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Health, Life Events

You Could Be Paying for More Insurance Than You Need

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Tiffany Hamilton knew as a college student that she would one day be an entrepreneur. With that in mind, she made sure to enlist the help of a financial planning company when she bought her first life insurance plan at 21, as she was just getting her start in real estate.

That first policy was a $20,000 term-life plan that cost her about $80 a month. When her salary increased, she decided she needed more coverage than that. As a single woman with a burgeoning business, she wanted to make sure she had enough coverage to take care of any debts and leave something for her mother..

Her insurance representative at the time encouraged her to up her coverage. So at 25, she converted her policy to a $1 million whole life policy.

“I thought by going to a financial planner, sitting down and answering the questions, and then going off of their recommendations, I thought I was doing the right thing,” Hamilton told MagnifyMoney. “Yes, the $1 million would give my mom X, Y and Z, but was that in my best interests?”

Now 35 and running her own real estate business based in Tallahassee, Fla., Hamilton has lately been wondering: Is it possible to be overinsured?

How much insurance is too much insurance?

As we grow in our careers, home life and families, paying for life insurance becomes another one of those obligatory items on our financial to-do lists, like establishing a 401(k) or an emergency fund. But the sheer volume of life insurance options available may have created a unique problem: Some of us might be overly insured. That is, our insurance coverage may be wildly disproportionate to our salaries and overall net worth.

Joel Ohman, a Tampa, Fla.-based certified financial planner and founder of Insuranceproviders.com, said it’s also easy to end up with a policy that has more bells and whistles than you genuinely need.

Generally speaking, life insurance is a type of coverage that provides a payout to a selected beneficiary in the event of the policyholder’s death. This is often called the “death benefit.” Many people aim for a death benefit that includes a payout substantial enough to cover a few years of the deceased’s salary, funeral expenses and any outstanding debts.

Those with families may also want to include money to pay off a house, children’s college funds and more.

Of course, there are other options for anyone who has a large estate, want to make charitable contributions, needs special tax breaks or has other complicated financial circumstances to consider.

“Unless there are complex estate planning requirements or the insured has exhausted all other investment options, then typically the idea to use life insurance outside of a straightforward death benefit payout is a fool’s errand that will only result in a fancier car for your insurance agent,” Ohman said.

The cost of being overinsured

The difference in premiums between insurance plans can be striking, and if you’re not sure precisely what to get, it’s easy to throw up your hands in frustration. But if you simply choose a plan that may “sound right” without carefully exploring all your options, you could easily wind up paying for more coverage than you need.

Most insurance websites include insurance calculators to make it easy to figure out what your costs could be for a variety of different plans. Using State Farm’s calculator for example, a $500,000, 20-year term policy for a 30-year-old woman in Arizona is about $33 a month. Comparatively, a whole-life policy is $460 a month. That’s a difference of nearly $5,000 a year.

In Hamilton’s case, she realized she was paying thousands of dollars more for insurance than she needed to. In 2016, she converted her $1 million whole-life policy into a $500,000 universal-life policy.

“That cut my budget down by almost $10,000 a year,” she said.

John Barnes, a certified financial planner and owner of My Family Life Insurance, said those cost savings can be important for families.

“My take is, you can be doing something else with that money,” he said. “Families today are squeezed. I’m not about to overextend them, I’m going to get them the right amount.” The additional savings, he said, could go toward retirement, college tuition or other financial need.

Ohman said that a simple term-life policy is a great way to get inexpensive insurance that will still take care of most families’ needs.

“When people are looking for pure life insurance, they want to protect their loved ones if something should happen to them, and they want them to be financially taken care of in a worst-case scenario,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, then, that cheaper term life insurance product is going to be the best fit.”

Chris Acker, a chartered life underwriter, chartered financial consultant and independent life insurance broker in Palo Alto, Calif., said he almost always recommends term-life insurance to his clients, particularly young families.

“If you’re talking about people in their 30s,” Acker said, term insurance “is hands down the best way to go.”

That’s because it’s an inexpensive way to get insurance that provides coverage for your entire family. Plus, you can always get additional insurance later. But he cautions against applying one piece of advice across all situations.

“The bottom line is, there’s no right answer,” he said. “No two cases are the same.”

Types of life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: Term insurance and permanent insurance. When consumers typically think about life insurance, they are looking for an option that will provide their families with financial stability if the unthinkable happens. If you work full time for a company, it’s possible that your workplace has a some type of life insurance policy, often equal to one year of the employee’s salary.

But some experts recommend that families purchase their own insurance plan outside of their employer because employer-sponsored life insurance typically falls short of their family’s actual needs.

Permanent insurance does exactly what the name implies: It provides lifelong coverage. In addition to the death benefit also provided by term-life insurance, permanent insurance also accumulates cash value. But with that added benefit comes pricier premiums.


Whole Life


Variable life


Universal life


Variable universal life

Whole life is the most common type of permanent insurance. With a whole life policy, the premium never changes. Part of the premiums goes into a savings component of the policy, which builds cash value and can be withdrawn or borrowed. That cash value also has a guaranteed rate of return.

Variable life offers the same death benefit, but allows consumers the option to seek a better return by allocating premiums to investments like stocks and bonds.

Universal life lets you vary your premium payments and gives a minimum death benefit as long as the premiums are sufficient to sustain it.

Variable universal life insurance is a sort of mix between variable and universal life, meaning consumers can vary premium payments and can also allocate them among investment subaccounts.

Best for: Those who want a policy that offers cash value and stable premiums. There are also tax advantages to this type of policy.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages as a whole-life policy, plus the option of allocating premiums toward different stocks and bonds.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages of any permanent policy with the option of varying premium payments. For example, those who may want to start with a lower premium that increases as their finances do

Best for: Those who want the option to vary premium payments, but also the option to allocate those payments toward different stocks and bonds.


Term-Life Insurance

Term-life insurance provides coverage for a specified amount of time — let’s say 15 or 20 years. Customers pay a premium each month and are covered through the specified term. This is typically the cheapest insurance option.

Best for: Those whose need for coverage will disappear or change at some point, like when a debt is paid or children reach adulthood and go to college. Also good for those looking for a low-cost option.

Even within term- and whole-life insurance, there are additional products you could be offered, like mortgage life, return of premium (in which your premium is returned if you outlive your initial term) and final expense (which covers just funeral expenses). There’s even an option that would provide lifetime protection for your estate upon your death. With all the available options, it’s easy for the costs to add up.

Tips to choose the right life insurance

Use a life insurance calculator. Wealthy families, those with special-needs family members and others in unique situations will also have different insurance needs. Most insurance websites offer calculators to help consumers decide how much coverage to take. The consumer website lifehappens.org also offers step-by-step guidance on choosing insurance, along with a needs worksheet.

Get multiple free quotes. Consumers can also get free quotes from multiple insurers from sites such as My Family Insurance, InsuranceProviders.com and http://myfasttermquotes.com/, which are independent-agent sites for Barnes, Ohman and Acker. Keep this in mind: Getting a quote doesn’t obligate you to work with a particular company or insurer.

Choose the right advisor. It’s also important to understand that hiring an insurance agent or financial planner is just like any other relationship: You want someone who works best for you and inspires comfort. Hamilton said she not only interviewed potential reps this last go-around, she also requested references and asked them about their company philosophy before making a decision. LifeHappens suggests that consumers use referrals to find an insurance provider.

Seek out independent agents. When it comes to actually choosing an agent or financial planner, Ohman suggests looking into independent agents that aren’t tied to a particular insurance company. That’s because a “captive” agent can only recommend those products that his/her company provides, whereas an independent agent can recommend any number of companies. That doesn’t mean they don’t have your best interests in mind, just that they aren’t able to provide customers with options outside their company offerings.

“The only products that they know about, the only products that they’re even allowed to bring to your attention,” Ohman said, are “their own products.”

Understand what it means to be a fiduciary. Another thing to consider is whether the company or adviser you’re working with is a fiduciary. “One of the big advantages you get with working with an insurance agent who has that CFP designation is that they are supposed to be working as a fiduciary, which means they put your financial interests first,” Ohman said.

Those who hold a CFP designation like Ohman are expected to provide fiduciary care to their clients. It’s also perfectly OK to ask your agent if he or she is, in fact, a fiduciary.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that other agents can’t or won’t provide clients with the type of insurance that works best for them. But don’t hesitate to ask if they’re paid on commission and whether a bonus or trip is tied to a particular transaction.

Check the insurance company’s ratings. Once you get a recommendation, he says, make sure the company has at least a A rating or better from independent agencies that rate companies’ financial strength. There are four independent agencies that provide this information: A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Do your research and find the ratings from each of the four agencies, because some companies may highlight a positive rating from one agency and play down a lower rating from another agency.

Trust your gut. Barnes said regardless of whom you choose to represent your insurance needs, make sure you have a level of comfort.

“Don’t be discouraged, there are some great independent agencies,” he says. “If it doesn’t feel right during the process, trust your gut.”

That means continuing to be open-minded, but also not allowing yourself to purchase an insurance product you don’t want or can’t afford. During that first meeting or so, Barnes says the agent should spend time getting to know you and your situation without necessarily trying to sell you on a product.

Similarly, Acker says it’s OK to question your agent to make sure you’re getting the best policy for your needs and lifestyle: “Don’t be bullied into buying what someone else says you should buy.”

For her part, Hamilton says she also looked into whether companies were commission- or fee-based. That’s because a fee-based company will charge a set rate, which can ease the worry of having an overzealous rep who may offer expensive products to boost his or her commission.

Because many good policies also offer a conversion option, you’re not “stuck” forever with something that doesn’t actually work for you. That means you have the option to change policies, as Hamilton did. Some consumers also choose to buy additional policies down the road.

But, and this is key, you shouldn’t let uncertainty or the fear of overpaying keep you from getting at least a simple policy.

“Think about today — the immediate need; protect that right this second,” Acker says. “Then that gives you time to work on your financial planning. Then you can figure out if you want to keep the insurance.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crystal Lewis Brown
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Crystal Lewis Brown is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crystal here

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Life Events

Ultimate Guide to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When you reach age 70½, the government requires you to begin withdrawing money from your retirement savings accounts each year. This sum, known as a required minimum distribution (RMD), allows the IRS to begin collecting income tax on the dollars you’ve stashed away in tax-deferred accounts such as a 401(k) or traditional individual retirement account (IRA).

What is a required minimum distribution (RMD)?

Regulations governing most retirement accounts state that you cannot leave funds in the account indefinitely. Even if you don’t need the money, the government requires you to begin reducing the overall balance in most accounts by a set sum each year — the required minimum distribution — typically following your 70½ birthday.

The precise amount of each person’s required minimum distribution is determined by the IRS based on life expectancy and total savings. The RMD rule only applies to tax-deferred accounts or accounts that allow people to reduce their taxable gross income each year by the amount they set aside in the plan.

Because tax-deferred accounts provide upfront tax savings, the IRS waits to collect taxes on contributions to the accounts and any subsequent investment gains until the money is withdrawn. Here’s a full list of retirement accounts subject to the RMD rule:

  • 403(b)
  • 457(b)
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Other defined contribution plans

The rule does not apply to Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s, as you’ve already paid income tax on funds contributed to these accounts. Note, however, that once the original account owner dies, Roth IRAs are subject to RMDs.

When do I have to start taking RMDs?

Retirees will need to take distributions by April 1 of the year after they turn 70½. Those with birthdays in the second half of the year benefit from this rule because it allows them to delay beginning taking RMDs for a little longer than those with earlier birthdays can.

For instance, if your 70th birthday is on July 1, 2019, you do not have an RMD for that year since you won’t turn 70½ until Jan. 1, 2020, meaning you can wait until April 1, 2021 to take your first RMD. But being born just a day earlier, on June 30, would mean you’d have to take your first RMD by April 1, 2020 (as you’d reach 70½ on Dec. 30, 2019).

If you are still working at age 70½ and have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) account with your current employer, you may not have to take an RMD from that account unless you own 5% or more of the company. Review your plan’s exact terms to see if it allows you to wait until you actually retire to begin taking RMDs or if it follows the same 70½ rule regardless of retirement status.

Employment, however, won’t help you delay taking RMDs from any individual retirement accounts outside of your employer retirement account, such as a traditional IRA.

You do not have to take your RMD as one lump-sum payment. The IRS allows you to take out the funds in chunks throughout the year too. As long as the total meets the RMD for the year, you’re in the clear.

You’re also not limited to taking only the RMD amount from your account each year — you can withdraw more than that threshold, if you want.

How do I calculate my required minimum distribution?

Just like filing your taxes, it falls on your shoulders to remember to take the RMD once you reach 70½. You can do the math yourself (we’ll explain below) to figure out what your required minimum distribution will be, or you can ask for help from a tax professional or financial adviser.

To calculate your RMD, you need to know exactly how much you’ve got saved up in each account as of Dec. 31 of the previous year. Next, use the table below from the IRS to find your “distribution period” score, which is based on your life expectancy.

To calculate the RMD, divide the retirement account balance by the distribution period that corresponds with your age. Repeat this step for each of your accounts to come up with the total amount you must withdrawal for the year. Remember, your account balance will change and the IRS can update its distribution period figures, so redoing this math each year is crucial to ensure you take out the correct sum.

Let’s say you turned 70½ in December 2019 and had a balance of $1 million in your retirement account on Dec. 31. You would then find the distribution period that corresponds to your age in Table III or the Uniform Lifetime Table.

According to the table, your distribution period number is 27.4. When you divide $1 million by 27.4, you get an RMD of $36,496.35. That is the minimum withdrawal you must make from that account by April 1, 2020.

However, if you’re married and your spouse is 10 years or more younger than you and is the sole beneficiary of the retirement account, you will need to find your “distribution period” score on this alternate table by locating the spot where your age and your spouse’s age intersects.

For instance, if you turned 70½ this year and had that same $1 million balance in your retirement account on Dec. 31, but were married to a spouse who’d just celebrated their 59 birthday, your distribution period number wouldn’t be 27.4, but rather 28.1 to accommodate the longer expected lifeline of your spouse.

And this would mean you’d need to take an RMD of $35,587.19 from that account for the year, or about $909.16 less than you would if you were single or married to a spouse closer to your own age.

What is the required minimum distribution penalty?

If you don’t take your first RMD by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½ or your subsequent annual RMDs by Dec. 31 each year, you’ll be slapped with a 50% excise tax on the amount that was not distributed when you file taxes.

That’s a steep fine when you consider that the top tax rate is 37%, which is why it is so important to accurately calculate your RMDs each year, as the tax applies whether you fail to take any money from the account or simply don’t take enough.

For example, if your RMD was $10,000, but you only took out $5,000, you will be assessed that 50% tax on the $5,000 that you did not withdraw.

Remember, if you delay taking your first RMD until April of the year following your 70½ birthday, you’ll be required to take two withdrawals in the same year, one for your 70½ year and one for your 71½ year, which could raise your gross income and move you into a higher tax bracket. To avoid this, you can opt to make your first withdrawal by Dec. 31 of the year you turn 70½, instead of waiting till the following April.

Alternatively, you could reduce your taxable income by making a qualified charitable distribution paid directly from the IRA to a qualified public charity, not a private foundation or donor-advised fund. The charitable distribution can satisfy all or part of the amount you are required to take from you IRA and won’t count as part of your income.

If you withdrawal the RMD first, then donate it, this trick won’t work as the money will count toward your gross income.

What if I have multiple retirement accounts?

If you have more than one retirement account, things can get a little more complicated. You still need to take an RMD, but you don’t have to take one out of each IRA account. Instead, you can total the RMD amounts for all your IRAs and withdraw the whole amount from a single IRA or a portion from two or more.

However, you can’t do the same with most defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s. With these accounts, you must take an RMD from each plan separately. One exception to this rule, though, is 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity accounts. If you have multiple of these accounts, you can total the RMDs and withdrawal from a single account.

If you own several different kinds of retirement accounts with RMDs, it’s probably a good idea to seek advice from a tax or financial adviser professional who can help you make the wisest decision for your finances.

I inherited a traditional IRA — what should I do?

While it’s great to be left the generous gift of a retirement account by a loved one, inheriting an IRA comes with its own set of tricky RMD rules that can vary greatly depending on your relationship with the original owner and how you chose to use the account.

I inherited a traditional IRA from my spouse

If you’re a spouse and sole beneficiary, you have the most flexibility in how to handle your new IRA. You can choose to treat the IRA as your own by designating yourself the account owner and making contributions or by rolling it over into an existing IRA account that you own. If you choose this option, you can follow the standard RMD rules — meaning you can wait until you turn 70½ to begin taking money from the account.

Alternatively, you can roll the assets into what’s known as an inherited IRA. With this kind of account you can start taking distributions immediately and not face the typical 10% early-withdrawal penalty the IRS applies if you’re under age 59½.

To calculate the RMD you’ll need to take with this kind of IRA, use the IRS’s Single Life Expectancy Table, which has different distribution period figures than the standard table you would use if you were the original account owner. You can opt to use your own age for these calculations or your partner’s age as of their birthday in the year they died, reducing life expectancy by 1 each subsequent year.

But you may not need to take RMDs right away depending on how old your spouse was when they died. If they were older than 70½ then you’ll need to start withdrawing funds by Dec. 31 of the year following their death. But if they were younger, the IRS lets you leave the money in the account until your spouse would have reached 70½.

I inherited a traditional IRA — but I’m not a spouse

Beneficiaries who are not a spouse are required to move the assets into an inherited IRA and begin taking RMDs regardless of the original owner’s age. If the person passed before age 70½ you can opt to withdraw the full balance within the five years following the year of their death. Or you can prolong the payouts by taking RMDs annually based on your age, reducing beginning life expectancy by 1 for each subsequent year, using the Single Life Expectancy Table.

If the original owner was 70½ or older, how you calculate your RMDs depends on whether you or the deceased was younger. The lowest age is what you’ll base your life expectancy figure found in the Single Life Expectancy Table on, though you will need to reduce beginning life expectancy by 1 every subsequent year.

I inherited a Roth IRA — what should I do?

The original owner of a Roth IRA never has to take RMDs but that can change when the account passes to a beneficiary. A surviving spouse who inherits a Roth IRA can opt to treat the account as their own, meaning they won’t ever need to take an RMD, if they contribute to the account or roll into an existing Roth IRA.

Non-spouse beneficiaries, however, do have to take RMDs from an inherited Roth IRA, following the same rules as those who inherit traditional IRAs where the owner passed before reaching age 70½.

That means these beneficiaries can either withdraw the entire balance from the Roth IRA within the five years following the year of the original owner’s death or begin taking RMDs based on your life expectancy, as outlined in the Single Life Expectancy Table, by the end of the year following the owner’s death.

The final word on required minimum distributions

Whether the retirement account was yours to begin with or you’ve inherited it, calculating the correct RMD amount to withdraw from it every year can be tricky, but spending the extra time to make sure you understand the rules and check your math can pay off big time when you’re not losing 50% of your savings to Uncle Sam in the form of a tax penalty.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Risks and Rewards of an Out-of-State Investment Property

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Mortgage

They say real estate is all about “location, location, location.” That’s especially true when it comes to buying a rental. Where you choose to buy an out-of-state investment property can have a significant impact on your return on investment.

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For example, in a state like New York, where the median mortgage exceeds the median rent by nearly $250, buying a property to rent out doesn’t make much financial sense. If you consider buying rental property in a different state, such as North Carolina where rents in the city of Charlotte top mortgages by $84 per month, you’ll net a profit instead of a loss every month your tenant pays rent.

Before you start the interstate home search process, you should know the risks and rewards of out-of-state investment properties.

Potential rewards of buying an out-of-state investment property

Very often, the primary reason to buy an out-of-state investment property is rental properties where you live are too expensive. In some cases, you may decide to hold onto an existing home when moving to another state. There are some other more strategic reasons that we’ll cover next.

Diversify your real estate assets

Real estate markets rise and fall. During the housing boom of 2003 to 2007, many of the “sand” states, such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada, experienced home price appreciation at rates well above historic levels.

Investors learned a painful lesson in the danger of not diversifying when the housing markets in those states crashed during the housing crisis. Investors who had investment real estate concentrated only in these states lost big, while those who spread their portfolios out to other states fared better.

Purchase future vacation or retirement residences

If prices and rents are competitive in a state you’ve always wanted to vacation in, you may want to purchase the property first as a rental and allow tenants to build some equity for you while you generate income. After a few years, you may decide you want to spend a few months a year vacationing in the home and rent it out seasonally with a rental plan from a service such as Airbnb or VRBO.

Alternatively, you may live in a cold-weather state, such as Massachusetts, and want to retire to the warm winters of Arizona. You could put the wheels in motion on your retirement plans by buying a rental property there first that has the amenities you would want in a home for retirement.

Once you’ve pocketed some rental income and equity from renters, you can pack up for the cross-country move into the rental, throw out the snow shovel and enjoy wearing shorts instead of parkas during the holiday season.

Buy where the laws suit your rental strategy

Short-term rentals have become very popular for real estate investors, but they face legal challenges in some places. For example, New York City subways are covered with signs warning riders to avoid short-term rentals.

If you are interested in renting out your investment property through a service like Airbnb, buying in a state that has more flexible laws about short-term tenants is your best bet.

Net more income monthly with lower property taxes

According to a recent LendingTree study, homeowners in San Jose, California, paid on average $9,626 in property taxes each year. In Salt Lake City, homeowners pay only $2,765 per year — which means you’d have to get an additional $567 per month in rent in California just to cover the property tax expense before you could make any profit.

Risks of buying an out-of-state investment property

Like any investment, there are risks associated with buying out-of-state rental properties. We’ll discuss those next.

Long-distance property management problems

If you have a rental in the city you live in, you can deal with an unexpected tenant move-out or a late-night plumbing problem by driving over to the property and taking care of the issue yourself. But you’ll need to make some decisions about how to manage an out-of-state rental.

If you hire a property management company, they’ll take 8% to 12% of your monthly rent as a fee, eating into your monthly rent profit. If you self-manage, you’ll need to make sure you build relationships with local handymen, roofers, plumbers and pest control professionals so you have their numbers handy if a tenant emergency comes up.

State laws that restrict how you rent your property

Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, may be a great way to generate a higher monthly income than you would get with a 12-month lease, but some cities and neighborhoods aren’t too keen on having a lot of different people coming and going through a nearby house. If the laws prohibit short-term rentals in an area you’re interested in, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if market rents for long-term leases provide you with a good return on your rental investment.

What to look for when considering an out-of-state investment property

When you’re buying in another state, take extra precautions to make sure you understand everything about the local housing market, building standards and how the local economy is doing before you start making offers. The last thing you want to do is end up with an out-of-state money pit.

Get a thorough home inspection

No matter how nice the home may look in pictures or at an open house, there can always be problems beyond the smell of new paint and carpet. Building standards and practices may vary from state to state and city to city, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise because you didn’t know polybutylene pipes behind the walls of homes built in Tucson, Arizona, have been known to burst without warning.

A good local home inspector will also help you understand whether a property has been built and maintained according to local building standards and identify any issues, such as an unpermitted room addition, that could cause you trouble with local housing inspectors down the road.

Interview several property management companies

Depending on the town, you may find very high-tech, organized property management shops with decades of experience or small mom-and-pop shops that offer real estate property management services. Either way, you want to know what they do for their fee. The graphic below provides a list of questions you should ask to make sure the property manager is a good fit for your out-of-state rental.

  • How many rental units do you manage? Ideally, you want a manager who has between 200 and 600 rental units. This indicates that the management company has a solid enough client base to understand the local market but not so extensive that they won’t be able to handle managing yours.
  • What experience does your company owner have managing rentals? When the long-distance plumbing hits the fan you don’t want to be dealing with a company that’s never managed rentals. There is no college of rental property management, and you don’t want to have your rental managed by someone who’s still learning the ropes.
  • Are you actively investing in real estate in your market? If you are buying in a housing market you’ve never purchased in, you may want to have a property manager who understands the nuances of the local rental market. This is especially important intel when you’re dealing with an out-of-state investment property in a neighborhood that may be going through changes that only an experienced local investor would know about.
  • How do you collect rent? In order to track cash-flow of a rental property, you should be able to easily track payments. The best method is through an online payment system that gives you real-time information about any late payments. If you took out a mortgage to purchase the rental property, you want to know as early as possible if a tenant is going to miss rent, so you can move money to cover the mortgage payment.
  • What is your average vacancy time on rentals? The correct answer should be two to four weeks. An experienced property management company should have the marketing and rental pricing know-how to make sure your property is not vacant for more than a month. It’s bad enough having a rental vacant, but when it’s out-of-state, you want to know the company managing the property has a track record of getting renters quickly to minimize the expenses you incur when a rental is without a renter.On the other hand, a property manager that rents out your place in less than two weeks may be pricing it too low.
  • How do you handle maintenance and repairs? It’s not uncommon for a property manager to have “preferred” vendors to help with the inevitable issues that come up with maintaining and repairing a rental. You’ll want to get a list of these preferred providers and keep track of their expenses.Also be sure to put a cap on the cost of repairs that can be done without your authorization. You should trust the company to handle a $100 fee, but you may want to cap them on anything more than $200 so you can have a chance to see if you need a second opinion with a different vendor.

Track property tax trends in the neighborhood

Property taxes are a fixed expense you can’t get around paying, so be sure to track the last five years of property taxes to see what the average increase has been. If you’re seeing an acceleration in the tax rate, figure that into your return-on-investment analysis, so you don’t end up in a situation where your monthly expenses are more than the rent you’re taking in.

Make sure you understand the rental market in the area

Rental markets ebb and flow as new homes are built, new employers set up shop nearby or new schools are built in the area. A good property manager or experienced real estate agent should be able to give you a good idea of where the market is headed with a comparable rental analysis.

When you bought your first home, you may have gotten a comparable market analysis (CMA), which analyzes what homes are selling for in the area you’re thinking of buying. A comparable rental analysis looks at rentals nearby to give you an idea of what your monthly income is going to be.

If you finance the property with a mortgage, you’ll likely need a rental analysis form 1007, which is an additional report in a residential home appraisal that provides an opinion of the market rent for the home you’re buying. In some cases, the appraiser’s projected market rent can be used to help you qualify for the new mortgage, even if you don’t have a lease on the property you’re buying.

Special mortgage considerations for out-of-state investment properties

If you’ve been buying investment property in your hometown, you already know financing a rental property comes with higher down payments and interest rates. There are a few more factors to consider.

Are transfer taxes due and who pays them?

Depending on what state you are buying property, transfer taxes may be charged for you to take ownership of the property you are buying. Unlike property taxes, these are a set lump sum percentage of your sales price, added to your closing costs.

Transfer taxes are often paid by the seller, but in some cases they may be payable when buying a home, adding to your total closing costs. It’s also good to at least know how much they are so they don’t end up being one of those hidden costs of selling a home. In places like New York City, that could mean an extra 1% to 2.625% of your sales price subtracted from your profit, in addition to real estate fees that usually run between 5% and 6%.

Are you buying in an attorney or escrow state?

Depending on where you purchase your rental property, you may need an attorney to handle your contract negotiations. That means higher costs than you’ll find in an escrow state, where an escrow offer can handle the signing usually at a much lower cost.

Are you buying in a community property state?

If you’re currently married or have a domestic partner, the community property laws could affect what happens to the property in the event of a divorce. Community property states require a split of equity down the middle, whereas the equity can be split up in negotiable amounts in a non-community-property state.

Final considerations

A little due diligence and research will help you avoid unpleasant surprises if you’re considering buying an out-of-state investment property. While many real estate companies offer “virtual tours” of homes, there’s nothing like an in-person tour to soak up the light, views, smells and feel of a home before you buy it.

If you can, budget enough time to take a trip to the state you’re considering buying in to inspect the top contenders before you start making offers on an out-of-state investment property.

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Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here