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Calculators and Tools
Do you currently have credit card debt? Use our calculator to figure out how much you should be paying each month, how long it will take to pay off and how much you'll end up losing to interest.
Your actual payment to the IRS can depend on thousands of factors, but this simple tool should give most people a pretty accurate estimate of how much of their money is straight to going to Uncle Sam.
Curious how much your savings can grow? Just tell us how much you have to invest and your time horizon and we'll show you what you can end up with.
The 3 most important factors that determine real estate prices: location, location and location. See how much housing costs where you live now, or where you'd like to live in the future.
Main Types of Investment Assets
One of the biggest reasons people don’t invest the money they have is the sheer number of different investment vehicles available and the complexities of each. It can be quite overwhelming, but the truth is most investors only need to know about a few of them. Let’s go over some of the most popular and easy to trade investments out there.
Stocks are the first thing that come to mind for most people when talking about investing. A stock is nothing more than a share of ownership of a company, hence the term ‘share‘ being synonymous with ‘stock’. A person that holds 1% of the shares of a company effectively owns 1% of that company and is entitled to 1% of that company’s profits, which is paid to shareholders in the form of dividends, usually on some regular schedule for consistently profitable companies. The real underlying value of ownership is that a shareholder has a claim to all future profits. It sounds obvious, but that’s a point many amateur investors overlook, so I’ll say it again, slightly differently. The underlying value of a stock is the present value of all future dividend payments. It’s easy to get caught up in a rising stock and to value it based only on the hunch that down the line someone will want to pay even more than you did to buy that stock from you, but don’t fall into that trap. Eventually markets will become rational and the market price of a stock will tend toward what analysts believe is the value of the company’s profit stream.
Bonds are nothing more than loans. When you buy a bond, you are making a loan to the writer of that bond. You are offered some predetermined interest rate for a specific amount of time on that loan, after which the loan must be repaid. While bonds are generally considered safer investments than stocks, they do carry a risk: there’s nothing stopping the company writing the bond from declaring bankruptcy and going out of business before it can pay the bondholders.
In fact, if you’ve ever heard the term ‘junk bond’, that’s exactly the case. Junk bonds are bonds issued by companies in very poor financial positions. They generally have to offer very high interest rates to get anyone to buy the bonds. If the company does end up succeeding, the bondholder gets a nice return on his or her investment from the high interest rate, but if the company fails it will likely never be able to repay the original value of the bond.
One last common type of corporate bond is a convertible bond. A convertible bond can be converted into common stock, generally at the bondholder’s discretion. This allows the issuing company to sell bonds with a lower interest rate by offering bondholders upside potential if the stock takes off and surpasses the face value of the bond.
It is worth noting that bondholders have a higher claim to the assets of a company than do regular shareholders. In the event a company is liquidated, all bondholders will be paid before any shareholders.
Municipal bonds can be issued by private or public sector organizations to raise funds for public projects. The primary advantage of municipal bonds is that many are federal and state income tax exempt. This is of particular value to high earning investors (i.e. investors in high tax brackets) and investors in states with high income tax rates. Investors in more tax-friendly states or in lower brackets may prefer to seek out higher interest rates from bonds that don’t get preferential tax treatment.
Treasury bonds are a lot like corporate bonds, except they’re issued by the United States Department of Treasury. Many consider this the closest thing to a risk-free asset. Even if the United States government finds itself in a dire financial situation, the treasury department has the ability to print money as a last resort to make good on its obligations. Because of this, don’t expect this financial instrument to do much more than help you keep pace with inflation.
Mutual Funds and Exchange Traded Funds (which are essentially the same things, except rather than giving your money directly to the fund, you buy shares of the fund on an exchange) are incredibly popular investment vehicles. They allow ordinary investors that don’t have millions of dollars to still have a well diversified portfolio by indirectly owning tiny fractions of hundreds or thousands of underlying securities. A simplistic view of how they work is a fund manager picks a bunch of securities, buys them, pools them together, and then sells claims to fractions of that entire basket of securities. If a few individual securities in that basket do poorly, they’re still only a fraction of the entire basket. Likewise, if a few securities really take off, they can only pull on the entire basket by so much. Overall, the basket, or fund, should be much more stable and predictable than individual securities within the basket. That’s known in mathematics as the law of large numbers. This allows investors to get the higher expected return of risky assets, while mitigating risk through diversification.
There are two important classes of these funds: actively managed and passively managed. Actively managed funds have (usually highly paid) managers that closely study the securities within the fund and make changes as they deem appropriate and generally charge a higher fee. Passively managed funds (index funds), on the other hand, just blindly buy across a large group of stocks, for example the entire S&P 500, a bunch of stocks with high earnings relative to the price of the stock (value stocks), etc. While the former may sound smarter, consider the theory behind passively managed funds. The stock market is an efficient market and the price of a stock reflects its true value as determined by all participants in the market. If a fund manager says a particular stock is undervalued and should be bought, he’s basically making the claim that he’s smarter or knows more than everyone else on Wall Street. After all, if others agreed with that manager, they would also buy that stock, thereby driving the price up, until it was no longer undervalued. The argument for passively managed funds is that the market has done the research for you, for free. Why pay analysts big bucks to do unnecessary research?
There are certainly complexities to modern financial markets, but you don’t have to have a degree in Finance to understand enough to start investing. Most people don’t need anything more complicated than mutual funds or bond funds in their portfolio. One of the most overlooked risks to investing is letting your risk aversion allow you to forego growth opportunities. Taken to an extreme, i.e. holding all your savings in cash, will just allow inflation to eat away most of what you have if given enough time.
Main Types of Investment Assets
Is Marriage Good for Taxes?
When most people are deciding whether or not to tie the knot, taxes usually aren’t the first thing on their mind. They should be though. In fact, taxes are one of the few tangible benefits of marriage, or costs, depending on the situation.
Tax laws were written to raise money for the government in such a way that the burden would be spread ‘fairly’ among everyone. What exactly constitutes fairness has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, a topic for debate. What most people can agree on is that those that have more disposable income can, and should, pay more in taxes. When two people get married, their incomes are combined, and so are their expenses. Married couples are taxed jointly on their combined earnings.
In a traditional family with one primary breadwinner, marriage is great for taxes. A significant income is combined with the other person’s little or no income to get roughly the original income. However, the tax brackets are much higher for 2 people. In fact, at the lower and mid range level, they’re actually doubled. For instance, a single filer pays 25% of taxable income over $37,650 (in 2016) to Uncle Sam. A married couple doesn’t hit the 25% threshold until $75,300 ($37,650 x 2).
In addition to the tax bracket benefits, couples can also combine their deductions. For instance, the standard deduction in 2016, a deduction that anyone can take in lieu of itemizing their deductions, is $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for couples.
If two people earn the same low or moderate incomes and they marry, they’ll end up paying roughly the same in taxes. Their taxable income doubled, their deductions were combined, their tax brackets doubled and they’re back to right where they started.
Many people believe marriage can only benefit you come tax time, but that’s simply not true. Why is this the case? Because at higher brackets, the cut-offs don’t actually double. Uncle Sam knows that as a couple, your expenses don’t truly double (you probably both live in the same house, sleep in one bed, etc.), and he wants as much from you as he can get. The next bracket after 25%, which is 28%, starts at $91,150 for individuals and $151,900 (which is much less than $91,150 x 2 = $182,300) for married couples. That means if 2 people, each making $80,000 per year, marry, they’d be moving from a marginal tax rate 25%, to one of 28%. Of course, the 28% is a marginal rate and as such only applies to the amount above $151,900, so they’d end up paying an extra 3% on $8,100, or $243. The more both people earn, the higher the marriage ‘penalty’
It’s a common misconception that married filing separately is the same as being single. It’s not. Filing jointly is almost always the best option for married couples. Reasons for filing separately include wanting to protect yourself legally from a spouse that’s cheating on taxes, protecting your refund from back taxes or child support owed solely by your spouse, etc.
There are two federal taxes that marital status will not affect: Social Security and Medicare. Everybody has to pay a 6.2% tax on the first $113,700 they make regardless of marital status and a 1.45% Medicare tax (2.9% on self-employment income).
Here’s one of the biggest financial benefits of marriage. When your spouse (of 10 years or more) dies, you’re generally eligible for a survivor social security benefit. That means you can keep receiving up to their entire social security benefit, subject to certain restrictions. Calculating the actual amount of the survivor benefit can get a little tricky. It depends on many factors, such as the widow/widower’s age when he or she began receiving benefits, how much that person is receiving already from their own social security, etc. Divorced couples that have been married for more than 10 years may also be eligible for survivor benefits. Check out the Social Security Administration’s website (ssa.gov) for specific information.
Lastly, there’s no estate tax when assets pass between two married people. No matter how wealthy and individual is, he or she can leave 100% of his or her possessions to a spouse, and it’s all safe from Uncle Sam, at least until the spouse dies too.
Marriage is about a lot more than just taxes and financial benefits, but it’s only responsible to consider all the costs and benefits before deciding to make your relationship official. For some, having a marriage certificate may not be worth paying hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes in additional taxes. For most though, getting married sooner is financially better than later.
Is Marriage Good for Taxes?
8 Things That Can Affect Your Mortgage Rate
Most people buying a new home will need to borrow money from a lending institution to pay for the full cost of the house. These loans are referred to as mortgages, and like every other type of loan, they have a cost associated with them known as an interest rate. In mortgage lending, the interest rate is simply called the mortgage rate. The mortgage rate is a small percentage of the loan that you must pay every month to continue living in your home.
Interest rates of every kind, including the mortgage rate, measure the underlying risk that the loan may not be paid back. Lending institutions charge a higher rate when they perceive a higher risk of the loan not being paid back. Alternatively, they charge a lower interest rate when they perceive a lower risk of the loan not being paid back. There are various reasons that lending institutions perceive higher or lower risk when determining what your mortgage rate should be.
One of the most basic pieces of information that almost all lenders use is your credit score and credit report. Before you go in to get a mortgage, get a copy of your credit report to make sure that it’s accurate. If there are any errors that will negatively affect your credit score, get them removed from your credit report as soon as possible. Your credit report provides the lender with detailed information on the level of risk they are taking by lending you money. Your payment history, length of credit history, number of credit accounts, derogatory marks, and other information will help them determine what mortgage rate to charge you. If you plan on buying a house in the near future, monitor your credit report closely and do everything in your power to raise your credit score. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to provide you with a copy of your credit report, at no charge, once every 12 months. You can request your free copy at annualcreditreport.com.
The loan term is how long it will take you to pay your mortgage back. Shorter terms usually have lower mortgage rates. However, shorter loan terms also have higher monthly payments. The lending institution is taking on less risk because you will be paying your mortgage back much quicker. Longer loan terms have higher mortgage rates because it increases the chances that the loan may not be paid back. More unfortunate circumstances may occur over a longer period of time that may prevent you from paying your mortgage back.
A larger down payment means a lower mortgage rate because lenders perceive you as less risky when you have a higher stake in the property. The standard down payment is typically around 20% of the home value. If you can afford more than 20%, you should consider paying more. It can save you money in the long-run because less interest will accrue over time. You will also build equity in your home much faster because it will take you less time to pay off the total amount of the loan. Your home price will also be a significant factor in determining your mortgage rate. A more expensive home will come with a higher mortgage rate because it will require more money to fully pay off the loan. Get a good sense of your price range to determine what mortgage rate could be associated with the price level of your new home.
Traditional single family homes get the lowest mortgage rates because they have lower historical default rates. On the other hand, multi-family homes, condos, co-ops, and mixed-use developments have higher historical default rates, and therefore higher mortgage rates associated with them. Housing used for a vacation home or a rental also has a higher mortgage rate due to higher default rates.
Mortgage lenders have different pricing depending on what location you live in. If you are planning on moving to a different location, especially another state, check the lenders rates in that specific area. Also, larger lenders often times don't service rural areas. If you are moving to a more remote rural area, make sure and find a lender that will do business with you.
Sometimes your ability to get a lower rate depends on the time you spend shopping around. There are most likely multiple mortgage lenders in your area and you should take the time to get a quote from each one. These are competing institutions that will often have different prices for mortgages. Taking the time to get a quote from each one could save you thousands of dollars in the long-run.
Fixed Rate Mortgages have a mortgage rate that stays constant throughout the life of the mortgage and is based on the factors described above. Adjustable Rate Mortgages are based on the factors described above but the mortgage rate will also fluctuate after a given amount of time. Usually ARMs start out with a lower mortgage rate than a Fixed Rate Mortgage because you are potentially taking on more risk in the future. When the ARMs start to adjust, they adjust based on a specific market, often times the US Treasury market. Once the adjustment period starts, your new mortgage rate will be the market rate plus some margin, maybe 1% or 2%. ARMs can be risky for the borrower, as interest rates can rise significantly over the life of a mortgage. Fixed Rates can be risky for the bank, since it allows the consumer to lock in an amount that may become well below the market rate.
Interest rates fluctuate significantly over time, driven primarily by macroeconomic factors such as inflation and the overall strength of the economy. Current interest rates are near historic lows, but nobody can say for certain how long that will last. As with any investment, there is always an element of luck and timing.
8 Things That Can Affect Your Mortgage Rate