In this issue:
U.S. Housing Recovery Appears To Be Back On Track
Money-Saving Tips for College Students and Parents
Top Mobile Finance Apps for Budgeting
|U.S. Housing Recovery Appears To Be Back On Track
A fourth straight monthly increase in sales of existing homes provided the latest evidence that the U.S. housing market is rebounding from a weak start to the year.
Housing has been a drag on an otherwise strengthening economy, in part because a harsh winter delayed many sales. But Americans are stepping up purchases as more homes have been put up for sale. And low mortgage rates and moderating price gains have made homes more affordable.
"The momentum is in the right direction," said Andrew Labelle, an economist at TD Bank who noted that the past four months have marked the fastest four-month sales gain since 2011. "Sustained jobs gains, as well as the fall in mortgage rates since the beginning of the year, appear to have unleashed at least some pent-up demand."
According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million. That was the highest annual rate since September of last year.
The increase follows other encouraging signs that the housing market is improving. The pace of home construction starts surged 15.7 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.1 million homes, the government said this week. Applications for building permits, a gauge of future activity, also strengthened last month.
And a survey of home builders showed that they were more confident about future sales.
The encouraging readings contrast with reports earlier this year, when weak sales and limited building led economists to characterize housing as a faltering piece of the economic recovery. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer had pointed to housing as an economic weak spot. Economists noted that housing still hasn't fully recovered from its slowdown earlier this year. The annual sales pace remains 4.3 percent below last July's rate. And construction has merely returned to its pace in October; it has yet to exceed it.
Yet economists say they're encouraged by signs that the latest sales gains are sustainable.
Stephanie Karol, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said a "virtuous cycle" is emerging: More homeowners are listing their properties for sale. A greater supply of homes then encourages more potential buyers to take the plunge. And that, in turn, helps sustain modest price gains, which lead more people to sell. "This is exactly the sort of pattern we want to see," Karol said.
The number of homes for sale rose 3.5 percent in July from June to 2.37 million, the most in nearly two years.
Affordability is improving. The median price slipped a bit in July from June to $222,900, the Realtors said. Though that was still 4.9 percent more than a year ago, year-over-year price gains have slowed.
And the average rate for a 30-year mortgage fell to 4.1 percent this week, the lowest level this year, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. At the start of the year, the average rate was 4.53 percent.
A study released by data provider Zillow found that home buyers paid just 15.3 percent of their incomes on the mortgage for a typical home in the April-June quarter. That's much lower than the 22.1 percent share during the housing bubble that ended in 2006.
The Realtors report also showed that healthy sales make up a rising share of purchases. Fewer home sales stem from foreclosures or involve homes for which the seller owed more on their mortgage than the home was worth.
Those "distressed" sales made up just 9 percent of sales in July - the lowest proportion since the Realtors began tracking the figure in October 2008. Distressed sales, which tend to drag down neighborhood prices, had made up 36 percent of sales in 2009.
Many distressed sales were made to investors, including private equity firms. They bought large numbers of homes and drove up overall sales in 2011 and 2012. Ron Peltier, CEO of HomeServices America, a real estate brokerage affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway, noted that those sales weren't sustainable. "We were seeing sales in clumps," he said. "Now we're seeing sales the good old-fashioned way: One at a time."
First-time homebuyers made up 29 percent of sales in July, up slightly from June and the second straight gain. Still, that's well below the typical figure of 40 percent. First-time buyers are critical to a housing recovery, in part because they enable homeowners seeking to buy larger homes to sell.
First-time buyers are likely benefiting from strong job gains. Hiring since February has reached its healthiest pace since 2006. But first-timers also face higher credit standards and down-payment requirements, making it harder for many to qualify for mortgages.
Article Courtesy of Yahoo! Finance
Back To Top
|Money-Saving Tips for College Students and Parents
As more experienced college students know, the tuition bill is only the start of the college costs. While they may have secured some grants and scholarships to cover that big-ticket item, they will need to employ some additional savings strategies to help minimize everyday costs. Here are some tips to share with a college student beginning a new school year:
Consider alternative housing strategies.
According to The College Board, the average room and board price at a four-year college last year was $9,500. But one does not have to go with the mainstream option. Instead, consider all choices. When it comes to on-campus housing, there can be a significant cost difference between the cheapest dorm room on campus and the most expensive. If you're centrally located, in a private room and in a brand-new building, then you're more likely to be on the high end of the payment scale. Ask the housing office about your more affordable alternatives. If you become a resident adviser, you might be able to get your housing costs covered completely.
Some off-campus housing options might beat out the going rate of dorms at your school, especially if you're willing to live with roommates. Before committing to a lease, be sure to consider the additional costs of off-campus living, including utilities, Internet, additional transportation and possibly a 12-month lease rather than a 9-month one.
Get creative with meal plans.
Score some big savings on those room and board costs by opting for a reduced meal plan. Something as simple as sticking to breakfast in your room rather than hitting up the omelet station or the artisan coffee shop can add up to significant savings when compounded by all the days in the school year. The more you can DIY, the more you'll save, and the more ready you'll be for life sans dining halls post-grad.
Look for ways to reduce student fees.
In addition to tuition, most colleges charge additional fees for amenities like parking, computer access, student activities, ID cards and library access. If any fees seem exorbitant or are not applicable to you, see if you can negotiate a fee waiver with the financial aid office.
Otherwise, be sure to make the most of the resources included under those fees. For example, use the fitness center access included under your fees rather than signing up for another gym off campus.
Borrow textbooks instead of buying them.
The College Board estimates the average cost of books and materials to be $1,200 a year at a four-year public college. While those books might be required reading, the price tag is not. Start by checking out the used section of your bookstore on campus to find pre-owned textbooks in good condition at a more reasonable price point. If you can restrain yourself from highlighting, tearing or otherwise destroying the text throughout the semester, you might be able to sell your books back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.
To find even better deals, go comparison shopping online. Sites such as Amazon, eBay and Half.com carry new and used titles, often at a significant discount. Textbook rentals are also becoming increasingly common. Sites including bookrenter.com and textbookrenter.com can save you up to 80 percent on standard textbook prices. Of course, if you can snag all the books on your list from the library before anyone else does, you might be able to cut out the cost of books altogether.
Cut transportation and storage costs.
Keeping a car on campus costs a lot more than a parking pass. It's gas, insurance and maintenance, too. Save on transportation by opting for public or university transit, walking or biking when possible. If you decide to go to school cross-country, you'll also have to contend with additional transportation costs and storage over the summers. Consider staying on campus during shorter breaks and taking on holiday work rather than flying back and forth every few months. When you do fly, bus or train home, be sure to plan ahead and search for student discounts to get the best deals.
Reduce other startup costs.
In addition to the classic dry-erase board, many first-time college students are stocking up on new school supplies, from sheets that fit dorm room beds to big-ticket items like laptops. Rather than walking into the local Apple store or Bed, Bath & Beyond and picking out whatever strikes your fancy, take some time to research the options and comparison shop online. Reaching out to recently graduated seniors is a great strategy for scoring affordable dorm room furnishings and small appliances.
Pay less for entertainment and personal expenses.
From toiletries to health expenses to clothing to laundry to entertainment, learning to budget for miscellaneous personal expenses will prove an important savings strategy for years to come. In addition to savvy shopping tactics like couponing and bargain hunting, be sure to stay up to date on resources and events offered through your school. Many things, particularly entertainment, can be enjoyed for free on campus, and there's no need to pay a premium elsewhere.
Article Courtesy of US News and World Report
Back To Top
|Top Mobile Finance Apps for Budgeting
Banking and managing money keeps getting easier and easier. Personal finance apps typically extract real-time data from your service providers - including banks, investment houses, lenders and credit card companies - to paint the most accurate portrait of your finances on the fly.
The automation available in today's personal finance apps is astounding. Some apps, including Editors' Choice Mint and LearnVest, can consolidate all your transactions across multiple accounts into one view and send you a push notification if you're about to hit the budget limit you set on yourself in a given category. This is a far cry from the pre-Internet days when tracking expenses involved saving receipts, opening paper bills, and writing down every transaction you made.
Here are some top apps to help you budget on the go:
Mint.com is a mobile app for iOS and Android that offers a comprehensive look at all of your account balances, updated in real time, as long as you're connected to the Internet. It automatically categorizes your transactions, alerts you when you're about to go over your budget and lets you opt in to push notifications about bills. Its free Web-based sibling Mint.com adds depth to the app with the ability to move money between accounts and create detailed spending forecasts.
Available on: Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows 8, Windows Phone, Web
BillGuard helps you go over your credit card statements with a fine-tooth comb and report any questionable or unwanted charges immediately. It flags merchants who frequently charge consumers for products or services they've either forgotten about or they didn't know they were requesting. This clever app also provides a quick and easy solution to one clearly defined problem: gray charges.
Available on: Android, iPhone
Personal finance education website LearnVest offers a compelling mobile app for monitoring your money. It's comprehensive, and very similar to Mint in many ways, except when it comes to managing finances for multiple people. One big drawback is that it's available only on iPhone and the Web, so Android users should stick with Mint. For monitoring and managing single-person finances, it's on par with Mint's iPhone app. LearnVest's roots are in financial literacy and education, so it offers plenty of reading material in both the app and the website based on topics you select as being important to you.
Available on: iPhone, Web
Check, formerly called Pageonce (and in the process of being acquired by Intuit), helps you stay on top of bills and pay them from your mobile device. Those mobile payment features include not just major service providers, but also small businesses and individual proprietors. It's a simple app that doesn't offer a ton of features, but it does online bill payment as well as anyone. This is the app to get if you want to avoid paying any more late fees. Available on: Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Web
The PayPal app works best for people who use PayPal often and need to keep an eye on their account. From the mobile app, you can manage your account, send payments, request funds, view your recent transactions and even shop in stores. Unfortunately, too few retailers accept PayPal to make the in-store shopping function as enticing as it could be, although the list of businesses has been growing, particularly in the restaurant space.
Available on: Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Web
If you're looking for a simple, smart, easy-to-use iPhone app that will help you create a budget, evaluate its effectiveness and make informed decisions about your financial future, Budget Boss is a good choice. Budget Boss takes this one slice of your personal finance management (your budget, obviously) and makes it work for you, helping you spot problem areas and rein in your spending when necessary. Budget Boss is a good solution if you want to minimize the time you spend on financial planning, yet still want some assistance managing your money more intelligently.
Available on: iPhone
If you're looking for an iPhone app to manually reconcile your checkbook and other financial accounts, the free Checkbook, by Appxy, is a straightforward option. It won't wow you with amazing features or design, but it will help you keep an eye on your income and expenses. Other great features in Checkbook include the ability to export data (CSV, QIF, HTML) and select your currency.
Article courtesy of PCmag.com
Back To Top