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Life Events

When to Stop Funneling Cash into Home Improvement

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.

Purchase agreement for house

I moved into my first house in June. The first time I tried to turn on the heat when it started getting chilly in November, I discovered the furnace needed to be replaced with a new one. Thankfully, the house sale included a homeowner’s warranty, which mostly covered the cost of the replacement.

But my out of pocket cost was still $900 — not chump change when you’re young, just out of college, and wondering how you’ll pay for all the fixing up the slightly-fixer-upper house you bought is going to need.

The Benefits of Snagging an Outdated Home

The house wasn’t a complete wreck, but it was built in 1987 and it needed upgrading and updating. In addition to the furnace that died immediately, the AC units were over 20 years old (and how they still functioned the entire time I lived there is beyond me) and the siding and shutters all could have used a new coat of paint outside.

The hardwood floors downstairs were mismatched, thanks for half of them being replaced when a pipe burst over the living room when the previous owners lived there. The kitchen countertops were original white laminate that had faded with time and use to something not-so-white, and all the cabinetry was original to the home too.

And the master bathroom had that wonderful feature that home builders in the 80s were for some reason way too fond of: carpet instead of tile.

There were other to-dos on the home improvement list, too: painting, refinishing the staircase, changing out the old brass hardware for something a bit more modern, updating light fixtures… most everything was cosmetic. As they say on HGTV, the house had good bones.

But still, it sounds like a lot of projects — and it was. The tradeoff was a low price on the home and a relatively small monthly mortgage payment. That helped free up cash flow to dedicate to tackling these projects, one at a time.

The idea was always to take advantage of the low purchase price, spruce the place up with these cosmetic fixes, then sell for a profit. It sounded good in theory, but there had to be a line that determined when it was time to stop funneling cash into home improvement projects.

Focusing on Biggest Bang for Smallest Buck

The first step was to determine what projects made the biggest impact in the house — and cost the least amount of money. Part of the criteria for “least amount of money” was “does it fit in my normal monthly budget?” meaning I didn’t have to save up before knocking out the project.

Painting and changing out the hardware came in first on that list. Redoing the stairs came the next month. Things like window treatments and a little landscaping followed after the stairs.

(And of course, it was all DIY. That made it exponentially cheaper, but it also took a lot longer!)

[22 Options for a Home Improvement Loan]

Choosing Big, Costly Projects Wisely

Eventually, the easier and cheaper projects were complete — and that line item in the budget started going toward maintenance and repairs instead. That’s part of home ownership no matter what condition a house is in. There’s always something to fix, maintain, or replace.

Deciding how much more money than necessary to put into the house required consideration of more factors than just, “how much would this boost the value of the house?” and “how much can I afford?” Both of these questions are, obviously, important — but the first one is particularly tricky.

Let’s address the how much can you afford one first. Ultimately, this is what you need to pay attention to and prioritize. It’s not wise to put thousands of dollars on a credit card for home improvements, because it’s highly unlikely you’ll turn around, sell your house for a profit, and use the cash to pay off your credit card balance before it’s due and starts accruing interest.

The other question is harder because it’s easy to justify spending money for the sake of making money down the road. But a $20,000 kitchen remodel or $10,000 bathroom redo doesn’t necessarily translate into a $20,000 or $10,000 boost in the value of your home when you go to sell.

That depends on comparable properties in the area, what the market is doing at the time, when you want to sell — and what buyers want. Your idea of a great home improvement might be someone else’s idea of a perfectly good kitchen ruined by bad taste.

Personally, the only big, major project that I thought was worth taking on was ripping up that awful bathroom carpet and replacing it with tile. While redoing the hardwood floors and updating the kitchen would have added value to the house, it likely wouldn’t sell for a high enough price to recoup my investment in the home improvement projects due to the comps in the area.

It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking spending money on your house is an investment. But like any investment, it’s not without risk. And in this case, unlike investing your extra cash into the stock market, you don’t earn a return over time. You only earn a return — if you get one at all — when you sell your home and pay off your mortgage.

While home improvement projects can help boost value in your house, it’s a fine line. Don’t just assume funneling more cash into repairs and updates will guarantee a better sale price. Look at all the variables involved, do your research, and figure out when you need to draw your own line on when to stop putting cash into your house.

 

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.

Kali Hawlk
Kali Hawlk |

Kali Hawlk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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Life Events, Pay Down My Debt

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Going Into Debt

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.

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Debt

A marriage proposal can lead to much happiness, but it also can mean having to purchase an expensive engagement ring and, subsequently, getting into debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from one to three months’ salary on a diamond engagement ring. On average, couples spent $4,000 on engagement rings in 2012, according to a 2013 report from Jewelers of America.

However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and even a debt-free engagement ring. Think of it this way: It can be far more romantic to propose with a paid-for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage. Here’s how you can purchase that ring without breaking your bank.

Set a budget

1. The first step you should take in the ring-buying process is setting a realistic budget for yourself. Don’t just go shopping with no maximum price in mind, as that may lead to you making a purchase you can’t really afford. If you know what you want to spend beforehand, and make sure you stick to that, you are already showing the kind of discipline that can help you avoid serious debt.

Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend

Jewelry passed from generation to generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your family, or your future spouse’s family, if they have any heirlooms they would like to pass on. Keep in mind: Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades can run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you do obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.

2. Leave the ring intact (except for resizing and repair).

3. Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.

4. Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.

Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish

Real diamonds are never truly inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.

5. Shop in the summertime. Because winter proposals are very popular (think Valentine’s Day), it can make a lot more financial sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months can offer stable pricing at a discount.

6. Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full-carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.

7. Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various areas of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less-expensive option. Also, be sure to comparison shop at different retailers; don’t just go with the first ring you love, as you may find something very similar, for less, at another shop.

Replace the diamond, save the difference

Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.

8. Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.

9. Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is the hardest gemstone used in jewelry next to diamonds, and it ranks high on clarity and color scales, too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful. (Pro tip: Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people do prefer authenticity.)

10. Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be aware that some gemstones are actually even more expensive than diamonds.

11. Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip traditional gemstones. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.

Forgo tradition

Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings involve breaking tradition, and some couples are more open to an alternative ring style than others. These are a few ring choices that definitely buck tradition.

12. Wooden rings: Wooden engagement rings occupy a large niche in the market, and can be a cost-effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.

13. Tattooed rings: Some couples chose to get tattoos instead of rings, citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo. Keep in mind that this may be a dangerous option, as you will have a much harder time removing a tattoo than a ring if your relationship ends (either before or after the marriage).

14. Leather rings: Leather rings can include braiding, engraving and colored beads, among other stylings, and will certainly save you a bundle compared to a diamond. If you don’t want to go with real leather, faux leather can work as well.

15. Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. As you’ll be combining finances after you’re married, this may actually lead to some great money-focused conversations.

Save money now, upgrade later

If your partner has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget, then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.

16. Propose with costume jewelry. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be just right for the proposal.

17. Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones, or upgrade when you can afford it.

Buy used

Consider buying a ring that already has a history. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty and make it “yours.”

18. Visit pawn shops. You may be buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible.

19. Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.

20. Shop on eBay. Pre-owned rings from eBay can represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.

Creative ways to get cash

Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.

21. Sell your memorabilia. Your partner may not be too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to help pay for an engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.

22. Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. While some people may find this a strange thing to do, there is no harm in being over-prepared. If you don’t end up using the money to buy a ring, it will be on-hand for other potential purchases (think a wonderful vacation, or a luxury item you really want).

23. Get a side hustle. People are increasingly taking on side hustles to earn extra cash, even if they have full-time jobs. This can include selling your artistic creations on Etsy, becoming an Uber or Lyft driver or writing freelance articles. Then you can put all the extra money you earn into an account for a ring.

Consider a personal loan

It is definitely ideal to be able to purchase an engagement ring without going into debt at all. However, if you simply have to finance at least part of the ring’s purchase, you might consider a personal loan, as you may be able to get a better interest rate than with a credit card, depending on your own credit and where you are able to obtain your loan.

Bottom line

Getting married can be an expensive undertaking, and you don’t want to put yourself in a difficult financial place just by purchasing the engagement ring. Keep in mind the alternatives to the traditional pricey diamond, and also remember that the love you share with your partner should be far more important than buying a ring with a sky-high price tag. Avoiding debt as much as you can also means you’ll be starting off your new marriage on a financially healthy note.

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.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Life Events, Mortgage

What Is Mortgage Amortization?

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.

Getty Images

One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

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

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