Home is where the heart is. It’s also where a big chunk of your financial responsibility lies. Home ownership is a pillar of the American dream, and while many of those in younger generations either can’t afford to or actively choose not to pursue it, those who buy in to the housing market often see major financial benefits.
There is no doubt that becoming a homeowner is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make in your entire life. It’s also undeniable that simply getting to that point requires a certain degree of financial success. You need to come up with a down payment and closing costs (generally about 3 percent to 4 percent of the total home purchase price for buyers) before you can even turn the key in the door. But among those who take on the big task of home ownership, many see financial benefits that far outweigh their initial investment, especially during tax season. Here are 5 of them.
1. Build up a stronger financial future
The recent recession threw a wrench into the idea that home ownership always builds wealth over time. But the fact remains that owning a home is one of the fundamental means of accumulating wealth as we age. The caveat: you have to buy a house that you can actually afford.
Asset-wealth is a much more secure predictor of future financial stability than income, which can—and often does, in today’s evolving economy—change from year to year. In a strong economy, home values generally increase by 3 percent to 4 percent every year, thanks to inflation and natural population growth. From 2011 to 2016, as the housing market has recovered from the bubble that contributed to the recession, home values have been increasing even higher at an average rate of 6.3 percent a year. Putting money into home ownership versus a rental is akin to the difference between putting money into an investment account versus a no-interest checking account, with the latter being only as valuable as it is in the moment while the former increases over time.
2. Home ownership tax deductions
You get a number of tax breaks for owning a home, most notably a deduction for the interest and property tax portion of your mortgage. This deduction is particularly useful for off-setting the initial financial blow that comes with purchasing your property, since in the first years of owning your home you’re mostly just paying off the interest on your mortgage, as opposed to the principal. The first year you buy your home you are also able to write off any mortgage points on your loan, which can lead to pretty considerable savings depending on how many points you claimed. And if you ever decide to refinance your home after building sufficient equity in it, you also have the option of taking out a home equity line of credit, which is itself tax deductible.
Do keep in mind: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017, limits mortgage interest deductions to $750,000 of your total mortgage debt, including any home equity credit you take out. Previously, the limit was $1,000,000 in mortgage interest deductions plus a $100,000 for home equity credit. Read up on the new rules here.
3. Amass equity
Every single month that you pay your mortgage you own just a bit more of your home. This is a big benefit over renting, where you’re paying comparable monthly fees without any comparable stakes. The equity in your home builds in two ways and often concurrently: (1) equity builds as the value of your home increases, and (2) equity builds as you pay off more of your loan. These two factors mean that after the first couple of years (when, again, you’re mostly just paying mortgage interest), every month you pay money toward your loan you are building up your financial resources for the future. It’s why some people refer to mortgage payments as “forced savings.”
Want to build equity even faster? Take steps to pay off your debt quicker (like financing with a shorter term loan or paying more than you owe every month) or increase your property value (think home improvements and a focus on routine maintenance).
4. More control over day-to-day housing-related costs
Unless you change the terms of your mortgage, you know the base cost that you’re going to be spending to live in your home every month, both now and in the future. This affords more stability than rent, which is variable and can (and often does) change over time. And control over costs goes even further than that. As a renter, you don’t have a say over whether your landlord supplies you with energy-efficient appliances that can save you hundreds of dollars every year, but you do have to pay the utility bill either way. As a homeowner, you can make better short and long-term financial decisions that are geared specifically toward your own financial goals and abilities. While this isn’t likely going to help you save for your future in the same way building equity does, it should bring you peace of mind to know that you’re saving money everywhere that you can.
5. Positive perks
Home ownership has other financial benefits that may come in handy for you someday. For example, a mortgage is considered “good debt,” and as such, it is likely to increase your credit score, provided you always make your payments on time. It also proves your credit-worthiness for other things you may want to consider, like a business loan or a new line of credit. It can even lower your monthly car insurance payments. While perks like these should certainly not be deciding factors when determining whether or not you should purchase a home, they do add up as additional benefits if you choose to opt in to the housing market.
But what about the financial risks?
Owning a home isn’t all equity building and cost cutting. Aside from the significant payments that have to be made in order to own a home in the first place, there are also some financial risks that all potential and current homeowners need to keep in mind when trying to balance their budgets.
The biggest financial risks for homeowners are in terms of maintenance costs. There’s no landlord to put the responsibility on if the roof starts leaking or the heating system goes out in the middle of winter. While you’re unlikely to face major repairs like this all of the time, they do occasionally come up and it’s important for all homeowners to have savings set aside to deal with them when they happen.
Then there’s the risk of home depreciation. Ultimately, it’s your home’s land that appreciates in value over time, barring any major negative changes in your area like a natural disaster or a school or major business closing. The structure of your home, however, tends to depreciate in value as things get worn out and lived in. While you don’t have a lot of control over what goes on in your neighborhood that may negatively impact the price of your land, you do, fortunately, have some control over maintaining and increasing value on your home’s structure by keeping up with maintenance and putting in certain home improvements. Don’t let your home’s value be something that you just tacitly accept—work toward making sure your home, and not just the land it sits on, is appreciating as the years go on.
As employers prepare post-COVID-19 workplaces, supporting employees’ mental health can be as critical as creating a safe physical environment. Safety measures, such as sanitizing protocols and respiratory hygiene, are vital considerations for physical wellness. Taking a broader view of employee health that also includes emotional and social wellness can help employees manage uncertainty, engage in the workplace and adjust to a “new normal.”
Focusing on mental health is especially important during the readjustment phase. Employees may bring new stressors after weeks of sheltering in place that employers need to consider – from fear of infection at work to personal issues, such as child care concerns or substance abuse. Some may have delayed medical care, while others may be feeling financial stress or mourning lost loved ones. Others may be feeling the toll on their mental health in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness or depression.
Emotional and Social Reintegration in the Age of COVID-19
“These uncertain times are stressful, and we know that stress can lead to poor performance and poor health,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Medical Director at Travelers. “Now is the time to start conversations about the future and drafting a road map that works for your organization.”
As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, recognizing employees’ emotional and social health can help them reintegrate into the workforce and allow employers to offer additional resources when needed. Here are some strategies to help support mental health as employees return to work:
1. Practice Clear and Frequent Communication
Communicating with employees about plans to reopen can help keep them engaged and provide a sense of normalcy. Employees will want to hear about their company’s response plans, from social distancing to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as details about workforce and financial stability.
“It is important for employees to know what to expect as they return to the workplace,” Dr. Iglesias said. “That can help remove some of the uncertainty and reassure employees that you have their best interest in mind.”
When you share public health and safety information with employees, it should come from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments, and reputable medical organizations and journals.
2. Train Supervisors to Recognize At-Risk Employees
While many employees will be fine once they return to work, there may be some who have a harder time reentering the workplace and readjusting. Supervisors and managers can play a critical role in communicating with employees, providing stability and recognizing signs of distress. A recent study shows that 57% of workers are comfortable with their manager asking them about their mental health and 41% want their manager to proactively ask them.
It’s crucial that supervisors and managers are trained in how to recognize employees who may be in distress and to know when and how to intervene. A simple, “Are you okay?” may open the door to better communication and provide an opportunity to gauge an employee’s mental health risk.
Supervisors can also create a welcoming environment for employees who may be returning in a modified duty role or who may have recovered from COVID-19 and may fear being stigmatized. Setting expectations and having clear communication can help these employees readjust to the workplace.
3. Evaluate Flexible Work Arrangements
Employers may want to consider flexible work arrangements, such as adjusted schedules and remote working when possible. These may be necessary during reintegration to reduce stress for those dealing with personal and family issues, such as school closures or caring for loved ones. Companies may also need to reconsider their policies for paid time off, sick leave, leaves of absence, disability and bereavement, based on unique situations that their employees face. Continuing the open communication once employees return can help address challenges and identify solutions.
4. Consider Workplace Accommodations
Returning to work may create anxiety for some due to social proximity, especially when using shared workstations, shared dining space and food prep areas. Employees may ask for accommodations, such as separate work areas, physical barriers, face masks, PPE, cleaning equipment and working from home. This may be especially important for certain employees, such as those with chronic medical conditions and those over age 60.
5. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources
Employers must have available mental health resources for employees in need. This may take the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a referral to external organizations that can provide crisis intervention, counseling or other assistance. Easy access to and promotion of a company’s EAP can help provide many helpful resources – not just mental health – to employees in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has activated a surge in the use of telehealth, including remote and virtual interactions between individuals and healthcare providers. Access to telehealth can be an important part of an effective strategy for facilitating care to employees post COVID-19, and may offer an efficient alternative to in-person rehabilitation, addiction and mental health appointments. Resilience training may also help employees feel more empowered as they return to work.
There may be cases when urgent intervention is needed: suicide risk and threats of violence. Employees need to know how to identify this risk and what to do in these crisis situations, and providing them with a plan is imperative.
Whether you and your family are driving to the zoo, the lake, or visiting relatives, you are part of the American tradition of the road trip. Part of the appeal of a road trip is all the fun along the way. So, to make sure you’re prepared for your spontaneous adventures check out these tips:
1. Take your vehicle in for maintenance
Oil changes, tire rotations and brake pad replacements are all great ideas before your big trip. Tell the mechanic about your road trip plans and approximately how many miles you plan to travel in your vehicle. They may be able to spot potential issues before you leave to avoid a problem on the road.
2. Review your auto insurance policy
It’s a good idea to review what your auto insurance covers before you hit the road. Things like road trouble service and rental car coverage may be important to know if they are included on your policy.
3. Check the weather at home and your destination
In the days before your trip, you’ll probably watch the weather forecast for your destination and route. However, it’s also a good idea to check the upcoming weather for your home.
The last thing you want is to come home and find that a tree has fallen on your house, or that your basement has flooded. See what the forecast says and ask a neighbor to check on your house once a day, especially if there’s bad weather. Be sure you leave them a reliable contact number.
4. Renting a vehicle? Make sure it's covered
If you decide to rent a vehicle for your road trip, contact your local insurance agent to learn about rental car coverages. Most rental companies will ask if you want to purchase insurance for your rental car. But, you may not need it. Your independent agent can check your existing auto policy for any coverages that may apply and can discuss coverages you may be able to add. One coverage to ask about is rental gap coverage.
Unless you've read the fine print on the rental contract you probably haven't heard of this coverage. Your local insurance agent will know and can help you feel confident signing your rental agreement.
Rental Gap Coverage: Let’s say you crash your rental car and it’s worth $20,000, but the rental company decides to sell it for $10,000 instead of fixing it. Without rental gap coverage, you are responsible for the difference.
5. Arrange roadside help before you go
Roadside trouble service can be a vacation saver and you don't have to be a member of an auto association to get it.
If you have any questions whatsoever, call Theodore & Associates today and we'll get you road trip ready!