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How The Simple Act of Negotiating Helped Us Save $40,000

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You don’t have to be an expert negotiator to leverage the power of persuasion — and ultimately save big. Alison Fragale, negotiation expert and professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina, tells MagnifyMoney that a little preparation can go a long way.

“Any time you have goals you need to achieve, and you need someone else’s cooperation to make those goals happen, that’s a negotiation,” she said, adding that coming to the conversation prepared is often a game changer.

We caught up with a handful of folks who did just that. From talking down debt, to negotiating salary increases, these everyday people successfully haggled their way to some big financial wins — to the tune of $40,000 worth of savings.

Here’s how they did it.

I shaved $7,400+ off my student loan balance.

As of 2014, the average college graduate wrapped up their studies with nearly $29,000 in student loan debt, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. But your balances aren’t always set in stone.

Danielle Scott, a 30-year-old public relations professional in New York City, used some persuasive bargaining skills to save thousands on her private loans. The inspiration? After several years of just paying the minimum monthly payment and calling it a day, she was discouraged to see that her principal balance was relatively unchanged, thanks to super high interest rates.

“One was as high as 15 percent, and my total loan balance was about $80,000,” Scott told MagnifyMoney.

She called her loan provider, Navient, and cut a deal — if they agreed to lower the interest rate on her loans, she’d up her monthly payments from $400 to $1,500. They agreed, lowering her rate to 1% on one of her two loans, and Scott put everything she had into paying down the debt over the next five years. She paid much more in the short term, but she saved big over the long haul since she was shortening the life of the debt and putting way more toward the principal balance.

Earlier this year, when her balance had gone down to $15,000, her loan servicer reached out to her with a deal of their own. They were willing to reduce her balance to $9,000 if she could pay it off in two lump payments. Scott countered.

“I asked them how low they could go if I agreed to pay it all off in one payment,” she recalls. “At first, they said no, but after pushing back a little, and being put on hold for 20 minutes, they came back with $7,600 as their final offer, but I had to make the payment that day.”

Scott dipped into her savings to pay it and, just like that, was debt-free.

While you might have some wiggle room negotiating private student loan debt, federal student loans are a different story. If you’ve defaulted on federal loans and they’ve been sent to collections, you can use one of the following standard settlements to make good with the U.S. Department of Education, according to student loan expert Mark Kantrowitz:

  • Pay off the current principal balance plus any unpaid interest; collection fees are waived.
  • Pay off the current principal balance plus 50 percent of any unpaid interest.
  • Pay off a minimum of 90 percent of the current principal balance and interest.

Just keep in mind that settlements are generally due in full within 90 days. (FYI: There’s also a chance you’ll have to pay taxes on whatever is forgiven.)

I talked my way out of $20,000 of medical debt.

In 2010, Robin, a Tampa, Fla., lawyer, was involved in a major car accident that almost cost her her life. The road to recovery was a long one and included multiple surgeries and hospital stays. Despite having health insurance, her bills eventually reached a whopping $197,000. But it wasn’t until she really pored over the statements that she noticed some major errors.

“A mix of in-network and out-of-network medical providers were billing me for whatever my insurance company wasn’t paying, even after I’d met my deductible,” Robin, 57, told MagnifyMoney.  She requested that we not use her full name because she’s still negotiating down her debts.

In many cases, she was getting treated by in-network hospitals, but by medical providers who, she later learned, were out of network. This led to tons of surprise bills; a phenomenon known as balance billing, which isn’t always legal in her home state.

“I called each and every medical provider, in some cases threatening to report them to the attorney general,” she recalled. “Some bills were forgiven more easily than others; some took years to resolve, but nothing was ever sent to collections.”

All in all, Robin has wiped out about $20,000 of her medical debt by directly challenging providers — a wise move considering that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that medical bills make up over half of all debt on credit reports.

I negotiated a $15,000 raise and promotion.

When it comes to nailing down a raise, getting a pay bump of 2 percent per year is the average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But you might be able to get more if you’re willing to negotiate.

Ariel Gonzalez, a 33-year-old front end development engineer in Orlando, Fla., has successfully negotiated multiple pay raises over the years. The latest got him a $15,000 pay bump and promotion after a year of working in a junior position.

“My demeanor is typically calm and confident, but firm,” he told MagnifyMoney. “I hate talking about money, but I know what I bring to the table as an employee.”

Gonzalez is a big believer in coming to salary negotiations as prepared as possible, researching comparable salaries on sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor. Referencing positive client testimonials in past negotiations has also proved fruitful. He landed his last raise in 2016 by showing up to the meeting with an air of respect and transparency.

“I came to my boss with my number, hat in hand, and said that it was what I needed to be comfortable and that I didn’t want to do the whole back-and-forth thing,” Gonzalez said, adding that the promotion and raise he was asking for were in line with his performance and proven results as an employee.

The preparation and confidence paid off; his boss had no problem granting his request. The takeaway? Do your homework ahead of time and ask for what you deserve.

Some expert negotiation tips to follow

Whether you’re looking to score a raise or buy a new car, Fragale suggests pinpointing the following three terms before beginning any negotiation:

1) What are you trying to achieve? This should be a clear aspiration that’s grounded in reality, given your circumstances.

2) What’s your walk-away point? Before going in, clarify the point at which you’ll abandon the deal. Fragale said knowing this beforehand is empowering because it discourages an “I’ll take what I can get” mentality.

3) What’s the alternative? In other words, if you don’t get what you want out of this deal, what’s going to happen? If the stakes are high and your alternative is terrible, you’ll be more inclined to settle for less than what you want. (Case in point: You’re more likely to settle for a low salary if your alternative is unemployment.)

“If you have the luxury, try and make your alternative as good as possible before negotiating,” says Fragale. “That tends to lift the whole boat.”

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Mortgage

How to Recover From Missed Mortgage Payments

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understanding good faith estimate vs loan estimate
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Can you bounce back from a missed mortgage payment or two? The answer is yes, but there’s work involved. After all, your payment history has the greatest impact in determining your credit score.

Falling behind on your mortgage payments can affect your credit and finances, and you could lose your home to foreclosure. It’s critical to be proactive and not wait until it’s too late to get help.

How missed mortgage payments affect your credit

In most cases, mortgage lenders give you a 15-day grace period before charging a fee — often around 5% of the principal and interest portion of your monthly payment — for late payments. But your credit history typically isn’t impacted until you’re at least 30 days behind on a mortgage payment. At this point, your mortgage servicer may report your late mortgage payment to the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Your credit score could drop by 60 to 110 points after a late mortgage payment, depending on where your score started, according to FICO research. Being 90 days late on your loan could lower your score by another 20 points or more.

It can take up to three years to fully recover from a credit score drop after being a month behind on your mortgage, FICO’s research found. Once you’re three months behind on your mortgage, that time can increase to seven years.

Recovering from missed mortgage payments

Falling behind on your mortgage can be a frustrating and scary experience, particularly if you’re facing the threat of foreclosure. Here are some options to help you get back on track after missed mortgage payments:

  • Repayment plan. Your loan servicer agrees to let you spread out your late mortgage payments over the next several months to bring your loan current. When your upcoming payments are due, you’d also pay a portion of the past-due amount until you catch up.
  • Forbearance. Your servicer temporarily reduces or suspends your monthly mortgage payments for a set amount of time. Once the mortgage forbearance period ends, you’ll repay what’s owed by one of three ways: in a lump sum, a repayment plan or by modifying your loan.
  • Modification. A loan modification changes your loan’s original terms by extending your repayment term, lowering your mortgage interest rate or switching you from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate mortgage. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment to a more affordable amount.

Be proactive about getting back on track and reaching out to your lender for help instead of waiting until you get late payment notices. If you think you’ll be behind soon or are already a few days behind, make contact now and review your options.

Extra help for homeowners affected by COVID-19

If you’re behind on mortgage payments because of a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may qualify for a mortgage relief program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Homeowners who have federally backed mortgages, and conventional loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, can request mortgage forbearance for up to 180 days. They can also request an extension for up to an additional 180 days.

Federally backed mortgages include loans insured by the:

  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Reach out to your mortgage servicer to request forbearance. Even if your loan isn’t backed by a federal government entity, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, your servicer may offer payment relief options. You can find your servicer’s contact information on your most recent mortgage statement.

How many mortgage payments can you miss before foreclosure?

Your lender can begin the foreclosure process as soon as you’re two months behind on your mortgage, though it typically won’t start until you’re at least 120 days late, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Still, it’s best to check your local foreclosure laws since they vary by state.

Here’s a timeline of how missed mortgage payments can lead to foreclosure.

30 days late

Your lender or servicer reports a late mortgage payment to the credit bureaus once you’re 30 days behind. Your servicer will also directly contact you no later than 36 days after you’re behind to discuss getting current.

45 days late

You’ll receive a notice of default that gives you a deadline — which must be at least 30 days after the notice date — to pay the past-due amount. If you miss that deadline, your servicer can demand that you repay your outstanding mortgage balance, plus interest, in full.

Your mortgage servicer will also assign a team member to work with you on foreclosure prevention options. This information will be communicated to you in writing.

60 days late

Once you’re 60 days late, expect more mortgage late fees, as you’ve missed two payments. Your servicer will send you another notice by the 36th day after the second missed payment. This same process applies for every month you’re behind.

90 days late

At 90 days late, your servicer may send you a letter telling you to bring your mortgage current within 30 days, or face foreclosure. You’ll likely be charged a third late fee.

120 days late

The foreclosure process typically begins after the 120th day you’re behind. If you live in a state with judicial foreclosures, your loan servicer’s attorney will file a foreclosure lawsuit with your county court to resell the home and recoup the money you owe. The process may speed up in nonjudicial foreclosure states, because your lender doesn’t have to sue to repossess your home.

You’re notified in writing about the sale and given a move-out deadline. There’s still a chance you can keep your home if you pay the amount owed, along with any applicable legal fees, before the foreclosure sale date.

Can you get late mortgage payment forgiveness?

If you’ve otherwise had a good payment history but now have one missed mortgage payment, you could try writing a goodwill adjustment letter to request that your servicer erase the late payment information from your credit reports.

Your letter should include:

  • Your name
  • Your account number
  • Your contact information
  • A callout of your good payment history prior to missing a payment
  • An explanation of what led to the late mortgage payment
  • The steps you’re taking to prevent late payments in the future

End the letter by requesting that your servicer remove the late payment from your credit reports, and thank your servicer for their consideration. Print, sign and mail your letter to your servicer’s address.

The letter is simply a request; your servicer isn’t required to grant late mortgage payment forgiveness. If your servicer agrees to remove the late payment info from your credit reports, your credit scores may eventually increase — so long as you continue to make on-time payments.

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.

By clicking “See Rates”, you will be directed to LendingTree. Based on your creditworthiness, you may be matched with up to five different lenders in our partner network.

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Mortgage

What Is the Minimum Credit Score for a Home Loan?

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If you’re hoping to become a homeowner, your credit score may hold the keys to realizing that dream. Knowing the minimum credit score needed for a home loan gives you a baseline to help decide if it’s time to apply for a mortgage, or take some steps to boost your credit first.

It’s possible to get a mortgage with a score as low as 500 if you can come up with a 10% down payment. Keep reading to learn the minimum credit score requirements for the most common loan programs.

What are the minimum credit scores for home loans?

Your credit score plays a big role in determining whether you qualify for a mortgage and what your interest rate offers will be. A higher credit score means you’ll likely get a lower rate and a lower monthly mortgage payment.

There are four main types of mortgages: conventional loans, and government-backed loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Conventional loans, which are the most common loan type with guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have a credit score minimum of 620. Although some loan programs don’t specify a minimum credit score needed to qualify, the approved lenders who offer them may set their own minimum requirements.

The table below features the minimum credit scores for these home loans, along with minimum down payment amounts and for whom each of the loans is best.

Loan type

Minimum credit score

Minimum down payment

Who it’s best for

Conventional6203%Borrowers with good credit
FHA500-579 with 10% down payment
580 with 3.5% down payment
10% with a score of 500-579
3.5% with a minimum score of 580
Borrowers who have bad credit and are purchasing a home at or below their area FHA loan limits
VANo credit minimum, but 620 recommendedNo down payment requiredActive-duty service members, veterans and eligible spouses with VA entitlement
USDA640No down payment requiredBorrowers in USDA-eligible rural areas with low- to moderate-incomes

What is a good credit score to buy a house?

Meeting the minimum score requirement for a home loan will limit your mortgage options, while higher credit scores will open the doors to more attractive rates and loan terms. A good credit score can also provide you with more choices for home loan financing.

  • 740 credit score. You’ll typically get your best interest rates for a conventional mortgage with a 740 (or higher) credit score. If you make less than a 20% down payment, you’ll pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender in case you default on your home loan.
  • 640 credit score. Rural homebuyers need to pay attention to this benchmark for USDA financing. Exceptions may be possible with proof that the new payment is lower than what you’re paying for rent now.
  • 620 credit score. The bare minimum credit score for conventional financing comes with the largest mark-ups for interest rates and PMI.
  • 580 credit score. This is the bottom line to be considered for an FHA loan with a 3.5% down payment.
  • 500 credit score. This is the lowest credit score you can have to qualify for an FHA loan, but you must put 10% down to qualify.

Annual percentage rates by credit score

Your mortgage rate is a reflection of the risk lenders take when they offer you a loan. Lenders provide lower rates to borrowers who are the most likely to repay a mortgage.

Here’s a glimpse of the annual percentage rates (APRs) and monthly payments lenders may offer to borrowers at different credit score tiers on a $300,000, 30-year fixed loan. APR measures the total cost of borrowing, including the loan’s interest rate and fees.

FICO Score

APR

Monthly Payment

760-8503.011%$1,267
700-7593.233%$1,303
680-6993.410%$1,332
660-6793.624%$1,368
640-6594.054%$1,442
620-6394.6%$1,538
*Based on national average rate data from myFICO.com for a $300,000, 30-year, fixed-rate loan as of May 4, 2020.

As the credit score ranges fall, the interest rates are higher. Borrowers with a score of 760 to 850, the highest range, saw an average monthly payment of $1,267. Borrowers in the lowest credit score tier of 620 to 639 saw their monthly payment jump to $1,538. The extra $271 in monthly payments adds up to an additional $97,560 in interest charges over the life of the loan.

Steps for improving your credit score

Now that you have an idea of the extra cost of getting a minimum credit score mortgage, follow some of these tips that may help boost your score.

  • Make payments on time. It may seem obvious, but recent late payments on credit accounts hit your scores the hardest. Set your bills on autopay if possible to avoid forgetting to pay one.
  • Pay off balances monthly. Try to pay your entire balance off each month to show you can manage debt responsibly.
  • Keep your credit card balances low. If you do carry a credit card balance, charge 30% or less of the available credit limit on each account.
  • Have a mix of different credit types. Mortgage lenders want to see you can handle longer-term debt as well as credit cards. A car loan or personal loan will help demonstrate your ability to budget for installment debt payments over time.
  • Avoid applying for new accounts. A credit inquiry tells your lender you applied for credit. Even if you were applying to get your best deal on a credit card or car loan, multiple inquiries could drop your scores, and give a lender the impression you’re racking up debt.

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.