Archive for Personal Finance

When Should You Shred Your Financial Documents?

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on November 12th, 2013

When Should You Shred Your Financial Documents?How do you know what happens to your documents when you put a piece of paper in the trash? It can be difficult to know who is seeing it and what they are doing with it. It isn’t very common to burn trash anymore; therefore you can be sure that your paper garbage or recycling is likely to pass through several hands on its way to a landfill or recycling center.

StepByStep, Your Documents Can Get Pilfered

Every step that occurs once the trash leaves your control has risk that someone will find personal information they can use to cause you harm. One way to safeguard personal information is to shred it before it goes into the trash.

Shredding devices are available at most office supply stores. Cross-cut shredders provide more security than strip-cut shredders. You may want to consider one depending on your level of concern. Shredding services or shredding events are often offered by financial institutions or community organizations.

Properly destroying sensitive personal information is a key step in helping to keep your identity secure. You really should shred any documents containing personal information, but be cautious not to shred financial documents that you may still need.

To Shred Or Not To Shred, That Is The Question…Or Maybe Its When To Shred

The Better Business Bureau offers these guidelines on when to shred:

  • Deposit, ATM, credit, and debit card receipts can be shredded once the transaction appears on your statement
  • Canceled checks, credit card statements, and bank statements with no long-term significance can go through the shredder after one year; if used to support tax returns, keep them for seven years 
  • Monthly bill statements can be shredded one year after receiving, to allow for year-to-year bill comparisons (another good way to monitor your budget!) 
  • Credit card contracts and loan agreements should be saved for as long as the account is active
  • Pay stubs can be shredded yearly after reconciling with your W-2 or other tax forms
  • Documentation of investment purchases or sales should be kept for as long as you own the investment and then seven years after that; shred monthly investment account statements annually after reconciling with a year-end statement
  • Always shred documents with Social Security numbers, birth dates, PIN numbers or passwords, financial information, contracts or letters with signatures, pre-approved credit card applications, medical and dental bills, travel itineraries, and used airline tickets.
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Clever Tips for Paying Off Your Home Mortgage Faster

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on February 12th, 2013

Pay Off Mortgage Faster

Paying off the mortgage on your Bloomfield Hills home faster not only means that you’ll be able to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with completely owning your property earlier, but you may also save thousands of dollars in interest payments.

Below are seven clever tips to help you get your mortgage payments on the fast track.

1. Save for a large down payment

Pay as large a down payment as you can reasonably afford. The more you can put down, then the less you’ll have to borrow from the bank.

2. Read the fine print

When you are choosing a mortgage, look at the fine print to find out if any restrictions apply to paying early. Some lenders will charge you for making extra or early payments. 

3. Prepay early in the life of the mortgage

This is when the loan is the most interest-heavy. In the first five to seven years you are likely paying mostly interest. Request an amortization schedule of your mortgage to get a clear picture of how this works.

4. Be smart with unforeseen fortune

If you get an unexpected chunk of cash, such as a gift, prize, work bonus, inheritance, tax refund or other windfall, consider applying it straight to paying down the principal on your mortgage.

5. Double-check your records

When you make extra payments, ensure that they are processed correctly. Sometimes when the lender receives a payment that is outside of the monthly cycle, they may not know what to do with it. Make a special note and keep track of the payments yourself, so you can make sure they’ve been applied to your principal.

6. Increase your payment

Even increasing your payment by a small amount every month may take years off the length of your mortgage. Consider how much you can afford to pay every month rather than just the minimum payment amount.

7. Think about a bi-weekly payment

You might want to switch to an accelerated bi-weekly mortgage payment rather than a monthly payment. This typically applies an extra payment each year.

These are just a few techniques you can use to pay off your mortgage faster.

Remember, the quicker you pay off your mortgage, the less interest you will be paying.

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Buying A Home In A Golf Community

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on January 23rd, 2013

Golf course communitiesIt’s January, but home sales in golf communities remain strong like in the rest of the country.

If you’re looking to buy a home in a golf course community, either as a primary residence or as a vacation or retirement home, there are additional home traits which make buying on a golf course different from buying a typical Bloomfield Hills single-family residence.

Here is a quick primer of home characteristics to consider when buying in a golf community.

Land Plot 
When looking at homes within a golf course community, be aware of its location with respect to the community entrance. Homes nearest to the entrance will receive the most drive-by traffic and may be slightly more noisy that a home which is situated far from the entrance. However, homes close to the entrance will also be more navigable for visitors.

Security
How security-conscious is the community? Golf course communities tend to be gated communities but each will have varying levels of security. Some will have 24-hour gatepersons to manage and monitor traffic into the community. Others will use a pass-key system. Determine what’s most important to you.

Proximity To Golf Course
Consider the physical location of the home relative to the golf course(s). Homes which are situated near tee boxes are less likely to be struck by errant golf shots, but may be louder because of chatty players. Homes off the golf course are typically free of all such hazard.

Amenities
Many golf communities feature amenities such as swimming pools, exercise facilities, and clubhouses. Some have tennis courts and other recreational outlets. Do these services require extra fees? Is there a mandatory membership cost, with minimum monthly purchase levels? Be sure to ask.

Association Dues And Restrictions
As with most planned community/association, golf communities typically require annual or monthly membership dues; and publish a list of rules by which homeowners must abide. For example, home improvements may be restricted by the rules of the community. Before buying, review the association by-laws carefully.

Golf course communities are a terrific way for golf enthusiasts play (nearly) year-round, and can provide a terrific lifestyle even beyond the golf game. If you plan to buy in a golf community, use the tips above to help with your research.

Then, when you’re ready, talk to a real estate professional for help with your purchase.

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How To Maintain Adequate Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on December 4th, 2012

Maintain adequate homeowners insurance coverageIn the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, stories have emerged of homeowners whose hazard insurance coverage was too low to cover the damage to their respective properties. 

Unfortunately, this scenario is common among U.S. homeowners, and is not just limited to damage from natural disasters. Homeowners in Bloomfield Hills and nationwide are often woefully under-insured against catastrophe in its many forms.

Whether you’re buying a home, or own one already, revisit your hazard insurance policy choices and be sure that your bases are covered.

Here are four common components of a homeowners insurance policy :

Dwelling/Building Coverage 
Look for the amount listed under this section and divide it by the square footage of your home. Talk to your insurance agent, your real estate agent and perhaps even your contractor to determine whether your current coverage is sufficient. Be sure to consider lot size and building materials.

Liability Protection
What if a person is injured on your property and decides to sue? Whether your dog bit someone’s hand or a guest slipped on a wet floor, lawsuits can be expensive. Most liability policies start at $100,000.

Valuable Add-Ons
Few homeowners policies cover valuables such as art, jewelry, antiques, gold, or wine collections. However, you can usually add coverage for these items for a small annual fee. Appraisals are sometimes required.

Condominium Stipulations
When you live in a condominium or a co-op, the building often has coverage for the “walls out”. Everything inside a unit remains the responsibility of the homeowner. To be sure, however, prior to purchasing coverage for a condo or co-op, show your insurance agent the homeowners association hazard policy for recommendations.

A little bit of insurance coverage goes a long way when it comes to unforeseen disasters — but only if you maintain proper coverage. Speak with your insurance agent regularly to make sure you’ve never under-insured. Accidents, after all, are unexpected by definition.

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Which Is Better : 15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Or 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage?

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on November 27th, 2012

15-year fixed rate or 30-year fixed rate?As a home buyer or refinancing household in Royal Oak , you have choices with respect to your mortgage.

You can choose a loan with accompanying discount points in exchange for lower mortgage rates; you can choose adjustable-rate loans over fixed rate ones; and, you can choose loans with principal + interest repayment schedules or repayments which are interest only, as examples.

For borrowers using fixed rate loans, there’s also the choice between the 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgage. Each has its positives and negatives and neither is “better” than the other.

Choosing your most appropriate fixed-rate term is a matter of preference and, sometimes, of budget.

The 15-Year Mortgage
With a 15-year fixed rate mortgage, mortgage rates are often lower as compared to a comparable 30-year fixed rate mortgage. However, because loan repayment is compressed into half as many years, the monthly payment will necessarily be higher, all things equal. On the other side, though, homeowners using a 15-year fixed rate mortgage will build equity faster, and will pay less mortgage interest over time.

The 30-Year Mortgage
With a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, mortgage rates tend to be higher as compared to a 15-year fixed rate loan, but payments are much lower — sometimes by as much as 50%. Lower payments come at a cost, however, as mortgage interest costs add up over 30 years. Regardless, 30-year fixed rate mortgages remain the most common mortgage product for their simplicity and low relative payment.

Which One Is Right For You?
There is no “best” choice between the 15-year fixed rate mortgage and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Choose a product based on your short- and long-term financial goals, and your personal feelings regarding debt. Mortgage applicants choosing the 30-year fixed rate mortgage can qualify to purchase homes at higher price points, but those using the 15-year fixed rate product will stop making payments a decade-and-a-half sooner.

There are benefits with both product types so, if you’re unsure of which path works best for you, speak with your loan officer for guidance and advice.

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Questions First-Time Home Buyers Should Ask

Posted in Personal Finance by Michigan Real Estate Expert on November 8th, 2012

First-time home buyer questionsNationwide, mortgage rates are low in Michigan and home prices remain relatively low, too. This combination, plus rising rents, is pushing renters in some cities — including Bloomfield Hills — toward first-time homeownership.

Buying your first home can be exciting, but you should also do your research to make sure that you ask the proper questions of the process, and make the best choices for yourself and your household.

For example, recommended questions for first-time buyers to ask home sellers include :

What major repairs have been made to your home?

Although standard disclosure forms are supposed to provide information regarding past damage and renovation to the property, there are occasionally repairs that are omitted or otherwise forgotten.  Be proactive and ask pointed questions about the roof, the foundation, and the electrical system. Some home issue have a way of resurfacing many years later and it’s best to know in advance. •

To which school district does the home belong?

As a first-time homebuyer, you may or may not have school-aged children. However, in many areas, public school rankings positively (or negatively) affect home values. Ask your real estate agent for school district data. Consider asking the seller for feedback, too.

Is this a “distressed” property, and what does that mean to me?

For many home buyers, the allure of a foreclosed home or a home in short sale can be large. Prices are discounted as compared to comparable real estate — sometimes by as much as 20%. However, many distressed properties are sold as-is,” with little room for negotiation. This means that homes may be defective or, worse, uninhabitable. Ask your real estate agent for help with distressed homes and their suitability to your home buying needs.

After asking the above questions, and other questions, too, it’s important to remember that buying a home can be an emotional decision; and one that requires using your “brain” as much as your “heart”. Try to keep emotions in check so that you don’t overpay for a home that’s unsuitable, for example.

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