Home Buyers and the 20% Down Myth

Image showing lender discussing down payment with borrower

Hey, home-buyers (and anyone else needing the down-low on down payments), this is for you!  Let’s take a moment to bust the 20% down payment myth.

Are you desperate to own a home of your own but don’t quite have the down payment you think you need? 

Home ownership…. the American dream!  More than likely, you are saving up for that down payment, dollar by hard-earned dollar, until you have that magic number: 20% of your dream home’s total value. That’s what all the experts say, right? 

For the average American home, 20% amounts to a pretty big number. Throw in closing costs and you’ve got a small fortune to raise – and years to go until you reach your goal. 

It’s great that you’re putting money away toward what will likely be the largest purchase of your life, but there’s one huge mistake in your calculations: You don’t need to put down 20%. 

Yes, you read right. The 20% myth is an unfortunate leftover from the era after the housing crisis, when out of necessity, access to credit tightened up. Thankfully, times have changed, and since FHA loans were introduced more than 80 years ago, mortgages have not required a 20% down payment.

While it’s true that a higher down payment means you’ll have a smaller monthly mortgage payment, there are lots of reasons why this isn’t always the best road to homeownership. 

Let’s explore loan options that don’t require 20% down and take a deeper look at the pros and cons of making a smaller down payment.

Loan options

If you’d like to go the route of government-backed loans, these are your options:

1.)   FHA mortgage: This loan is aimed at helping first-time home buyers and requires as little as 3.5% down. If that number is still too high, the down payment can be sourced from a financial gift or via a Down Payment Assistance program.

2.)   VA mortgage: VA mortgages are the most forgiving, but they are strictly for current and former military members. They require zero down, don’t require mortgage insurance and they allow for all closing costs to come from a seller concession or gift funds. 

3.)   USDA home loan: These loans, backed by the United States Department of Agriculture, also require zero down, but eligibility is location-based. Qualifying homes need not be situated on farmlands, but they must be in sparsely populated areas. USDA loans are available in all 50 states and are offered by most lenders. 

If you’d rather take out a conventional loan, though, you can choose from the following loan types: 

1.)  3% down mortgage: Many lenders will now grant mortgages with borrowers putting as little as 3% down. Some lenders, like Freddie Mac, even offer reduced mortgage insurance on these loans, with no income limits and no first-time buyer requirement.

2.)  5% down mortgage: Lots of lenders allow you to put down just 5% of a home’s value. However, most insist that the home be the buyer’s primary residence and that the buyer has a FICO score of 680 or higher.

3.)  10% down mortgage: Most lenders will allow you to take out a conventional loan with 10% down, even with a less-than-ideal credit score.

Bear in mind that each of these loans require income eligibility. Additionally, putting less than 20% down usually means paying for PMI, or private mortgage insurance. However, if you view your home as an asset, paying your PMI is like paying toward an investment. In fact, according to TheMortgageReports.com, some homeowners have spent $8,100 in PMI over the course of a decade, and their home’s value has increased by $43,000. That’s a huge return on investment!

Why make a smaller payment?

If you’re thinking of waiting and saving until you have 20% to put down on a home, consider this: A recent study performed by RealtyTrac found that, on average, it would take a homebuyer nearly 13 years to save for a 20% down payment. In all that time, you could be building your equity – and home prices may rise. Rates likely will as well.

Other benefits to putting down less than 20% include the following:

  • Conserve cash: You’ll have more money available to invest and save.
  • Pay off debt: Many lenders recommend using available cash to pay down credit card debt before purchasing a home. Credit card debt usually has a higher interest rate than mortgage debt – and it won’t net you a tax deduction.
  • Improve your credit score: Once you’ve paid off debt, expect to see your score spike. You’ll land a better mortgage rate this way, especially if your score tops 730.
  • Remodel: Few homes are in perfect condition as offered. You’ll likely want to make some changes to your new home before you move in. Having some cash on hand will allow you to do that.
  • Build an emergency fund: As a homeowner, having a well-stocked emergency fund is crucial. From here on, you’ll be the one paying to fix any plumbing issues or leaky roofs.

Cons of smaller down payments

In all fairness, there are some drawbacks of making a smaller down payment.

  • Mortgage insurance: A PMI payment is an extra monthly expense piled on top of your mortgage and property tax.  As mentioned above, though, PMI can be a good investment.
  • Potentially higher mortgage rates: If you’re taking out a conventional loan and making a smaller down payment, you can expect to have a higher mortgage rate. However, if you’re taking out a government-backed loan, you’re guaranteed a lower mortgage rate despite a less-than-robust down payment.
  • Less equity: You’ll have less equity in your home with a smaller down payment. Of course, unless you’re planning to sell in the next few years, this shouldn’t have any tangible effect on your homeownership.

Of course this doesn’t mean you should buy a home no matter how much – or how little – you’ve got in your savings account. Before making this decision, be sure you can really afford to own a home. Ideally, your total monthly housing costs should amount to less than 28% of your monthly gross income.

Ready to buy your dream home? We’d love to help you out! Call, click or stop by MembersFirst Credit Union today to learn about our fantastic mortgage rates. We’ll walk you through all the way to the closing! 

Your Turn: Have you purchased a home and put less than 20% down? Share your experience with us in the comments! 

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Image of man accessing confidnetial info. Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the most nefarious crimes out there. Here are seven ways to help protect yourself: 

Secure Your Hard Copies 

Every sensitive document should be kept in a safe or scanned and saved in a secure folder. Credit cards and debit cards should be securely placed in your wallet at all times. 

Bonus Tip:  Shred all aged documents that contain sensitive information.

Examine Your Financial Statements

Review your financial statements monthly and check carefully for fraudulent activity. Report any suspicious charges immediately. 

Bonus TipSign up for alerts and limit your credit card activity to a specific geographical area.  Members, when traveling, let us know when you plan to take a trip so we can open access to your card in that area.  Just call us at 404-978-0080.

Choose Strong Passwords

Use different, strong passwords for each of your accounts and devices. 

Bonus Tip:  Use a secure password service, like LastPassto create and store unique passwords.

Protect Your Computer

Invest in a strong anti-spyware program to protect your hardware from hackers. 

Bonus TipEncrypt your hard drive for an extra level of protection.  Learn more about encryption here.

Be Wary of Suspicious Emails and Websites

Don’t open suspicious-looking emails or click on links for unfamiliar sites.  If you’re unsure of the link, ‘Google’ it first.  Usually secure, legitimate websites rank higher in search results and include extra links, ratings, maps and hours for their site or business.

Bonus TipIf your inbox is flooded with promotional emails, unsubscribe from some of them. This will help you spot the truly bad apples in all that mail. 

Use (Multi) Two-Factor Identification

The extra log-in step will help ward off scammers and add another layer of security to your accounts. 

Bonus TipNever elect to have a device “remember your password” for a site that involves payments of any kind.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is a great hunting ground for thieves; steer clear if you can.  At the very least, avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi.

Bonus Tip:  Secure your own home Wi-Fi with a strong password.

Share this infographics with friends!

7 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft

 

Take fraud protection into your own hands!  When debit cards aren’t in use, especially if you don’t have any plans to use them for a few days, remotely disable them.  MembersFirst members, you can temporarily turn access to your cards on and off by simply logging into our mobile app, selecting Remote Control Cards from the menu, choosing the card(s) you want to temporarily deactivate, tapping ‘disable’–and you’re done.  When you’re ready to use them again, just log in and tap ‘active’.

As always,  if you think you’ve fallen victim to identity fraud, you should alert us and any other financial institution you work with immediately to avoid as much financial backlash as possible.

Your turn!  How many of these actions have you then to secure your personal and financial information?  Comment below.

Beware of Tech Support Scams

How to spot a tech support scam

Tech support scams are growing at a rapid pace.  It seems you’re always putting yourself out on a limb when you call tech support. You dial the number the company gives you, and perhaps after a while of waiting, you’re connected to someone who may be working on the other side of the world in a completely different time zone. Then you’re asked to give this anonymous person identifying details about your phone or computer and the technical problems you’re experiencing.

Of course, you’re fairly certain the speaker works for your device’s company and you believe it’s perfectly safe to share this information. At the very least, they have contracted with this individual and are tracking their service.

All of that gets a little riskier when you’re asked to allow the tech support agent to have remote access to your device. This step is sometimes necessary to fix the glitch, but it can also be unnerving. Suddenly, it’s as if an invisible person has taken over your screen. Letters you haven’t typed are showing up on the display and the cursor is flying all over the screen, even though you haven’t touched the mouse.

You’re essentially letting someone have free access to a device that houses some of your most personal information. Yikes!

And that’s exactly what tech support scam artists are looking for with their nefarious hacks. It’s truly as awful as it sounds: In these scams, fraudsters contact victims and trick them into granting the scammer access to their computers. The crooks may reach out to people through a phone call, insisting the victims have a virus or another problem they’ve somehow detected from the company’s headquarters. Alternatively, they’ll send a popup to the victim’s computer which will flash dire warnings about an impending or existing virus that can be “fixed” by clicking on a link.

There are several outcomes of such tech support scams, none of them good. Sometimes, a scammer will trick you into installing malware on your computer, claiming you have to click on a link in order to heal your computer of its ills. Other times, they might sell you expensive “software” by making the same false claims. Still other times, they’ll direct you to a bogus tech support website where you’ll be asked to input your credit card information. And they’ll oftentimes simply help themselves to the sensitive data they find on your computer and then wreak havoc on your financial life.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Scams

Tech support scams are nothing new, but a recent wave of these scams has taken on an ironic twist. The very organization that leads the battle in taking down scammers is being exploited for a particularly heinous hack.

Scammers posing as FTC employees are calling victims, asking for remote access to their computers. They assure victims they can help restore any affected devices to their previous working conditions. Many of them are claiming to represent the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support Refund program.

This program was created to help victims of previous scams collect their refund money from the FTC. The scammers will convince the victims that they are moments away from seeing their money – they just need to provide the alleged FTC employee with remote access to their computer. They may also ask for an upfront payment before the refund can be issued or for checking account information, claiming it’s necessary for the refund to clear.

Of course, none of this is true and the caller has never worked for the FTC. In fact, the FTC will never request remote access to your device or ask you to pay to receive a refund. Also, their refunds are sent in check form via snail mail, and do not require any checking account information at all.

The FTC has alerted the public that the only genuine number to call for information about the Advanced Tech Support Refund program is 877-793-0908. If someone calls you on their own, assume it’s a scam. End the call immediately and report the incident to the FTC.  Check here for more info on the types of tech scams out there.

Recognizing Tech Support Scams

As mentioned, the wave of tech support scams in which fraudsters impersonate the FTC are easy to spot if you know this basic information about the FTC: They will never request remote access to your computer, ask for payment in exchange for a refund, or reach out to you on the phone.

Here’s how to prevent other variations of tech support scams:

  • Never click on a pop-up box that claims your computer has a virus and offers to clean it. This will only infect your computer or grant a scammer remote access to your device.
  • Always call tech support on your own; if they call you, especially if you’re not aware of any problem with your computer, hang up as quickly as you can.
  • Never agree to purchase expensive software online to fix an alleged virus.

Feel free to share this helpful infographic and article with family and friends.

How to spot tech support scams
How to Spot Tech Support Scams

If you think you’ve been scammed, tell everyone you know about it and be sure to alert the FTC.  It’s also a good idea to give us a call or stop by so we can take a look at your account and make sure it’s still secure.  Regularly changing passwords to email and other important personal accounts is always a good idea.  

Let’s do our part to put those crooks out of business for good!

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a tech support scam? Share your experience with us in the comments!  You never know who you might help…

7 WAYS TO SPRING CLEAN FOR SUMMERTIME CASH

young woman cleaning off shelves looking for extra cash

Spring has been around a while and you still need two things:  cash and a clean house.  When that first delightful spring breeze started blowing, you knew it was time to get your house in shape.  And now, with summer just around the corner, you know it’s time to get busy.  

The warmer weather and the brilliant sunshine pouring through your windows can fill you with boundless energy. You’re going to banish those dust bunnies! Every piece of useless clutter must go! You are on a mission to turn your home into a sparkling palace that is completely free of junk. 

But there’s more than just a neat house awaiting you at the end of all that hard work. Here’s how you can spring clean your way to riches – well, almost. You won’t become a millionaire from your junk, but you’ll put some extra cash in your pocket just by taking a few extra steps while clearing out the clutter. And that’s always a good thing! 

1.) Trade in your electronics 

Don’t throw out that digital camera or printer just yet! Gather all the old gadgets and devices you no longer use and bring them to your local electronics store. They’ll likely offer you a gift card for your treasures. 

Some larger chain stores, like Best Buy, even run a retail-collection program to help you responsibly dispose of your old electronics. You’ll earn a gift card that can help you save money on your next purchase.  

2.) Get cash at the consignment store 

Your outdated clothing from the ‘90s might just be someone else’s idea of high fashion today. We’re looking at you, neon jeans! Instead of filling your local dumpster, bring your old clothing to the neighborhood consignment shop and see what they’re willing to take. If you’re open to traveling a bit, you can search for consignment chains that might be a little further out, like Plato’s Closet for teens and 20-somethings; Clothes Mentor which resells designer clothing for all ages; and Once Upon a Child, a chain that specializes in children’s clothing and toys. 

You can also look up consignment shops online, like ThredUp, Tradesy or Poshmark. And if all else fails, there’s always eBay! 

3.) Trade in your video games 

If you’ve got a serious gamer at home who always needs the latest and greatest, consider trading in your old games at GameStop. You’ll get a store credit that will help support this relatively costly habit and you’ll get rid of that huge pile of video games at the same time!  

4.) Sell old books 

Books take up lots of room, and if no one’s reading them, why not get rid of them for good? Look up your closest Half Price Books locations and bring your collection over to them in exchange for a tidy sum. 

If you’ve got a stack of textbooks lying around, earn back some of the money you shelled out for them by selling them online on BookFinder, Cash4Books or eCampus. 

5.) Sell your expensive electronics 

If you’ve got some older smartphones or laptops that are in decent condition, they should be able to fetch you a pretty penny. Try selling your stuff on Gazelle.com. They offer free shipping, and once your item is officially logged by the company, you’ll get paid via check, gift card, or PayPal. It’s an easier, faster option than selling on Craigslist or eBay. 

6.) Get cash for unused gift cards 

Do you have a pile of gift cards you will never use? It’s time to get rid of the whole lot – and make some money on the side! There are loads of sites that offer a gift-card exchange service, and though you may not make back the full amount, you’ll usually land a decent offer. Besides, if these cards were originally given to you as gifts, any money you make off them is extra. 

Try your luck with your gift cards at giftcard.com, giftcardgranny.com or tradya.com to fatten up your wallet with greenbacks instead of useless cards. 

7.) Donate to charity 

Donating unused clothing toys, or electronics to charity might be the easiest way to get rid of clutter. You’ll be helping out a worthwhile cause and making someone else happy with your belongings. As an added bonus, donating goods to charity will earn you a tax deduction, so long as you keep your receipt. Thrift shop chains like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will happily accept clothing that’s in decent condition, all kinds of housewares, used furniture, toys, gadgets and more. 

You’ll be making someone else’s day and earning a tax break at the same time. 

Spring cleaning is a chore that’s gotta be tackled with lots of energy, time, and hard work. With a bit of extra planning, you can earn some summertime cash in return for the work. 

Your TurnHave you spring-cleaned your way towards extra cash? Tell us what worked for you in the comments! 

5 Cringe-Worthy Credit Mistakes

Man cringing over credit card mistakes

You don’t need a special news alert to know…

…we’re all human.

Being human means we’re all bound to make a mistake or two when it comes to making credit decisions. Here are 5 of the most common credit card mistakes. See how many you’ve evaded.

Applying for every credit card under the sun (and being approved). Having a little buying power is great, but too much power can lead to a mountain of available credit and plenty of potential to begin mounting debt. This looks risky to a lender. Stick with one or two and be sure they’re the best card you can carry.

Misplacing your magnifying glass—you really do need to read the fine print. Within that tiny print lies the answer to whether you’ll be paying more to have that credit card in your wallet and how long. Do your homework–there are plenty of companies out there with annual fees, short introductory rate periods, difficult repayment terms, fees to transfer balances and more.

How does your card rate? Low, we hope. When applying for a credit card, you probably didn’t opt to be tied for life to its balance. Not shopping for the best rate can mean paying down a balance for much longer than you might realize. Save yourself some time, money and stress and search for the best rate you can get. The lower the rate, the faster the balance will be paid off.

Don’t listen to mom—less isn’t always more. When it comes to paying off high-interest credit cards, making the minimum payments may seem innocent enough, but it leads to bloated balances. To keep balances low and easy to maintain, don’t charge more than you can pay off within a month or two and be sure to make more than the minimum payment. Your future self will thank you.

Fashionably late or just bad credit karma? Though there isn’t a specific formula to follow for A+ credit, one thing’s for sure: making your payments on time, every time, is the best thing you can do to keep your credit score up. Be the life of your own credit party—be fashionably on time with your payments.

When you’re ready to begin building your own credit or make the switch to a card that’s in your best interest, look to MembersFirst to provide a reasonable solution to your credit needs (even for those who’ve thought ‘guilty’ after each of the 5 cringe-worthy mistakes above.) Visit membersfirstga.com for a list of solutions and details on our various credit card programs and promotions for anyone, at any age and any stage.