miss One

Can One Missed Mortgage Payment Affect Your Credit Rating? Yes! Here's What to Do if You Miss OneMost people don’t know whether or not a single missed mortgage payment can have serious consequences for their credit score.

The good news is that there are things that can be done to mitigate the damage and help anyone who has missed a payment repair their credit. What are some options to help homeowners get back in the good graces of their creditors?

Own Up To The Mistake

The best thing to do is to admit that the payment was missed and immediately make amends for it. For the most part, mortgage lenders are sympathetic to the fact that people miss payments for reasons that may be beyond their control.

By calling the lender as soon as it appears that a payment may be late or not forthcoming at all, it is easier to make arrangements to roll that payment back into the mortgage or take other steps to decrease the odds of a negative remark being made on a credit report.

Don’t Let A Single Missed Payment Turn Into Multiple Missed Payments

While a single missed payment can hurt a credit score, it is important to not compound the mistake by missing more payments. In some cases, someone may decide to make up for the late payment before making any further payments.

However, that only makes the mistake worse because a borrower will be considered late on all subsequent payments. It is better to make the most current payment on time and make the late payment the secondary priority.

Hire A Third-Party If Necessary To Negotiate A Loan Modification

It is important to not let emotion get in the way of negotiating a modification to a mortgage. When a borrower hires a credit counselor or a bankruptcy attorney to talk his or her creditors, the negotiations can stay professional and on topic.

In most cases, a lender will be willing to make modifications for those who need them because it is better to get the money from the borrower willingly instead of having to go through a foreclosure proceeding.

While a missed mortgage payment can be bad news for a credit score, it is possible to make amends for the missed payment while minimizing long-term damage to a borrower’s credit score. By owning the mistake, staying current on all future payments and working with a third-party, it may be possible for a lender to forget that the missed payment ever happened.

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An Insider’s Guide to Reducing Your Remaining Mortgage Years Through a Smart Refinance

Reasons_Why_You_Should_Consider_Refinancing_Your_MortgageIs it always the best idea to pay off a mortgage over 30 years? While it may help a homeowner lower his or her monthly payment, it can mean paying more in interest and waiting several more years to build sufficient equity in the home.

The question is…how can a homeowner reduce the amount of time it takes to pay off a mortgage by refinancing his or her loan? A few methods for reducing your mortgage term are explained below.

Refinance From A 30-Year Mortgage To A 15-Year Mortgage

For those who don’t want to wait any longer than necessary to pay off their home loan, it may be possible to refinance to a shorter-term mortgage. Instead of taking 30 years to pay off the loan, a homeowner can opt to pay off the loan in 10 years or 15 years. The shorter the term, the less interest will be paid on the loan.

Get A Lower Interest Rate With A Shorter-Term Mortgage

Another good reason to shorten a mortgage term is because it could lower the loan’s interest rate. Instead of paying 4.5 percent over 30 years, it may be possible to pay 4 percent over 15 years. This gives the mortgage holder the chance to build equity in the home faster as they are paying more of the principal balance with each payment. While a mortgage holder can pay more than the minimum amount on a longer-term mortgage each month, it could still end up costing more overall due to the terms of the loan. Be sure to ask your mortgage professional about your options here.

Stop Paying Mortgage Insurance

Those who are paying mortgage insurance could be paying $200 or more per month for nothing more than the right to protect the lender against default. Homeowners who could qualify for a conventional loan should attempt to refinance to a conventional loan if possible to avoid making this payment. Instead of going toward mortgage insurance, put that money toward the principal balance on the loan. There are, of course, risks involved with this approach so be sure to fully discuss them with a professional.

How Can Someone Refinance A Loan?

Now that you know how to pay off your mortgage faster through a refinance, how can someone go about refinancing a home loan? Fortunately, refinancing is similar to the process of securing the home’s first loan. All a borrower will need to do is find a lender that he or she wants to work with, find an offer that works for that borrower and then close on the deal. Although there may be closing costs associated with the new loan, some lenders may be willing to waive some or all of them on a refinance.

Paying off a mortgage as soon as possible can help a borrower save money while building equity in the home at a faster pace. This gives a homeowner financial strength as well as the flexibility to sell the house in the future without worrying about losing money in the deal. To find out more about refinancing options, talk to a mortgage lender.  I have a few excellent local choices, if you need a recommendation for one.

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9 out of 10 homebuyer assistance programs have funding

Down Payment Resource estimates 7 out of 10 homes for sale could qualify

From Inman News, June 13th 2014

piggy-bank-300x199An analysis of homebuyer assistance programs available through state and local housing finance agencies (HFAs)  and nonprofit groups around the nation found that 90 percent are funded, and that 70 percent of homes for sale could be eligible for one or more programs.

The analysis of 1,654 homebuyer assistance programs, by Down Payment Resource, found that Southern states had the greatest number of programs (598). But the 228 programs offered in the Northeast were the most likely to be funded — 96.5 percent had money to provide help to eligible buyers such as down payment and closing cost assistance, grants, tax credits, and affordable first mortgages with competitive or below-market interest rates.

A state-by-state breakdown shows California had the most programs — 283 — but that only 81.6 percent were  funded. Hawaii had 13 programs, but only six were funded.

Funding for homebuyer assistance programs comes from sources that include mortgage revenue bonds and mortgage-backed securities. During the depths of the housing downturn, the lack of liquidity in bond markets made it difficult or impossible for HFAs to issue bonds, and many scaled back their programs and raised rates. The federal government helped revive the programs by buying securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed by new mortgage revenue bonds issued by the HFAs.

Down Payment Resource is a tool developed by Atlanta-based Workforce Resource that helps homebuyers and real estate agents providing services to them determine whether they, and homes they are interested in buying, qualify for down payment assistance and other homebuyer assistance programs.

The tool is available through the Down Payment Resource website, downpaymentresource.com, and about two dozen partner organizations, including 19 multiple listings services.

When MLSs integrate the Down Payment Resource tool with listings data, consumers shopping for homes on websites operated by the MLS and its member brokers and agents see a special icon next to for-sale listings that may qualify for assistance programs. Buyers are prompted to answer a few questions to see if they, themselves, are eligible for the available programs.

Three MLSs are launching Down Payment Resource tool this month, and all have a high percentage of listings that could be eligible for one more more assistance programs:

  • Corpus Christi, Texas-based Coastal Bend MLS (83 percent of listings eligible for one or more programs).
  • South Dakota-based Realtor Association of the Sioux Empire (75 percent of listings eligible).
  • Intermountain MLS (Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho, with 87 percent of listings eligible).

Rob Chrane, president and CEO of Down Payment Resource, said buyers taking advantage of down payment assistance and other programs are able to apply savings to moving expenses, emergencies and retirement. Most assistance programs also require homeownership counseling, which has been shown to decrease the risk of default and foreclosure.

Although many programs are reserved for first-time homebuyers, anyone who has not owned a home in the last three years will typically qualify as a first-time homebuyer.

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4 Of The Best Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage

The Best Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage1) Do I Have Enough Equity To Get A Mortgage?

To get a conventional loan, you will usually need to have at least 20 percent equity. This means that your house will have to be worth at least $250,000 to get a $200,000 loan. If you have less equity, you could end up having to pay for private mortgage insurance, which can easily add $100 or more to your monthly payment.

2) How’s My Credit?

Most lenders will look at your credit score as a part of determining whether or not to make you a loan. With conventional lenders, your rate will depend on your score and the higher it is, the lower your payment will be. Other lenders, like the FHA and VA programs have an all or nothing rule.

If you qualify, your rate won’t be based on your credit, but if your score is too low, you won’t be able to get any loan. Generally, 620 credit scores are the lowest that will qualify you for any loan.

3) What Do I Want To Accomplish?

Mortgages typically offer a choice as to their term. While the 30-year loan is the most popular, shorter term mortgages save you money since you pay less interest over their lives. They also get you out of debt sooner, at least as regards your house.

The drawback is that they carry higher payments since you pay off more principal every month. This can make them less affordable for some borrowers.

4) How’s My Current Loan?

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, you may want to switch to a fixed rate mortgage simply for the additional security it offers you. On the other hand, if you are planning to move relatively soon, your current mortgage could be a better deal whether it’s fixed- or adjustable-rate.

When trying to decide what to do, compare the cost of refinancing with what it would cost you in additional interest to hold on to your existing loan. While the breakdown is different for every borrower, generally, you’ll need to keep your current house and loan for anywhere from three to six years to break even on the costs of refinancing.

Deciding what to do with your mortgage can be complicated. Working with a qualified loan broker that can consider every angle with you can help you to make a better decision. If you don’t already have a favorite loan person, give me a call or shoot me an email – I have a couple who I can enthusiastically recommend.

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7 Financial Benefits of Home Ownership This Tax Season

An article by Michael Corbett, from Trulia.

tax-time-3The financial benefits of homeownership are evident year round, but particularly around tax time – they seem to jump off the page. Let’s examine how homeownership makes “cents” –  from the tax benefits, to good old fashioned financial stability.

1. Homeownership Builds Wealth Over Time

We were always taught growing up that owning a home is a financially savvy move. Our parents knew it, and their parents knew it. But this past decade of real estate turbulence has shaken everyone’s confidence in homeownership. That is why it’s so important that we discuss this again now that we’re in a ‘new market.’ Homeownership can be a very savvy financial  move – but only if people buy homes they can actually afford. In 2014, this idea of sticking to a home you can afford to gradually build wealth is a “rule” that just happens to be new and old at the same time.

2. You Build Equity Every Month

Your equity in your home is the amount of money you can sell it for minus what you still owe on it. Every month you make a mortgage payment, and every month a portion of what you pay reduces the amount you owe.  That reduction of your mortgage every month increases your equity. That is especially true now with the elimination of risky mortgages like negative amortized and interest-only loans – thanks to the new “Qualified Mortgage” rules. The way mortgages work is that the principal portion of your payment increases slightly every month year after year. It’s lowest on your first payment and highest on your last payment. Thus, as the months and years go by, your equity grows!

3. You Reap Mortgage Tax Deduction Benefits

  • Mortgage deduction: The tax code allows homeowners to deduct the mortgage interest from their tax obligations. For many people this is a huge deduction, since interest payments can be the largest component of your mortgage payment in the early years of owning a home.
  • Some closing cost deductions: The first year you buy your home, you are able to claim the points (also called origination fees) on your loan, no matter whether they are paid by you or the seller. And because origination fees of 1 percent or more are common, the savings are considerable.
  • Property tax is deductible: Real estate property taxes paid on your primary residence and a vacation home are fully deductible for income tax purposes.

4. Tax Deductions on Home Equity Lines

In addition to your mortgage interest, you can deduct the interest you pay on a home equity loan (or line of credit). This allows you to shift your credit card debts to your home equity loan, pay a lower interest rate than the horrendously exorbitant credit card interest rates, and get a deduction on the interest as well.

5. You Get a Capital Gains Exclusion

If you buy a home to live in as your primary residence for more than two years then you will qualify. When you sell, you can keep profits up to $250,000 if you are single, or $500,000 if you are married, and not owe any capital gains taxes. Now, it may sound ridiculous that your house could be worth more than when you purchased it after these past several years of falling house prices. However, if you purchased your home anytime prior to 2003, chances are it has appreciated in value and this tax benefit will come in very handy.

6. A Mortgage Is Like a Forced Savings Plan

Paying that mortgage every month and reducing the amount of your principal is like a forced savings plan. Each month you are building up more valuable equity in your home. In a sense, you are being forced to save—and that’s a good thing.

7. Long Term, Buying Is Cheaper than Renting

In the first few years, it may be cheaper to rent. But over time, as the interest portion of your mortgage payment decreases, the interest that you pay will eventually be lower than the rent you would have been paying. But more importantly, you are not throwing away all that money on rent. You gotta live someplace, so instead of paying off your landlord’s home or building, pay off your own!

As always, you must look very hard at your personal situation before making the big decision to buy.

 

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Taxes and Your Home

tax-time-2Taxes and Your Home

There are many benefits to owning a home: gaining control over your environment, becoming part of a community, the opportunity to build equity, and of course, tax breaks. *

The Most Common Tax Deductions
There were once again rumblings that the mortgage interest deduction was going to be eliminated, but we’ve gotten a reprieve for yet another year. Why is this a great benefit? The government is giving you a credit just for paying interest on your home loan. You can even deduct interest paid on a loan secured by a second home or a home equity loan. Houses, condos, co-ops, mobile homes, and even some RVs or boats may qualify.

Points are a way of defining the cost you pay to the lender for your home loan. One point is one percent of the principal amount of the loan. Points on a purchase can be deducted in the year of the purchase, while points paid on a loan refinance are deducted over the life of the loan. That is, on a 30-year loan, you divide the points by 30 and then deduct that amount each year. Your home mortgage servicing company will send you a Form 1098 at the end of the year to let you know how much you paid in interest and in points during the year.

Note that if you have rental properties or more than two homes for personal use, you should consult an experienced tax advisor for more information on available deductions.

Property Tax
If you’re itemizing your federal return, you can deduct your property tax. These fees are also known as real estate tax, and they are based on the assessed value of the home. Property tax can be collected by local and state governments. It’s possible to challenge your property tax bill if you feel your assessment is too high; check your local laws and requirements to find out more.

Investment Properties and Taxes
There are a number of deductions associated with investment properties. In general, you can deduct interest on the mortgage loan with which you obtained the property, as well as the expenses associated with maintain the property, such as retaining a property manager and making necessary repairs. You can also get credit on depreciation of the property.

Owning a home is a benefit in so many ways, from establishing a sense of community and putting down roots for your family, to fostering your sense of independence, to easing some of the burden at tax time. If you have more questions about purchasing or refinancing your home, or if you need a referral to a qualified tax consultant, I’m happy to help. Call me today to learn more about making your mortgage work for you!

* I am not a qualified tax advisor. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and may not reflect current tax year rules and regulations. Consult your tax advisor or the IRS for current tax year rules, restrictions and regulations.

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4 Important Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage

4 Important Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage

So you are thinking of refinancing? Well you are in luck because I have 4 quick and important questions you should  ask yourself before doing so.

1) Do I Have Enough Equity To Get A Mortgage?

To get a conventional loan, you will usually need to have at least 20 percent equity. This means that your house will have to be worth at least $500,000 to get a $400,000 loan.

If you have less equity, you could end up having to pay for private mortgage insurance, which can easily add $100 or more to your monthly payment.

By the way, if you live in South Orange County, and not sure of the present value of your property, give me a call and I would be happy to help you estimate it.

2) How’s My Credit?

Most lenders will look at your credit score as a part of determining whether or not to make you a loan. With conventional lenders, your rate will depend on your score and the higher it is, the lower your payment will be.

Other lenders, like the FHA and VA programs have an all or nothing rule. If you qualify, your rate won’t be based on your credit, but if your score is too low, you won’t be able to get any loan. Generally, 620 credit scores are the lowest that will qualify you for any loan.

3) What Do I Want To Accomplish?

Mortgages typically offer a choice as to their term. While the 30-year loan is the most popular, shorter term mortgages save you money since you pay less interest over their lives. They also get you out of debt sooner, at least as regards your house.

The drawback is that they carry higher payments since you pay off more principal every month. This can make them less affordable for some borrowers, generally, you’ll need to keep your current house and loan for anywhere from three to six years to break even on the costs of refinancing.

4) How’s My Current Loan?

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, you may want to switch to a fixed rate mortgage simply for the additional security it offers you. On the other hand, if you are planning to move relatively soon, your current mortgage could be a better deal whether it’s fixed- or adjustable-rate.

When trying to decide what to do, compare the cost of refinancing with what it would cost you in additional interest to hold on to your existing loan. While the breakdown is different for every borrower, generally, you’ll need to keep your current house and loan for anywhere from three to six years to break even on the costs of refinancing.

Deciding what to do with your mortgage can be complicated. Working with a qualified loan broker that can consider every angle with you can help you to make a better decision. I have a couple of excellent lenders I can wholeheartedly recommend, if you’re looking for one.

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