A Quick Guide to the Difference Between Medicaid & Medicare

Medicare and Medicaid may sound alike, but the health insurance programs are wildly different. Here's a quick primer.

Medicare and Medicaid may sound alike, but these government health insurance programs are dramatically different from one another. Here’s a brief overview.

What Is Medicare?

Administered by the federal government, Medicare is a health insurance program primarily for adults who are 65 years of age or older and have paid into the Social Security system for at least 40 quarters (about 10 years). An individual who lacks the necessary work credits can also benefit from the program through their spouse, as can individuals who are younger than 65 but have received Social Security Disability Insurance payments for at least two years.

What Medicare Covers

There are different parts to Medicare that make it a veritable “alphabet soup.” For example, Medicare Part A covers mostly in-patient hospital care and provides a minimal benefit for skilled nursing care and hospice care. Medicare Part B covers the costs of outpatient care, such as doctors’ visits, lab tests and preventative care. Medicare Part C is the Medicare Advantage program and an alternative to Medicare parts A and B.

Like most types of insurance, Medicare parts A, B and C include co-pays and deductibles. Generally, the amount of income you earn and the amount of assets you own are irrelevant for participation, so paupers, billionaires and everyone in between can be eligible.

Surprisingly, given that Medicare is primarily a program for individuals 65 and older, the program covers just a small portion of the cost of a nursing home stay. At most, it fully covers the costs associated with the initial 20 days of a stay and provides only partial coverage for the next 80 days. In addition, for a stay to be covered, a patient must meet certain requirements.

For example, the patient must have been hospitalized for at least three consecutive days directly prior to receiving care at a nursing home and that care must be considered medically necessary. Because of these requirements, patients or their families are often forced to pay out of pocket for nursing home care or seek relief from Medicaid.

What Is Medicaid?

Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California) is a federal-state program. It primarily acts as a safety net for those who can’t pay for healthcare.

Seniors can participate in Medicaid if they pass three tests: a medical necessity test, an asset test and an income test.

The medical necessity test requires that skilled nursing care is necessary to address the patient’s medical needs. The asset test places strict limits on how much property a patient and the patient’s spouse can own while benefiting from Medicaid. The income test limits how much individuals and couples may earn to be eligible for Medicaid.

There are ways to get around these eligibility tests if you or a loved one can’t pass them but want Medicaid to help pay for the cost of a nursing home stay. However, doing so may require the help of an attorney who practices elder law. A relatively new kind of law, elder law can help individuals preserve their assets and qualify for Medicaid. (Disclosure: The Wiewel Law firm, in Austin, Texas, specializes in estate planning.)

Remember, Medicaid planning is a complicated process and even a small error can mean the program will refuse to help pay for the cost of a nursing home stay. Be sure to speak with an expert if you have concerns.

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Medicare for All: Definition and Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of Medicare for All.

Medicare for All is a proposed new healthcare system for the United States where instead of people getting health insurance from an insurance company, often provided through their workplace, everyone in America would be on a program provided through the federal government. It has become a favorite of progressives, and was heavily championed by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) during his runs for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020. If you are looking for help with medical planning under our current system, consider working with a financial advisor.

Medicare For All: How It Works

Sanders’ bill would replace all other insurance, with limited exceptions, such as cosmetic surgery. Private insurance, employer-provided insurance, Medicaid, and our current version of Medicare, would all be replaced by Medicare for All. The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, would also be replaced by Medicare for All.

Medicare for All is actually more generous than your current Medicare program. Right now, Medicare is for Americans 65 and older. They receive care, but they’re also responsible for some of the cost. However, Sanders’ plan would cover medical bills completed, with no financial burden on the patient.

Sanders’ Medicare for All would be a single, national health insurance program that would cover everyone living in the United States. It would pay for every medically necessary service, including dental and vision care, mental health care and prescription drugs. There would be no copays or deductibles, with the exception of prescription drugs, though the cost would be limited to $200 a year. There may also be additional out-of-pocket costs for long-term care.

The government would set payment rates for drugs, services, and medical equipment. Each year, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would come up with a national budget for all covered services and spending would be capped by that national budget. Just 1% of the total health spending budget would be used to provide job dislocation assistance for people working in the insurance industry.

Sanders’ bill includes a four-year phase-in during which increasingly younger people could buy into Medicare. It would work like this: 55-year-olds would be able to buy into Medicare in the first year, 45-year-olds in the second year and 35-year-olds in the third year. Out-of-pocket costs would be reduced for everyone buying into Medicare. There would also be a public option insurance plan offered to people of all ages through the Obamacare marketplaces.

Medicare for All is effectively single-payer healthcare. Single-payer health care is where the government pays for people’s health care. The new name just makes the concept more popular. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48% of people approved of single-payer healthcare, while 62% of people approved of Medicare for All.

Medicare for All Cost?

Here are the pros and cons of Medicare for All.

If everything stays the same as it is right now, the combined healthcare spending by private and public sectors is projected to reach $45 trillion by 2026.

The libertarian-oriented Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimated that the cost of Medicare for All would be more than $32 trillion over a 10-year period.

Kenneth Thorpe, a health finance expert at Emory University looked at a version of Sanders’ Medicare for All during the 2016 campaign and estimated that the cost would be about $25 trillion over 10 years.

In order to pay for the program, Sanders has suggested redirecting current government spending of about $2 trillion per year into Medicare for All. To do that, he would raise taxes on incomes over $250,000, reaching a 52 percent marginal rate on incomes over $10 million. He also suggested a wealth tax on the top 0.1 % of households.

Medicare for All Pros and Cons

Pros and cons for this program partially depend on your income bracket. If you make less than $250,000, Sanders’ additional tax will not affect you. If you make more than $250,000 a year, or are in the top 0.1 % of household, Sanders’ tax to pay for Medicare for All would be a con for you.

In addition, universal health care requires healthy people to pay for medical care for the sick. However, that is how all health insurance programs work. Everyone buys in and pays the costs of health insurance, but the insurance company only pays when someone needs medical care or coverage. In every insurance plan, healthier people absorb the costs incurred by sicker people.

Pros

  • Universal healthcare lowers health care costs for the economy overall, since the government controls the price of medication and medical services through regulation and negotiation.
  • It would also eliminate the administrative cost of working with multiple private health insurers. Doctors would only have to deal with one government agency, rather than multiple private insurance companies along with Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Companies would not have to hire staff to deal with many different health insurance companies’ rules. Instead, billing procedures and coverage rules would be standardized.
  • Hospitals and doctors would be forced to provide the same standard of service at a low cost, instead of targeting wealthy clients and offering expensive services so they can get a higher profit.
  • Universal healthcare leads to a healthier population. Studies show that preventive care lowers expensive emergency room usage. Before Obamacare, 46% of emergency room patients were there because they had nowhere else to go. The emergency room became their primary care physician. This type of health care inequality is a major factor in the rising cost of medical care.

 

Cons

  • Some analysts are concerned that the government may not be able to use its bargaining power to drive down costs as steeply and as quickly as Sanders predicts. Thorpe argues that Sanders is overly optimistic on this aspect of the bill.
  • Other analysts are concerned that insulating people from costs of care will drive up usage of medical care. Drew Altman, who heads the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed out that “no other developed nation has zero out of pocket costs.”
  • People may not be as careful with their health if they do not have a financial incentive to do so.
  • Governments have to limit health care spending to keep costs down. Doctors might have less incentive to provide quality care if they aren’t well paid. They may spend less time per patient in order to keep costs down. They also have less funding for new life-saving technologies.
  • Since the government focuses on providing basic and emergency health care, most universal healthcare systems report long wait times for elective procedures. The government may also limit services with a low probability of success, and may not cover drugs for rare conditions. 

Other Medicare and Medicaid Expansion Bills

Lawmakers have introduced other Medicare expansion options, which would be much more limited than Medicare for All.

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) introduced the Medicare at 50 Act in February of 2019. Under the Medicare at 50 Act, people between 50 and 64 could buy into Medicare. Other than expanding the age, the main difference to our current Medicare program would be that coverage would automatically include Medicare Part A (hospital), Part B (physician), and Part D (prescription drug) coverage. In addition, you could choose Medicare offered through private insurers, known as Medicare Advantage. If you qualified for a premium subsidy under the Affordable Care Act, you would still be able to apply that to extended Medicare. This bill would effectively create a new insurance option for those 50 and older.

Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-New York) introduced a bill called Medicare-X Choice. This bill would offer Medicare to people of any age through the Obamacare marketplaces. This bill would not be initially enacted nationwide. Instead, the bill would focus on adding the Medicare option in places with few hospitals and doctors, or areas that only had one insurer offering coverage.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) proposed a bill called the State Public Option Act that would let people buy into Medicaid, rather than Medicare. The details of covered services could vary from state to state, since this would be offered through Medicaid rather than Medicare. However, no plan would be able to offer less than essential health benefits covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Where the Presidential Candidates Stand

Here are the pros and cons of Medicare for All.

Sanders, of course, did not win the Democratic Primary. Joe Biden, widely considered significantly more moderate, won. Biden has an extensive healthcare proposal which expands many parts of the Affordable Care Act, but does not include a single payer Medicare For All program. Instead, it is based around a public option — a government plan only for those who want it, while private insurance companies remain the main driver of healthcare in the US.

President Donald Trump has not offered a comprehensive healthcare plan this time around. Early in his term, he and the Republicans in Congress tried to “repeal and replace” The ACA, but were unsuccessful.

 

The Bottom Line

Healthcare is certainly a hot topic for the 2020 election process. Though Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vermont) version of Medicare for All would eventually eliminate all other forms of insurance, other Democratic candidates have varying degrees of support and versions of Medicare for All  as a universal healthcare system. Though Medicare for All would likely lower the healthcare costs in the economy overall and increase quality care while also facilitating more preventative care to avoid expensive emergency room visits, you could end up paying more if you make more than $250,000 a year or are in the top 0.1 % of households. What’s more, some experts suggest that if costs are less onerous, patients will overuse the system and make setting up appointments for elective procedures more difficult.

Tips for Keeping Your Finances Healthy

  • A health savings account (HSA) may be a good option for younger people who are worried about potential healthcare costs. HSAs can greatly reduce monthly premiums.
  • Whatever the outcome on Medicare for All, it is important to keep yourself physically and financially healthy. If you are concerned about budgeting with health care costs, you may want to look into a financial advisor. SmartAsset can help you find your financial advisor match here.

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3 Tax Scams You Need to Watch Out For

Becoming a victim of tax scam

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there was a 400% increase in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season. And tax scams extend far beyond email and malware to include phone scams, identity theft and more.  While the April 15 filing deadline still feels far away, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Scammers use multiple ploys and tactics to lure unsuspecting victims in. The IRS publishes an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. Sadly, while some of those scams lure people into getting ripped off, others lure people into unwittingly committing tax fraud by falling victim to fake charities, shady tax preparers and false claims on their tax returns.

The most important things you can do to keep yourself scam-free and protected this—and any—tax year are to:

  • Be wary—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
  • Educate yourself on the most common risks out there
  • File your taxes as early as possible

When you file your taxes as early as possible, you can just politely decline scammer and you can protect yourself from taxpayer identity theft. Tax-related identity theft is primarily aimed at someone posing as you stealing your tax refund. Scammers are creative, sophisticated, persistent and move fast once they have your information in hand. Armed with your Social Security number, date of birth and other pieces of your personally-identifiable information, they can rob you. If you’ve been the victim of a data breach—learn the warning signs—your information is likely available on the dark web. With your information, all a scam artist has to do is log in to a motel’s Wi-Fi network, fill out a fraudulent tax return online and walk away with a refund that could be and should have been yours.

What Is a Tax Scam?

A tax scam is a ploy intended to steal your information and/or your money. It can take several forms. The IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” for 2018 includes these scams:

  • Phishing scams, using fake emails or websites to steal personal information.
  • Phone scams where callers pretend to be IRS agents to steal your information or money.
  • Identity theft scams where identity thieves try and steal your personally identifiable information.
  • Return preparer fraud where a dishonest tax preparer submits a fraudulent return for you or steals your identity.
  • Fake charities where unqualified groups get you to donate money that isn’t actually deductible on your tax return.
  • Inflated refund claim scams where a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund.
  • Excessive claims for business credits where you or a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund for claiming credits you aren’t owed, such as the full tax credit.
  • Falsely padding deductions Taxpayers where you or a dishonest tax prepare reports more for expenses or deductions than really occurred.
  • Falsifying income to claim credits where a dishonest tax preparer cons you into claiming income you didn’t earn in order to qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Frivolous tax arguments where a scam artist gets you to make fake claims to avoid paying taxes.
  • Abusive tax shelters where a scammer sells you on a shelter as a way to avoid paying taxes.
  • Offshore tax avoidance where a scammer convinces you to put your money offshore to hide it as a source of taxable income that you have to pay taxes on.

It’s important to know that if you fall victim, you may not just be the victim. You may also be a criminal and held accountable legally and financially for filing an incorrect return.

A new scam recently hit the wires too. For this one, scammers email employees asking for copies of their W-2s. People who fall victim end up having their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and income sold online. The emails look very valid but aren’t If you see this or other emails that stink like “phish,” email the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

1. Phishing

Phishing uses a fake email or website to get you to share your personally-identifiable information. They often look valid. Know that the IRS will never contact you by email regarding your tax return or bill.

Phishing emails take many forms. They typically target getting enough of your personally identifiable information to commit fraud in your name, making you a victim of identity theft if you take the bait.

Phishing emails may also contain a link that places malware on your computer. These programs can do a variety of things—none of them good—ranging from recruiting your machine into a botnet distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to placing a keystroke recorder on your computer to access bank, credit union, credit card and brokerage accounts to gathering all the personally identifiable information on your hard drive.

Here’s what you need to know: The IRS will never send you an email to initiate any business with you. Did you hear that? NEVER. If you receive an email from the IRS, delete it. End of story. Oh, and it will never initiate contact by way of phone call either.

That said, there are other sources of email that may have the look and feel of a legitimate communication that are tied to other kinds of tax scams and fraudulent refunds. And not all scams are emailed though. A lot of scammers will call. The IRS offers 5 way to identify tax scam phone calls.

2. Criminal Tax Preparation Scams

Not all tax professionals are the same and you must vet anyone you’re thinking about using well before handing over a shred of your personally identifying information. Get at least three references and check online if there are any reviews before calling them. Also, consider using the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has any complaints against them.

Here’s why: At tax-prep time, offices that are actually fronts for criminal identity theft pop up around the country in strip malls and other properties and then promptly disappear a few days later. Make sure the one you choose is legit!

3. Shady Tax Preparation

Phishing emails aren’t always aimed at stealing your personally identifiable information or planting malware on your computer. They may be simply aimed at getting your attention and business through enticing—and fraudulent—offers of a really big tax refund. While these tax preparers may get you a big refund, it could well be based on false information.

Be on the lookout for questions about business expenses that you didn’t make, especially watching out for signals from your tax preparer that you’re giving him or her a figure that is “too low.”

If you are using a preparer and something doesn’t seem right, ask questions—either directly from the preparer or by calling the IRS. The IRS operates the Tax Payer Advocate Service that can help answer your requests. The service’s phone may be unavailable during a government shutdown, but the website is always available.

Other soft-cons of shady tax preparation include inflated deductions, claiming tax credits that you’re not entitled to and declaring charitable donations you didn’t make. Bottom line: If you cheat—intentionally or unintentionally—chances are you’ll get caught. So make sure you play by the rules and follow the instructions or work with a preparer who does. Yes, the instructions are complicated. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to get honest help if you need it.

As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Tax season is stressful without the threat of tax-related identity theft and other scams. It’s important to be vigilant, because, to quote Yogi all over again, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

This article was originally published February 28, 2017, and has been updated by a different author.

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Should I Refinance My Mortgage? When to Refinance

The Federal Reserve recently lowered interest rates in an effort to stimulate the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more and more people are becoming interested in refinancing their mortgage. Depending on the situation, refinancing your mortgage can prove to be a savvy financial decision that can save you massive amounts of money in the long-term. But is it right for you? 

If you’re curious about refinancing your mortgage, this article should answer many of your questions, including: 

  1. How Does Refinancing Work?
  2. When Should I Refinance My Mortgage? 
  3. What is the Downside of Refinancing My Home? 
  4. How Do I Calculate if I Should Refinance My Mortgage? 
  5. What are My Refinancing Options? 

How Does Refinancing Work? 

“Refinancing your mortgage allows you to pay off your existing mortgage and take out a new mortgage on new terms,” according to usa.gov. So when you refinance your mortgage, you’re essentially trading in your old mortgage for a new one. The new loan that you take out pays off the remainder of the original mortgage and takes its place. That means the terms of the old mortgage no longer apply, and you’re instead bound by the terms of the new one. 

There are many reasons why homeowners choose to refinance their mortgage. They may want to secure a loan with a lower interest rate, switch from an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate, shorten or lengthen their repayment term, change mortgage companies, or come up with some cash in order to pay off debts or deal with miscellaneous expenses. As you can see, there are a vast number of reasons why someone might be interested in refinancing. 

There are also a couple of different ways to go about refinancing. A standard rate-and-term refinance is the most common way to do it. With this method, you simply adjust the interest rate you’re paying and the terms of your mortgage so that they become more beneficial to you. 

However, you could also do a cash out refinance, where you pull equity out of your home and receive it in the form of a cash payment, or take out a new loan that’s greater than the remaining debt on the original mortgage. Even though you’ll get an influx of cash in the short-term, a cash out refinance can be a risky option because it increases your debt and it’ll likely cost you in interest payments in the long-term.


When Should I Refinance My Mortgage?

Maybe you’ve been wondering, “Should I refinance my mortgage?” If you can save money, pay off your mortgage faster, and build equity in your home by doing so, then the answer is yes. Whether you can achieve this is dependent on a variety of things. Take a look at these refinance tips in order to get a better idea of when you should refinance your mortgage. 

Capitalize on Low Interest Rates 

When mortgage rates go down, a lot of people consider refinancing their mortgage in order to take advantage of that new lower rate. And this makes perfect sense—by paying a lower interest rate on your mortgage, you could end up saving thousands of dollars over time. But when it comes to refinancing your mortgage, there are a number of other factors you should consider as well. 

Regarding interest rates, you should take a look at how steeply they drop before making any refinancing decisions. It might be a good idea to refinance your mortgage if you can lower your interest rate by at least 2 percent. It ultimately depends on the amount of your mortgage, but anything less than that amount likely won’t be worth it in the long run. 

Switch to Fixed-Rate Mortgage

It’s also very common for people to refinance in order to get out of an adjustable rate mortgage and instead convert to a fixed-rate. An adjustable rate mortgage usually starts off with a lower interest rate than a fixed-rate, but that rate eventually changes and it can end up costing you. That’s because the interest rate on an adjustable rate mortgage changes over time based on an index of interest rates. It can alter based on the mortgage market, the LIBOR market index, and the federal funds rate. 

By converting to a fixed-rate mortgage—where the interest rate is set when you initially take out the loan—before the low rates on your adjustable rate mortgage increase, you can minimize the amount you have to pay in interest. If you’re able to lock in a low fixed interest rate, you’ll be less susceptible to market volatility and more capable of devising a long-term payment strategy.   

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When debating the question of “Should I refinance my mortgage or not?”, you should also keep in mind what lenders will look at when determining the terms of your loan. In order to come up with an interest rate and approve you for a refinancing loan, lenders will take the following factors into consideration: 

  • Payment history on your original mortgage: Before issuing a refinancing loan, lenders will review the payment history on your initial mortgage to make sure that you made payments on time. 
  • Credit score: With good credit, you’ll have more flexibility and options when refinancing. A high credit score will allow you to take out loans with more favorable terms at a lower interest rate. 
  • Income: Lenders will want to see that you generate a steady, reliable income that can comfortably cover the monthly mortgage payments.  
  • Equity: Home equity is the loan-to-value ratio of a borrower. You can calculate it by dividing the amount owed on the current mortgage loan by the home’s current value. Before you consider refinancing, you should ideally have at least 20% equity in your home. If your equity is under 20% but your credit is good, you still may be able to secure a loan, but you’ll likely be charged a higher interest rate or have to pay for mortgage insurance, which is not ideal.

What is the Downside of Refinancing My Home? 

Refinancing a mortgage isn’t for everyone. If you don’t take the time to do your research, calculate savings, and weigh the benefits versus the potential risks, you could end up spending more money on refinancing than you would have had you stuck with the original loan. 

When refinancing, you run the risk of placing yourself in a precarious financial position. This is especially true when it comes to a cash out refinance, as this can put you on the hook for even more money and bury you in interest payments. 

Don’t refinance your home and pull out equity just to get quick cash, make luxury purchases, and buy things you don’t need—doing this is an easy way to dig yourself into a deep financial hole. In reality, you should only refinance your mortgage if you know that you can save money doing it. 

How Do I Calculate if I Should Refinance My Mortgage? 

Before you refinance your mortgage, it’s crucial to crunch the numbers and determine whether it’s worth it in the long-run. To do this, you’ll first have to consider how much refinancing actually costs. 

Consider Closing Costs

So how much does it cost to refinance? One of the most significant expenses to take into account when refinancing is the closing costs. All refinancing loans come with closing costs, which depend on the lender and the amount of your loan, but average around three to six percent of the principal amount of the loan. So, for example, if you took out a loan of $200,000, you would end up paying another $8,000 if closing costs were set at 4%. 

These closing costs are most often paid upfront, but in some cases lenders will permit you to make the closing costs part of the principal amount, thus incorporating them into the new loan. While closing costs generally don’t cover property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and mortgage insurance, they do tend to include the following: 

  • Refinance application fee
  • Credit fees 
  • Home appraisal and inspection fees 
  • Points fee
  • Escrow and title fees 
  • Lender fee

Determine Your Break-Even Point

To make an informed decision as to whether refinancing your mortgage is a sound financial decision, you should calculate how long it will take for the refinancing to pay for itself. In other words, you’ll want to determine your break-even point. To calculate your break-even point, divide the total closing costs by the amount you’ll save on a monthly basis as a result of your refinance loan. 

The basic equation for figuring out your break-even point is as follows: [Closing Costs] / [Monthly Savings] = [# of Months to Break Even] 

Taking this into consideration, you can see how the length of time you plan on staying in a home can make a big difference as to whether or not refinancing your mortgage is the right option for you. If you’re thinking of moving away and selling your house in a few years, then refinancing your mortgage is probably not the right move. You likely won’t save enough in those few years to cover the additional costs of refinancing. 

However, if you plan on remaining at the house you’re in for a long stretch of time, then refinancing could potentially save you a lot of money. To make an informed decision, you have to do the math yourself—or, to make the calculations even simpler, use Mint’s online loan repayment calculator. 

What are My Refinancing Options? 

As stated above, you have options when it comes to refinancing loans. You could refinance your mortgage in order to secure a lower interest fee and a change in the terms of your loan; or you might opt for a cash out refinance that lets you turn your home’s equity into extra income that you can use to pay for home improvement, tuition costs, high-interest debt payments, and more. 

In order to actually start refinancing your home, you’ll have to find a lender and fill out a loan application. Shop around at large and small banks alike to see who will offer you the lowest interest rates and the best terms. How long does a refinance take? The timeline depends on a few things, including the lender you borrow from and your own financial situation. But, in general, it takes an average of 45 days to refinance a mortgage. 

You might also consider forgoing the traditional banks and dealing with an online non-banking company instead. Alternative lenders often offer greater flexibility in terms of who qualifies for a loan and they can, in some cases, expedite the refinancing process. For example, Freddie Mac is a government-sponsored mortgage loan company that, in addition to offering no cash out and cash out refinancing, has a third option available for borrowers whose loan-to-value ratio is too high to qualify for the traditional refinancing routes. Learn more by visiting freddiemac.com. 

When tackling any big financial decision, it’s important that you’re informed and organized. Learn the facts, do the calculations, and research your options before beginning the refinancing process to make sure it’s the right choice for you. 

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Is It Real? The Creepy Mansion in ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

We recently covered the new Haunting of Bly Manor, director Mike Flanagan’s so-called sequel to the epic mini-series The Haunting of Hill House. And while we were anxiously waiting for the series to drop on Netflix, we thought we’d try to distract ourselves by taking a trip down memory lane and re-watching the first season. 

Are the two seasons connected? Kind of.

Now, the two parts have nothing to do with each other in terms of plot, but you’ll get to see some familiar faces from the first series. Director Mike Flanagan is obviously taking cues from American Horror Story, which tends to re-cast the same actors in each season, much to our delight. 

Another thing that the two seasons have in common is a central character in the form of a mansion that brings all the other characters together. Both The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor are based on iconic gothic novels, namely Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw

While Bly Manor, according to James’ short novel, is welcoming and warm, bearing no signs whatsoever of anything evil lurking inside it, Hill House is a different story. Mike Flanagan might have strayed from the plot and the characters found in Jackson’s novel, but the central character is the same: a classic, creepy, dark and mysterious haunted mansion. 

The House in The Haunting of Hill House.
The House in The Haunting of Hill House. Image credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Hill House’s dark allure

Hill House, both in the novel and in the Netflix adaptation, is sinister-looking, unwelcoming, ominous even, like a warning to those who dare enter. In Flanagan’s version, Hill House is a living and breathing organism that manages to haunt the Crain family for decades, luring them back one by one. 

The Crain family, which includes Hugh and Olivia and their children, Theo, Nell, Shirley, Luke, and Steven, moves into Hill House as the parents have a passion for flipping houses. Hugh and Olivia plan to renovate the crumbling mansion and then sell it to build their dream house, designed by Olivia herself. However, Hill House has other plans in store for the Crains.

Repairs take much longer than anticipated, as if the house itself was committed to causing trouble and keeping the family close. Gradually, the family starts experiencing some strange phenomena. Kids are seeing ‘bent-neck ladies’ in the night, hearing strange noises, while Olivia becomes increasingly unhinged, much to Hugh’s concern. 

Inside the house in The Haunting of Hill House
Inside the house in The Haunting of Hill House. Image credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Things progress and get worse, until one fateful night when Hugh and the kids are forced to flee and escape Hill House, apparently leaving Olivia behind. What truly happened that night is only explained at the end of the series, when the kids, now adults, return to Hill House with their father to finally learn the truth. 

We don’t want to give too much away, in case you haven’t seen the series yet – if that’s the case, stop reading right now for crying out loud and go binge-watch some Netflix. Basically, the house has a strange grip on each of the members of the Crain family, and many years later it manages to lure them back, one by one, for reasons that are only revealed in the final episode. 

Inside the house in The Haunting of Hill House
Inside the house in The Haunting of Hill House. Image credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Is Hill House a real place?

Fortunately, Hill House is an entirely fictional place, so no worries about being inexplicably lured to it like the Crains. However, there is a real place that inspired the look and feel of Hill House, located in LaGrange, Georgia. 

bisham manor
Bisham Manor (courtesy of Zillow)

Dubbed Bisham Manor, the imposing estate at 1901 Old Young’s Mill Road might look like the house in the series, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The interior shots were filmed on a set, and they look nothing like the interior of Bisham Manor, which is far from creepy. In fact, Bisham Manor is a popular and charming wedding and event venue, so it’s safe to say it’s attracting visitors for non-evil purposes. 

Bisham manor
Bisham Manor (via Zillow)

Bisham Manor, according to Zillow, boasts roughly 11,000 square feet of space, and is a 1920s English Tudor-style home that was redeveloped in the early 2000s by master-builder Ben Parham. The four-story estate is being used as an event venue for corporate events, meetings and team buildings, weddings, parties, and so on.

Though it might look like an old English castle, it comes decked out with modern amenities like a gym, spa, sauna, steam, wine cellar, and an outdoor pool. Nothing evil about that, as far as we can see. But Bisham’s former owners might disagree.

Interiors at Bisham Manor
Interiors at Bisham Manor (via Zillow)

Neil and Trish Leichty purchased Bisham Manor in 2013, and they reported that the house is definitely haunted by a couple of ghosts of its own. The couple described music playing in the basement despite there being no sound system installed, strange smells permeating throughout the house, and things disappearing in the night.

The Leichtys soon moved to a different home, but continued to experience strange events, much like the Crains were haunted by Hill House decades after they left it. Coincidence? We’ll let you be the judge of that.

If you haven’t watched The Haunting of Hill House, you still have some time until The Haunting of Bly Manor drops on October 9. Prepare to be spooked, but don’t worry, the house is purely fictional. If, on the other hand, you’ve already seen it twice, then check out these other haunted houses we’ve covered here on Fancy Pants Homes. Halloween season is not too far away, so you better start getting ready!

More haunted houses

Behind the Evil Eyes: The (Real) Story of the Amityville House
The Haunting of Thornewood Castle – Where Stephen King Filmed the Rose Red Miniseries
Is It Real? The Creepy House in Stephen King’s ‘It’
The Winchester House — The Haunted Mansion that Inspired the Name of Supernatural’s Winchester Brothers

The post Is It Real? The Creepy Mansion in ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

Source: fancypantshomes.com

How To Design Around Curved Walls, Odd Angles, or Other Tricky Spots in Your Home

JamesBrey / Getty Images

Most home design advice applies only to commonplace rectangular rooms. Yet homeowners who have odd nooks, curvy walls, or other funny angles in their floor plan might be baffled by what to do, or put, in that space.

Fortunately, there’s some good news: You don’t have to hide these odd areas. Highlighting their quirkiness is actually recommended, says Ana Cummings of the eponymous design firm.

“Make your oddly shaped space look intentional, rather than try to cover it up,” adds Drew Henry of Design Dudes. But doing so, you’ll infuse your room with personality and energy, which is much more than any ol’ boxy shape can offer.

Here’s some advice to help you design looks that’ll work in spots with unusual angles.

Accent with wallpaper

Photo by DD Ford Construction 

Curvy walls are cozy, which is a good vibe to channel in a dining room.

“A round room would be a cool space for dining, so shop for a proportionally sized table, and then accent the design with a round chandelier,” suggests Henry.

Curve-backed sofas are also a fine choice against round walls, and circular rooms can work as music spaces, with a baby grand smack in the middle.

“If you have a round bedroom, I’d either go with a traditional bed enhanced with a curved headboard or a round bed—or better yet, a large custom-upholstered headboard wall,” says Amy Bly of Great Impressions Home Staging and Interiors.

Install a book nook

Photo by Cummings Architects 

An odd pocket of space with its own window can become a dreamy reading corner, says Henry—and all you really need are a few shelves and a soft seat. If you want to do it yourself, installing these accessories is a fun project, though others may rely on custom millwork and a made-to-order cushion.

Nooks like these can also be transformed into smart storage, a dry bar, or a place to display art or sculpture, says Cummings.

Choose small-scale pieces

Photo by Return on Design – Because Aesthetics Sell

When it comes to furniture placement here, Henry recommends pieces that are on the petite side because they offer more flexibility for fitting in irregular spaces.

“For instance, instead of a sectional for an odd living room, you may want to look for a love seat and a few lounge chairs,” he says.

As for layout advice, group furniture in a way that’ll facilitate conversation or over an area rug, if possible, and direct attention toward a focal point such as the TV or fireplace.

“This way, you’ll re-create a traditionally styled room without calling attention to an odd corner,” says Cummings.

Create a home office

Photo by 8Foot6 

A triangular space under a set of stairs can stand in for a homework station with the addition of a simple flat surface and a chair. Or designate this spot for wrapping presents or a hobby like beading or scrapbooking.

Even out with furniture

Photo by Kelly Rogers Interiors

Bly likes to even out odd bumps or cutouts in a room to make them useful and less obvious.

“Try putting a tall chest or dresser in the nook, or fill it with a bench and a large piece of art or a chair and side table combination,” she says.

A set of drawers or small chest can fit snugly, and it creates a line that seems to sit flush to the wall.

Trick the eye with mirrors


Photo by Marcye Philbrook

Mirrors add light, depth, and beauty to a room—and they can be a lifesaver in a spot with funny angles. Mirrors can make an area with odd features look larger, and they can help create the illusion of symmetry.

Make artwork pop

Photo by Cornerstone Architects 

Use large artwork, wall paneling, or a mural to your advantage in rooms with quirky features.

“These options can take your eye away from the asymmetry of a space and soften an oddly shaped room,” says Cummings.

You can also work around triangular spaces with strategically placed pieces.

“In this case, I’d downplay the pointy end of the room by placing furniture or two chairs ‘in’ from the point to elongate it,” says Bly.

The post How To Design Around Curved Walls, Odd Angles, or Other Tricky Spots in Your Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Buying A Second Home? 8 Things To Consider

Buying a second home is a major expense. You might have several reasons for wanting to buy a second house. Perhaps, you’re buying a second home for vacations or weekend getaways. Or, it might be that you want to use it as a rental property for rental income. However, there are things to consider before buying a second home.

The benefits of buying a second home

If you’re buying a second home for rental income, you’ll benefit from many perks, especially tax advantages.

For example, you will be able to deduct interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance and other expenses against the property’s income.

Even if the value of the property declines, you will still be able to deduct depreciation from your taxes.

While these benefits are great, the mortgage requirements for a second home are much stricter than for a mortgage on your primary residence. So, make sure you can afford it.

8 Things To Consider When Buying A Second Home

1. Financing options: When you bought your first home, you had available to you what’s called an FHA loan – a government loan program.

FHA loans are an appealing and favorite choice among first time home buyers due to their relatively low down payment requirement.

FHA loans require a 3.5% down payment and a relatively low credit score of 580. However, FHA loans are not available to second home buyers.

That is because FHA requires the home to be the borrower’s primary residence. So, if you’re thinking of buying a second home, you will need to either use a conventional loan or financing it with your own cash.

2. A larger down payment: If you’re using a conventional loan for your second home, you will need to come up with a larger down payment.

Lenders for a conventional loan usually requires a 20% down payment of the home purchase price.

But for a second home which will be used as a rental property or vacation home, expect lenders to ask for 30% or even 35%.

3. A higher credit score. For an FHA loan, you only need a credit score of 580 to qualify. But for a conventional loan on a second home, you will need much higher credit score — usually 750 or higher.

4. Expect a Higher Interest Rate: Lenders will likely charge you a higher interest rate on your second home than your primary residence.

The reason is because they see a second home — be it a vacation home or a rental property — as riskier. They feel that you are more likely to default on a mortgage on your second home than on your primary residence.

5. Do your research: Just as you did your homework when you bought your place to live in, buying a second home is no different.

In fact, you’ll need to spend more time researching rental property. That means researching the neighborhood you will want to invest in, knowing the zoning laws for a particular area, the sales price for the homes in the area.

You will need to know if the area has adequate public transportation, schools, grocery shopping, etc,– things that potential tenants will need.

6. Be prepared to be a landlord: if you’re buying a second home to rent, be prepared to be a landlord.

And be prepared to deal with all of the headaches that come with being a landlord. Do you have sufficient time? Can you deal with problems?

Owning a rental property and being a landlord is time consuming. It is also hard hard work and you have to do your due diligence.

You can hire a property manager to run the property for you. But if that is not feasible, you’ll have to do it yourself.

That means, screening new tenants, collecting rent, dealing with delinquent tenants, fixing problems in the property, such as a broken pipe.

So before buying a second home, make sure you have sufficient time and make sure you can deal with the day-to-day headaches that come with being a landlord.

7. Do you have a stable income? Dealing with a second mortgage on your second home is doable.

While you may be able to afford upfront costs, if you don’t have a stable income, you may have to think twice about whether it is a good idea.

Plus, you still have to consider the additional expenses of owning a second home such as insurance, property taxes, maintenance, repairs, property management fees, etc.

8. Are you out of credit card debt? If you have paid off outstanding and high interest credit card debts, then purchasing a second home may make sense.

But if you’re still struggling to pay your debt, you may need to put buying a second home on hold. 

The bottom line

If you’re thinking about buying a second home, whether it is for investment or vacation, be prepared to save some money, budget for expenses, and come up with a bigger down payment.

More importantly, spend as much time, if not more, researching for the home just as you did when your purchased your primary home.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions about your finances, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Buying A Second Home? 8 Things To Consider appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

Still Waiting on Your Second Stimulus Check? Here’s How to Track It

The second stimulus check started hitting bank accounts last week.

That means many people who have direct deposit are waking up to find an extra $600 in their bank accounts if they’re single or $1,200 if they’re married, plus a $600 coronavirus credit for each dependent child 16 or younger.

But what if your second check hasn’t arrived? There’s a new way to find out when it’s coming.

Where’s My Second Stimulus Check?

The IRS released an updated version of the Get My Payment application on its website Monday, Jan. 4, that allows you to track your second stimulus check. You can use it on your computer, phone or tablet.

Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.

Click on the link, and then click the blue “Get My Payment” button. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a couple minutes to get through. This corner of IRS.gov is getting a lot of traffic right now, because people really want to know when they’re getting their $600 stimulus check. When you do get through, you’ll get a warning that the system is for authorized use only. Click “OK.”

Next you’ll need to enter your Social Security number or Individual Tax ID number, date of birth, street address and ZIP code.

Once you submit your information, the website will tell you the date your payment is scheduled to be made and whether it will be by check or direct deposit. If it’s scheduled for direct deposit, it will tell you the last four numbers of the bank account it will be deposited into.

You can also use the tool to provide your bank account and routing numbers. If the IRS can’t pay you via direct deposit, you’ll get one via paper check or prepaid debit card. The first paper checks were sent last Wednesday, Dec. 30.

What if Something Is Wrong With My Payment?

What if you haven’t gotten the payment that should have been deposited already? Or what if your payment isn’t scheduled, or the wrong amount has been deposited? Check this FAQ page, but don’t bother trying to call the IRS right now.

If your payment hasn’t been made by Jan. 15, you’ll need to submit a tax return and get it in the form of a rebate recovery credit. The same applies if you were eligible for the first round of checks but didn’t received one, or if you got the wrong amount.

Payment status not available? Here’s what that means, plus a few hacks that worked in the first round.

Your coronavirus stimulus check is not taxable — so however you plan to spend that money, just know that you don’t need to save any of it for Uncle Sam.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and a certified financial planner. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com