couple on a swing

What Is A Conventional Home Loan?

Nothing compares to scrolling through listings until you find the home with the perfect garden, garage, and floors. Then comes the less fun part: figuring out how to finance your home purchase.

For the vast majority of people, acquiring a new home means taking out a mortgage, a loan for the part of the house cost that isn’t covered by the down payment.

U.S. homeownership hovers near 66%, and millennials continue to be the biggest share of buyers. What kind of loan do most go for? The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. But conventional loan requirements vary, and some may find that a government-sponsored loan is a better fit.

Let’s take a closer look at conventional loan requirements and the difference between FHA and conventional loans.

Conventional Mortgages Explained

Conventional mortgages are insured by private lenders, not a government agency, and are the most common type of home loan.

Then there are government-guaranteed home loans. FHA loans are more commonly used than VA loans (for service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses) and USDA loans (rural housing). Government loans are often easier to qualify for.

Taking out a conventional home loan means that you are making an agreement with a lender to pay back what you borrowed, with interest.

And unlike with an FHA loan, the government does not offer any assurances to the lender that you will pay back that loan. That’s why lenders look at things like your credit score and down payment when deciding whether to offer you a conventional mortgage and at what rate.

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dream home a reality.

Two Main Types of Conventional Loans

Fixed Rate

A conventional loan with a fixed interest rate is one in which the rate won’t change over the life of the loan. If you have a “fully amortized conventional loan,” your monthly principal and interest payment will stay the same each month.

Although fixed-rate loans can provide predictability when it comes to payments, they may initially have higher interest rates than adjustable-rate mortgages.

Fixed-rate conventional loans can be a great option for homebuyers during periods of low rates because they can lock in a rate and it won’t rise, even decades from now.

Adjustable Rate

Adjustable-rate mortgages have the same interest rate for a set period of time, and then the rate will adjust for the rest of the loan term.

The major upside to choosing an ARM is that the initial rate is usually set below prevailing interest rates and remains constant for six months to 10 years.

A 7/6 ARM of 30 years will have a fixed rate for the first seven years, and then the rate will adjust once every six months over the remaining 23 years. A 5/1 ARM will have a fixed rate for five years, followed by a variable rate that adjusts every year.

An ARM may be a good option if you’re not planning on staying in the home long term. The downside, of course, is that if you are, your interest rate could end up higher than you want it to be.

Most adjustable-rate conventional mortgages have limits on how much the interest rate can increase over time. These caps protect a borrower from facing an unexpectedly steep rate hike.

Conventional Home Loan Requirements

Conventional mortgage requirements vary by lender, but almost all private lenders will require you to have a cash down payment, a good credit score, and sufficient income to make the monthly payments.

Many lenders that offer conventional loans require that you have enough cash to make a decent down payment. Even if you can manage it, is 20% down always best? It might be more beneficial to put down less than 20% on your dream house.

You’ll also need to demonstrate a good credit history. For example, you’ll want to show that you make loan payments on time every month.

Each conventional loan lender sets its own requirements when it comes to credit scores, but generally, the higher your credit score, the easier it will be to secure a conventional mortgage at a competitive interest rate.

Most lenders will require you to show that you have a sufficient monthly income to meet the mortgage payments. They will also require information about your employment and bank accounts.

How Do FHA and Conventional Loans Differ?

One of the main differences between FHA loans and conventional loans is that the latter are not insured by a federal agency.

FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, so lenders take on less risk. If a borrower defaults, the FHA will help the lender recoup some of the lost costs.

FHA loans are easier to qualify for, and are geared toward lower- and middle-income homebuyers. They require at least 3.5% down.

Additionally, the loans are limited to a certain amount of money, depending on the geographic location of the house you’re buying. The lender administering the FHA loan can impose its own requirements as well.

An FHA loan can be a good option for a buyer with a lower credit score, but it also will require a more rigorous home appraisal and possibly a longer approval process than a conventional loan.

Conventional loans require private mortgage insurance if the down payment is less than 20%, but PMI will automatically terminate when the loan balance reaches 78% of the original value of the mortgaged property, unless the borrower asked to stop paying PMI once the balance reached 80% of the original property value.

FHA loans require mortgage insurance, no matter the down payment amount, and it cannot be canceled unless you refinance into a conventional loan.

The Takeaway

A conventional home loan and FHA loan differ in key ways, such as credit score requirements. If you’re ready to make your dream house a reality, you’ll want to size up your eligibility and your mortgage options.

SoFi offers fixed-rate home loans with as little as 5% down and terms of 10, 15, 20, and 30 years.

It takes just two minutes to get prequalified online.

SoFi Home Loans
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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turquoise crib in nursery

How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Child?

Growing your family is a huge decision, and adopting a child will change your life forever. And while making the decision to open up your home and your heart to a new child seems like a natural next step for you and your family, the process can actually be pretty complicated—and costly.

There are a few different adoption methods and each comes with its own unique costs and fees. Read on for a breakdown of some expenses you might run into in the adoption process.

Cost of Adoption from Foster Care

Adopting a child from foster care tends to be less expensive than other options. According to a 2017 survey from Adoptive Families , the average cost of a foster care adoption was about $3,000.

Home Study

One of the most important costs to account for is the home study, which is when the prospective parents’ home is screened such that the adoption agency can get a sense of their day-to-day life. While the cost of a home study might be included in the overall adoption fee from an agency, the fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

Foster care adoptions will also generally have a home study where a social worker observes the interaction between the potential adoptive parents and the child. In some cases, there may be state or federal programs to offset

Tax Credits for Foster Care Adoptions

The good news is there are also plenty of government resources for foster care adoptions—The Children’s Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has a wealth of resources available discussing the ins and outs of adoption.

The Children’s Bureau further explains that thanks to amendments to the Social Security Act in 1994 , families adopting children from foster care could qualify for federal assistance depending on the child’s eligibility. This assistance includes :

•   A one-time, non-recurring reimbursement for adoption transaction costs
•   Recurring monthly maintenance payments for the child’s care (Not to exceed what the state would have paid to keep the child in foster care)

Families contending with medical expenses for the birth mother or child, attorney’s fees, or those who need extra travel for visits before placement might experience higher expenses than average with a foster care adoption.

Children adopted through foster care may also be eligible for health insurance coverage under Medicaid, and other medical assistance to cover some or all of the child’s needs like special education or therapy.

Planning for Private Agency Adoption

Private adoption costs in the U.S. can vary from state to state. According to the Children’s Bureau, the cost of a private, agency-assisted adoption can range anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000 on average .

Agency Fees

Court Documentation Fees

U.S. domestic adoptions must also be finalized in a court. Court documentation fees can be in the range of $500 to $2,000 , in addition to the cost of legal representation for the adoptive parents, which can range from $1,500 to $4,000 . Depending on the state, these fees may or may not be covered as part of an agency’s overall pricing.

Independent Adoption Costs

Some families choose to adopt a child without the assistance of an adoption agency and instead work directly through an attorney. It might seem like a cost-saving measure at first, but pricing can still vary. Expenses might be low if you match with a birth parent through word of mouth, or if the birth mother’s expenses are minimal.

However, these adoption costs can still range from around $15,000 to $40,000 . This typically includes most of the same costs of any other domestic adoption, including the home study, the birth mom’s medical expenses, and legal and court fees for the adoptive parents and birth parents.

Expenses for Intercountry Adoption

Adoption fees will differ depending on which country you plan to adopt a child from. Intercountry adoption costs tend to be higher than a U.S.-based adoption because there is usually foreign travel and immigration processing to factor into the equation, in addition to other higher court costs, mandatory adoption education, and other documentation. The U.S. government says the average cost can range from $20,000 to $50,000 for a foreign adoption.

Costs can depend on the organization managing the adoption as well: whether it’s the government, private agency, orphanage, non-profit organization, private attorney, or some combination of the above. Some intercountry adoptions are finalized in the child’s home country, while others must be finalized in the United States. Finalizing an adoption in U.S. court can come with extra costs, but also provides additional legal protections and documentation.

Other costs to adopt a child from another country can include :

• Escort fees for when/if parents can’t travel to accompany the child to the U.S.
• Medical care and treatment for the child
• Translation fees
• Foreign attorney or foreign agency fees
• Passport and visa processing
• Counseling and support after placement

Financing the Cost of Adoption

So, with costs ranging from at least a few thousand dollars to up to $50,000 or more, financing an adoption may require some planning. Financially preparing for a child typically means looking into all associated costs, including raising your new child and tackling your own debt.

Some employers may offer financial and other support to help with the adoption process. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption , the average policy offers a reimbursement of around $10,000.

Additionally, companies with 50 or more employees are required by federal law to grant parental leave to employees who have adopted a child. Mothers and fathers are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a new child.

To offset some of the high costs of adoption, there are currently also federal adoption tax credits . The actual amount depends on family income, tax year, and employer adoption benefits, so it’s a good idea to talk to your tax attorney if you’re interested.

Grants and loans also exist to help with the cost of adoption and can help with any type of legal adoption, whether a foster care adoption, private agency, or overseas adoption. Most grants and loans have their own eligibility criteria based on things like marital status, income level, or even specifics like religion.

You can also consider taking out a private loan from a lender like SoFi to cover the adoption costs. If you qualify for a personal loan, you can use it for whatever qualifying personal financial need arises. Or perhaps you want to pay down your credit card debt, or build a new bedroom before the baby arrives, which a personal loan can help with as well.

The Takeaway

The cost of adopting a child can vary widely, from a few thousand dollars to $50,000. Foster care adoptions tend to be less expensive than private agency or intercountry adoptions. There are state or federal tax credits that may help offset the cost of adoption. Other resources to pay for an adoption include grants and loans.

Use our personal loan calculator to see how an unsecured personal loan with SoFi could help you prepare for the anticipated costs of adopting a child.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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woman unpacking boxes

How to Move Across the Country

Moving can be stressful. Making sure your breakables are packed so they don’t actually break, deciding on a DIY move or hiring professional movers, managing security deposits or down payments on both ends of the move—moving cross country could stress even the most relaxed people. There are some things to keep in mind, though, to make the process go as smooth as possible.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The three Rs aren’t just good environmental stewardship, they’re essential for planning a big move. Think of it this way: Is it really necessary to pack up and ship the six half-empty conditioner bottles under the bathroom sink?

Moving is a great time to embrace your inner minimalist and get rid of absolutely everything that’s no longer needed. Not only does minimizing now help cut down on moving costs, but it also helps avoid filling up the new place with meaningless stuff.

Instead of just throwing away unwanted goods, trying to find them a new home might give them a second life. Big-ticket furniture items can be sold online or in consignment stores to raise a bit of extra money for the moving fund, or they can be donated to a thrift store.

Professional clothes that are no longer worn could help someone if donated to a job readiness program. Animal shelters often take donations of old sheets and blankets to make cuddly beds for their charges.

Local freecycle or buy-nothing groups can also be great places to unload unwanted home goods—you never know who has a use for those five dish strainers you’ve somehow accumulated.

Pack Like a Pro

Once you’ve decluttered, it’s time to get packing. Resist the urge to throw everything into a medium-sized box and call it a day. Taking the time to pack up your home like a professional will make moving—and the subsequent unpacking—a whole lot easier.

First, gather your packing supplies. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of boxes of varying sizes, several rolls of packing tape, large black markers, scissors, a utility knife, and several types of packing materials, like old newspaper, bubble wrap, and even old rags or sheets.

To pack like a pro, start with non-essentials. The last thing you want is to realize that you accidentally packed all your clean underwear two weeks before you plan on leaving. Seasonal home goods, out-of-season clothes, and rarely used kitchen goods are a good place to start.

Make sure to wrap all fragile items in paper or bubble wrap before putting them in boxes. Plates should be packed next to each other vertically, which helps prevent breaking . Likewise, adding a layer of crumbled newsprint or packing paper on the bottom of your box can also help prevent breakage.

Aim to keep each box light enough to lift alone, with heavy items on the bottom and lighter items on top. Don’t forget to pack like items together—no one wants to arrive at their new home and find their dishes somehow got packed next to the cat litter box.

Choose Your Mode of Transportation

One of the most challenging parts of planning a cross-country move can be planning the actual transportation. Will you fly, and ship your cargo? Hire a moving company to pack everything up and unpack it at your new place? Rent a cargo trailer and make it into a cross-country road trip?

Each option has its benefits and its drawbacks, but choosing the right mode of transportation can help keep your move as stress-free as possible and, depending on the mode you choose, could help you keep your budget intact.

The easiest, and usually the most expensive, option is to hire a moving company and let them take care of the details. Using a moving company for a cross-country move can cost almost $5,000 on average, and that can increase with the addition of fuel costs, fees, and insurance.

The benefit to paying more upfront is that you are only responsible for getting yourself and your family to your new home. The moving company takes care of the rest, which can be a significant relief if you’re short on time or are looking at the prospect of trying to maneuver your couch up three flights of stairs in your new apartment building.

Some moving companies will send someone out to take a look at how much stuff you plan to move to give a more accurate cost estimate. They may also estimate the weight of the load and calculate how far you plan on moving when giving you the final estimate.

If you’re hiring movers, one way to cut down on cost is to pack and unpack your stuff yourself. Asking for personal recommendations, reading online reviews, and getting a few different quotes before deciding on a moving company can help you get the best company for your needs.

If hiring movers isn’t in the budget, there are still plenty of options to ensure your beloved record collection arrives safely across the country. If you don’t have any big furniture to move, you may be able to get away with shipping your goods and hopping on a plane with just your essentials.

Shipping your goods as freight can be a budget-friendly option, whether you send them via mail, train, or even take a few boxes as checked baggage on the flight.

The downside is that unless the boxes are traveling on your flight with you, you may end up waiting a while for them at your destination, and, like all mail, there is always a chance things could be lost or damaged during the journey.

Many movers choose to take the DIY route and rent a cargo truck or trailer to haul their worldly possessions. This can be a budget-friendly option, but remember that for all the cost savings, you’ll be putting in a lot more hard work.

You’ll need to pack and load all your boxes and furniture into the trailer yourself. On top of packing, you’ll also have to be comfortable driving the cargo truck or trailer the thousands of miles that lie between you and your destination.

Budgeting for Your Move

Still wondering how to move across the country without going broke? There’s no doubt about it—moving is expensive. And don’t forget to include the additional costs of moving, like a down payment on your new place, or first and last month’s rent, and the cost of setting up your new home with all the essentials.

On top of that, moving often coincides with changing jobs, which may mean that you have a few weeks where you are sorely missing your paycheck. All of this makes moving across the country financially draining for many people.

If you know you’ll be moving in the future, saving up now and using any money you make selling unwanted goods can be a good way to build up your moving fund.

Some people, however, realize they need a little more help in covering the upfront costs of moving across the country. A personal loan might be able to help cover that cost without affecting the rest of your finances.

The Takeaway

For some people, there may be a few potential benefits of using an unsecured personal loan rather than a credit card to fund moving costs. A personal loan may offer lower interest rates than many credit cards do and, unlike a credit card, a personal loan is not revolving credit. That means the loan is for a set amount of money and paid back over a fixed period of time.

Lenders usually review an applicant’s credit report, among other personal financial factors, to determine the loan term and rates they qualify for. Some lenders disburse loan funds within a few days. This means that you can spend more time exploring your new home base and less time stressing about paying for your move.

About to embark on a major move? Look into a relocation loan with SoFi to help finance your new adventure!

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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Does Everyone Need an Estate Plan?

Does Everyone Need an Estate Plan?

The short answer is, yes, estate planning can be a smart move for everyone.

Though it’s not much fun to think about what will happen to your loved ones after you are gone, doing some estate planning early on, and readjusting it as needed throughout your lifetime, can help you prepare for the future and protect the people you care about.

One of the biggest reasons why is that without an estate plan, any assets you have may not go to the people you would have wanted to have them. And, if you have children, you won’t have a say in who becomes their guardian.

Not having an estate plan can also create a lot of legal and administrative headaches for your family members and friends.

Contrary to what many people assume, you don’t have to be old, rich, or have children to benefit from making a financial plan for after you are gone.

Read on to learn what estate planning is all about and what you can do to get started.

What is an Estate Plan?

Estate planning is deciding in advance and in writing who will get your assets and money after your death or in the event that you become incapacitated.

It can be as simple as designating certain people as your beneficiaries on your financial accounts. Estate planning also typically includes creating a will. It can also include setting up trusts and creating a living will that can be used should you ever become incapacitated.

Your “estate” is simply everything you own—money and assets, including your home and your car—at the time of your death.

Your debts are also part of your estate—anything you owe on credit cards and loans may have to be paid off first by your estate before any further money or assets are distributed to your heirs.

Estate planning is not entirely about money, though. It may also leave instructions for how your incapacitation or death may be handled.

For instance, you may not want to be kept on a life-support system if you were in a coma. You may want to be cremated instead of buried. These instructions can be included in your estate planning.

An estate plan may also include choosing a guardian for your children and any specific wishes regarding how you want them to be raised.

The Importance of an Estate Plan

An estate plan can be beneficial no matter what your age, income, assets, or family status. Below are some key reasons why you may want to consider estate planning.

You Decide Where You Assets Will Go

If you don’t have beneficiaries named in an estate plan, the courts will determine who gets your assets. That might be your closest kin (possibly someone you wouldn’t want to have your inheritance), and if you have none, the state may take those assets.

Likely you have someone who you would prefer to leave assets to, and if not, you can choose a charity.

You Have Children

If you have children, it’s important for you to consider how you want them cared for if you and your spouse were to pass away, and who you would want to be their guardians.

Your estate plan can even outline how you hope to pass on aspects of your life such as religion, education, and other values. You can also set up a trust so that your children receive an inheritance once they are 18.

It Can Help Avoid Legal Headaches

If you have beneficiaries you want to leave your assets to, having an estate plan and/or will can minimize the legal headache your loved ones have to deal with.

Without any kind of estate plan, a probate court may have to determine how assets are divided, and this can take months or years, delaying those assets making it to the people you want to have them.

It Can Help Prevent Family Conflict

Your family members may all get along well, but it’s a good idea to write a will so that things remain harmonious.

Regardless of the size of your estate, some careful estate planning can help prevent your family members from arguing over who gets what, whether it’s a small tiff or a full-on lawsuit.

It Can Ease the Financial Burden of Final Costs

Many people don’t consider planning their own funerals, and that may leave an emotional and financial burden on their loved ones.

A funeral can cost, on average, around $7,000, and a cremation about $6,000. Consider whether your loved ones would be in a financial situation to be able to afford to cover that expense, plus any others involved with your final arrangements.

Taking these final costs into consideration can be a part of your estate plan. You might decide to set aside funds to cover your funeral expenses.

You can do this with a “payable on death” account, which can be set up through your bank and allows the designated beneficiaries to receive the money in the account when you pass away.

Or, you might elect to purchase a prepaid funeral plan, which sends money directly to the funeral home to cover a casket, floral arrangements, service, and other aspects of your funeral. You may want to keep in mind, however, that prepaying for a funeral can lead to a loss of money if the funeral home goes out of business.

What’s Included in an Estate Plan

While your estate plan will be unique to your own situation, there are a few things you might consider including.

A Will

Your will is the actual document that outlines who your beneficiaries are and what they will receive upon your passing. It may also identify a guardian if you have young children.

This is also where you can identify the executor, who will carry out the terms of your will.

Life Insurance Policy

Having this policy information with the rest of your estate plan makes it easy for your family to file a claim with your insurance company upon your death.

A Living Will

Death is not the only situation in which you may be unable to make a decision. You may be alive yet incapacitated, and in this scenario it can be difficult for your loved ones to know what you want them to do.

A living will can be highly valuable because it lays out how you want to be treated during your end-of-life care, including specific treatments to take or refrain from taking.

A living will is often combined with a durable power of attorney, a legal document that can allow a surrogate to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual.

Letter of Intent

This letter is directed to your executor, and provides instructions for carrying out your wishes in regards to your will, and possibly also funeral arrangements.

A Trust

If you have a sizable inheritance for your beneficiaries and don’t want them to have access to all the funds all at once, you can establish a trust with rules about how and when they receive the money.

For example, you could stipulate that your children receive a fixed allowance each month until they graduate college or get married, or that they use the money for college.

Key Account Information

You might also consider providing account numbers and passwords for bank accounts, investment accounts, and other important accounts that your family will need access to. This can make life much simpler for your loved ones.

The Takeaway

Whether you have children and want to ensure they’re taken care of, or you’re single and would like your assets to go to certain people or a charity you care about, it’s wise to have a basic estate plan.

Having a financial plan in place in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated can protect surviving family members from unnecessary financial, legal and emotional stress.

Not sure where or how to start estate planning? SoFi, in partnership with Ladder, now offers estate planning as part of SoFi Protect.

SoFi members can create their will for free and, for a fee, other estate-planning needs, including setting up a living trust and establishing power of attorney—all through Ladder.

See how SoFi can simplify the estate planning process today.

Ladder offers term policies in New York (policy form # MN-26) that are issued by Allianz Life Insurance Company of New York, New York. Term policies are issued in all other states and DC by Fidelity Security Life Insurance Company®, Kansas City, MO (policy form No. ICC17-M-1069, M-1069 and Policy No. TL-146). Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria. SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company. The California license number for SoFi Agency is 0L13077 and for Ladder is OK22568. Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other. Social Finance, Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under LadderLifeTM policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy. SoFi offers customers the opportunity to reach Ladder Insurance Services, LLC to obtain information about estate planning documents such as wills. Social Finance, Inc. (“SoFi”) will be paid a marketing fee by Ladder when customers make a purchase through this link. All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What is a PPO plan?

What is a PPO Plan?

A preferred provider organization (PPO) is a type of health care plan that offers lower out-of-pocket costs to members who use doctors and other providers who are part of the plan’s network.

These preferred providers have signed onto the network at a lower negotiated rate than they might charge outside of the network.

PPOs also offer members the flexibility to see providers outside of the plan’s network, although they will most likely pay more in out-of-pocket costs to do so.

To learn more about PPOs, and how this type of plan compares to other health insurance options, read on.

How Does PPO Insurance Work?

When you join a PPO health plan, you’re joining a managed care network that includes primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, labs, and other healthcare professionals. PPO networks tend to be large and geographically diverse.

If you see a preferred provider, you will likely pay a copay, or you might be responsible for a coinsurance payment (after you meet the plan’s deductible).

While you are free to see any health care provider whether or not they are in the PPO network, if you see a provider outside of the network, you may pay significantly more in out-of-pocket costs.

In return for flexibility, large networks, and low in-network cost sharing, PPO plans typically charge higher premiums than many other types of plans.

PPOs are a common, and often a popular, choice for employer-sponsored health insurance.

What are the Costs of Going Out of the PPO’s Network?

If you see a provider who is not part of the plan’s network, you will likely be expected to bear more of the cost. PPOs typically use what’s called a “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee schedule for out-of-network services.

Insurers calculate UCR fees based on what doctors in the area are charging for the same service you were provided.

If your doctor charges more than what your insurance company determines to be usual, customary, and reasonable, you most likely will be charged for the difference between the amount charged for the service and the amount covered by your insurer.

Depending on where you live and the service you received, this difference could be significant. It may also come as a surprise to policyholders who assume their medical costs will be covered and don’t fully understand the distinction between in-network and out-of-network providers.

A good way to avoid surprise charges with a PPO (or any health plan) is to talk to your provider and your insurer before you receive treatment about the total cost and what will be covered.

How PPOs Compare to Other Types of Health Care Plans

PPO plans are most often compared with health maintenance organizations (HMOs), another common type of managed care health plan.

HMOs typically offer lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs than PPOs in exchange for less flexibility.

Unlike a PPO, HMO members typically must choose a primary care physician from the plan’s network of providers. Care from providers out of the HMO network is generally not covered, except in the case of an emergency.

Also unlike a PPO, an HMO’s network of providers is usually confined to a specific local geographic area.

Another key difference between these two types of plans: HMO members typically must first see their primary care doctor to get a referral to a specialist. With PPOs, referrals are not usually required.

PPOs are also often compared to point of service (POS) plans.

POS plans are generally a cross between an HMO and a PPO. As with a PPO, POS members generally pay less for care from network providers, but may also go out of network if they desire (and potentially pay more).

Like an HMO, POS plans require a referral from your primary care doctor to see a specialist.

PPOs (as well as HMOs and POS plans) are very different from high deductible health plans, or HDHPs.

HDHPs charge a high deductible (what you would have to pay for health care costs before insurance coverage kicks in).

This means that you would need to pay for all of your doctor visits and other medical services out of pocket until you meet this high deductible. In return for higher deductibles, these plans usually charge lower premiums then other insurance plans.

You can combine a HDHP with a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA). Money saved in an HSA can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses.

HDHPs are generally best for relatively healthy people who don’t see doctors frequently or anticipate high medical costs for the coming year.

What are the Pros and Cons of PPO Insurance?

As with all health insurance options. PPOs have both advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few to consider.

Advantages of PPOs

•  Flexibility. PPO members typically do not have to see a primary care physician for referrals to other health care providers, and they may see any doctor they choose (though they may pay more for out-of-network providers).
•  Lower costs for in-network care. Out-of-pocket costs, such as copays and coinsurance, for care from in-network providers can be lower than some other types of plans.
•  Large provider networks. PPOs usually include a large number of doctors, specialists, hospitals, labs, and other providers in their networks, spanning across cities and states. As a result, network coverage while traveling or for college student dependents can be easier to access than with more restricted plans.

Disadvantages of PPOs

•  High premiums. In return for flexibility, PPO members can expect to pay higher monthly premiums than they may find with other types of plans.
•  High out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care. Depending on where you live, the treatment you receive, and how your insurer calculates “usual, customary and reasonable” fees, you may find you are responsible for a large portion of the bill when you receive care outside of the PPOs network.
•  Might be more insurance than you need. If you rarely see doctors and wouldn’t mind potentially switching doctors, you may be able to save money by going with an HMO or a HDHP.

The Takeaway

PPOs are a popular type of health plan because of the flexibility, ease of use, and wide range of provider choices they offer.

Patients with a chronic disease or other illness who have a close relationship with their doctors and specialists may find a PPO is the most appealing choice because they can likely continue to see their current doctors.

PPO networks tend to be large and varied enough to include a patient’s existing doctors. If not, members still have the option of going out-of-network and receiving at least some coverage from a PPO.

PPO members pay for this flexibility, however. PPOs typically come with higher premiums, along with extra costs associated with out-of-network care. That can be prohibitive for many consumers.

Your employer’s benefits department or an experienced insurance agent or broker can help you compare PPOs to other types of health care plans and determine which choice is right for your health care needs and your budget.

Before choosing a plan, it can also be helpful to track your spending for a few months to see how much you are currently spending on medical care. This can help you ballpark costs for the coming year and make it easier to compare plans.

You can do this by saving all of your medical receipts and logging them with pen and paper. Or, you could use a budgeting app, such as SoFi Relay.

SoFi Relay allows you to see all of your accounts on one mobile dashboard and makes it easy to categorize and track your medical (and all your other) monthly spending.

Learn how SoFi Relay can help you manage your healthcare spending today.

SoFi’s Relay tool offers users the ability to connect both in-house accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score provided to you is a Vantage Score® based on TransUnion™ (the “Processing Agent”) data.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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