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5 Ways to Tell If Your Checking Account’s the Right Fit

Like the roof over your head, the state of your checking account is something you may take for granted. But if you’re seeing money drip from your account in the form of fees, it’s time to stop those leaks before things get any more costly.

“Even the smallest fee [can] burn through whatever you get from interest,” says Rob Rubin, a director at the banking analytics firm Novantas.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best checking accounts

When you originally signed up for a checking account, you may have taken a quick glance at interest rates, fees, bank branch and ATM networks, and additional services like online and mobile banking. But now that you know what services you actually use and what fees you tend to pay, it’s time to evaluate whether you have the right account.

Here are the questions to ask yourself:

1. Did I pay monthly fees this year?

Keeping money at your bank doesn’t have to cost you anything, but monthly maintenance fees are all too common these days. Many banks have stopped offering free checking accounts to offset losses from fee income caused by new regulations in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

If you’re paying a monthly fee, ask if there’s a way to get it waived. Options may include setting up direct deposits, maintaining a minimum monthly balance or making a certain number — such as 10 — of debit card transactions per month.

If your bank doesn’t offer any way around the monthly fee, shop around for one that does. Alternatively, find a free checking account at an online-only bank, community bank or credit union.

2. Is my bank’s ATM network convenient?

Count how many times you needed cash recently, and how many of those times you had to pay an ATM fee. This may not be a pressing issue if you use a credit or debit card everywhere. However, some small businesses, such as local bars and coffee shops, may require cash as payment. That’s when having a bank with a free local network of ATMs pays off: You avoid any out-of-network or ATM operator fees.

The biggest banks aren’t the only ones that make cash withdrawals convenient. Many credit unions and community banks take part in shared ATM networks such as Allpoint and the Co-Op network, which have tens of thousands of ATMs nationwide.

Some financial institutions take it a step further.

“Small banks can compete [against national banks] by refunding customers their ATM surcharges,” says David Albertazzi, senior analyst at the research and consulting firm Aite Group.

» MORE: Best banks for ATMs

3. Do I pay any overdraft fees?

Paying even one overdraft fee is expensive — the median cost is $34, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Overdraft coverage gives your bank permission to pay any debit card purchases, ATM withdrawals or checks whenever your checking account lacks enough money. And once you’re in the red, any new purchases lead to more overdraft fees.

To cut the cost of those fees, you can try an overdraft protection transfer service, which automatically transfers money from your savings account to complete a purchase, or opt out of overdraft coverage.

Take a hard look at your spending habits when deciding on your overdraft program or lack of one. These are meant to be used rarely.

» MORE: How to avoid overdraft fees

4. What services do I actually use?

Look at your bank statements for the past months to see what types of transactions you’ve made. Take note of whether you’ve had any wire transfers, cashier’s checks, money orders, ACH transfers or bill payments. Fees for these services vary by bank, so if you use them often, look at banks that have the lowest prices.

5. What am I missing out on?

First, see what your bank has. Many banks offer free online and mobile banking services, like remote check deposits and text alerts when your balance is below a certain amount. Explore your bank’s website to make sure you’re aware of all the benefits that come with your account.

Next, see what your bank doesn’t have. The interest rate on your checking account may be next to nothing, but it doesn’t have to be. Many online banks raise the bar with 1% annual percentage yield accounts. Outside of interest, some accounts have rewards.

If you’re already thinking of switching banks, there may be opportunities there, too. Promotions for opening a checking account exist, although they should be the icing on the cake. Your needs, which may range from real-time customer service to mobile app functionality, should come first.

» MORE: How to switch banks

“Ultimately, it’s about feeling confident about where my money is, where my money is going and knowing that I’m on the right track,” says Mark Schwanhausser, a director at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Once your money’s in good order, maybe it’s time to check on your roof.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Postdating Checks Is a Waste of Time — Here’s Why

You’re writing a check to your landlord, but you don’t have enough money in your account. So you date the check a few days in advance — also called postdating it — hoping your paycheck will clear by then.

Bad news: The check date won’t delay anything. Here’s what you need to know about postdating and what you can do instead.

» MORE: How to write a check

Postdated checks and payees

“It’s kind of a tricky scenario,” says Matt Foster, founder of the rental property search site iRent and a landlord in Ventura, California.

He receives checks from some renters on the 28th or 29th of the month that are dated for the first of the next month. He suspects his tenants do this to keep him from cashing their rent checks before they’ve been paid, so their rent checks don’t bounce.

Luckily for them, Foster waits to cash postdated checks, but he isn’t legally obligated. And in most cases, neither are banks.

Bank rules on postdated checks

Banks and credit unions generally state rules about postdated checks in their account disclosures. Some of the biggest banks, for example, note specifically that they can honor checks that are made out for future dates.

The Uniform Commercial Code, a collection of business laws adopted or adapted by many states, gives financial institutions the right to process a correctly written check with a future date. But you can ask your bank to delay cashing a specific check, and, depending on your state and the bank, it might comply.

What’s the worst that can happen?

If you write a check and don’t have enough money in your account when it’s cashed — whether or not it’s postdated — your bank can cover the payment or let the check bounce based on its overdraft practices. If the check goes through, you’ll pay an overdraft fee. If it doesn’t go through, the recipient might charge you late fees and a bounced-check fee. But usually it doesn’t get much worse.

“From a criminal law perspective, there is nothing inherently illegal about postdating a check,” says Eric Hintz, a criminal defense attorney at Hintz & Welsh in Sacramento, California.

Hintz says that only criminal intent, such as intentionally not having enough money for a payment, can be grounds for check fraud.

How do you delay or stop payments?

Consider these three strategies:

  • Talk to the recipient. Tell the person receiving your check — your landlord, a merchant, a friend or family member — about your situation. Find out if he or she will accept payment later.
  • Schedule an electronic transfer, such as an online bill payment. This is a much more precise way to make future payments, and you won’t risk sending money before you’re ready.
  • Request a stop payment. Your bank provides this service, usually for a steep fee, but you must give it notice. The amount of notice depends on your bank.

» MORE: How to cancel a check

It’s risky to rely on postdating or processing delays to ensure your check clears. Financial institutions now send digital pictures of checks to other financial institutions, so they can be cashed more quickly.

“In short,” says Mathew Dahlberg, a financial advisor at Main Street Investments in Kansas City, Missouri, “if you don’t have the money in your checking account, then don’t write the check!”

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Dec. 2: Steady for Now

Mortgage rates showed little movement on Friday. Thirty-year fixed rates and 5/1 ARM rates were down, while 15-year fixed rates increased, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Dec. 2 (Change from 12/1) 30-year fixed: 4.33% APR (-0.01) 15-year fixed: 3.72% APR (+0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.78% APR (-0.02) Mortgage applications down

For the week ending Nov. 25, mortgage application volume fell 38% compared with the previous week, according to data released Wednesday from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey. On a seasonally adjusted basis, volume was down 9.4%.

“Mortgage application volume in the Thanksgiving week dropped sharply to the lowest level since early January, as mortgage rates increased to their highest point since July 2015,” Mike Fratantoni, the MBA’s chief economist, said in a release. “Refinance volume, which is very sensitive to rates, dropped more than 16% in the most recent week, with refinances of government loans dropping 30%.”

“On a seasonally adjusted basis, purchase volume was little changed last week,” he said. “However, the mix continues to shift towards higher-balance loans, as the average purchase loan size reached a new survey record” of $312,400.

Fratantoni suggested that first-time homebuyers and buyers of lower priced homes may have shied away from the housing market because of increasing mortgage rates. “It appears that many homebuyers rushed to get their applications two weeks ago as rates began to increase,” he said.

According to the MBA’s survey, the seasonally adjusted volume for purchase loans fell 0.2% from one week earlier. The unadjusted volume decreased 34% compared with the previous week. But this number is 3% higher than the same week last year.

Survey data on other mortgage activity included the following:

  • Refinances fell to 55.1% of total applications from 58.2% the previous week, the lowest level since June 2016.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 5.7% of total applications, the highest level since June 2016.
  • FHA mortgage applications decreased to 10.4% from 11.7% the previous week.
  • VA mortgage applications decreased to 11.7% from 12.5% the previous week.
  • USDA mortgage applications stayed at 0.8%.

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Michael Burge is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburge@nerdwallet.com.

5 Browser Extensions to Save You Money and Time

Driven by the pursuit of a great deal, you’ve downloaded bar code scanning apps on your phone and clipped coupons from your local newspaper. But even you — a savvy deal seeker — may not know that your computer can replace both of those money-saving activities.

Browser extensions are plug-ins you can download on web browsers like Chrome or Safari, and some of these tools can do your bargain-hunting homework for you.

These are our picks for five of the best browser extensions for online shopping.


Honey is a browser extension that promises to help you find and automatically apply the best coupon codes at checkout before you complete an online order. So rather than opening a separate tab and searching for coupons and sales from coupon aggregator sites, you just shop as usual and let Honey do the work for you.

The extension also promises to find the lowest prices at Amazon. Additionally, Honey members can earn cash back on their eligible purchases through something called HoneyGold. Simply click “get bonus” at checkout, complete a transaction and you’ll stand to receive anywhere between 0% to 100% back on your purchase as a surprise bonus.

Honey is available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera.

» MORE: What to know about cash-back shopping sites

Ebates Cash Back Button

Similar to Honey is Ebates, a cash-back website that calls its browser extension the Cash Back Button. Members can use the button to activate cash back directly at store sites (rather than clicking through from the Ebates portal first) and automatically apply coupon codes at checkout.

Unlike Honey, cash-back percentages aren’t a surprise at Ebates. The store has rotating offers of various cash-back percentages from a wide selection of retailers, so you can compare exactly how much you’ll get back depending on where you shop and choose accordingly. For instance, at the time of this writing, Ebates is offering 1% back at Target and 4% at Wal-Mart.

The Ebates extension is compatible with Chrome.

Goodshop Fetch Button

Goodshop’s version of an online shopping tool is the Goodshop Fetch Button. Goodshop is a coupon website with a twist. It helps its members locate deals and donates a portion of eligible member purchases to the shopper’s school or charity of choice.

Install the extension to activate coupons (which will automatically appear on your screen) and a donation. Users will be able to see the available donation percentage in their search engine results page for a given store. For instance, at the time of this writing, Goodshop will donate 1.5% of what you spend to your favorite cause when you shop at Kohl’s.

Goodshop’s browser extension is available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

The Camelizer by CamelCamelCamel

The Camelizer is the brainchild of CamelCamelCamel, an Amazon price-tracking website. CamelCamelCamel tracks the price history of items sold on Amazon so shoppers can get a sense for any given product’s regular price — and thus judge when a sale is really better than the ordinary selling price.

The Camelizer extension provides users with price history charts without having to leave a product page on Amazon. So while you’re scoping out that Beats Pill speaker, you can quickly pull up how much it was selling for last month or earlier this year.

The browser add-on is supported by Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Slice Watch

Slice Watch is a browser extension that monitors prices so you don’t have to. The extension is a self-described “smart shopping assistant that allows you to track product prices when you shop, and get email notifications whenever they drop.”

When users shop at supported retailers, such as Amazon, Target and Best Buy, they’ll see a teal icon in the top right of their browser. Click it when you find an item you like and want to track. Slice Watch will alert you when that product goes on sale or gets a price reduction so you can buy it for less.

Slice Watch can be added to Chrome.

Check out the websites for these browser extensions for more information and for links to download them in your compatible browser of choice.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

Ask Brianna: Will Trump Hurt or Help My Student Debt?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

Q: I’m already struggling to pay back my student loans. Will a Trump administration make it better or worse?

A: This is a tough one. President-elect Donald Trump and the Republicans who now have a majority in both houses of Congress didn’t focus much on higher education during their campaigns, says Jason Delisle, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. That makes predicting the next four years of student loan policy tricky.

“We’re left a little bit empty-handed,” Delisle says.

But Trump recently spoke about simplifying a program that lets student loan borrowers repay their loans based on their incomes, which some policy experts have recommended for years.

Here’s how it works now: If you’re struggling to afford your monthly student loan bills, federal income-driven repayment plans will cap them at a percentage of your income. On the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan, introduced by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2015, payments are no more than 10 percent of your income, and your loans are forgiven after 20 or 25 years. You’ll be taxed on the amount forgiven.

REPAYE is one of five income-driven plans. They each have small differences in their benefits and requirements, and they all involve a thorny application process. You must apply through your student loan servicer and recertify your income every year. That means if you suddenly lose your job — meaning you qualify for a $0 payment — you can’t get relief until you fill out a form and wait until your loan servicer processes it.

Trump said in an October speech in Columbus, Ohio, that he’d replace the current maze of plans with a single program. The plan would limit student loan payments to 12.5 percent of income, slightly higher than REPAYE’s cap, and forgive the remaining balance after 15 years, five to 10 years sooner than the current options offer.

More change needed

A simpler income-driven repayment program would be refreshing news for many borrowers. But those most at risk of default may need more help. Former students who attended community colleges or for-profit colleges, for instance, are less likely to complete their studies or see a boost in earnings — and they often can’t keep up with student loan payments, according to a report published in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

One possibility for improving the income-driven repayment program is to eliminate the need to apply in the first place or to reapply every year. By automatically enrolling all borrowers, even those most likely to default could start repaying their loans as soon as their first bill is due. The government could set payments based on borrowers’ current income and collect them directly from paychecks, a process called payroll withholding. That would ensure that borrowers’ payments drop or stop as soon as their incomes do.

Making payroll withholding work would mean navigating many bureaucratic hurdles, but it’s possible.

“There are countries that have figured it out and it’s happening at full scale,” says Susan Dynarski, professor of public policy and education at the University of Michigan. Those countries include Australia, Britain and Chile, according to Dynarski’s paper “How to — and How Not to — Manage Student Debt.”

No need to wait on Trump

As for the U.S., both Republicans and Democrats have expressed interest in improving the federal government’s student loan repayment options, says Matthew Chingos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank. But the scale of the possible change isn’t certain.

“I don’t know if we’d see an Australia-style system where it’s done automatically through the tax system, but we might see some consolidation of those plans, streamlining of those systems,” he says.

In the meantime, you can sign up now for REPAYE, or any of the other plans you qualify for, at studentloans.gov. The current options and recertification requirements aren’t perfect, but income-driven repayment could keep you from feeling overwhelmed by your bills.

“Consumers need to understand that these protections already exist,” Chingos says. “They’re not out of luck.”

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Wire Transfers Explained

Sometimes you need to send money somewhere fast.

Wire transfers are one of the most effective and quickest ways to move money for things like closing on a home or sending funds to relatives abroad. They cost a bit more and take more effort than other methods of sending money, but you’ll have peace of mind.

Here’s what you need to know.

» MORE: Best ways to send money to individuals

What is a wire transfer?

A wire transfer is a fast way to move money electronically from one person to another using a bank or a nonbank provider such as Western Union or TransferWise. No physical money moves between locations. The term “wire transfer” comes from an era when banks relied on telegraph wires for this type of money transfer.

A bank wire consists of instructions about who will get the money, including the bank account number and how much the recipient should get. Nonbank wire transfers might not require a bank account, depending on the service, but they will require the recipient’s name, the transfer amount and the destination. You pay the amount upfront, so the transfer is final once processed.

Types of wires

There are two main types of wire transfers: domestic and international. The cost and delivery time vary for each. If you’re sending money overseas through your bank, you’ll generally use a wire transfer. Banks can wire amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars and send money in a foreign currency.

» MORE: Best ways to wire money internationally

How long does it take?

Your money doesn’t go straight from one bank or provider to another. A real-time wire processing system like FedWire clears the payments, similar to the way the Automated Clearing House processes ACH transfers like direct deposits and bill payments. For domestic wire transfers, money generally gets processed the same day the wire goes out — usually within a few hours. International transfers, which involve a U.S. clearinghouse and at least one foreign country’s processing system, take several days.

What does it cost?

A wire transfer can be one of the more expensive ways to send money, especially through banks. On average, there’s a flat fee of around $25 to wire money to another person in the U.S. and about $43 to wire abroad, based on some of the bigger U.S. financial institutions’ current pricing. Recipients might also have to pay their bank, usually around $8 to $10, to receive the money.

International wire transfers have another cost, which can be hidden. Banks both in the U.S. and abroad charge consumers higher exchange rates than what they charge other banks.

» MORE: What wire transfers cost at banks

For transfers through nonbank providers, the fee can depend on the provider, amount, destination, delivery and payment options, and method of sending money, such as online or in person. Generally, you’ll get a better exchange rate than you would at a bank.

For domestic transfers that are less urgent or involve a smaller amount, ACH transfers, such as external funds transfers, are better. Deliveries can take several days, but they cost a few bucks at most.

How safe is it?

A wire transfer is secure and can’t be canceled once it’s been sent, so make sure you know the person you’re sending money to. Scam artists might say you won a lottery or sweepstakes you never signed up for and then ask you to wire money to pay supposed fees. If you fall for a trick like this, you can’t get your money back. The one exception is if you make an international transfer and then cancel it within a half-hour, assuming the wire hasn’t been picked up or deposited yet. This is one of several federal protections you have when sending international money transfers.

A wire transfer isn’t the type of money service you’ll need often, but when speed is crucial, it can be a lifesaver.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Updated Nov. 29, 2016.

Banking Whether you’re hunting for a high-yield savings account, a low-fee checking account or a CD, we’ll make your options a lot clearer.
Checking Accounts Compare your options Find a free or low-fee checking account. Savings Accounts Search for savings Save smartly with a little shopping around. Certificates of deposit Find CD rates Earn returns while you stash your cash.
Our top picks by category Best Checking Accounts Best Online Checking Accounts Top High-Yield Online Savings Accounts
Online Bank reviews. Ally Bank has become a popular destination for people seeking strong rates, innovative tools and top customer service. Barclays offers several stellar online savings accounts with relatively high interest rates. Capital One 360’s tech tools are arguably the best in the business, offering a full-service internet experience. Simple is an online bank that offers one type of checking account and a handful of first-rate tools. Synchrony offers competitive interest rates on savings accounts, certificates of deposit and money market accounts.
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The basics Savings Accounts Get advice on savings accounts, one of the simplest types of accounts available to consumers. Banking Basics Deciding which bank accounts are best can help minimize your costs and maximize your savings. Checking Accounts Learn more about checking accounts and find accounts with low fees and the best interest rates. Prepaid Debit Cards A prepaid debit card is a convenient way to make payments without a bank account.
The article Wire Transfers Explained originally appeared on NerdWallet.

This Student Loan Move Could Save You Thousands

There may not be a magic bullet for getting out of student loan debt, but there is a holy grail, of sorts, for some borrowers: student loan refinancing.

Here’s how it works: If you qualify, a lender will buy your existing loan, or loans, and issue a new one. Depending on your credit, you could get a lower interest rate, which would save you money in the long run.

Say, for example, you left college with a $30,000 private student loan with a 7% interest rate and a standard 10-year loan term. If you refinanced that loan right away at 3.5%, you’d save more than $6,000 in interest over the life of your loan. You could use the money to start an emergency fund, save for retirement or go on vacation.

Here’s what you need to know about refinancing your student loans.

How to qualify

In general, you’ll need three things to qualify:

  1. Solid credit score: Most lenders require a score of 700 or higher. If your score is lower, you can apply with a co-signer whose score qualifies.
  2. Low debt-to-income ratio: The lower your debt is in relation to your income, the better. Aim for a ratio that’s lower than 50%. For example, if you make $60,000 a year, your total debt should be below $30,000.
  3. Steady source of income: Borrowers with traditionally stable, high-paying careers will find it easier to qualify. Freelancers and those who are between jobs will have a harder time qualifying.
How to make it work

Refinancing is a great option for borrowers who have private loans with high interest rates. Federal loans also can be refinanced, but you’ll lose access to federal loan protections, such as income-driven repayment and forgiveness options. That’s why it’s usually best to exclude federal loans during refinancing.

Nerd Tip: If a lender offers prequalification, you might want to go through that process to get an idea of how much you could save without having a hard inquiry on your credit history, which lowers your credit score.

To determine if refinancing is a good option, compare your current loan terms against your potential loan terms. You’ll save the most money by getting your interest rate as low as possible. Consider other aspects of your loan as well to get the full picture. For example, if you have a loan with a 6% interest rate, refinancing it at 5% would make sense only if you didn’t have to extend the loan term.

Use NerdWallet’s student loan refinance calculator to estimate your potential savings and see if refinancing is right for you.

If you don’t qualify

You can use a co-signer if your own credit score isn’t 700 or above. But if you’d rather refinance on your own, focus on paying your bills on time and reducing any credit card debt to boost your credit score before applying.

Check your credit score here.

If refinancing makes sense and you’re willing to make the effort, it could help you save thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of your loan. That’s at least worth considering.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ddelfino@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @devondelfino.

When Your Kid Is a Financial Train Wreck

Parents want to help their kids — it’s what we do. When those kids are adults, though, our help can hurt.

Financial planners and credit counselors see plenty of examples. The grown son who lost a job, moved home and stopped looking for work. The daughter who constantly mismanaged her checking account — and turned to payday lenders when parents stopped covering her overdrafts. The father working into his 70s to support spendthrift children in their 40s and 50s.

Kristi Sullivan, a certified financial planner in Denver, once worked with an elderly couple whose offspring constantly turned to them for help.

“The clients couldn’t understand why their grandchildren had all the latest iPads and phones, but when a car or home repair came up, their adult children always had to ask them for money,” Sullivan said.

Giving adult children money is the norm in the U.S. Six out of 10 parents with adult children said they had given those children financial help in the previous 12 months, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.

Parents usually give because it feels good. Eight out of 10 parents who help adult children — with money, child care, housework or home repairs — said doing so was rewarding, Pew found.

But the toll can be steep, advisors say. Supporting able-bodied children or repeatedly bailing them out of debt creates dependency when parents should help them become self-sufficient. The unwise spending also can:

  • Delay or derail the parents’ retirement.
  • Fuel sibling resentment and family discord.
  • Enable dangerous behavior, including addiction or untreated mental illness.

The “just say no” advice doesn’t get far with parents stuck in these patterns, advisors say. Many parents don’t understand the harm they’re doing, and the children certainly have no incentive to change, said Bruce McClary, a former credit counselor and spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.

Change is possible, though, when parents set limits and communicate those limits to their kids. Here’s what planners advise:

Figure out what you can afford: Delia Fernandez , a CFP in Los Alamitos, California, uses retirement planning software to show what happens if clients continue spending on their kids at their current level. Often, the results are eye-opening. “They’ll say, ‘Why is the chart turning red?’” Fernandez says. “They thought they’d be retiring at 62, but now they’re looking at 66 or later.” If parents can’t agree on a figure, a third party such as a planner, accountant or even a therapist may be able to help. (Run the numbers on your own retirement.)

Set expectations: Many parents who support adult kids have never talked about money with those children, planners say. Parents should be clear about when they will and won’t help. If the children aren’t trying to be self-sufficient, any help should have an expiration date. If the offspring needs basic budgeting help, credit counselors can offer advice, classes or debt-management plans.

Plan for ‘emergencies:’ The financially irresponsible limp from crisis to crisis, so parents who set boundaries should expect to get pleas for emergency help. If possible, avoid knee-jerk responses, planners say. Parents who decide to step in should set and communicate limits, Fernandez says. For example, they can offer to pay one or two months’ rent to stave off an eviction, but tell the offspring to find affordable shelter after that. (One parent I know keeps a list of emergency social services — shelters, mass transit, food banks — handy. The United Way’s 2-1-1 program might be a good place to start.)

Target your help: Very wealthy parents may hand over annual checks as a way to reduce their estates and avoid future estate taxes. But giving cash to irresponsible adult children is a bad idea. Instead, parents should direct the money toward something specific, such as paying the mechanic for a car repair or taking over certain bills, planners say.

Consider your other kids: Money shouldn’t equal love, but it often does in the siblings’ minds when financial help is doled out unequally, says Laura Scharr-Bykowsky, a CFP in Columbia, South Carolina.

Siblings also may worry they’ll have to support the parents or the financially irresponsible child someday, which adds to their resentment. Knowing the parents have a plan to wean that person, or some kind of “stop loss” figure where they’ll stop giving, can ease the situation.

Parents may not be able to treat their children equally in life, but Scharr-Bykowsky encourages her clients to at least do so in death by dividing their estate equally — assuming, of course, that there’s anything left.

Treating children unequally “is a very hurtful thing,” Scharr-Bykowski says. “And the parents don’t see it.”

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Mortgage Rates Today, Thursday, Dec. 1: Continuing to Climb

Mortgage rates kept up their slow climb on Thursday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Rates have been on the rise since Donald Trump’s election win on Nov. 8, and they don’t appear to be slowing any time soon. Higher inflation is propelling higher rates, as well as expectations that the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee will raise the federal funds rate later this month.

Mortgage Rates Today, Thursday, Dec. 1 (Change from 11/30) 30-year fixed: 4.34% APR (+0.04) 15-year fixed: 3.71% APR (+0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.80% APR (+0.01) Mortgage rates will keep rising in 2017, says Freddie Mac

According to Freddie Mac’s November Outlook, released Wednesday, mortgage rates throughout 2017 are expected to be much higher than what was predicted last month.

“Much like in 2013, we expect housing markets to respond negatively to higher mortgage rates,” said Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “They will drive down homebuyer affordability, dampen demand and weaken home sales, soften house price growth, and slow the growth in new home construction. And mortgage market activity will be significantly reduced by higher mortgage rates, especially refinance originations, which are likely to be cut in half.”

Freddie Mac predicted that the labor market will hold steady and economic growth will improve next year, assuming a fiscal stimulus is passed under a Trump administration. But increased interest rates will offset some of that growth. Freddie Mac said that economic growth will average 1.9% for the year.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about the fiscal policies of a Trump administration, as well as the pace of increased rates for next year. But even with a cooling housing market and mortgage originations and refinancing taking a hit, mortgage rates aren’t expected to go up that much next year. What could change that is an unforeseen shock to the market or a major shift in economic policy.

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Michael Burge is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburge@nerdwallet.com.

For International Travel, MasterCard Has Slight Edge on Visa

When you return from an international getaway, you’ll notice that your credit card issuer doesn’t bill you in euros, yen or pesos for the things you bought. It converts your international purchases to U.S. dollars — and that might make you wonder if the conversion is costing you money.

If you’re a smart traveler, you’ve made a point of avoiding foreign transaction fees, and you’ve budgeted carefully. But one thing remains unclear: Could you get a better exchange rate elsewhere?

The short answer: possibly — but it’s probably not worth losing sleep over.

Visa and MasterCard set exchange rates for each currency every day, and those rates are published online. NerdWallet made more than 15,500 queries for rates between the U.S. dollar and 44 foreign currencies and found that MasterCard has a slight advantage over Visa for several currencies. Even so, the differences tend to be small, and rates at both networks are similar to market rates.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s currency conversion study

MasterCard’s advantage

MasterCard offered a better rate than Visa more than 70% of the time for 23 out of the 44 currencies surveyed in one of NerdWallet’s comparisons. Visa had better rates for three currencies more than 70% of the time. The other currencies were either tied or could be considered a toss-up.

But that doesn’t mean that using a MasterCard will guarantee you better exchange rates on your next trip. Depending on which currency you’re using and which days you’re traveling, Visa might be better. Here’s how the currencies we surveyed stacked up:

Most days, Visa’s and MasterCard’s rates are different from each other by only a fraction of a penny. That’s because a 2006 court decision sharply limited which types of rates Visa and MasterCard can use, and it prohibits networks from embedding markups or fees within their rates. 

Still, the networks have some wiggle room in determining these prices, and they rely on different wholesale and government-mandated sources.

  • Visa’s rates are based on “the range of rates available in wholesale currency markets or a government-mandated rate in effect for the applicable processing date,” according to a statement from Visa.
  • MasterCard’s rates are based on “multiple market sources — including what’s published by the central banks, Bloomberg, Reuters and other sources,” Beth Kitchener, a spokeswoman for MasterCard, said in an email.

This explains why these rates tend to vary slightly, even on the same day. Neither network commented further on the results of this study.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best MasterCard credit cards

Big savings? Not so much

In the credit card world, pennies are a big deal. We celebrate a 2% cash-back rewards rate and look for ways to avoid various fees ranging from 1% to 5%. But when it comes to exchange rates, these variations generally don’t amount to much savings. MasterCard’s average rates, for example, were less than 1% more favorable than Visa’s average rates for the vast majority of currencies surveyed.

Worst-case scenario, the average international traveler would end up paying only $8 more on his or her next trip as a result, based on the most recent data from the National Travel and Tourism Office. That’s roughly the price of a fancy fridge magnet. Unless you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars abroad each year, these differences won’t affect your bottom line much. Instead, focus on these fees, which could cost you more while you’re away:

  • Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards tack fees of 1% to 3% on every purchase made outside of the U.S. You can avoid these by getting a card with no foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees are separate from currency conversion. 
  • Dynamic currency conversion fees. Merchants in foreign countries may give you the option to see your total in U.S. dollars at checkout and have the transaction processed in dollars. If you use this so-called dynamic currency conversion service, you’ll get a less favorable exchange rate — often equivalent to about a 3% fee. 

If you can avoid these fees, you’ll still be getting a world-class deal, regardless of your card’s exchange rates.

Both Visa and MasterCard rates were similar to interbank rates — that is, wholesale rates that are used for exchanges of $1 million or more — provided by Oanda, a widely used foreign exchange platform. You can get these highly favorable rates with your credit card even if you’re only purchasing a pack of gum.

Know what to expect

The next time you make an international purchase, you don’t need to wonder how much your credit card issuer will charge you. You can know for sure by checking the rates online.

Before checking out, convert the foreign currency price to dollars on Visa’s currency conversion site or MasterCard’s currency conversion site. Generally, your issuer will apply this rate to your international purchase, round it to the nearest penny, and list the adjusted result on your statement.

You might not get the best rate available every day. But if you steer clear of fees, you’ll still be getting a pretty sweet deal.

» MORE: How to exchange currency without paying huge fees

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

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