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3 Times Debt Can Be a Helpful Tool

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In some corners of the personal finance advice world, getting into debt is just about the worst thing you can do. And yes, some forms of debt — particularly those that charge high interest rates — can keep you locked in a cycle of owing money for years.

Still, there are times where taking on debt serves a purpose in your overall financial picture. Debt isn’t always bad, though there is always a risk of getting in over your head. It’s simply a tool you can use to afford a very large purchase without draining your savings.

“I think it’s so important for people to not be afraid of debt, but instead to look at it as something you can use to your advantage,” says Kara Duckworth, a certified financial planner and managing director of client experience at Mercer Advisors.

Here are a few examples of when the ability to borrow money can come in handy.

For something that may go up in value

Debt is often categorized as good or bad, depending on the reason you borrow money and how much you’ll pay in interest.

“Good debt can help you move forward with your career and life,” says Mark Reyes, a certified financial planner and senior manager of financial assistance at financial services app Albert. “On the other hand, bad debt can hold you back from reaching your goals.”

Mortgages are commonly cited as an example of good debt, since a home can appreciate in value. “That’s not a bad debt to have; it’s going to put a roof over your head,” says Bill Hampton, a certified financial education instructor and CEO of Hampton Tax and Financial Services in Atlanta. Of course, borrowing more than you can afford or not understanding the terms of the loan can cause financial risk.

Student loans are another generally agreed-upon example of good debt, since your education can boost your lifetime earning potential. According to Hampton, “You’re going to be in debt for a number of years, but it’ll get you a higher-paying job. But if your major doesn’t support your debt, it could hold you back.”

To fund a major purchase

Now for the bad debt: credit cards. Not only do they charge high interest rates, but you can keep putting purchases on them even if you still owe money from prior months. It’s easy to end with a balance that keeps growing, no matter how much you try to chip away at it.

However, some credit cards offer no-interest promotions you can use for a large purchase. These promotions allow you to spread out a cost over many months, often 12 months or longer, depending on the card. Make sure your budget allows you to pay it off in the promotional time frame, though — before interest kicks in.

If you have existing debt, balance transfer cards allow you to move that debt over and pay no interest for months. But as always, make sure you understand the terms of the card you use — you’ll likely pay a fee to transfer, and the interest rate will climb back up once the promotion ends.

Once you own a home, borrowing against its value in the form of a home equity loan or home equity line of credit — or HELOC — can free up cash for home renovations. Homeowners can opt to do this instead of putting renovation costs on a credit card charging a higher interest rate.

“Depending on how much equity a person has and depending on their specific situation, it might be better to tap into that than a credit card or personal loan,” Reyes says. “It’s kind of the lesser of two evils.”

To weather unexpected costs

You’ve heard the lecture before. You need to have emergency savings. But that’s the thing about emergencies — they happen at random, and sometimes simultaneously, whether you’ve been able to save up spare cash or not.

These are the moments when you may have to make the best less-optimal decision, and that can mean taking on debt. HELOCs and personal loans may be a lower-interest way to borrow money to cover an emergency situation, but credit cards can also serve as a backup source of emergency funding.

If an emergency expense lands you in credit card debt, Hampton recommends making a plan to pay that balance off over a few paychecks. You can also take other actions to lower the cost of your debt, like moving the debt to a balance transfer card or seeing if your credit card company will meet you halfway.

“Consider calling your credit card company and try to negotiate a lower interest rate from what you’re being charged,” Reyes says. “It’s not always successful and it’s not likely, but it’s worth a shot.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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Personal Finance

Can You Refinance a Car Loan More Than Once?

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You can refinance your car as often as you can find a lender willing to approve a new loan, but finding a lender to refinance again and again could be difficult.

When you refinance, you’re replacing your current car loan with a new one — almost always with a different lender. Since most lenders won’t refinance their own loans, you’d likely need to get approval from a new lender each time.

Also, the most common reasons for refinancing a car loan are to save money, lower the monthly payment or pay off the loan sooner. Once you’ve refinanced to meet one or more of these goals, it may not be easy finding another loan that provides any additional benefit.

Reasons to refinance a car loan more than once

Throughout the life of your auto loan, you may experience different situations when refinancing makes sense — leading you to refinance more than once. Here are some examples:

  • To replace a dealer’s high interest rate. Maybe you financed your car at a dealership and realized the next day that you could qualify for a lower rate. If you have solid credit, you likely can find a lender to refinance your loan to a lower rate right away, or as soon as they can obtain the vehicle’s title.

  • To take advantage of your improved credit. If your car loan has a high interest rate because of previous credit problems or no credit history, and you’ve made on-time loan payments for six to 12 months, you might now be able to qualify for an auto refinance loan with a lower rate.

  • Because you need a lower monthly car payment. If your financial situation has worsened — for example, you changed jobs and took a cut in pay — you might need to refinance to a longer loan term for a lower payment that you can afford.

Why refinancing a car over and over can be a bad idea

Before you refinance your car multiple times, be aware of some potential disadvantages.

  • Paying more than you save. Refinancing is applying for a new loan, which can come with loan origination fees, lender processing fees and title transfer fees. Occasionally, you could have prepayment penalties for your current loan. And if you extend the loan term, you’ll likely increase the amount of interest you pay overall. So before you refinance, consider whether the benefits outweigh your total cost.

  • Lowering your credit score. Each time you get approved for a new auto refinance loan, the lender runs a hard inquiry on your credit report, which causes a slight, temporary drop in your credit score. In most cases, your score rebounds in a few months, but it’s still something to consider if you plan to apply for any other types of loans during that time.

  • Owing more than your car is worth. If you keep refinancing your car to a longer term, you can become upside down on your car loan. While you’re taking extra time to pay off your car, it’s most likely depreciating in value, and at some point, you may owe more than you could get for the car if you decide to sell it or if it’s totaled in an accident.

Also, most lenders have vehicle age and mileage limits for refinancing, so if you keep extending the loan on an older car, it could become ineligible for refinancing.

Finding a lender to refinance again

Many lenders are hesitant to refinance a car that has already been refinanced many times. They perceive repeated refinancing as a sign that a borrower may be struggling to repay the loan or having other financial issues — especially if they’ve used cash-back auto refinancing more than once. Even if a lender approves another loan for refinancing, the loan may be considered high risk and come with a much higher interest rate.

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Personal Finance

Whole Life Insurance Definition

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Whole life insurance is a popular type of permanent coverage. It can last your entire life, has a guaranteed death benefit and provides guaranteed cash value growth. Whole life is more expensive than term life insurance, which covers you for a fixed number of years only and doesn’t build cash value.

Definition of whole life insurance

Whole life is a type of permanent life insurance. It pays out regardless of when you die and includes cash value — an investment component. When the policy has built enough cash value, you can withdraw or borrow against the funds while you’re still alive. Unlike other types of permanent coverage, the cash value in a whole-life policy is guaranteed to grow at a set rate.

Whole life insurance premiums stay the same throughout the length of the policy and the death benefit is guaranteed. If there are no outstanding cash value loans or withdrawals when you die, your life insurance beneficiaries receive the full death benefit.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you want permanent insurance without the bells and whistles, whole life may be a good fit. However, due to its guarantees, the cost of whole life insurance is typically higher than that of other permanent policies.

Whole-life policy features: Definitions

Guaranteed death benefit: The death benefit for whole life insurance is guaranteed; it won’t decrease or change over time as long as you pay your premium. Though whole-life policies are considered lifelong, many mature upon the insured person reaching a certain age, such as 100. When the policy matures, the death benefit is paid to the policyholder or coverage can be extended until the insured’s death. Therefore, even if you outlive the policy’s maturity date, the death benefit is guaranteed to pay out.

Guaranteed cash value: The cash value in a whole life insurance policy is guaranteed to grow at a fixed rate set by the insurance company. A portion of your insurance premium funds the policy’s cash value, which grows over time. You can withdraw or borrow against the funds while you’re still alive. But keep in mind that withdrawing or borrowing against the policy’s cash value without paying it back can reduce the death benefit — the amount your beneficiaries receive when you die.

Fixed premiums: Whole-life premiums are typically fixed, which means they remain level throughout the length of the policy. If you miss a premium payment, your coverage can lapse. In some cases, funds from the cash value can be used to cover the missed premium. But this perk may not apply to all policies.

Dividends: When you buy a whole life insurance policy from a mutual company — one owned by its policyholders — you may receive dividends if the company performs well. Dividends typically aren’t taxed as income. Depending on the terms of your policy, you may be able to use the dividends to increase the death benefit or pay your premiums.

More about whole life insurance

Learn more about whole life insurance and find the best policy for you.

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Personal Finance

3 Reasons Not to Tap Your Home Equity Right Now

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Soaring real estate values mean many homeowners are awash in equity — the difference between what they owe and what their homes are worth. The average-priced home is up 42% since the start of the pandemic, and the average homeowner with a mortgage can now tap over $207,000 in equity, according to Black Knight Inc., a mortgage and real estate data analysis company.

Spending that wealth can be tempting. Proceeds from home equity loans or lines of credit can fund home improvements, college tuition, debt consolidation, new cars, vacations — whatever the borrower wants.

But just because something can be done, of course, doesn’t mean it should be done. One risk of such borrowing should be pretty obvious: You’re putting your home at risk. If you can’t make the payments, the lender could foreclose and force you out of your house.

Also, as we learned during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, housing prices can go down as well as up. Borrowers who tapped their home equity were more likely to be “underwater” — or owe more on their houses than they were worth — than those who didn’t have home equity loans or lines of credit, according to a 2011 report by CoreLogic, a real estate data company.

Other risks are less obvious but worth considering.

You may need your equity later

Many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and may need to use their home equity to avoid a sharp drop in their standard of living. Some will do that by selling their homes and downsizing, freeing up money to invest or supplement other retirement income.

Other retirees may turn to reverse mortgages. The most common type of reverse mortgage allows homeowners 62 and up to convert home equity into a lump of cash, a series of monthly payments or a line of credit they can use as needed. The borrower doesn’t have to pay the loan back as long as they live in the home, but the balance must be repaid when the borrower dies, sells or moves out.

Another potential use for home equity is to pay for a nursing home or other long-term care. A semi-private room in a nursing home cost a median $7,908 per month in 2021, according to Genworth, which provides long-term care insurance. Some people who don’t have long-term care insurance instead plan to borrow against their home equity to pay those bills.

Clearly, the more you owe on your home, the less equity you’ll have for other uses. In fact, a big mortgage could preclude you from getting a reverse mortgage at all. To qualify, you either need to own your home outright or have a substantial amount of equity — at least 50% and perhaps more.

You’re deeply in debt

Using your home equity to pay off much higher-rate debt, such as credit cards, can seem like a smart move. After all, home equity loans and lines of credit tend to have much lower interest rates.

If you end up filing for bankruptcy, though, your unsecured debts — such as credit cards, personal loans and medical bills — typically would be erased. Debt that’s secured by your home, such as mortgage and home equity borrowing, typically isn’t.

Before you use home equity to consolidate other debts, consider talking to a nonprofit credit counseling agency and to a bankruptcy attorney about your options.

What you’re buying won’t outlive the debt

It’s rarely, if ever, a good idea to borrow money for pure consumption, such as vacations or electronics. Ideally, we should only borrow money for purchases that will increase our wealth: a mortgage to buy a home that will appreciate, for example, or a student loan that results in higher lifetime earnings.

If you’re planning to borrow home equity to pay for something that won’t increase in value, at least ensure that you aren’t making payments long after its useful life is over. If you’re using home equity to buy a vehicle, consider limiting the loan term to five years so that you’re not facing big repair bills while still paying down the loan.

Home equity loans typically have fixed interest rates and a fixed repayment term of anywhere from five to 30 years. The typical home equity line of credit, meanwhile, has variable rates and a 30-year term: a 10-year “draw” period, where you can borrow money, followed by a 20-year payback period. You typically are required to pay only interest on your debt during the draw period, which means your payments could jump substantially at the 10-year mark when you start repaying the principal.

This leads to a final piece of advice: With interest rates on the rise, consider using a home equity loan or line of credit only if you can repay the balance fairly quickly. If you need a few years to pay back what you borrow, getting a fixed interest rate with a home equity loan may be the better way to tap equity now.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

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