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Should You Have a Savings Account for Your Child?

Most parents feel like they should open up a savings account as soon as their kids receive their first birthday or holiday check. But for most people, that’s not the best approach. Most of the time, savings account balances hover around the same amount for years, and the bank pays very little interest (the average of the top five banks ).

So, what should you do instead? Follow the steps below to determine what is right for your family.

Step 1: Get your own financial life in order.

Before you do anything, make sure you can practice what you preach. Do you have a good handle on your own finances so that you can calmly and positively discuss money with your kids?

If yes, read on. If no, get yourself organized first. Create a budget, consolidate old accounts so that you know where everything is, and have an action plan for saving for your goals.

Step 2: Decide on the intent for saving for your kids.

Is the goal to teach your children about saving and the value of money? Or do you want to start setting aside money for college? You can do both, but they involve different types of accounts.

For college savings, a traditional savings account may not cut it. You need an account with growth potential, and one of the the better ways to achieve growth is tax-free through a 529 College Savings Plan. You can pick a plan in any state and use it for any qualified education expenses (think room, board, and tuition) nationwide and with a lot of international programs.

There are over 80 plans on the market, and savingforcollege.com is an excellent resource for comparing them.

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To take the most advantage of growth and the power of compounding, start saving early and invest in an aggressive growth index portfolio (if offered in the plan you choose), which, while not without risk, tends to have the lowest expenses and the greatest growth potential.

If your goal is to teach your kids about money, you’ll want to actively involve them throughout the process. Rather than doing it for them when they’re toddlers, wait until they have a better grasp on the concept, and help them open an account and deposit money.

Use this as an opportunity to talk about spending and saving and your family’s typical mix (for example, spending 70%, saving 20% and giving 10%). Smart spending and living within your means is a life lesson that can be taught early.

Step 3: Pick an interest bearing savings account.

When the time is right to open an account with your child, don’t just head to the same bank you’ve always used—use a site like Bankrate to explore new options. Online banks and credit unions often offer better interest rates for savings account, even for minors.

Bottom line: There are great options out there, so do your research. Don’t make the mistake of sitting on $1,000 earning no interest in a savings account under your child’s name. Set an intent for the money and involve your children, or if they’re too young to be involved, you might consider closing those accounts and dumping the money in a 529 plan. You’re more likely to see it grow.

Looking for an account where you can save money for your kids? Check out SoFi Money, a cash management account where you can spend, save, and earn all in one place.

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SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank. SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.


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6 Real Questions About Your Emergency Fund—Answered

You probably already know that you should have an emergency fund—a bit of extra cash on hand in case of an unforeseen event, like getting laid off or needing to move.

But many of us don’t know more than that. How much should you have? How, exactly, do you save that cash? And should you focus on building this fund or paying off debt first?

SoFi advisor and Certified Financial Planner Alison Norris recently talked about all of this and more at a recent #WealthWednesday discussion on the SoFi Member Facebook page. (Yep, SoFi members have daily access to complimentary advisors on social media and via phone—check out more about the SoFi Member Benefits.)

And today, we’re bringing that discussion, as well as other common questions about emergency funds and her expert answers, to you.

How much should I have in an emergency fund?

Your emergency fund should be three to 12 times the amount you spend monthly. The exact amount should reflect your risk aversion to unexpected unemployment. If you have reason to believe you could quickly land another job—say, you’re a software engineer in San Francisco—then you might be comfortable with three months’.

If, on the other hand, you’d expect a longer job search—for example, you’re in a specialized line of work, or a finding a new job would likely entail moving to a new city—your emergency fund should reflect that

Also, consider this: Would you be willing to amend your lifestyle if income slows or something costly crops up? If you’re OK living on a friend’s couch eating ramen, then you might survive with a smaller rainy day fund. If you wish to keep living the life you’re accustomed to, then you may want more of a backup.

Where should I keep my emergency fund—my checking account, a savings account, or elsewhere?

You want to keep your emergency fund money “liquid,” or available to access as soon as you need it. It’s also smart to separate cash on hand from your emergency fund. Cash on hand can be left in your checking account, earmarked for paying upcoming bills. Your emergency fund works well in a FDIC-insured savings account.

With that said, many savings accounts only pay you 0.01% interest on cash balances. This doesn’t keep pace with inflation, so you’re essentially losing money. Instead, you might consider a high-yield savings account that earns 1.0% interest or more. Bankrate is a good place to compare your options.

What do you suggest if you have roughly $5K built up so far for an emergency fund and also about $3K in credit card debt?

Should I wipe out the debt and then build the fund back up, or chip away at the debt and maintain the fund?

I might suggest knocking out that credit card debt in full. Here’s the order of operations that works best for most:

•   1. Keep enough cash on hand to pay recurring bills and avoid living paycheck to paycheck. (This isn’t your emergency fund, just cash that’s good to have on hand.)

•   2. If your employer matches contributions to a retirement plan, max out that match.

•   3. Pay off consumer debt, including high-interest credit cards.

•   4. Build your emergency fund.

Also keep in mind that the comfort of having a cash cushion and not living on the financial edge may outweigh other purely financial benefits of wiping out high-interest debt. Sleeping soundly at night is another benefit to building up an emergency fund.

Could a credit line be considered a pseudo emergency fund?

While I don’t have credit card debt, I do have a ton of student loans I want to pay off more aggressively. My credit cards would allow me to live for a good three months or so if I needed to.

I commend your desire to pay off your student loans aggressively, but I wouldn’t do so if it means you would instead have revolving credit card debt.

Say, for example, you have a 6% rate on your student loans and a 20% rate on your credit card loans, and $1,000 in outstanding debt with both. You’ll end up paying $140 less toward your student loan each year (maybe even less because there are tax deductions for student loan interest). I might suggest prioritizing the emergency fund while making minimum payments on your student loans.

What’s the best way to save up for my emergency fund, quickly?

The basic equation for wealth building is: Money In – Money Out = Money Saved.

But you don’t need us to tell you how math works. The key is to figure out which levers to pull to increase your odds of success.

Start by tracking your expenses, either in a spreadsheet or using a free service like Mint.com. You’ll quickly get a handle on your monthly cash flows, which will enable you to target an emergency savings goal tailored to your needs.

The next step is key: Pay yourself first. Schedule recurring auto-deposits into your savings account to coincide with your paychecks. You’ll find this cash flow will quickly become painless and invisible. More importantly, it ensures that when you overspend in a given month, it’s discretionary items—like eating out one more time—that get cut, rather than your savings.

I’m almost at my savings goal for my emergency fund. Where should I put my money next?

The earlier you save for retirement, the better, so you can let the power of compounding interest work for you. And even better than compounding is free money. For both reasons, the first place to invest for retirement should be in your employer-sponsored retirement plan, if you have access to one.

Many employers will match part of your contribution, which is essentially free money. Once that match is met, aim to keep contributing to tax-advantaged accounts. You can invest in the employer retirement beyond your match, contribute to an IRA, or (our preferred strategy) both. To understand which IRA account you can contribute to, use this IRA calculator.

From there, document your assets and liabilities. Know your good debt from bad. A mortgage or student loan? Good. A high-interest credit card? Not so good. Also write down your long- and short-term goals—for example, paying for wedding, saving for a house down payment, or even taking a summer vacation.

Once you’re saving for retirement, you can plan a savings or investment strategy for these goals, based on their time horizon.

Are you ready to start saving? Learn more about SoFi Invest® to see if it is the right fit for you!

SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. This information isn’t financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on specific financial needs, goals and risk appetite. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC, a registered investment advisor.
SoFi doesn’t provide tax or legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique. Consult with a qualified tax advisor or attorney.
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.
SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance.
This information isn’t financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on specific financial needs, goals and risk appetite.
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank.
SoFi MoneyTM is offered through SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC, a registered investment advisor.


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How to Pay for Emergency Home Repairs, So You Can Move on ASAP

You might not like to think about it (and frankly, who does?), but when it comes to owning a home, stuff can and will break. Water pipes burst. Roofs cave in. The list goes on.

While you never know precisely when a big appliance or HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is going to conk out, most products do have expected lifespans. For instance, a hot water heater or a dishwasher lasts about a decade, while an HVAC unit lasts an average of two decades .

So, it’s smart to have a plan for how you’ll manage financially when something big—the furnace, the roof, the plumbing—needs emergency repair. And yes, it is not if, but when.

Cost of Emergency Home Repairs

Emergency repairs represent some of the biggest expenses that come with home ownership. In 2015, homeowners spent an average of $2,970 on home improvements, with more than half of that amount put toward repairs or replacements , according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Emergency home repair costs range from annoying to hair-raising: Homeowners pay pros an average of $244 to install a new kitchen faucet , while a roof replacement sets them back an average of $7,036 .

Recommended: Use this Home Improvement Cost Calculator to get an idea of how much your next project will cost.

When a home emergency repair hits you, doing nothing until you save the money to cover it is not the best strategy. Untreated home damage can quickly get worse, sending costs, well, through the roof.

Over time, one little leaky pipe can lead to structural damage and mold , for example.

So what do you do when it happens to you? First we’ll look at the not-so-smart ways to tackle unexpected expenses, and then we’ll look at better alternatives.

Dubious Ways to Pay for Repairs

Perform Financial Triage

One way to finance an unexpected emergency is by putting off other payments. Say you have to shell out $3,000 for an emergency plumbing repair. Normally, that $3,000 would go toward your monthly expenses, including your rent, mortgage and/or your student loan payment.

So you might choose to delay paying certain bills if you aren’t charged steep penalties for paying late or skipping a payment. But tread carefully: While skipping payments might mean a penalty of just a small fee, mortgages and credit card companies impose bigger penalties. What’s worse, late payments can hurt your credit score.

Pull out the Plastic

The Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015 reveals that among people who don’t have the cash reserves to cover even a minor emergency (an unexpected $400 expense), 38% would choose to charge the expense on a credit card, and pay it off over time.

While pulling out the plastic can be an expedient solution in a clutch—especially if the tradesperson won’t do the work without at least a partial payment—it’s not a great idea to leave that debt on your credit card if you can’t pay it off by the end of the billing cycle.

Related: Discover how much interest you are paying on your debt with our Credit Card Interest Rate Calculator.

For example, if you use a credit card with an average annual percentage rate (APR) of 16.5% to pay an electrician $5,000 for emergency rewiring, and only put $100 toward that debt each month, it will take you about five years to pay off, and you’ll pay more than $3,500 in interest . Yikes—that’d be more than half of what you originally charged.

Gamble on Lenders of Last Resort

The Federal Reserve report noted above also found that 16.5% of people faced by a financial hardship, including unexpected expenses, turn to pawn shops, payday lenders, or auto title loans for help.

While lower-income homeowners are more likely to turn to these “alternative financial services,” 9.3% of people earning over $100,000 a year and faced by hardship do the same. But those options can be worse than choosing to pay for expenses with a credit card.

Many so-called ‘risky lenders’ sound good based on their advertising. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has warned consumers to be wary of getting burned by high fees and rates, and of having personal property, like a car, seized. Such loans, according to the CFPB can become “debt traps” for some borrowers.

Personal LoansPersonal Loans

Smarter Ways to Pay for Home Repairs

Insurance or Government Help

If there is a chance that the repair is covered by your homeowner’s insurance or your home warranty policy (if you have one), check with those companies first.

If the emergency was caused by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, you may be eligible for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

That Emergency Fund you Were Smart to Feed

More than half of Americans surveyed for The Role of Emergency Savings in Family Financial Security , a brief published by The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2015, say they could cover an unexpected $2,000 expense using their savings.

If you can say the same, that’s great! But be sure to take steps to replenish the funds quickly. Unfortunately, repairs can come at any time—even one right after another. So you’ll want to be ready. If you are thinking about doing other renovations in addition to your emergency repairs, use SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator to find out the resale value of your project.

The Bank of Mom and Dad

If you don’t have the savings, asking family members or close friends for a loan might also be an option. Just make sure you pay it back quickly, because a relationship is harder to repair than a leaky roof.

A Personal Loan

Using a home improvement loan may sound like a hassle compared to just whipping out your credit card. But the days of meeting with a banker to fill out a loan application are gone.

Now, you can apply for a personal loan online, upload and sign paperwork digitally, and get funds wired directly to your bank account.

Plus, because personal loans are usually unsecured and based on personal creditworthiness, not collateral, you don’t have to put your car or your home at risk to get the money you need.

With interest rates starting below 5% , and some lenders offering no origination fees, using a personal loan to pay for an emergency repair can be a much less expensive option than using a credit card.

Use SoFi’s Personal Loan Calculator to see how much you might save by going this route.

Your Home’s Equity

Like a personal loan, either a cash-out refinance or a home equity line of credit (HELOC) can be a healthier way to borrow money than running up a credit card balance.

A cash-out refinance replaces your mortgage with a new one, at a new rate, while a HELOC is a secondary mortgage that you would pay in addition to your original mortgage. A cash-out refinance provides a one-time cash infusion; a HELOC allows you to draw cash over time, which might be helpful if you’re not sure of repair time or costs.

The paperwork for both refis and HELOCs may take longer than with a personal loan, which could be a problem if you need to pay for the repairs right away. And both loans borrow against your home’s equity, which might not be an option if you recently purchased the home. But if you do have equity to tap, consider the pros and cons of each.

The right option for you depends on your personal circumstances. Should a personal loan be the right one, head to SoFi to see what you may qualify for.

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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5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Because home prices are expected to continue to slowly rise in many parts of the country, it makes sense that most homeowners would desire to stay put rather than upsize to a new house. Although the grass might look a little greener elsewhere, it’s possible to add value to your current home—even if you’re on a budget.

So, whether you have the cash saved up for home investment, or you are looking to borrow for your next home project, consider these five budget-friendly enhancements:

1. Increase or Replace Your Attic Insulation

We get it: You’re not going to invite friends over to see your new attic insulation.But it’s a wake up call to realize that this project has the No. 1 ROI on Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value report list—a whopping 107.7%.

You’ll not only profit when it’s time to sell, but you’ll also see immediate savings from the ongoing energy efficiency this upgrade provides. A properly insulated attic, combined with sealing air leaks throughout your home, cuts an average of 15% off your energy costs, allowing you to pocket the savings month after month.

Cost: $500 to $1,000 for insulation , depending on the R-value (effectiveness resulting from type, thickness, and density), and $100 to rent the machine that blows in the fiberglass if you’re a DIY type. If you hire a pro, labor will run about $40 to $70 an hour.

Time investment: For an average-size attic, it should take a reasonably skilled DIY-er about four hours to complete the project.

Related: SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator compares your project type to regional resell data so you can estimate a project return.

2. Treat Yourself to New Window Treatments

The ROI of new vinyl windows, according to Remodeling magazine’s list of “upscale” home improvements, is 73.9%, which is almost 15% more than a kitchen remodel (61.9%) .

And with an average cost of nearly $19,000, the whole kitchen remodel dream may not make your to-do list, but with a much lower average cost, you could consider window treatments that help conserve energy and look sharp, such as plantation shutters.

Cost: Anywhere from $165 to $375 for a standard 3×5 window .

Time investment: You can buy standard-size shutters off the shelf; delivery time for custom special orders can be 4 to 6 weeks. The average DIY installation time will depend on your skill level and the number of windows you want to cover.

3. Focus on Outdoors To Be “In”

From an outdoor kitchen and a built-in fire pit to a brand new deck, enhancing your outside area is in. Sure, it’s easy to picture yourself hosting BBQs on a gorgeous deck on warm summer evenings—but that dream comes at a price. A new deck alone can run you $17,000 for an ROI of 65% .

However, when you let your green thumb and imagination go wild, you’ll be amazed at how you can add value to your home on a budget. In lieu of a deck, create a peaceful bistro area with bricks or pavers, and then add cost-efficient accouterments, such as brightly colored flowers in decorative pots, a small gazebo, a store-bought fire pit, and some party lights. Throw in a $15 bottle of your favorite wine, and your outdoor wonderland is good to go.

Cost: $1,500—give or take. Gazebos run the gamut when it comes to size and price, but you can get one for around $500; $700+ for a 10×10 DIY patio paver kit; $200 for a fire pit; and $100+ for pots and flowers from your local garden center.

Time investment: You can reasonably expect to outfit your outdoor space in a weekend. (Don’t forget to allow 2+ hours to chill that wine.)

Read Next: How to Create a Renovation Plan to Match Your Budget 

4. Refresh the Head Without Taking a Bath

A beautiful bathroom is a must for many homeowners, but it will cost you: The average cost of a bathroom addition is just over $80,000 , and only garners a 57% ROI. Instead of spending big bucks, consider minor upgrades to the existing space. For example, add a double vanity, a new showerhead and faucets, and make old grout look new again with stain to up the luxe factor.

Cost: Expect to pay about $1,000 for a double vanity , and $400 for a new showerhead and faucet. Unless you’re handy, you’ll want to contract these tasks out. Grout stain will set you back only about $20 a bottle, and applying it is something you can easily do yourself.

Time investment: Expect vanity installation to take a full day or more if you have to demo the current vanity and repair walls, tiles, flooring or plumbing before installing. A showerhead and faucet can be replaced in an hour or so, but the grout stain might take a couple of hours, depending on the size of the room.

5. Cook up a Cooler Kitchen

If you’re stuck with outdated appliances or hideous cabinets, a kitchen remodel is likely high on your list of improvements. But increasing home value with a new kitchen can fry your bank account: A full kitchen makeover can run a whopping $122,991, while recouping just over 60% in ROI.

To update for less and wow your kitchen in a weekend, make some wallet-friendly upgrades: fresh paint, a new faucet, updated lighting (upscale pendant lights are a good choice), and new cabinet pulls. Paint tip for a bright kitchen: Check out the Pantone Color of 2017, Greenery .

Cost: Cabinet pulls start at about $2 each, while paint will run $100 to $200 , depending on the type and the square footage of walls and the ceiling. A new faucet can run $100+, depending on style and finish; and pendant lights can be had for $50 or so each. Unless you’re very confident about your plumbing and electrical abilities, hire a pro at about $80 and hour to install your faucet and lights.

Time investment: A DIY painting endeavor depends on the size of your kitchen—and how many friends you get to help! Faucet installation and wiring for new lighting could take up to a day, depending on how handy you are.

The Easy Way to Finance HGTV-Worthy Upgrades

Even budget-friendly home improvements can set you back quite a bit. Use our Home Improvement Cost Calculator to get an idea of how much your project will cost.

If you haven’t set aside the budget to bring more value to your home, you don’t necessarily have to dip into your retirement account or pay less on your student loans each month.

Taking out a personal loan to fund your upgrades can be a savvy financial move, since even small upgrades will pay off both now with a home designed to fit your lifestyle, and in the future through increased resale value.

Looking to make more substantial upgrades? No problem—a low-interest SoFi personal loan can help you add value to your home without straining your wallet.

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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Is an Interest-Only Mortgage Your Ticket to Buying a Home in 2017?

Thinking of buying a home this year? With interest rates, rents and housing prices all on the rise, this could be an opportune time to make it happen – and an interest-only mortgage loan might be the thing that makes it possible.

How Does it Work?

While not for everyone, an interest-only mortgage offers a host of advantages for some borrowers. As the name suggests, these loans allow you to pay only the accrued interest on the loan each month for a period ranging from 5 to 10 years.

Because you make lower monthly payments during this timeframe, you enjoy increased financial flexibility (meaning you can invest the difference or choose to pay principal in conjunction with a bonus or other cash influx).

After the interest-only period expires, the loan converts to a more standard structure where both principal and interest are paid on a monthly basis. At this point, you’ll see your mortgage payment go up – sometimes substantially.

Because of this, interest-only loans are typically better for borrowers who expect to be able to cover those higher payments in the future – for example, if you believe your income will increase before the interest-only period is up.

A Checkered Past

Interest-only mortgages have been around for decades, but for the most part they weren’t attractive to the masses. Typical borrowers were often affluent homeowners who viewed their homes as part of an investment portfolio: interest-only mortgages provided the opportunity to seek better returns with the capital that would otherwise have been used to make a higher mortgage payment.

Then came the housing bubble of 2004 – 2006, when lenders started approving interest-only loans for unqualified borrowers who wanted to keep mortgage payments low while trying to flip houses as quickly as possible.

After the bubble burst in 2008, the market for interest-only loans went dormant for several years – and these products were left with a less-than-favorable reputation.

The Opportunity Today

Between the current economic environment and the advent of new interest-only loan products, this type of loan is once again worth considering for some borrowers.

Again, the main stipulation is that you’re not biting off more than you can chew – meaning you expect to be able to handle the increase in payments once the interest-only period is up.

If you meet those criteria, here are a few advantages to consider:

1. Lower Upfront Monthly Payments

Because you only pay the interest that is accruing on the mortgage, initial monthly payments are substantially lower than if you were also paying the principal.

For example, on a $1 million, 30-year, 4% fixed mortgage, the initial monthly payment would be $4,774 – with about $1,440 of that going to principal. On an interest-only mortgage with the same criteria, the monthly payment would be $3,333.

2. Tax-Deductible Payments

Generally speaking, you can deduct 100 percent of your interest-only mortgage payments,as long as the total deduction is on debt less than $1 million.

On the other hand, mortgage payments that include payments on both principal and interest are only deductible for the amount of interest paid. In the example above, for each month’s payment of $4,774, only the interest portion ($3,333) would be deductible.

3. Rent vs. Own

As rents continue to skyrocket in metropolitan areas, many people would rather put that monthly check toward a home of their own. For example, the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is about $3,500.

With interest-only mortgage rates currently hovering around 4 percent, payments on a $1 million mortgage would be less than the cost of renting. Factor in the tax deduction benefit, and buying a home becomes even more attractive.

4. Seek Higher Returns

There are situations where paying down the balance of a mortgage may not be the most efficient use of capital, specifically when funds can be allocated to higher-yielding investments.

Much like the savvy borrowers in the early days of interest-only loans, you can take advantage of the flexibility afforded by lower mortgage payments to seek investments with higher returns. This advantage makes an interest-only mortgage a compelling choice for long-term wealth building.

The Takeaway

Forecasts for 2016 and beyond include rising interest rates, increasing housing prices and the continuing escalation of the cost to rent.

These factors make 2016 look like an opportune time to buy a home. If the structure of a traditional mortgage has prevented you from buying a home, an interest-only mortgage may provide a solution that helps make that happen in the near future.

Download the SoFi Guide to First Time Home Buying to get valuable tips on these topics and more. Our guide also demystifies modern mortgage myths around down payments, the pre-approval process, student loans, rising interest rates, and more.

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.
SoFi Mortgages not available in all states. Products and terms may vary from those advertised on this site. See sofi.com/eligibility-criteria for details.


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