• Are you having a baby? Here’s a handy, downloadable PDF with a list of 50 essential items you’ll need for your new baby. Whether you’re sorting through your baby shower gifts or drafting your shopping list, these tips may help you figure out what you need most.

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  • Although vacationing during the cold winter months is exciting, it’s important to take care of all the mundane details before leaving your home for a significant amount of time. Nobody wants to worry about the safety of their home while vacationing, and you won’t have to if you take these steps.

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  • Characterized by bright colors, woven fabrics and handcrafted pieces, southwestern-style decorating takes influences from Native American, Spanish and Mexican art. Whether you live out west and want your home to reflect your surroundings, or you simply want to incorporate colorful or handmade items into your existing decor, here are some tips to help you...

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Tomorrow's Fed Meeting Will Likely Leave Rates Unchanged – Market Update

Tomorrow's Fed Meeting Will Likely Leave Rates Unchanged – Market Update

Treasuries sold off on Friday and have opened up even lower this morning ahead of tomorrow’s Federal Reserve meeting and also on speculation that this week’s reports will add to signs that the recovery is sustainable. It’s expected that the Federal Open Market Committee will leave rates unchanged, however many will be watching closely for news of a possible QE3.

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Refinancing With VA Loans

Refinancing With VA Loans

The VA loan is one of the most popular loan programs in America – with over 14 million veterans and military members taking advantage of this benefit since the end of World War II. What makes VA loans so appealing when refinancing are the relaxed credit requirements and higher refinancing and cash-out refinancing amounts than many typical conventional loans. This allows many more homeowners – especially in difficult housing and financial markets – to refinance their mortgage. The VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) doesn’t write mortgage. It actually insures loans that are written by banks and mortgage companies. This is similar to how an FHA loan refinance works with a few exceptions. The main one being that refinancing with VA loans is only available for veterans and active members of the U.S. Military (and spouses – even widows, as long as they don’t remarry). What are the benefits of a refinancing with a VA Loan? VA loans allows up to a 90% refinance limit – higher than most conventional loan limits. No PMI when refinancing with a VA loan. No prepayment penalties on VA loans. Refinancing with a VA loan is sometimes easier than if you were applying for a conventional loan because of relaxed credit guidelines. Less than perfect credit is usually accepted with VA loans. VA assistance to veteran borrowers in default due to temporary financial difficulty. Ability to roll the VA funding fee into the refinance amount (no funding fee for disabled veterans). VA Loans Done the Right…

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What Your Credit Report Says About You

What Your Credit Report Says About You

So who compiles your credit report? A credit bureau (also called a credit reporting agency) gathers, maintains, and sells information about your credit history. It collects information about your payment habits from banks, savings and loans, credit unions, finance companies, and retailers. That information is gathered into credit reports that are used by creditors and lenders. What Information Is On My Credit Report? Your credit report contains your credit history. It includes all of your loan and credit card accounts with specific account information, such as the date opened, credit limit or loan amount, balance, and monthly payment. It also includes late payments, bankruptcies, liens, and collection agency attempts to collect past due amounts. What a Good Credit Score Means for Your Finances It’s important to maintain a good credit history. A good credit history means a good credit score. A good credit score means you’re a “good risk” to lenders which makes you eligible for better mortgage rates. A poor credit history and/or score sends a message to lenders that you’re not a good risk which subjects you to higher rates. Higher rates mean higher payments. It’s also possible to be denied credit if the score is low enough. It’s important to review your credit report. Financial experts advise to check your credit report once a year for inaccuracies. A 2004 Federal law now means that you can now receive a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Or…

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Avoid Pre Payment Penalties

Avoid Pre Payment Penalties

Pre-payment penalties can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your loan balance at the time of pre-payment. Be wary of mortgages that offer you a lower interest rate in exchange for a pre-payment penalty. Borrower Beware Lenders often entice borrowers to finance a home with a slightly lower interest rate in exchange for something called a mortgage pre-payment penalty. A pre-payment penalty on a mortgage note is a penalty for paying off your loan early. But what borrowers don’t fully understand when they agree to such terms is that although they may save a little on their monthly mortgage payment with a lower rate, pre-payment penalties could end up costing them tens of thousands of dollars. Lenders use pre-payment penalties to secure loans long enough to recover some or all of the expenses they incur from originating the loan. Lenders also know a mortgage pre-payment penalty discourages refinancing. If rates should fall, lenders are guaranteed a higher rate of return on the money they lent to you. Say interest rates drop and you want to refinance to that lower rate. You can’t! You end up paying your current rate while your lender likely pockets that extra money, unless you pay their fee. Even if the duration of the penalty matches the amount of time you plan to keep the loan, you can’t predict the future. What if your circumstances change and you have to move? Say your job is transferred to a different city or state. Selling…

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VA Loans for Buying a Home

VA Loans for Buying a Home

The VA loan is one of the most popular loan programs in America. In fact, since the end of World War II more than 14 million veterans and military members have bought homes with the aid of VA loans. What makes VA loans so appealing is the no-down payment requirement for most loans. This is a huge benefit and allows many more home buyers – especially in difficult housing and financial markets – to afford a home. The VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) doesn’t actually offer loans. It simply insures loans that are written by banks and mortgage companies. This is similar to how an FHA loan works with a few exceptions. The main one being that VA loans are only available for veterans and active members of the U.S. Military (and spouses – even widows, as long as they don’t remarry). What are the benefits of a VA Loan? 100% financing, no down payment loans are common. No PMI on VA loans. No prepayment penalties on VA loans. Loan qualification is sometimes easier than if you were applying for a conventional loan. Less than perfect credit is usually accepted with VA loans. Sellers can pay all closing costs. VA assistance to veteran borrowers in default due to temporary financial difficulty. Ability to finance the VA funding fee (no funding fee for disabled veterans). VA Loans Done the Right Way At Quicken Loans, our exclusive, simplified mortgage process allows for a quick and easy way to get a VA loan. We use…

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Home Value Estimating

Home Value Estimating

What’s the difference between an appraisal and a comparative market analysis? Good question! An appraisal is a certified appraiser’s calculation of the value of your home at a given point in time. In order to get the approximate value of your home, the appraisal takes into consideration such things as: Your home’s square footage Construction quality Home design Your home’s floor plan The neighborhood your home is located in Availability of transportation, shopping and schools Lot size, topography, view and landscaping Where can I get the approximate value of my home? A comparative market analysis is more of an informal estimate of your home’s market value. A real estate agent makes an analysis based primarily on sales of comparable homes in the neighborhood. Compared to home appraisals, which typically cost between $200 and $300, a comparative market analysis may be obtained at no cost. What’s the difference between the estimated value of my home and my house worth? While a home’s “estimated value” is most commonly determined by either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis , its “worth” is ultimately established by what prospective buyers are willing to pay for it. Can I find the value of my home through the Internet? Use a home value tool  to get home value estimates. There are also a number of other websites and services that can crunch the numbers and calculate your home’s estimated value. While these calculators rely on recent home sales and refinance transactions in your area to produce a…

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Homeowner Tax Deductions and Credits

Homeowner Tax Deductions and Credits

Homeownership comes with a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to tax time. Make sure you’re not missing out on important home-related tax deductions. As always, please consult your tax advisor to find out which deductions apply to you. Deducting Mortgage Interest The interest you pay on a home mortgage is usually tax-deductible. You are allowed to deduct interest on multiple mortgages, as long as they add up to less than $1 million. The one criteria being that the money was used for buying, building or improving a home. Every year, you should receive a “Form 1098” from your lender which details how much mortgage interest you paid. To claim this deduction, you need to fill out “Schedule A”, under “itemized deductions” to record your interest deduction. Home mortgage interest deductions can also include late payment charges and pre-payment penalties. The only requirement is that they were not for a specific service received in connection with your home loan. Deducting Real Estate Taxes Real estate taxes are also tax-deductible. Your interest statement should list the amount of real estate taxes you paid if your taxes and homeowners’ insurance were placed in an escrow account when you closed on your mortgage. If your real estate taxes aren’t included on the statement, review your canceled checks to figure out the total amount of real estate taxes paid. Deducting PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) If you buy a house with less than 20% down payment, you will most likely have to pay private…

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How to Improve Your Credit Score

How to Improve Your Credit Score

There are no quick fixes to improve your credit score. But you can raise your score over time by consistently managing your finances responsibly. One way to learn how to do this is with Quizzle.com, where you’ll get access to a Credit Personal Trainer that will show you exactly what it takes to reach your credit potential. In the meantime, any of the following ten tips can help you to improve your credit score: Pay your bills on time. This is the best way to improve your score, and it’s never too late to start. Even if you’ve had serious delinquencies in the past, those will count less over time if you keep paying your bills on time. Keep credit card balances low. High outstanding debt can pull down your score. Don’t go maxing out your credit cards all the time. Check your credit report for accuracy. It’s possible that there may be inaccurate information on your credit report that can be easily cleared up (see How To Fix Credit Report Inaccuracies). If this proves to be the case, then you should contact one of the three credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. Pay off debt rather than moving it around. Consolidating your credit card debt onto one card or spreading it over multiple cards will not improve your score in the long run. The most effective way to improve your score is by simply paying down the amount you owe. Keep your credit cards – but manage them responsibly. In…

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How the Fed Funds Rate Affects Mortgage Rates

How the Fed Funds Rate Affects Mortgage Rates

The Fed Funds Rate and its Effect on Mortgage Interest Rates: Mystery Revealed. The Fed Funds Rate. Mysterious as it is shifty. To most of us it’s a term we hear often but aren’t sure exactly how it relates to our wallets. So when we hear about the Federal Reserve changing the Fed Funds Rate, what does that mean? Are credit card rates going down? Should we flood the retail stores with credit card charges? Or are mortgage rates plunging? Should we buy a home(and fast)? Here we’ll shed some much needed light on this shadow jumper of sorts, by giving you the basic info you need to take the mystery out of the Fed Funds Rate. What is the Fed Funds Rate? The Fed funds rate is the rate at which banks loan money to each other. (Yeah, and..?) I know. We promised light… not a Bic in a black hole. I’m getting there. What do changes in the Fed Funds Rate affect? The big answer? Short-term rates. But let’s expand on that. Credit Card Interest Rates. Chances are you have a card with an interest rate that’s tied to prime. Prime is simply three percentage points greater than the Fed funds rate (If the Fed Funds rate is 4.25, the Prime Rate would be 4.25% + 3.00% = 7.25%), so a lower Fed Funds Rate would make the interest rate on your credit card decrease. Savings Accounts, Money Market Accounts, CDs. The Fed Funds Rate is directly related to…

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Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

What Is Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)? Private Mortgage Insurance (also referred to as mortgage protection insurance on the West Coast) is a costly insurance premium that the borrower pays to protect the lender in case he defaults on the loan. As part of the loan qualifications set out by Fannie Mae and most secondary market investors, a borrower is required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) when they don’t put down at least 20% of the home’s purchase price as a down payment. But with the right loan, it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. In fact, your home lender may allow you to buy it down, just like points buy down a mortgage. Just How Costly Is Private Mortgage Insurance? Mortgage protection insurance increases your monthly payment and may be tax-deductible (please check with your tax advisor). The cost of private mortgage insurance varies, but generally it calculates to about one-half percent of the total loan amount. Let’s say you buy a home for $200,000 and put 5% down or $10,000. The annual cost of PMI on your $190,000 mortgage might run $950 a year, adding an extra $80 to your mortgage payment each month. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean your payment will be $80 cheaper if you can avoid PMI. How Can I Avoid Paying PMI? If your home lender doesn’t offer any options to avoid paying PMI, there are other ways to help you avoid it. You could buy a home that allows you to pay for…

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