What Are Green Banks?

What Is Green Banking?

Green banking is a branch of the financial industry that focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices. Similar to sustainable investing, green banks emphasize the importance of reducing negative environmental impacts as they go about their business.

The latest data indicates that global warming is likely increasing, and, in response, so is the market for renewable energy sources and other green solutions. The emergence of green banking may also reflect this rising interest in being more eco-conscious.

This is a relatively new concept, and you may have questions about what it really means. In this guide, you’ll learn answers to:

•  What is green banking?

•  How does green banking work?

•  What are examples of green banks?

What Are Green Banks?

There is no standard way to define what is a green bank. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green banks are financial institutions that may leverage public funding to attract private capital for clean energy projects. These can include energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other distributed energy resources), as well as other “green” investments.

In simpler terms, green banks are mission-driven. They work to further environmentally-sound goals alongside financial goals. Those objectives can include:

•  Financing projects that will create green jobs

•  Expanding solar power

•  Lowering energy costs

•  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

•  Building green infrastructure

•  Closing funding gaps for green energy retrofitting projects

•  Advancing sustainability.

As of 2022, there were 22 financial institutions in the U.S. operating as green banks, according to the Green Bank Consortium. Collectively, those banks have helped to drive $9 billion in clean energy investment since 2011.

Recommended: Green Investing Guide

How Do Green Banks Work?

Broadly speaking, green banks work by adhering to practices that promote sustainability. Sustainable banking encompasses two different things:

•  Green banking

•  Sustainable finance

So what does that mean? When you’re talking about green banking, you’re referring to implementing practices that are designed to reduce a bank’s environmental footprint.

Sustainable finance, on the other hand, involves the use of financial products to support or encourage environmentally-friendly behavior.

Green banks work by incorporating aspects of sustainability into their operations. That spans everything from the products and services the bank offers to its IT strategy to the way it hires and retains employees. It may encompass socially responsible investing as well.

It’s important to note that it can be easy to confuse banks that are authentically green with financial institutions that engage in greenwashing. Greenwashing happens when companies have the appearance of being environmentally-friendly or sustainable, based on their marketing claims, but in reality are not. It may require a bit of consumer research to make sure you can differentiate what is a green bank and what isn’t.

Recommended: A Guide to Ethical Shopping

Sustainable Banking Examples

The number of green banks in the U.S. is still relatively low, and they don’t exist in every state yet. You may not see them among your local retail banks. However, there are some notable examples of financial institutions that are focused on sustainable banking. These include:

California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank

The California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (known as IBank) offers a variety of paths to sustainable banking. The bank offers infrastructure loans, bonds, small business financing, and climate financing in order to create jobs, bolster the economy, and improve quality of life for Californians. IBank financing accounts for more than $52 billion in infrastructure and economic development within the state.

Connecticut Green Bank

Connecticut Green Bank is the nation’s first green bank, established in 2011. The bank evolved from the Connecticut Green Energy Fund and bases its business model on the use of sustainable financing to maximize the use of public funds. As of 2022, the bank and its partners have helped $2.26 billion in capital to find its way into clean energy projects across the state.

NY Green Bank

NY Green Bank is a state-sponsored financial institution operating in New York that works with the private sector to increase investments into clean energy markets. The bank is specifically interested in projects that are both financially sound and focus on creating energy savings or clean energy that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the bank’s funding projects revolve around the expansion of solar energy.

Recommended: How Are Local Small Banks Different from Large Banks?

Ready for a Better Banking Experience?

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account and start earning up to 3.75% APY on your cash!


Advantages and Disadvantages of Green Banks

Green banks and sustainable banking aim to play a role in environmental preservation. However, they aren’t the same thing as your standard traditional bank or online bank. While you may never use a green bank directly, it’s important to understand how they can still affect you. Here’s what to know about the advantages and potential downsides associated with sustainable banking.

Banking Advantages

Banking Disadvantages

•   Green banks help to advance the use of clean energy technology.

•   Clean energy projects funded by sustainable banking can help to increase job growth and promote economic development.

•   Green banking can attract large-scale private investment, which can help to accelerate clean energy projects.

•   Green banks are not widespread, and their reach may be limited.

•   Sustainable banking is still a relatively new subset of the banking industry, which can translate to higher credit risk.

•   Banks that engage in greenwashing can taint the image of sustainable banking and lead investors to look elsewhere.

Recommended: 19 Ways to Save Money While Living Sustainably

The Future of Green Banking

Predicting the future of sustainable banking is difficult, though signs indicate a growing interest in how green banks might help create a cleaner environment. At the federal level, for instance, the passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act notably included a provision allowing for the establishment of a national green bank.

Globally, sustainable banking is increasingly in the spotlight in emerging markets. There’s growing interest in the positive environmental gains that may be made through green banking. That said, there are still questions about how to encourage sustainable finance in economies that are still developing. This could in turn lead to more global collaboration among banks in furthering sustainable finance worldwide.

One potential result of sustainable banking: There may be greater carryover in the traditional banking sector. For example, there may be a push for banks to offer personal or small-business banking products and services that have a sustainable or green angle. Green loans and mortgages could end up being another byproduct of enhanced attention on sustainable finance.

As the spotlight on green banking grows, you may begin to notice changes at the retail banking level. For example, Citigroup issues an annual report on its ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) program results. And it’s not just traditional banks showing dedication to this topic; online banks are part of the effort, too. In March 2022, SoFi announced the launch of its ESG Committee to help formulate strategies for positive environmental, social, and governance impacts.

Recommended: Online vs. Traditional Banking: What’s Your Best Option?

The Takeaway

Many people are adopting a greener lifestyle and finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Where you choose to bank could make a difference in your efforts if you’re keeping your money at a financial institution that advocates sustainability. Green banking is the term used to describe financial institutions that try to both make their business practices more sustainable as well as invest funds towards eco-conscious goals. This segment of the market may well grow in the years ahead.

Switching to an online bank is something you might consider if you’d like to streamline the way you manage your money. Instead of driving to a bank or receiving paper statements in the mail, you could track your finances online without leaving home. When you open a checking and savings account with SoFi, you can get all the banking tools you need to stay on top of your finances. Sign up with direct deposit, and you’ll enjoy the terrific combination of an and no fees, which can help your money grow faster.

Bank smarter with SoFi today and enjoy a hyper competitive interest rate, plus zero fees.

FAQ

What is sustainable banking?

Sustainable banking encourages environmentally-friendly practices, products, and services. A sustainable bank or green bank may be committed to specific environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting the advancement of clean energy, or funding green building projects.

How can banks be more sustainable?

Banks can encourage sustainability by reviewing their environmental footprint and addressing areas that could improve. The types of changes banks can implement may be large or small, but the end goal is fostering a cleaner environment. Reducing paper waste, for example, is one simple way to be more sustainable.

Which banks are green banks?

There are a handful of banks operating in the U.S. that are designated as green banks, according to the Green Bank Consortium. Whether a bank is considered “green” or not can depend on the type of certifications they hold. Examples of green banks include IBank, Connecticut Green Bank, and NY Green Bank.


Photo credit: iStock/baona

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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.
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
SOBK1022016

Read more

Tax Credits vs. Tax Deductions: What’s the Difference?

Tax credits and tax deductions can both reduce what you owe in taxes each year, but they work differently.

Deductions can reduce the amount of income you have to pay taxes on, which can lower your final bill. Tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what you owe — and might even get you a bigger tax refund.

It’s possible to qualify for tax credits and tax deductions, but it’s important to know how both options work.

What Are Tax Credits?

Tax credits represent a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your overall tax burden. They directly lower the tax amount you owe to Uncle Sam.

For example, if you owe $1,500 in taxes but qualify for a $500 tax credit, your total tax bill will decrease by $500, meaning you’ll only have to pay $1,000.

Feeling Lost? Check out SoFi’s Tax Season Help Center.

How Do Tax Credits Work?

When filing your taxes, you can use IRS resources, tax software, or a certified accountant to research tax credits for which you may be eligible. If it’s your first time filing taxes, these resources can be especially helpful.

Even if you don’t owe anything in taxes, it’s worth looking into tax credits. Why? Because some tax credits are refundable, meaning the government might owe you money:

•   Refundable tax credits allow your tax liability to go below zero. For example, if you owe $100 in taxes but receive a $500 refundable tax credit, the government will actually owe you $400.

•   Nonrefundable tax credits do not work that way, unfortunately. If you qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit, the best it can do is eliminate your tax liability (meaning you owe nothing). But even if the credit is large enough to wipe out what you owe and there’s still money left over, you don’t get to pocket that extra money.

Tax credits are not for everyone. Each credit has specific requirements to qualify.

And if you’re wondering what happens if you miss the tax deadline, tax credits would still apply for the year that you’re filing your taxes.

Common Tax Credits

Your tax software or accountant should know the full list of tax credits to look out for, and the IRS website features the whole list. Before diving into your taxes, however, it’s a good idea to note some of the most common tax credits for which you may qualify:

•   Earned Income Tax Credit: Commonly called by its initials (EITC), this refundable tax credit is for low- to moderate-income workers. The amount you might qualify for and your eligibility can vary depending on whether you have dependents and/or have a disability.

•   American Opportunity Tax Credit: This education tax credit is partially refundable. Students (or parents claiming a student as a dependent) can claim this tax credit for the first four years of higher education. It’s $2,500 per eligible student, but once your tax bill hits zero, you can earn 40% of whatever remains (up to $1,000) as a tax refund.

•   Child Tax Credit: Even if a child isn’t enrolled in higher education, parents have access to a handy tax credit. The Child Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit for parents (with dependent children) who meet income requirements.

•   Child and Dependent Care Credit: Parents have access to yet another potential tax credit, this time for those who pay for babysitters or daycare. The credit amount depends on your income, child care costs, and number of children requiring care. Prior to the 2021 tax year (filed in 2022), this was nonrefundable, but the American Rescue Plan Act made it refundable.

You can use tools on the IRS website to discover if you qualify for these and other tax credits.

Recommended: Do I Need a Personal Accountant?

What Are Tax Deductions?

Tax deductions are another way to reduce your tax burden, but they work differently. While a tax credit discounts your final tax bill after all the calculations, a tax deduction reduces the amount of income eligible for taxes.

The more deductions you have, the less money you have to pay taxes on. This can result in a lower overall tax bill, but it cannot result in a tax refund.

Recommended: What Triggers an IRS Audit?

How Do Tax Deductions Work?

Let’s look at an example to understand how tax deductions reduce what you owe:

If you made $100,000 in a given year, you would owe 24% in federal taxes based on your marginal tax bracket, or $24,000. But if you have $10,000 in tax deductions, you instead only owe 24% of $90,000, which is $21,600.

In this example, your total tax deductions equal $10,000 — but they reduce what you owe by just $2,400.

In calculating how much a tax deduction will save you, it’s important to know which tax bracket you’re in — your tax bracket represents the percentage at which your income will be taxed. In general, the more money you make, the higher the tax rate.

Common Tax Deductions

Nearly every tax filer is eligible for the standard deduction. Without inputting any information accounting for business expenses, medical costs, charitable contributions, student loan interest payments, and other eligible deductions, you can simply subtract the standard deduction amount from your taxable income.

For the 2022 tax year (which will be filed in April of 2023), the standard deduction is:

•   $12,950 for single taxpayers (and married, filing separately)

•   $25,900 for married taxpayers filing jointly

•   $19,400 for heads of household

Many people choose to take the standard deduction, but if you qualify for various deductions that would amount to more than the standard deduction, it’s worth itemizing your deductions.

An accountant or tax preparation software may be your best bet for determining which deductions you qualify for. Here are some of the most common types of deductions:

•   State and local taxes

•   Business expenses (if you are self-employed)

•   Mortgage interest

•   Property taxes

•   Qualifying medical expenses

•   Charitable contributions

•   Student loan interest

•   Gambling losses

You can explore even more tax deductions on the IRS website.

If you run your own business, check out these common tax deductions for freelancers.

Pros and Cons of Tax Credits

Tax credits are largely a good thing, as they reduce your overall tax burden. But they also have some drawbacks. Let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

•   Reduces your tax bill

•   May result in a refund

•   Often designed for moderate- to low-income families

Cons

•   Strict eligibility requirements

•   Can delay your refund when you claim them

Recommended: How to File for a Tax Extension

Pros and Cons of Tax Deductions

Similarly, tax deductions serve a useful purpose in filing taxes, but they also have their own set of pros and cons:

Pros

•   Reduces your tax bill

•   The standard deduction is easy to claim

•   Useful for self-employed individuals with business expenses

Cons

•   Lots of paperwork (itemized deductions)

•   Weighing the standard vs. itemized deduction can be complicated

•   Won’t generate a refund

Recommended: How to Prepare for Tax Season

Tax Credits vs. Deductions: What’s the Difference?

Let’s break down the differences between tax credits and tax deductions:

Tax Credits Tax Deductions
Dollar-for-dollar reduction in your total tax bill Reduction in how much income you have to pay taxes on
Can result in a tax refund Can only reduce taxable income; cannot result in tax refund
Must claim specific credits for which you qualify Can take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions
Only available to filers who meet specific criteria Available to most filers as standard deduction

While nearly everyone can qualify for the standard deduction, tax credits are actually the
more effective way to lower your tax bill. But the best part? You can utilize both tax strategies when you file.

Tips for Using Tax Credits and Deductions

Ready to file your taxes? Here are some tips for using tax credits and deductions:

•   Research eligibility requirements online: The IRS website has useful tools to help determine if you qualify for specific tax credits and deductions.

•   Gather all your paperwork: Taxes require a lot of forms, documents, and receipts. When claiming credits and deductions, it’s important to have the paperwork (whether printed or digital) to prove your eligibility.

•   Consider using tax software or an accountant: Taxes can be overwhelming. If your situation is complex, you may benefit from tax software or a tax professional.

Recommended: Types of Payroll Deductions

The Takeaway

Tax credits and tax deductions can both lower your overall tax burden. Tax credits reduce what you owe dollar-for-dollar while tax deductions reduce the amount of income you owe taxes on. If you’re eligible, you can take advantage of both tax strategies when you file.

3 Money Tips

1.    Direct deposit is the fastest way to get an IRS tax refund. More than 9 out of 10 refunds are issued in less than 21 days using this free service, plus you can track the payment and even split the funds into different bank accounts.

2.    An emergency fund or rainy day fund is an important financial safety net. Aim to have at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses saved in case you get a major unexpected bill or lose income.

3.    If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.

Better banking is here with up to 3.75% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Between a tax deduction and tax credit, which lowers your bill more?

A tax credit lowers your tax bill dollar-for-dollar and may even result in a refund. A tax deduction only reduces the amount of money you owe taxes on. For example, a $1,000 tax credit takes $1,000 off your tax bill. A $1,000 tax deduction reduces your taxable income by $1,000; the actual reduction in tax depends on your tax bracket.

Do more people utilize tax credits or tax deductions?

Most tax filers can claim the standard deduction, but not everyone qualifies for tax credits. Thus, it is more likely that you’ll use a tax deduction on your tax return than a tax credit. That said, it is possible to use both credits and deductions to lower your tax bill.

Can I claim both deductions and tax credits?

Yes, you can claim both tax deductions and tax credits on your tax return, as long as you qualify for the deductions and credits you claim.


Photo credit: iStock/Jinli Guo

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
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.
[third_party_advice]
[cd_checking_and_savings]
SOBK1222057

Read more
The Facts About Getting Audited: Woman writing in notebook

What Happens When You Get Audited?

What is it about the words “tax audit” that so many people find so anxiety-provoking? The idea that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could be poring over your tax return can be downright nerve-racking, not to mention the possibility of mistakes found and penalties incurred.

But take a deep, calming breath: In the last decade to be reviewed, the IRS audit rate has been declining, going from 0.9% in 2010 to 0.25% in 2019. But even so, you likely want to do your best to avoid going through that process.

This is an informative, high-level overview of IRS audit triggers, and it should not be considered tax advice. It’s always worth consulting a tax professional for any questions or concerns because taxes are complicated and highly personal.

Read on to learn:

•   What is an audit?

•   What are reasons why someone may get audited?

•   What should you do if you get audited by the IRS?

What Is a Tax Audit?

A tax audit is a process by which the IRS reviews an individual’s or organization’s accounts as well as their financial details to make sure that the information submitted has been reported correctly and in keeping with the prevailing tax laws.

The IRS usually sends a letter when it reaches out to ask for more information, and the letter should let you know specifically what the agency is looking for.

You shouldn’t ever receive a text, email, or phone call from the IRS asking for personal or financial information. If you do, the IRS website offers several steps for checking out and reporting any suspicious contact.

Recommended: 5 Ways to Achieve Financial Security

Reasons Why Someone May Get Audited by the IRS

Here’s a closer look at some of the typical IRS audit triggers. Knowing them can help you understand and possibly avoid the process as you work your way through tax season.

•   You’re a high earner. Those who earn between $200,000 and $1 million were audited at a rate of less than 1% in a recently reviewed year. However, those who earn over the $1 million mark were audited at a 2.5% rate, a big jump up. If you are a high earner, it may be worthwhile to work with an experienced CPA to ensure you file precisely. You may also want to investigate ways to lower taxable income for high earners.

•   You claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, is a provision that helps lower- and moderate-income workers and their families receive a tax credit. This can reduce the taxes owed or possibly increase a refund. However, research indicates that those who claim the credit are audited at a higher rate than average, perhaps because the IRS wants to be sure the credit is being used appropriately.

•   You failed to report all your income. When you are issued a W-2 form or 1099 form showing your earnings, the IRS receives a copy too. If your return doesn’t reflect the same figures that they have when they perform a cross-check, you could wind up being audited.

•   You didn’t report all of your stock trades. When you sell stock shares, the funds you receive are taxable unless the investments happen to be a retirement account that is tax-deferred. Both you and the IRS will be sent a particular kind of 1099, a Form 1099-B, reflecting activity, and you will have to report your capital gains and losses when you do your tax return. The tax rate will depend on how long you have held the investment, but it’s important that these transactions be reported and paid up when you file your return.

•   You claim large charitable contributions. If you claim tax deductions for charitable donations of cash or items, it’s important to keep records at the time you file. It’s your responsibility to have the documentation of what you have given if it’s in the amount of $250 or more. Large and unsubstantiated contributions can be problematic.

Recommended: Tax-Deductible or Not? Your Guide to End-of-Year Donations

•   You claim a home office. If you are self-employed, you may deduct a percent of your rent, phone bills, and other work-related costs on Schedule C of your return. Another option is to deduct $5 per square foot of space used for business, up to $1,500. However, the IRS has over the years been successful in minimizing this home office deduction on returns, especially since the home office must be for the exclusive purpose of work; it can’t double as, say, a guest room. This means it can be an audit risk to take this on your return.

•   You claim that your car is only used for business. This is another audit red flag. If you are self-employed and depreciate a car on Form 4562 and claim that it’s used for business 100% of the time, you may well be stretching the boundaries of believability. Because it’s unusual that a vehicle wouldn’t also be used for personal transportation, you may trigger an audit with this 100% figure. It can be important that tax deductions for freelancers aren’t too large versus income.

•   You accept cash transactions. If you work in the kind of business where you get paid in cash, especially large amounts, your return may receive extra scrutiny. The IRS is notified of cash transactions over the sum of $10,000 involving banks, car dealerships, casinos, and other businesses. Banks must also report potentially suspicious transactions involving cash (for instance, if someone deposits $9,500 in cash one day and $700 the next, thereby skirting the $10,000 reporting threshold).

•   Your business regularly shows losses. Of course, not all businesses are always profitable. But if you’ve started an enterprise and it keeps showing losses, year after year, it might be what triggers an IRS audit. It could look as if you have established this endeavor simply as a way to benefit from some tax deductions. The same can hold true if your business is barely break-even.

Recommended: Tax Loss Carryforward

•   You claim lots of travel and entertainment deductions. What else can trigger a tax audit? Here’s another one for self-employed workers: If you claim a lot of restaurant dinners, travel, and shows as business expenses, you may raise eyebrows at the IRS. This is especially true if the meals and hotels seem more lavish than your business might otherwise qualify for. Save all your receipts and documentation, and know that a high level of these expenses being claimed on Schedule C may get some attention and even an audit.

•   You make errors on your tax return. As you prepare for tax season, you may feel overwhelmed or be in a rush. Or perhaps you’re just not the most detail-oriented person on the planet. But if you make math mistakes on your return or, say, round up numbers to the nearest $10 or $100 because you can’t be bothered with change, heads-up: You may put yourself in line for an audit. Precision and specificity do count.

A Few Facts About Tax Audits

Here are a few points to be aware of on the topic of IRS tax audits. They may clarify some concerns that are on your mind.

A Compliance Contact Isn’t Always an Audit

A compliance check is a review done by the IRS to ensure that a taxpayer is adhering to the requirements for recordkeeping and information reporting. It does not relate directly to whether or not a person owes taxes.

There Are Different Types of Audits

Just as there are different kinds of taxes, so too are there different kinds of audits. If you are being audited by the IRS, there are a couple of ways this may happen. Mail audits are fairly common; in these, you mail in documents in response to specific inquiries. Office and field audits are more serious, and the IRS asks for proof of credits and deductions, and may look at your financial records more carefully to see if your tax return is correct. The IRS may be looking for tax evasion on these kinds of audits. The third kind of audit is what’s known as a CP2000 notice. Technically, this isn’t an audit but an underreporter inquiry, and is likely about a discrepancy between your return and the tax documents that were filed with them for the tax year in question.

Some Groups Face Higher Audit Rates than Others

While audit rates have dropped for all income levels, those with incomes below $25,000 and above $500,000 are audited at higher rates than the average.

Good Record Keeping May Offer Protection

If you are audited, it can be very helpful if your records are in good order. That way you can explain the amounts you reported and easily answer questions the IRS may have. This can serve as a good incentive for you to keep your records diligently going forward.

Ignoring the IRS Could Be Costly

What happens when you get audited can of course vary. But one possibility if you are audited is that you may be liable for back taxes not paid and penalties. These penalties typically accrue over time, so the longer you go without paying them, the higher they can be. That’s why it’s a good reason to respond promptly if you do get audited.

What to Do if You Get Audited

What if you are one of those few people who is told that your returns are being reviewed? This is what to expect and what to do if you get audited by the IRS:

•   Typically, you will get a letter from the IRS in the mail that will identify an issue (such as your reporting less income than their records show you earned) and requesting a response.

•   It’s wise to gather your documents so you can make your case. It can be smart to send your reply as a clear, concise statement of what your documentation shows and share those records to help prove your point.

•   One important thing to do when you get audited is to reply in a timely manner and make sure your reply gets where it’s going. It can be a wise move to use additional mail services to ensure you have proof of delivery.

•   If you worked with a CPA or an enrolled agent on your return, they can likely advise you. If you used tax-return software, they may also offer help.

•   Your response to the mail inquiry may be enough to resolve the situation. Or the IRS may have additional questions for or requirements of documentation for you. If things escalate to a face-to-face meeting, you may want to have a tax professional work with you and accompany you for guidance and support.

•   Whether it’s a correspondence exam or an in-person audit, you’ll get a printed list of specific records the IRS wants to see. If your audit is being managed by mail, you may be able to send the documents electronically or by mail. (Be sure to get a receipt for delivery.) Note the IRS will generally accept copies and they caution against mailing original documents in. If it isn’t possible to send the documents, you can request an in-person meeting.

•   If you need more time to respond to a correspondence exam, you can fax or email a request for an extension using the contact information in your IRS letter. Or, if you’re being asked to comply with an in-person exam, you can contact the auditor assigned to your case to request an extension.

•   Also worth noting: If the IRS finds discrepancies in your return, it may review returns from up to the last six years to better assess what the situation is.

The Takeaway

No one can guarantee a return won’t be audited by the IRS — even if you aren’t doing any of the things most experts say might put you at higher risk. But if you’re honest about your income and your deductions, keep organized and complete records, take care to enter all information accurately, and double-check your work, you may be able to avoid major problems should you get audited.

3 Money Tips

1.    Direct deposit is the fastest way to get an IRS tax refund. More than 9 out of 10 refunds are issued in less than 21 days using this free service, plus you can track the payment and even split the funds into different bank accounts.

2.    When you overdraft your checking account, you’ll likely pay a non-sufficient fund fee of, say, $35. Look into linking a savings account to your checking account as a backup to avoid that, or shop around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting.

3.    If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.

Better banking is here with up to 3.75% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Are audits always negative?

While IRS audits make most people sweaty-palmed, they can be as simple as answering some questions by mail. They are not necessarily as scary as you may think.

How do I know that I am being audited?

If you are being audited, you will be notified, most likely by mail, by the IRS.

What happens after an audit is conducted?

After an audit is conducted, you will be told the outcome. You may be told you owe taxes and penalties or not. If you are assessed additional taxes and fees, you can complete paperwork and pay them if you agree with the findings. If you don’t, you can contact the auditor to discuss and request a review of the findings. If necessary, the matter can be escalated to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or you can file an appeal with the IRS Appeals Office.


SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
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.
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.
SOBK1222052

Read more

Home Equity Loans vs HELOCs vs Home Improvement Loans

Maybe you’ve spent a serious amount of time watching HGTV and now have visions of turning your kitchen into a chef’s paradise. Or perhaps you have an entire Pinterest board full of super-deep soaking tubs that you’re dreaming about.

Either way, the home improvement bug has bitten you, and you’re hardly alone. In the U.S. $538 billion was spent on home improvement in 2021, and that number is expected to hit $625 billion by 2025. For a bit more context, consider that the average American spent almost $8,500 on home improvement projects in 2022. That’s a lot more than just buying a new bathroom sink.

While your home might be begging for some updates and improvements, not all of us have close to $10,000 stashed away in a savings account. For many people, realizing their home improvement goals means borrowing money. But how exactly?

Read on to learn about some of your options. This guide will cover:

•   What’s the difference between home equity loans, HELOCs, and home improvement loans?

•   In which situations do home equity loans, HELOCs, and home improvement loans work best?

•   Which home improvement loan option is right for you?

What’s the Difference Between Home Equity Loans, HELOCs, and Home Improvement Loans?

If you’ve figured out how much a home renovation will cost and now need to fund the project, the options can sound a bit confusing because they all involve the word “home.”

What’s more, you may hear the term “home equity loan” loosely applied to any funds borrowed to do home improvement work. However, there are actually different kinds of home equity loans to know about, plus one that doesn’t involve home equity at all.

So, before digging into home improvement loans vs. home improvement loans vs. HELOCs, consider the basics for each:

•   A home equity loan is a lump-sum payment that a lender gives you using the equity in your home to secure the loan. These loans often have a higher limit, lower interest rate, and longer repayment term than a home improvement loan.

•   A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a revolving line of credit that is backed by your equity in your home. It operates similarly to a credit card in that the amount you access is not set, though you will have a limit on how much you can access.

•   A home improvement loan is a kind of lump-sum personal loan, and it is not backed by the equity you have in your home. It may have a higher interest rate and shorter repayment terms than a home equity loan. What’s more, it may have a lower limit, making it well suited for smaller projects.

Worth noting: If you use your home as collateral to borrow funds, you could lose your property if you don’t make payments on time. That’s a significant risk to your financial security and one to take seriously.

Next, here’s a look at how key loan features line up for these options.

How Much Can I Borrow?

The sky isn’t the limit when borrowing funds. This is how much you will likely be able to access:

•   For a home equity loan, you can typically borrow between 80% and 85% of your home’s value, minus what’s owed on your mortgage. So if your home’s value is $300,000, 80% of that is $240,000. If you have a mortgage for $200,000, then $240,000 minus $200,000 leaves you with a potential loan of $40,000.

•   For a HELOC, you can typically access up to 80% of the equity you have in your home, though some lenders may go even higher. In that case, you are likely to pay a higher interest rate. In the scenario above, with a home valued at $300,000 and a mortgage of $200,000, that means you have $100,000 equity in your home. A loan for 80% of $100,000 would be $80,000. As with other lines of credit, your credit score and employment history will likely factor into the approval decision.

•   For a home improvement loan, the amount you can borrow will depend on a variety of factors, including your credit score, but the typical range is between $3,000 and $50,000 or sometimes even more.

What Can the Funds Be Used for?

Interestingly, some of these funds can be used for purposes other than home improvement costs. Here’s how they stack up:

•   For a home equity loan, you can certainly use the funds for an amazing new kitchen with a professional-grade range, but you can also use the money for, say, debt consolidation or college tuition.

•   For a HELOC, as with a home equity loan, you can use the money as you see fit. Redoing your patio? Sure. But you can also apply the cash to open a business, pay for grad school, or knock out credit card debt.

•   For a home improvement loan, there is often the requirement that you use the funds for, as the name suggests, a home improvement project, such as adding a hot tub to your property. In some cases, you may be able to use the funds for non-home purposes. Your lender can tell you more.

Recommended: How to Find a Contractor for Home Renovations & Remodeling

How Will I Receive the Funds? How Long Will It Take to Get the Money?

Consider the different ways and timing you may encounter when getting money from these loan options:

•   With a home equity loan, you receive a lump sum payment of the funds borrowed. The timeline for getting your funds can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on a variety of factors, including the lender’s pace.

•   With a HELOC, you open a line of credit, similar to a credit card. For what is known as the draw period (typically 10 years), you can withdraw funds via a special credit card or checkbook up to your limit. It typically takes between two and six weeks to get funds, but some lenders may be faster.

•   With a home improvement personal loan, you receive a lump sum of cash. These tend to be the quickest way to get cash: It may only take a day or so after approval to have the funds available.

How Much Interest Will I Pay?

How much you pay to access funds for your project will vary. Take a closer look:

•   For a home equity loan, you typically get a lower interest rate than some other loan types, since you are using your home equity as collateral. These are typically fixed-rate loans, so you’ll know how much you are paying every month. At the start of 2023, the average rate of a fixed, 15-year home equity loan was 5.82%.

•   For a HELOC, the line of credit will typically have a rate that varies with the prime rate, though some lenders offer fixed-rate options. HELOCs may have lower interest rates than personal and home equity loans, but you will need a high credit score to snag the lowest possible rate.

•   For home improvement loans, which are a kind of personal loan, rates vary widely. Currently, you might find anything from 6% to 36% depending on the lender and your qualifications, such as your credit score. These loans are typically fixed rate.

How Long Will I Have to Repay the Funds?

Repayment terms differ among these three options:

•   For home equity loans, you will agree to a term with your lender. Terms typically range from five to 20 years, but 30 years may be available as well.

•   With a HELOC, you usually have a draw period of 10 years, during which you may pay interest only. Then, you may no longer withdraw funds, and move into the principal-plus-interest repayment period, which is often 20 years.

•   With a home improvement personal loan, your repayment terms are typically shorter than with the other options and will vary with the lender. You may find terms of anywhere from one to seven years or possibly longer.

Here’s how these features compare in chart form:

Feature

Home Equity Loan

HELOC

Home Improvement Personal Loan

Type of collateral Secured via your home Secured via your home Unsecured
Borrowing Limit Typically up to 80% – 85% of home value, minus mortgage Typically up to 80% or more of your home equity Typically from $3,000 up to $50,000 or more
How funds can be used For a variety of purposes For a variety of purposes Often strictly for home improvement
How funds are dispersed Lump sum Line of credit Lump sum
How long to receive funds Typically two weeks to two months Typically two to six weeks Often within days
Type of interest rate Typically fixed rate and may be lower than other loans Typically variable but some lenders offer fixed rate; rates vary Typically fixed rate; rates vary widely
Repayment term Typically 20 to 30 years Typically 20 years after the 10-year draw period Typically 1 to 7 years

Awarded Best Online Personal Loan by NerdWallet.
Apply Online, Same Day Funding


Which Home Improvement Loan Option Is Better?

Now that you’ve learned about the features of these loan options, here’s some guidance on which one is likely to be best for your needs.

When Home Equity Loans Make Sense

Here are some scenarios in which a home equity loan may be a good choice:

•   If you have significant home equity and are looking to borrow a large amount, a home equity loan could be the right move to access a lump sum of cash.

•   If you want to have a long repayment period, the possibility of a 30-year term could be a good fit.

•   When you are seeking to keep costs as low as possible. These loans may offer lower interest rates.

•   A home equity loan can be a wise move when you need cash for other purposes, such as debt consolidation or educational expenses.

•   Some interest payments may be tax-deductible, depending on how you use the funds, which could be a benefit of this kind of loan.

When HELOCs Make Sense

A HELOC may be your best bet in the following situations:

•   You aren’t sure how much money you need and like the flexibility of a line of credit.

•   You want to keep your payments as low as possible in the near future. HELOCs can usually be an interest-only loan during the first 10-year draw period of the arrangement.

•   A HELOC can be a good fit for people who are doing a renovation in stages, and want to draw funds as needed versus all upfront.

•   You need cash for something other than just home renovation, such as to pay down credit card debt or fund tuition.

•   Depending on what you put the money towards, interest payments may be tax-deductible to a degree.

When Home Improvement Personal Loans Make Sense

Consider these upsides:

•   These personal loans tend to have a straightforward, fast application process, and often have fewer fees, such as no origination fees.

•   Home improvement loans are usually approved more quickly than other kinds of home loans.

•   These loans can be a good way to borrow a small sum, such as $3,000 or $5,000 for a project you need to complete quickly (say, a bathroom without a functional shower).

•   Home improvement loans can be a good option for new homeowners, who haven’t yet built up much equity in their home but need funds for renovation.

•   For those who are uncomfortable using their home as collateral, this kind of loan can be a smart move.

Awarded Best Personal Loan of 2022 by NerdWallet.
Apply Online, Same Day Funding


The Takeaway

Home improvement is a popular pursuit and can not only make daily life more enjoyable, it can boost the value of what is likely your biggest asset. If you are ready to take on a renovation, you’ll have options in terms of how to access funds; depending on your needs and personal situation, you might prefer a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit (HELOC), or a home improvement personal loan.

SoFi can help with two of these: If you’ve decided that a personal loan could be the right move for you, SoFi’s home improvement loans are fee-free, range from $5K to $100K, and you may be able to get same-day funding.

SoFi also offers a home equity line of credit or HELOC with low interest rates, the flexibility to use the amount you need, and you can borrow up to 95% or $500K of your home’s equity.

Let SoFi help you transform your home into your palace with a flexible and convenient HELOC.


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.
SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

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.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
SOHL1222005

Read more

How to Leverage Home Equity to Pay Off Student Debt

If you’re finding your student loan debt difficult to manage, one option for tackling it is by leveraging your home equity. It’s possible to do this through the student loan cash-out refinance program offered by Fannie Mae or through a general cash-out refinance.

Either option would allow you to use the excess value of your home to pay off student loan debt directly. Plus, because borrowers would be consolidating their student loan debt into their mortgage, they’d have to make just one payment each month. They might also secure a lower interest rate than they had on their student loans.

Still, there are major downsides to consider before paying off student loans with home equity.
For one, the student loan debt won’t actually go away — you’ll still owe that money. Additionally, borrowers will lose access to student loan benefits and protections. And, if you aren’t able to stay on top of monthly payments, your home is on the line.

Recommended: First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide

Using a Student Loan Cash-Out Refinance to Pay Off Student Loans

With a cash-out refinance, you take out a new mortgage for an amount that exceeds what you currently owe. You then get the difference in cash, which you could then use to pay off your student loan debt.

One option for doing this is through Fannie Mae’s Student Loan Solutions program, which is specifically designed to allow homeowners to use their home equity to pay off student loans. To qualify, borrowers must use the funds from the cash-out refinance to fully pay off at least one of their student loans. Additionally, it’s stipulated that this loan must belong to the individual who applied for the refinance.

For borrowers who don’t qualify for the Fannie Mae program, or who want to use their cash for costs other than student loan repayment, it’s also possible to get a general cash-out refinance through another lender.

Whether you go with Fannie Mae or another lender, there are typically certain requirements that a borrower must meet to qualify for a cash-out refinance. Generally, there are stipulations for credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and the amount of equity in the home after closing. As such, it’s helpful to determine before applying how much equity you have in your home.

Should I Tap Into My Home Equity to Pay Off Student Loans?

Using the equity you’ve earned in your home to pay off your student loans may sound like an easy fix. But before you commit to refinancing, you’ll want to weigh the decision carefully. While it may make sense for some, a student loan cash-out refinance won’t work for everyone. Here are a few pros and cons to consider as you make your decision.

Turn your home equity into cash with a HELOC from SoFi.

Access up to 95% or $500k of your home’s equity to finance almost anything.


Benefits of Paying Off Student Loans with Home Equity

Like most financial decisions, paying off your student loans with the equity you’ve earned on your home is a multifaceted decision. Here are some of the ways you could find it beneficial:

•   You may be able to get a better rate. Securing a lower interest rate is potentially the most appealing reason to use the equity in your home to pay off student loans. As part of your decision-making process, consider reviewing mortgage options at a few different lenders. While reviewing rate quotes from each lender, do the math to determine if paying off student loans with home equity will truly reduce the amount of money you spend in interest. If there are any fees or prepayment penalties, make sure to factor those in. Keep in mind this isn’t the only way to get a better rate either — another option to explore is student loan refinancing.

•   You may get more time to pay off your loan. When making your decision, also take into account the length of the mortgage term. The standard repayment plan for student loans has a 10-year term, unless you have already consolidated them, in which case you could have a term of up to 25 years. With a mortgage, term lengths can be as long as 30 years. Just keep in mind that while repaying your debt over a longer time period could lower monthly payments, it may also mean you pay more in interest over the life of the loan.

•   You can streamline your payments. Another benefit is reducing the number of monthly payments you need to keep track of. Instead of paying your mortgage and each of your student loans, those bills will get consolidated into a single payment. Streamlining your payments could help you stay on top of your payments and make your finances a little bit easier to manage.

Recommended: Home Affordability Calculator

Downsides of Paying Off Student Loans with Home Equity

There are a few potential negatives that could impact your decision to pay off student loans with your home equity:

•   You risk foreclosure. Using your home equity to pay off your student loans could potentially put your home at risk. That’s because you’re combining your student loans and mortgage into one debt, now all tied to your home. That means if you run into any financial issues in the future and are unable to make payments, in severe cases, such as loan default, your home could be foreclosed on.

•   Your student debt won’t really disappear. When you use your home equity to pay off your student loans, you’ll still owe that debt. Only now, it’s part of your mortgage.

•   You’ll lose access to student loan benefits and protections. When you do a student loan cash-out refinance, you’ll no longer be eligible for borrower protections that are afforded to borrowers who have federal loans. These benefits include deferment or forbearance, as well as income-driven repayment plans. If you’re pursuing student loan forgiveness through one of the programs available to federal borrowers, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, consolidating your student loan debt with your mortgage would eliminate you from the program. As such, it may not make sense to use the equity in your home to pay off your student loans if you’re currently taking advantage of any of these options.

•   You could owe more than your home is worth. As you weigh your options, consider comparing the available equity in your home to the amount you owe in student loans. In some cases, you may owe more in student loan debt than you have available to use in home equity under the various loan guidelines. If you end up owing more than what your home is worth, that could make it tough to sell your home, as you’d need to add your own funds to repay your loan balance.

When It’s Time to Leverage Your Home Equity

Cashing in on your home equity isn’t as easy as withdrawing money from your checking account, but it’s also not as difficult as you might think. A good first step is to contact a mortgage lender, who will order an appraisal of your home and help you to get started on the paperwork.

It could also be a good idea to check your credit score. To secure a cash-out refinance, lenders will likely require a credit score of 620 or higher. That being said, the minimum score required depends on many factors, such as credit, income, equity, and more. If you don’t meet the minimum FICO score requirement for your chosen program, you might want to try to improve your credit score before applying.

At the very least, you’ll likely need to gather necessary documents so you have them handy. Get together your latest tax filings, pay stubs, and bank statements. Lenders use those documents to evaluate whether you have the savings and cash flow to pay back a fatter mortgage, and they may ask for when you apply to refinance.

The Takeaway

When used responsibly, home equity can be a useful tool in helping to improve your overall financial situation — including using home equity to pay off student loans. While there could be upsides, such as streamlining payments and securing a better rate, it’s important to also weigh the drawbacks, like losing access to student loan protections and putting your home on the line.

Beyond a student loan cash-out refinance, another way to access your home’s equity is a home equity line of credit (HELOC). When you take out a HELOC, you can borrow only as much as you need at a given time. Plus, with SoFi, you can access up to 95% (or $500,000) of your home’s equity, so you’ll have plenty of funds to work with.

Access your home’s equity through a HELOC with SoFi.


Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

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.
SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SOHL1222006

Read more
TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender