Student Loans 101

by Jorge Santiago

College is expensive. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the average private college’s tuition and fees was $35,087; public colleges averaged $21,184 for out-of-state students and $9,687 for in-state students. Multiply that by at least four years, and the total cost of a degree is one very few students — or their families — can afford out-of-pocket.

That’s where student loans come in. Student loans create opportunities for students who might not otherwise be able to afford their education, which can in turn lead to more stable, gainful, and fulfilling employment.

But student loans are just that — loans that must eventually be paid back. If you’re one of the 47.9 million Americans carrying a combined $1.71 trillion in student debt, you probably already know that repayment can be a strain. And if you’re considering applying for college loans, you should understand your options before taking on student debt.

So let’s get back to the basics. Here are four questions everyone with student debt — or considering taking out student loans in the future — should know how to answer:

What types of student loans are available?

Types of federal student loans

As their name suggests, federal student loans are offered through the federal government via the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). Three different types of federal student loans are available: Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, and Direct PLUS.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans are available for undergraduate students with financial need (the difference between your school’s cost of attendance and your household’s expected contribution). Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally lower.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available for both undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of financial need. Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally higher.
  • Direct PLUS Loans are available to parents financing their child’s education, and to graduate or professional students funding their own education. The application process requires a credit check, but borrowers with low credit scores can still qualify if they have an endorser or can document extenuating circumstances. Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally the highest rate compared to other federal student loans.

Types of private student loans

Private student loans are offered through financial institutions like banks and credit unions. The terms of private student loans are controlled by the lender, so there are lots of different options available. Private loans often entail higher interest rates and stricter eligibility criteria, but they can be a helpful tool for borrowers who have already maxed out their federal aid.

 

How does student loan repayment work?

Federal student loan repayment

If you have federal Direct Unsubsidized or Direct Subsidized Loans, your loans will be in deferment while you’re still in school and for six months after you graduate or withdraw. After this grace period ends, you’ll be responsible for making monthly payments through your loan servicer (FSA will assign your servicer — a third-party company that manages student loan billing — after your first loan is disbursed).

Direct PLUS Loan borrowers can expect a very similar process, with the exception that you must request deferment through FSA or your student loan servicer. Otherwise, you’ll have to start making payments while you are or your child is still in school.

All federal student loan borrowers will have the opportunity to select a repayment plan when they first start making payments and adjust their repayment plan later on. There are eight different federal student loan repayment plans available, including income-driven repayment plans, which cap monthly payments to a manageable percentage of your discretionary income.

Private student loan repayment

Private student loan repayment varies based on your lender’s terms. Some require payments while you’re still in school or immediately after graduating, some manage repayment through a servicer or in-house, and repayment plans vary. If you’re considering private student loans, be sure you understand the lender’s repayment policies.

Can I get my student debt cancelled, paused, or forgiven?

If you have private student loans, your options for getting your loans cancelled, paused, or forgiven are limited.

But if you have federal student loans, it’s possible — provided you meet certain eligibility requirements.

You may be eligible to have your federal student loans partially or totally cancelled if:

  • Your school closed while you were a student or shortly after you withdrew or graduated
  • You develop a total and permanent disability
  • You were defrauded by your school
  • You declare bankruptcy

You may be eligible to have your student loans paused if you apply for and are granted temporary deferment. You might qualify for deferment if:

  • You’re enrolled in a graduate fellowship
  • You’re undergoing cancer treatment
  • You’re serving in the Peace Corps
  • You’re on active military duty
  • You’re receiving welfare assistance
  • You work full-time but earn 150% below the poverty line

You may be eligible to have your student loans forgiven through special forgiveness programs if:

  • You’re a teacher
  • You work at a nonprofit organization
  • You work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government agency
  • You’ve been on an income-driven repayment plan for at least 20-25 years

How can The Milford Bank help me manage my student loans?

When it comes to student debt, you don’t have to go it alone. The Milford Bank is excited to launch a new partnership to give our customers tools that make managing their student loans easier than ever before. Stay tuned for an announcement soon!

Celebrating Home Owners: Are You Ready to Buy?

June is National Homeownership Month, celebrating a key part of what many people see as part of their life dreams.  And why not?  Home ownership can be a great investment with many benefits.

Long term cost savings – By paying your monthly mortgage, you are creating your own nest egg, instead of paying off someone else’s mortgage or generating revenue for them.  In many cases, mortgage payments, especially for first-time buyers, can be very close to or even lower than monthly rent.

Equity – As you pay down your mortgage, you build equity in your home, increasing your net worth and your future ability to obtain home equity loans for other expenses, including home improvements (which can further increase the value of your investment).

Improving credit – As long as you make your monthly payments on time, you can improve your credit rating, making it easier to secure other loans for future expenses.

It’s yours – When you own property, the decision on how to use it is yours, not your landlord’s.  You can decide how to decorate, renovate, add on to create more living and entertaining space, and generally use your property however you want.  The financial benefits are great, but this may be the greatest benefit of all.

Of course, if you’re a first-time home buyer, you’ve got a lot to think about, including securing a mortgage, which can be an uncertain prospect.  But, working with the right bank can make it a much easier and satisfying process – especially those with special first-time buyer programs.  The Milford Bank offers a program that includes a reduced interest rate, application fee refund, pre-qualification certificates, and low down-payment options, which take the hassle out of buying your first home.

In addition to financing, you have many other things to think about when buying a home – especially for the first time.  This includes location, school system, style, property size, and of course home features.

To help you consider what is most important to you, here’s a list of the most commonly desired features by home buyers today.  Each of these features was listed by at least 80% of people as being either a must-have or desirable feature.

  • Laundry room
  • Exterior lighting
  • Ceiling fan(s)
  • Energy efficient windows
  • Patio
  • Double kitchen sink
  • Walk-in pantry
  • Front porch
  • Energy efficient appliances
  • Hardwood floors
  • Full bath on main level
  • Energy efficient lighting

As you get start with the home buying process, make sure you’re buying a home that you’ll be happy with.  It’s not a bad idea to think about the future and your ability to renovate or add on.  You’ll have question, naturally, especially when it comes to the mortgage.  Don’t hesitate to call on our mortgage specialists to answer them so you have an enjoyable experience.

Why Small Businesses and Community Banks are a Perfect Match

By John Darin

May is Small Business Month, celebrating the importance of small businesses to our national and local economies.  Small business owners and their entrepreneurial spirit are a cornerstone of our economy and our local communities.  In Connecticut, they comprise 97% of business and employ half of the state’s workforce.

Small Business Month also recognizes that small businesses have unique needs.  Every business needs a bank and there are certainly several national brands to choose from.  But, just as there are many options for your personal banking, there are local alternatives that may be beneficial for small businesses.

Community banks were instrumental in helping small businesses make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Early during the pandemic, when the first round of Paycheck Protection Funding was exhausted, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved more than 1.6 million loans to support small businesses, totaling more than $300 billion.  About 60% of those loans were handled by community banks.

Like small business, community banks are important to the success of local communities and can offer benefits that large national brands can’t.

Personalized service –  When you go into or call a local bank, you’re getting attention from the same people every time – not a call center agent located across the country.  You’ll save time because your bankers know you and your business, creating deeper bonds because they see your business as a personal relationship, not an account number.  As a result, they will go the extra mile to give you personalized attention.

Faster action – Time is money.  As a business owner, getting answers from your bank quickly is important.  Because community banks aren’t spread across the country, their decision-making process is often simpler and faster because it happens locally.

Lower fees – Many community banks offer lower fees or better terms and interest rates than their national counterparts.  For small businesses, every dollar saved or earned makes a difference.

Local for local – Local banks are proud of their local communities and tend to be very active in local activities.  They know the local business and support various organizations and events that support the local economy and benefit both businesses and residents.  This helps build their communities and create a better place to live and work, which help attract new residents and businesses.  As a small business, the local community is important to your success, and community banks play a big role.

Know your customer – Every business is unique.  Personal attention combined with local intimacy also gives community banks a chance to really know their customers and their business banking needs.  As a result, they are able to provide a higher level of care and service that caters to each individual business.  That knowledge can also play into your bank’s decision-making because they are able to factor in what they know about your business, you as the business owner, and the local community.  It becomes about more than just entering data into a formula.

Small Business knowledge – Community banks understand small businesses.  Remember that they are, in fact, small businesses just like you, so they have an inherent first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a small business.  That knowledge translates into a service mentality designed to help small businesses succeed, rather than trying to force them into cookie-cutter approach designed for large enterprises.

Business services – Community banks have built service portfolios to meet your business needs. They aren’t a one-trick pony and offer a variety of business banking services.  From commercial loans and business lines of credit to retirement and employee benefits management to online banking and much more, don’t think that just because they are smaller, your community bank isn’t well-equipped to serve your business needs.

As a small business, you know you have specific banking needs.  You also know the large national brands aren’t as agile or flexible when it comes to meeting your needs – they can’t be.  So, when you think about your financial needs, remember there are local alternatives to those big brands that can be a much better fit for you.  Find out exactly how The Milford Bank can help your business by getting to know one of our local professionals today to learn how they can help make running your business a lot easier.

Buying a Home Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

By Paul Mulligan, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending

Buying a home can be a stressful experience.  Even if you’ve done it before and are looking to move, upgrade, or downside, it takes some work.  If you’re a first-time buyer, it’s likely to be an even more nerve-wracking experience because you don’t know what to expect.  Whether you’re ready to start shopping for a home now, or if it’s part of your future plans, here are a few things to consider that can help make the process a little smoother for you.  Especially in the current environment, with fewer houses on the market, being prepared can make it easier to act quickly on the house you want.

Down payment – Look at how much you have saved for a down payment.  If you haven’t started, that may be the first place to start.  Putting more down on your home initially will reduce your monthly mortgage payments, but you want to make sure you don’t drain your bank account completely, because there are always things that seem to come up when buying a home, whether it’s repairs, additional furniture, or other things.  Also look into how different down payment amounts might change your interest rates, mortgage insurance, and other variables.

Know your costs – There are any number of additional expenses that can come up during the home buying process.  In addition to your regular monthly expenses, make sure you know what to expect in terms of insurance, inspections, legal fees, and other costs you might incur during the process.  Some are small, but others can be larger expenses that could impact your down payment or savings.  Don’t forget moving expenses.

Assistance programs – The local bank in the area you’re looking to buy a home may have first-time home buyer programs that might provide a number of benefits.  The Milford Bank, for instance, offers an application fee refund, discounted interest rates, prequalification certificates, and low down payment options.  Milford, Stratford, West Haven, and Orange and eligible for the first time homebuyer program.

Check your credit report – One of the first things your lender is going to do is check your credit report.  Make sure your report isn’t showing any inaccurate or fraudulent activity.  If there is something suspicious, you will want to give yourself enough time to address it.  You may also want to avoid opening new lines of credit before applying for a home loan, since that could impact your credit score.  The truth is, you should check your credit report regularly.  Since each of the three major credit agencies is required to give you one free credit report each year, you can easily do it three times a year without incurring any cost.

Compare lenders – There are plenty of lenders out there.  Do your homework, don’t overlook your local bank, and consider more than rates. Local institutions, such as The Milford Bank, often offer more personalized service and are certainly much more easily accessible if you have questions or if problems come up.  They can also provide easy access to additional financial services, including future home equity loans when you’re looking to make larger improvements or renovations.

Plan ahead – As you start thinking about and looking for homes, think about your future plans.  For instance, if you’re also thinking about starting a family, you may want to make sure you have enough space without having to immediately move again.  That could mean giving up a few nice-to-have features in exchange for a little more space, in order to stick to your budget.  On the other hand, if you’re serious about relocating when you start a family, or for any other reasons, you may want to consider a slightly smaller home that will allow you to save a little more

The fact is, if you’re currently renting, you may find you can get into a home of your own for something very close to what you’re paying in rent – or less – especially if you’ve prepared well and planned ahead.  You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to deduct mortgage interest from your federal income tax.  But, don’t go into it without having all the information you need.  Talk to your bank’s mortgage specialists professionals and your tax planner.  They can help answer any questions you have, including how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a home.

 

10 Low-budget Ways to Give Your Home a New Look

By Tina Mason

It’s been a crazy few months, with most of us stuck at home and most businesses closed.  Even now, as some places start to re-open, many of the restrictions, especially on group gatherings, remain in place, and it could be some time before things get back to normal.

In the mean time, what can you do to pass the time?  You’ve already streamed the entire Netflix library, read several books, and could really use something new to break up the monotony.  You may have some larger projects you want to get done around the house, and this is a good time to work on those.  If you’re ready for a major home improvement project, and need a home improvement loan or home equity line of credit, one of our specialists can help you with great rates.  There are probably many contractors looking for work right now, so it could be a good time to get those projects started.

But, given we’re still in the middle of so much uncertainty, maybe you’re not ready for such a large investment.  There are still plenty of ways to give your home an upgrade without spending a lot.  Here are just a few projects you can do on your own that will give your home a new look.

Paint the front door – Your door is the first thing most people notice, even if they’re just passing by.  It’s certainly how most people enter your home.  So, if it’s looking a little faded or run down, try giving your door a fresh coat of paint.  You can even go with a completely different look with a color change.  Don’t forget your shutters.

Patio/deck accent lighting – There are many styles of outdoor string lights available that can give your outdoor area a new look and add character for your summer nights.  Even if you’re not entertaining right now, you’ll enjoy being outside with just your family more than ever.

Build a fire pit – Sure, you can buy a fire pit, but why not enjoy the satisfaction of making one yourself?  You may also save a little money doing it yourself using inexpensive wall blocks or pavers from your   hardware store.  When you’re done, you can set up your outdoor furniture around your fire pit and enjoy the ambience year-round.  But, make sure you follow common safety procedures when lighting and putting out your fires.

Plant a garden – Have a little extra space in your yard or an old garden area you haven’t maintained in years?  This is a great time to get a new garden going, and you don’t need much to do it.  With some wood or plastic edging and maybe some decent soil, you’ll be ready to plant your own vegetables and herbs in no time.  For a little extra visual appeal, you can build a raised bed garden.  You might also want to consider building a fence around it using 2×2 posts and some garden fencing.

Window or deck boxes – If you don’t have room for a garden, you could always start with deck or window boxes.  You can plant herbs or certain vegetables, depending on the size of you boxes, or you can put in flowers to add some color around your patio or deck areas.  You can find fairly inexpensive boxes, or if you have a few simple tools, make one.

Solar lights – You can create a totally new look for your gardens or walkways by adding some inexpensive solar landscape lighting.  They will not only look great, but can make it easier to navigate in the dark – especially if you need to get to the fire pit you just built.

Organize your basement – Over the years, your basement, shed, garage, or closets have probably become cluttered with various items.  This is a great time to turn those into projects by cleaning them out, organizing them, and probably finding you can get rid of some unused or old items that are just taking up space.  When you’re done, you’ll be able to find things more easily, and probably have created more space for storage.  You can add new shelves if you need even more space.

Accent walls – Are you tired of the same old look in your living room or bedroom?  Think about painting one of the walls a different color to create contract and give the room a new look.  If your ceilings are looking a little old and grey, try giving them a new coat of paint, too – especially if you have an older home with popcorn ceilings you just can’t stand.

Update your kitchen cabinets – A simple way to give your kitchen a brand new look is by refinishing your cabinet doors.  It can be as simple as a new coat of paint to give them a totally new look, or you can replace them with a different style at much less cost than replacing the entire cabinet.  Want an even bolder new look?  You can make inexpensive glass front doors using plexiglass.  Adding new knobs completes the touch, or you can just start with that if you want to keep it simple.  While you’re at it, replacing your doorknobs is another way to give your entire home a bit of a new look.

Rearrange your furniture – Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity with the furniture you already have to completely refresh your home.  Try different arrangements, keep an open mind, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to create a totally redesigned living space with no investment at all.

There are countless other ways you can improve your home inexpensively.  Get creative, get advice from friends, take a look at what you have around the house that you can repurpose, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to turn any room into a brand new experience.

So You’re a First-Time Home Buyer, Here’s What You Need to Know

By Paul Mulligan

Buying a home is one of the biggest milestones in your life – right up there with marriage and starting a family.  Being a homeowner has several benefits, including possibly lowering your monthly payments compared to renting and earning equity as your home value rises and you pay down your principal.  The immediate benefit, of course, is the happiness and security of owning instead of being beholden to a landlord.  As a homeowner, you have the ability to do what you like with pets, landscaping, renovations, and anything else that will make your house a home.

But, buying a home is also probably the biggest financial commitment you’ll make. There are many things to think about as you begin the process that can help make the process as enjoyable as it should be.

Here are several tips that can help make your first home purchase a positive experience.

Buy within your means – Many people tend to look at houses they can’t afford or that are too large.  Do the math to determine how much you can realistically spend while still allowing you to meet your monthly budget needs, as well as continuing to save for retirement and other future needs – including home maintenance and repairs.

Understand all your costs – In addition to the basic monthly mortgage payments, be aware of all the other costs that may impact your budgeting.  That includes property taxes and homeowners insurance, as well as mortgage and hazard insurances, depending on your financing need and location of the home.  You should also expect an increase in your utility bills, including heating and HVAC maintenance contracts – especially if they were previously included in your rent payments.

Plan ahead – Don’t rush into a home purchase.  Make sure you have all the information, have the financial resources to comfortably support the purchase, and are buying a home you will be happy in for many years.  Try to avoid draining all your savings and make sure you still have an emergency fund to fall back on should the need arise.  That’s particularly important as a homeowner so you don’t risk losing your house if you’re suddenly unable to make payments for a short period.  In fact, it’s even better if you can continue to grow your savings, so you have the resources to make improvements.

Manage your credit – It’s always important to follow good spending and credit habits, but especially when you’re looking to buy your first home.  Lenders will pull your credit reports, possibly several times, to make sure you are credit worthy and nothing has changed during the buying process.  Make sure you pay your bills on time, and be cautious opening up any new lines of credit before your loan is approved.

The perfect home vs. the right home – It’s rare that you’ll find the absolute perfect home for all your current and future needs.  Have a reasonable list of must-have features, and a second list of nice-to-haves.  Look for a home that checks off the first set, and maybe some of the second (you can always make improvements to check off more items later).  But don’t forget location.  Your neighborhood can be as big a factor in your long-term happiness as the house itself.  Do your homework and learn about the school system, commuting options and time, crime rates, tax rates, and other geographically dependent variables that may influence your decision.

Start the loan process early – As you start thinking about buying a house, don’t think you have to find the house first.  In fact, you may be better off starting the loan process while you’re looking, or even before you start.  Good houses can sell quickly, and once you find the house you love, you want to be able to move quickly.  Being pre-qualified for a home loan may give you an advantage over other potential buyers, especially if the seller wants to move quickly.

Seek advice – Especially as a first-time buyer, you will have many questions of your own, and many more you don’t even think to ask.  Contact one of our mortgage specialists, who can give help you find all of the information you need and help you throughout the process.  Also ask about our first-time home buyer program, which offers:

Keeping these tips in mind will help you have an enjoyable home buying experience and avoid complications that could arise.

*The Milford Bank is an Equal Housing Lender

What Does the New FICO Scoring System Mean?

by Paul Mulligan, SVP, Retail Lending

When you apply for a loan, lenders have access to a variety of information they use to decide whether to give you a loan and at what terms.  The most popular of those resources is your FICO score, a three-digit rating based on information in your credit reports, which helps lenders decide how likely to repay a loan, how much you can borrow, the length of you loan repayment period, and your interest rate.

While FICO scores give lenders a quick and consistent way to determine borrower worthiness, they also make sure you, the borrower, get a fair credit assessment and access to the funds you need.  FICO has become the de facto industry standard for lenders.

This month, FICO has updated its scoring system for the first time since 2014, which could impact your scores.  The new scoring places more emphasis on trend data in your credit report, looking at your credit utilization and payments over the past two years, as opposed to only current balances.  For instance, new data might include whether you tend to pay off balances quickly, carry extended debt, or consolidate loans, as well as your credit management predictability.

The other major change reflects changes in credit reports.  Tax liens, insurance-paid medical collections, and judgments are no longer part of credit reports, and healthcare defaults won’t appear on credit reports for at least six months.

At the end of the day, though, the real question is, how will the new scoring impact you?

The new scores will be less forgiving of risky credit behavior.  That means, if you regularly run up your credit, don’t pay off balances consistently, carry too many credit cards, or consolidate debt into personal loans in order to free up your credit cards, you may see your score go down.

On the other hand, some spending habits that may have previously been viewed negatively may no longer hurt you.  For instance, if you run up seasonal balances – such as during the holidays or summer vacations – and then pay them off, your score may not be negatively impacted because those are predictable one-time spikes, not regular habits.

Ultimately, what you need to keep in mind is the basics of good credit haven’t changed.  Payment history (35%) and credit usage (30%) are still the two biggest components of your FICO score.  If you follow good credit practices – pay your bills on time, keep balances below your credit limits, and don’t apply for too many new lines of credit (or too often) – you should have nothing to worry about.  In fact, if you manage your credit well, the new scoring could actually improve your score.

If you’re concerned about your credit rating and want to work to improve your score, the sooner you start following good financial habits and budgeting, the faster you can see positive change.  Of course, it’s not always easy, so if you need help or want advice on how to become more responsible with your spending, talk to our specialists.  They can provide information on financial best practices, budgeting and saving tips, and improving your credit.  On the other hand, if you have managed your credit responsibly, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.  Just continue to follow smart banking habits.

Is a Home Equity Loan Your Path to Eliminating Credit Card Debt?

By Paul Mulligan,

Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending

Now that the holidays are a distant memory, everyone has settled back into their “normal” routines, which inevitably includes paying the bills. Hopefully, you didn’t max out all your credit cards, but if you did, that may create strain on your budget, especially if you also have other debts you’re paying off as well, like college loans.

The reality is this situation can happen to anyone, at any time. You may run into some unexpected expenses or you simply aren’t budgeting wisely, or you haven’t figured out how to save enough and the next thing you know, you have multiple debtors hitting you with high interest rates every month. It can make it hard to make a dent in your balances and become financially secure.

If you own a home and have built up equity, there is an option that could help get you out of debt faster than paying off all your credit cards each month. You could look into a home equity loan. Especially if you’ve been paying of your mortgage for several years, or your home value has increased significantly, you may actually have an easy time securing a home equity loan.

Using a home equity loan to pay consolidate multiple debts has some advantages. For instance, home equity loans often come with lower interest rates than credit cards, making the interest you’re accruing each month lower. With a home equity loan, you are also only paying a single creditor, making your monthly budgeting a little easier to manage, and a longer repayment period may help you reduce your monthly payment, giving you a little breathing room in your budget. In addition, if you are also using the home equity loan to fund a major home improvement project, the interest may also be tax deductible.

But, you should be aware there are risks with consolidating debt into a home equity loan. Perhaps the biggest is that, if you default on the loan, your home can go into foreclosure. Unlike credit card debt, it’s almost impossible to discharge a home equity loan. In addition, if your home’s value drops, you could end up paying more than it is actually worth at that point.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is loan consolidation doesn’t address the spending habits that got you into a debt problem to begin with. In addition to paying off your loans, you should also get into better spending habits to make the most of your paycheck and avoid getting into even more debt. It’s very easy to start running up credit card balances if you aren’t careful. So, if you are having a hard time putting money into savings, there are several ways you can help yourself become more financially responsible, including using a savings app like Plinqit.

But, if you think a home equity loan could be the right option for you, come speak with one of our financial specialists, who can help you make a smart decision and get your finances back on track.

7 Things to Consider with Home Equity Loans

By Paul Mulligan, Senior Vice President

There are many situations homeowners may require an influx of cash. If they’ve built up equity in their homes (if the home is worth more than what they owe on it) a home equity loan may be an attractive option. While a home equity loan may seem like a great idea, depending on how you plan on using the cash could determine whether it’s the best option for your needs.  Here are several things to consider if you’re thinking about taking out a home equity loan.

Understand the risk – With a home equity loan, you’re putting your home up as collateral. This means that, if you default on the loan, your lender can take your home to satisfy the debt.  For instance, taking out a home equity loan to pay off unsecured debt, like high-interest credit cards, may seem like a good idea – and it may be, if you’re able to make your payments.  But, if something happens and you’re unable to satisfy your loan terms, you may end up in a worse situation than just having credit card debt.

Repayment strategy – Make sure you have a reasonable repayment plan in place.  If you’re planning on using variable cash flows – like raises, commissions, or bonuses – make sure you have a backup plan in case your cash influx is smaller than expected.  It may help to create a detailed table with monthly income and expenses, including discretionary spending that might need to be limited in order to be able to pay off a loan.

Total loan cost – Always make sure you are fully aware of the total cost of your loan, including interest payments, closing costs, loan insurance, prepayment or other penalties, variable payments or interest rates, and any other hidden fees or costs that might impact your total loan cost or your ability to pay it off.  Knowing how much the loan will cost you will impact your decisions.

Tax implications ­– One of the benefits of home equity loans is their status as tax deductable interest.  But, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 applies new restrictions to when home equity loan interest can be claimed as a deduction.  More specifically, under the new regulations, interest on loans used to significantly purchase, build, or renovate a home may be tax deductible, whereas non-property-related uses of loans are not. (Contact your tax advisor for specifics.)

Plan ahead – Regardless of what you’re planning on using your home’s equity to fund, give yourself plenty of time.  While good candidates may have a fairly easy time getting a home equity loan, it’s not as simple as pulling up to an ATM and withdrawing cash.  While emergency situations may arise, give yourself as much time as possible to get a loan approved.  Lenders will run credit checks and may require home appraisals, creating a delay between your initial loan application and when funds are made available to you.

Consider your optionsTechnically, borrowers may use the funds for whatever they need them for, but it’s worth considering all the options depending on your needs.  Home improvements tend to be looked at as a high-value loan because you’re actually increasing what your home is worth.  Many people look at home equity loans as a way of paying for their children’s college tuitions, new vehicles, medical bills, consolidating debt, or other expenses.  Consider your options for any of your needs; your bank might have different loan products that are better suited for different needs.

Regardless of your needs, make sure you consult a loan specialist before making a decision that will impact your finances and life for years to come. The Milford Bank has consultants ready to answer your questions and discuss the best loan options for your unique financial needs.