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4 Things Smart First-Time Home Buyers Do

4 Things Smart First-Time Home Buyers Do

Thinking about buying your first home? That’s exciting!

The thing that surprises most first-time buyers is the sheer number of things that need to happen in order to find, fund, and finally move into a new home. There’s a lot that goes into the process. Sure, you’ll be working with a mortgage loan officer and real estate agent, and it’s their job to be an all-around Sherpa, guiding you along the way. They’ll help you navigate all the steps.

However, there are four key items first-time home buyers should know in advance. The following four tips deserve the most attention and will help make sure you have a great home-buying experience.

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1. Get pre-approved.

Without financing, real estate transactions simply don’t happen. Loans make the housing world go ‘round. Getting a loan pre-approval squared away before home shopping is important, as you will see below.

First, pre-approvals involve formal documentation of your credit score, credit history, income, employment, etc. Pre-approvals carry much more weight than pre-qualifications. Pre-qualifications don’t involve any formal documentation, which is why they are essentially meaningless to everyone from real estate agents to sellers.

Pre-qualifications will give you confidence. You’ll know what loan program you want to use such as FHA or VA loans (these very common first-time home buyer programs). There’s a big difference since FHA loans require 3.5 percent down and VA loans are zero down loans. Knowing know your loan program and how much money you’ll need to get the deal done means no surprises later on.

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Pre-qualifications save you time because you will know the mortgage amount for which you qualify. You will shop faster and smarter by searching for homes you can afford. You’ll get better service from real estate agents. In fact, many agents insist that their clients are pre-approved. Everyone involved in this transaction deserves to know that their efforts are leading toward a tangible outcome.

Continuing with that thought, sellers may not let home shoppers view their home without a pre-approval. Furthermore, when you make an offer on a home, sellers will take a pre-approved buyer seriously.

2. Search with focus.

There’s never been a better time — in terms of efficiency — to shop for a home. Online searches, using tools like Zillow or Redfin, are fast and easy. And you can stay focused on properties you are likelier to acquire when you know your pre-approved loan amount.

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After searching for a while, you’ll want to narrow your choices and pick homes to view in person. This the time to leverage you real estate agent’s understanding of the surrounding area. Their input on schools and neighborhoods is invaluable. Modern technology, combined with your agent’s knowledge of the area, will help you determine the short list of homes to visit.

3. Keep your emotions in check.

Stuff happens. Real estate deals can go sideways for a number of reasons, including:

  • Offers rejected by sellers
  • Negotiations wind up going nowhere
  • Appraisals come in too low
  • Lenders need additional documentation
  • Home inspections reveal major issues with the property

A lot of these things are outside of a buyer’s control. This is why keeping emotions in check is important. Going back to the search phase above, having several homes on your short list can prevent buyers from fixating on just one property. Having choices helps reduce the potential for an emotional roller coaster.

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4. Don’t skip the home inspection.

Getting a home inspection before finalizing a deal is important. Surely you’d prefer not to have buyer’s remorse. Don’t skip this step, even if you’re planning on buying and rehabbing a fixer-upper home.

While all purchase transactions will require a property appraisal, some mortgage programs do not require an inspection. An appraisal will tell you and your lender what the home is worth, but an inspection will tell you if it needs any repairs.

There’s pretty good chance an inspector will find some imperfections in the home you want to buy. The good news here is that inspections:

  • Identify issues with the property
  • Come from a neutral third-party
  • Help create space for you and your Realtor to negotiate with the seller

Asking a seller to fix something before you buy it or come down on the price is pretty typical after an inspection. More importantly, you’ll know what you are buying so the chance of any surprises is very small. The idea here is to prevent you from encountering unforeseen expenses after moving in.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

Are you on track for retirement?

If not, don’t worry, I’m not sure either. I save each month and hope for the best.

Fortunately, I’m at an age where most people don’t save so I’m ahead of the curve.

But, what if you aren’t in your 20s? What if you’re near retirement and are looking to gauge where you stand?

If so, keep reading. Here’s how to prepare for retirement and save wisely during the process.

What Does the Average American Have Saved for Retirement?

Saving for retirement is tricky.

Tell someone straight out of college to save $10k a year for retirement and it’ll be next to impossible.

Make the same request to someone decades older and they’d be more likely to be able to save this amount. But, a 20-year old college student can be “financially ahead” of someone saving more than them. Why?

Age matters in your financial journey. The younger you are, the more time you have to save and put compound interest to work. As you get older and have more saving power, you’d have less time to put compound interest to work.

Here are the average savings Americans hold by age bracket:

20’s – $16,000

During this stage, most people are paying loans and moving up the corporate ladder. Your best bet during this stage is to focus on eliminating debt and increasing your income. Don’t focus only on getting a high-paying job neither.

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Instead, focus on learning via Podcasts, reading books, and taking specialized courses. Doing this will make you more valuable and give you more career options.

30’s – $45,000

At this stage, you’ve hopefully escaped your entry-level salary and work at a career you enjoy. Your earning power has increased but you now have more obligations. For example, marriage, kids, and a mortgage.

Set a plan to pay off all your debt and focus on eliminating unnecessary expenses. Leverage financial tools like Personal Capital to ensure you’re on track for retirement.

40’s – $63,000

This is the stage where you’re at the prime of your career. Top financial institutions recommend you have at least 2 to 4 times your salary saved up. If you’re falling behind, start maxing out your 401K and Roth IRA accounts.

50’s – $115,000

During your fifties, you’re close to retirement but still, have time to save. You may be helping your kids pay college tuition and other expenses. Since you’re at the peak of your earning power, max out all your retirement accounts.

60’s – $172,000

By this point, you should have about eight times your salary saved up. If not, you’ll depend primarily on social security benefits averaging $1400 per month. Max out all your retirement options as much as possible before retiring.

Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

The sad reality is that most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement.

Even high-earning power isn’t enough to secure one’s financial future. You need to have the discipline to save for retirement while time is in your favor. Don’t wait for you to have a high salary to save, start with having a small budget.

First, get a clear picture of where you stand. Write down a list of “needs” and “wants.” For example, Netflix and Amazon Prime are “wants” and a “cell-phone” is a need.

Use tools like Personal Capital to analyze your spending patterns. Personal Capital allows you to add all your financial data in one place–making it a powerful option to gauge where you stand.

Once you know all your expenses, organize them from highest to lowest expense. When you can’t cut more expenses, call your service providers to negotiate a lower price. If you’re not good at negotiating, use services like Trimm to lower your monthly expenses.

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How to Save Money Each Month

By this point, you know the average amount of money you should have saved for retirement based on your age.

But, breaking this down into monthly goals can be challenging. Here are some rule of thumbs to follow:

Aim to contribute 10%–15% of your salary each paycheck. Review your progress each week.

Why so often? The reality is that life gets in our way and you will have many financial setbacks. Your goal isn’t to be perfect but to get back on track instead.

Reviewing your finances weekly lets you know where you stand with your retirement. This doesn’t have to be a long process either. All it takes is login in Personal Capital to view your net worth and check how much you have saved for retirement.

Turn saving into a game and aim to save more each month. It will get challenging but you’ll get creative and find more ways to save.

Top Money Saving Challenge Tips

To prepare for your financial future and not be another statistic you need to be different.

How?

By adopting new habits that’ll help you become a saving machine. Here are some ways you can save more:

Automatically Contribute Towards Retirement

If you’re working for a company, you can automatically contribute towards your 401k. If you’re not currently contributing more than 10%, make this your goal. Contribute 1% more today and automatically increase this amount a year from now.

Odds are that you’re not going to be negatively affected by contributing 1% more. Many times we spend our money on things we don’t need. Contributing more towards retirement is a great way to secure your financial future.

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Use the Right Tools to Know Where You Stand

Once you’re contributing more towards your retirement accounts, gauge your progress. Make use of finance tracking apps to help you view the big picture of your retirement.

When I’d first signed up for the app Personal Capital, I didn’t know I had a negative net worth. Despite saving thousands of dollars, my debt brought my net worth to the negative. Knowing this motivated me to save more and spend less.

Now, I have a positive net worth. But, it was because I was able to view the big picture using the app. Find out what your net worth is using a finance tracking app and you may surprise yourself.

Bring in Experts to View Your Blind Spots

If you have too little or too much money saved, you should consider hiring financial experts.

Why?

You may need someone to hold you accountable to help you reach your financial goals. Or, you may need help managing your money as effective as possible.

Regardless of the reason, getting help may help improve your financial situation.

Before you hire an expert, find out which areas you need help the most. For example, if you’re constantly overspending, find a debt counselor. If you’re struggling with choosing the best investment options, hire a financial advisor.

Speed up Your Retirement Contribution

After learning how to manage your money well, the next best thing is to earn a higher income.

You’re capped at how much you can save but not much you can earn. Even if your employer isn’t giving you a promotion, you can still take charge of your financial future. How?

By starting a side-business.

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This will be something you’d work on after you’ve finished your day job. Once you start earning income from your side-business, you’ll be financially better off.

The best part is the more work you put into your side-business,[1] the more potential it has to earn more money.

So start a side-business in an area you’re familiar with. For example, if you enjoy writing, do freelance writing for small e-commerce businesses.

Once you’re earning a higher income, you can contribute more towards your retirement. Don’t wait for the right opportunity to secure your financial future, create one.

Reach Financial Freedom with Confidence

What if you were able to retire tomorrow with no problem, all because you’d have enough money saved up and little to no debt left to pay off? How would you feel?

My guess is that you’d feel happy and relieved.

Most Americans are falling behind their retirement goals for many reasons. They’re not prepared, they carry bad money-habits and are thinking short-term.

For you to retire successfully, you need to work backward and adopt better habits. Contribute more towards your 401K and focus on growing your income.

If you do, you’ll save money and pay debt faster.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re behind your retirement goals. Take the first step today towards a brighter financial future. Isn’t retirement worth the hard work and sacrifice to be at peace?

Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via unsplash.com

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